House of the Dragon Episode 5 review: Chaos reigns over bloody wedding

Daemon in House of the Dragon Episode 5HBO

House of the Dragon Episode 5 is perhaps the most pivotal episode of the show yet, with calculated chaos bringing death, despair, and raw division to the Targaryen dynasty. “The things we do for love.”

In the previous episode of the Game of Thrones prequel, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Daemon (Matt Smith) threw their family’s rule into disarray with a trip to a pleasure house. Regardless of the extent of their “carrying on”, it jeopardized their virtue and dismantled the order of the Red Keep.

King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) banished Daemon back to the Vale, while Rhaenyra was told she’d be forced to marry Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate), the son of Lord Corlys (Steve Toussaint), to strengthen their rule and bring the families of Old Valyria back together again.

More so than ever, every scene in Episode 5 feels like a chess move, all the way to the piece-scattering tantrum that resets the board. Even with its fate preordained, House of the Dragon is easily mustering the edge-of-your-seat grip of its predecessor at its peak.

Spoilers for House of the Dragon Episode 5 to follow…

House of the Dragon Episode 5: Daemon brings the reaper to the Vale

House of the Dragon Episode 5 introduces us to Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford) for the first time, the Lady of Runestone and Daemon’s “bronze b*tch” wife, as he put it. She rides down from the castle to go on a hunt, and eventually comes face to face with a man in an evil Kermit hood.

Upon seeing that it’s Daemon, she starts mocking him for failing to consummate their marriage, even offering the local sheep as a substitute. He barely says a word as he slowly approaches, and Rhea realizes he’s here to kill her.

However, as she pulls her sword, her horse rears up and falls backwards onto the ground, crumpling her neck – the sound is enough to make you shiver. Daemon walks away, to which she says, “I knew you couldn’t finish” – but he grabs a rock, and we later learn her skull was “crushed”, so you can assume what he did.

House of the Dragon Episode 5: The Targaryens journey the tides for a proposal

Meanwhile, Viserys – who’s visibly ill, sweating and stumbling without the rumble of the ocean – and Rhaenyra sail to High Tide on Driftmark, the seat of Lord Corlys, to request Laenor’s hand in marriage.

As they arrive, they’re not received by Corlys. Instead, his daughter Laena (Savannah Steyn) welcomes them, while Laenor and his friend, Ser Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod), watch from the side.

With Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), his new Hand following Otto’s (Rhys Ifans) sacking, Viserys meets with Corlys and Rhaenys (Eve Best). He makes the proposal, and Corlys seems pleased, but he has a few questions: will Rhaenyra remain heir; and will Rhaenyra and Laenor’s children bear the Targaryen name?

Viserys insists Rhaenyra will become queen following his death, with Laenor serving as king consort, and gives Corlys a compromise: their children can have the Velaryon surname at birth, but when their time comes to rule, they must reign as a Targaryen. Corlys describes this as “equitable”, and they go on their merry way.

Behind closed doors, Rhaenys is gravely worried for the safety of Laenor, given her earlier warnings to Rhaenyra about the inherent sexism of Westeros. “Rhaenyra’s succession will be challenged,” she tells Corlys, fearing people won’t accept a female ruler after her own succession was denied.

There’s another matter too: Laenor’s “true nature” – aka, his sexuality. “He’s still young, he’ll outgrow it. There’s no pleasure like a woman,” Corlys says.

House of the Dragon Episode 5: Rhaenyra and Laenor make a deal

As Rhaenyra and Laenor stroll along the coastline, she cites his preference for men, describing it as a matter of taste – much like choosing “roast duck over goose.” They agree to perform their royal duties and provide an heir, after which they can “dine as they see fit”. For two young people forced into a marriage, this is a rather sweet moment of acceptance between the two cousins.

Now they just need to worry about their own admirers. While sailing back to King’s Landing, Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) confesses his love for Rhaenyra and asks her to run away with him to Essos. “We will be nameless and free. In Essos you could marry me… a marriage for love, not the crown,” he says.

