House of the Dragon Episode 6 review: Rhaenyra & Alicent recast pays off

Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra in House of the DragonHBO

House of the Dragon Episode 6 is another must-watch chapter, marking the essential recasting of Rhaenyra and Alicent and highlighting the tragic undercurrent of deceit that governs the lives and deaths of royalty in Westeros.

The Game of Thrones prequel began with Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra Targaryen and Emily Carey as Alicent Hightower, respectively. The show opens with them as friends, often comforted by one another as the Red Keep threatens to poison them.

However, as the first half of the series progressed, their dynamic waned; whether it was Alicent’s marriage to her father, King Viserys I (Paddy Considine), or Rhaenyra’s whispered behavior with Daemon (Matt Smith), they’ve been drawn apart.

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Many dreaded the recasting of both characters. It’s understandable, given the remarkable performances of both stars – however, Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke have cast aside those concerns with tremendous, evolutionary performances in Episode 6.

Spoilers for House of the Dragon Episode 6 to follow…

House of the Dragon Episode 6: Rhaenyra’s boy child

Episode 5 ended with another Westeros wedding going wrong. Nevertheless, Rhaenyra (D’Arcy) and Laenor’s (earlier Theo Nate, now played by John Macmillan) nuptials went ahead, while Alicent (Cooke) forged a bond with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) after he murdered Joffrey Lonmouth out of lovesick jealousy.

A lot has changed in the time jump to Episode 6: Rhaenyra has just given birth to her third child with Laenor, named Joffrey; Daemon resides in Pentos with Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) with their twin daughters, Baela and Rhaena (Shani Smethurst and Eva Ossei-Gerning, respectively); while Viserys is older and haggard, one forearm short as a result of his leprosy, and hidden behind the grey, pasty look of a corpse around the Keep.

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Immediately after Joffrey is born, the Queen summons him, without a moment’s rest for Rhaenyra. In a nifty one-shot, the camera rather delicately moves between the baby and Rhaenyra as she struggles to her feet, and quickly endures the afterbirth.

She slowly walks through the Keep, begrudgingly arm-in-arm with Laenor, until coming face to face with Alicent. While concerned for her wellbeing, Alicent’s efforts aren’t warm – she knew Rhaenyra would walk all the way, and asked to see Joffrey anyway.

Soon, Viserys arrives. Unsurprisingly, given his trauma with Aemma, he’s delighted to see a new boy in the Targaryen family (his birth name is Joffrey Velaryon, but he’d assume the Targaryen surname if he came to rule). He notes that his nose is similar to Laenor’s, but Alicent issues a colder commiseration: “Keep trying Ser Laenor, soon you might get one who looks like you.”

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House of the Dragon Episode 6: Rumors spread about Rhaenyra and Harwin

A shadow is darkening Rhaenyra’s reputation. While her dynamic with Laenor remains agreeable, with him happily drinking around King’s Landing with Qarl Correy (Arty Froushan), others have grown suspicious of her relationship with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), now the Commander of the Citywatch.

At this point, Rhaenyra has three children with Laenor: Jacaerys Velaryon (Leo Hart), Lucerys Velaryon (Harvey Sadler), and Joffrey. She may view Laenor as their father, but the truth is clear to everyone, particularly Alicent and Criston: Harwin is their father, and he’s been secretly sleeping with Rhaenyra.

HBO

Meanwhile, Jacaerys and Lucerys learn how to control dragons in the pit with Aegon II (Ty Tennant) and Aemond (Leo Ashton). It’s unclear which dragon it is (it’s green with red-ish wings), but Jacaerys quickly shouts “Dracarys!” at a poor goat.

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Aemond is clearly viewed as the runt of this little posse, and they tease him by promising him a new dragon from the pit – only for a pig to be pulled out. Aemond then enters the pit alone, where he comes across a much larger, actual dragon, which quickly tells him to go away the only way a dragon knows how: roaring and breathing fire. He basically entered a Dark Souls boss arena without the proper kit – we’ve all been there.

House of the Dragon Episode 6: Alicent and Criston Cole have teamed up

Alicent fumes at Rhaenyra’s “flaunting of her inheritance” while everyone ignores the truth behind her children, to which Criston snarls: “Spoiled c***.” He immediately apologizes, and Alicent says they need to retain their honor, as that’s what will prevail in the end – ha!

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She then finds Aegon butt-naked, masturbating out his window. She tells him he must stop teasing Aemond, and start acting like someone who deserves to be king, otherwise, Rhaenyra could kill him to solidify her own claim, and the claim of Jacaerys.

Olivia Cooke and Fabien Frankel in House of the DragonHBO

Over in Pentos, Daemon and Laena are enjoying a quiet life, free from the political warring and backstabbing of King’s Landing. They seem content flying around on their dragons; Daemon rides Caraxes, while Laena rides Vhagar, the largest living dragon in Westeros after Balerion’s death. It must be said again: after a shaky start, the presentation of the dragons and their death-defying twists and turns are downright majestic, especially with Ramin Djawadi’s unimpeachable score.

The tide is not as steady as it seems. They’re offered permanent residence on Pentos, with tributes to be paid to its new Targaryen lord, and while Laena instantly seems averse, Daemon is tempted. He misses royalty, and the “blissful oblivion” of strong Westeros wine, while Laena – who’s pregnant with their third child – misses her brother and wishes to return to Driftmark.

House of the Dragon Episode 6: Criston Cole and Harwin Strong come to blows

Back at the Keep, Criston is teaching the King’s children and grandchildren how to fight. Harwin watches from the sidelines, and soon grows irritated by Criston’s apparent dismissal of Jacaerys and Lucerys compared to Aegon. So, he pits them against each other, and Aegon quickly beats Jacaerys.

Harwin doesn’t realize how much he’s overstepping when he pulls Aegon off Jacaerys. Criston notes his defense of Jacaerys is unusual – it’s almost as if he’s protecting his own son. This causes Harwin to lose his temper and punch Criston, slapping his face about on the ground like the closing minutes of an MMA brawl.

Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), the King’s Hand and Harwin’s dad, watches the fight beside Viserys. He pulls Harwin aside and tells him that he’s “laid them open to accusations of an uglier treachery” – aka, his fathering of Rhaenyra’s children.

Lyonel later attempts to resign from his post, knowing he can no longer provide impartial support to the King. Viserys rejects his request, but allows him to take Harwin back to Harrenhal after being expelled from the Citywatch, so he can prepare to rule on that seat.

House of the Dragon Episode 6: Has Larys got your tongue?

During a meeting of the small council, after discussions of another war brewing in the Stepstones and the Triarchy’s resurgence, Rhaenyra makes an apology to Alicent for causing her any offense, given the strife between them. She also offers to give Aemond one of Syrax’s dragon eggs, should a fresh batch arrive, and offers to betroth Jacaerys and her daughter Helaena.

It’s a rare moment of harmony in the family – in Viserys’ eyes, that is, who describes it as a most “judicious” offer. He’s absolutely beaming to see his daughter play by the rules so generously, but Alicent sees the duplicity of her actions. “How sweetly the fox speaks,” she warns, while Viserys urges he wants to put childish quarrels aside and get on with things.

Paddy Considine as Viserys in House of the DragonHBO

Alicent seeks counsel from Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), who agrees that his father should resign as Hand. The Queen complains there’s nobody “partial to her” in King’s Landing, with no one ever taking her side in matters regarding the crown.

Later, in the dead of night, Larys visits three prisoners who’ve been sentenced to death, and offers them an out – at a price. Their heads are placed on a block, and we see their tongues cut off. Don’t expect the camera to cut away, because we see the red-hot blade pierce the tongue and slice through it like fondant icing, all while the man wails in pain.

House of the Dragon Episode 6: Death by Dracarys, while House Strong burns

House of the Dragon gave us some distance before another horrific birth scene. Before the show aired, the creators said: “In medieval times, giving birth was violence.”

This time, it’s Laena who doesn’t live to see her baby boy. Unlike Aemma, Daemon doesn’t order the doctors to cut her open. Instead, she stumbles onto the beach and commands Vhagar to burn her alive, putting her out of her misery so she doesn’t need to deal with the grief. It’s a haunting moment that already feels engraved into the emotional framework of the show; particularly for Daemon, who looks on aghast, unsure of where or how to stand. He didn’t even get his own heir for the day.

We return to the Keep, where Harwin says goodbye to Jacaerys and Lucerys, and gives Joffrey a kiss on the head. Jacaerys then asks his mum if he’s his dad, and if he’s a bastard, to which she says: “You are a Targaryen, that’s all that matters.”

Ryan Corr as Harwin Strong in House of the DragonHBO

Shortly after Harwin and Lyonel return to Harrenhal, disaster strikes: a fire sets the castle ablaze, with Lyonel locked in his room with no way out, and Harwin crushed under burning rubble, with their scorched corpses carried out the next morning.

But who would commit such an act of grave arson? It was the prisoners freed by Larys, ostensibly acting on behalf of the Queen, knowing he can shift the blame onto her if ever required. “You will reward me, when the time is right,” he tells her.

Episode 6 is plot-heavy, with gut punches and tragedy across the Seven Kingdoms. Aside from its other merits, the recasting of Rhaenyra and Alicent has proven itself to be a masterstroke; while the original pair were familial and warm even in conflict, D’Arcy and Cooke make for a more seasoned duo, hardened by their royal lives, with the fractures of their past chemistry now rifts beyond closing.

House of the Dragon Episode 7 will be available on October 2 in the US and October 3 in the UK.