Laenor and Rhaenyra in House of the DragonHBO
Laenor and Rhaenyra make a deal in Episode 5.

Rhaenyra, now intoxicated by her future as queen and finally wishing to serve her house, tells him no, but informs Criston of her arrangement with Laenor. He doesn’t like that, not one bit. He accuses her of wanting him as her “whore” and says he’s already “soiled his white cloak” when they slept together.

Back at Driftmark, Laenor sits at the bottom of a sand dune with Joffrey, who teases him about becoming king. They play-fight and kiss, and Joffrey says Rhaenyra must have a “paramore” of her own – they just need to find out who they are.

House of the Dragon Episode 5: Alicent devises her own loyalty as Viserys crumbles

While all of this is unfolds, Alicent remains within the walls of the Red Keep, now without her father. Before he leaves, he warns her of the storm coming: people won’t accept Rhaenyra and it’ll cause a war, so she must prepare Aegon to rule or face “the sword” when Rhaenyra needs to solidify her claim.

Ifans is an understated highlight of the series, and his dynamic with Carey’s Alicent is heart-wrenching here; standing in the rain with only his muddy footprints for company, their father-daughter bond suddenly overrides his icky political plotting.

Otto and Alicent in House of the Dragon Episode 5HBO
Otto and Alicent share an emotional goodbye that changes her perspective.

Alicent also calls Criston to her chambers to question him about Rhaenyra and Daemon. He misunderstands her and confesses his own relationship with the princess. He asks for a merciful sentence, such as death over torture, but she lets him go and thanks him for his honesty.

Viserys has been in pretty bad shape since Episode 2. The Iron Throne is a cruel honor, and we’ve seen his limps and groans grow more frequent as pus and blood drip from his wounds. When he returns to the Keep, he’s on the brink of death, with his arms looking like a mixture of greyscale and papier-mâché.

While he’s never been one to overly consider his judgment, he falls into a pensive mood while talking to Lyonel, wondering if he’ll be remembered as a good king and wishing he was challenged more. “Is it not better to live in peace than have songs sung about you after you’re dead?” his Hand asks him.

House of the Dragon Episode 5: The Red Wedding Day

Rhaenys (Eve Best) and Laenor break through the clouds on Meleys and Seasmoke, soaring the skies above the wedding fleet arriving in King’s Landing. After some iffy CGI in the first episode, House of the Dragon seems to have finally nailed its titular beasts, with each sight of them evoking more awe than the last.

Everyone is here: the Targaryens, Velaryons, Lannisters, the Hightowers, and even the Royces. When Daemon arrives, swaggering in, he’s not met with the same courtesy of a bellowed Kingsguard announcement. He walks up to Viserys, Rhaenyra, and Laenor at the table, smiles, and sits down.

Alicent arrives late during Viserys’ speech, but her appearance in a green dress brings stunned silence to the room – according to Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), green is the color of the Hightower beacon when the house is called to war.

Alicent in House of the DragonHBO
Alicent’s green dress is more important than it may seem.

This pause is somewhat brief, and it precedes anarchy: Rhea Royce’s cousin accuses Daemon of killing her, and he says he’ll be coming to claim his inheritance; Daemon dances with Rhaenyra and grabs her neck, and she tells him to take her away and make her his wife; and Joffrey taunts Criston Cole, having sniffed out his love for Rhaenyra.

When violence breaks out, its source isn’t immediately known. Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr) rescues Rhaenyra from the madness, while Daemon is nowhere to be seen. In the end, it was neither Targaryen responsible for the disorder – it was Criston. After losing his temper, he beats Joffrey to death, pulverizing his face into mincemeat. Laenor looks on, distraught at having lost his partner.

The episode ends quietly, though not without major shifts. Rhaenyra and Laenor go through with their marriage, and Viserys collapses to the floor. Elsewhere, Alicent stops Criston from committing seppuku (the ritual of self-disembowelment practiced by samurai), hinting at their alliance in future episodes.

House of the Dragon Episode 6 will be available to stream on September 25 in the US and September 26 in the UK.

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