It’s an understatement to say that marriages rarely go well in the world of George RR Martin, and the game of thrones prequel series Dragon House is no exception. The first season of Dragon House moves much faster than game of thrones: Five episodes and we’ve already covered half a decade in the life of King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) and his royal family. And Episode 6 will see another time jump, this one pushing viewers forward another 10 years.
Alliances shift, factions form, and animosities deepen. Book readers, as usual, know where this is all heading. But “We Light the Way” gives its viewers an elegantly constructed recap either way, to help keep everything straight as we go – whether they realize this is what they’re seeing or not.
A field where Dragon House excels at laying the visual groundwork that tells attentive viewers what’s to come. Queen Alicent’s (Emily Carey) green dress in this week’s episode is a prime example of this visual storytelling, as are the blood-sucking rats on the dance floor at the end of the episode. (Search for “Blood and Cheese, Dance of the Dragons” if you’re curious.) These clues indicate where the story is going. But episode director Clare Kilner’s most elaborate device reminds us of where it was, setting up the throne room at King’s Landing, outfitted for a week-long wedding celebration, to have multiple lines of sight, each looking down and/or across the room towards the center aisle where the “Dance of the Dragons” is about to take place.
Kilner alternates between these perspectives, cutting between medium shots of different characters – Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best), the groom’s parents; the bride’s father, King Viserys, and his second wife, Alicent; Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), the bride’s uncle and jealous suitor; and the sworn lovers and protectors of the bride and groom – all of whom have a stake in the outcome of this marriage. The happy couple (or at least satisfied, knowing that their marriage is a political arrangement) remain in the center of the frame while the assembled lords and ladies rise to join the dance.
Here Kilner cuts off Alicent’s uncle, Lord Hobert Hightower, who rises from his seat to say to a departing Alicent, “Know the old town is with you.” As the dance continues, the camera cuts back to Rhaenyra’s bodyguard and lover Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) – somewhat foreshadowing her final moments in the episode – then cuts to Ser Gerold Royce du Vale, who has developed his own reasons for opposing Targaryen rule. More players joined the dance, literally and figuratively.
Although, for the time being, these knowing stares and unspoken slights remain in the rarefied realm of courtly mores, these tensions will inevitably escalate into larger conflicts that will mean life and death for thousands of people in Westeros, noble and ordinary alike. . The characters understand the importance of these small symbolic gestures. Alicent arriving late at Rhaenyra’s wedding banquet isn’t just the end of their friendship; it is a declaration of war between them. And by blocking out and altering that scene to allow for such close reading of posture, gesture, and sight lines, the show also acknowledges their importance.
Even Viserys, who usually prefers to ignore the tensions in his court, can’t help but notice the ensuing confrontation between Ser Gerold and his arrogant brother Daemon. But then he watches the dance again, focusing on his daughter at the center of the swirling fabrics and taut limbs. This is Viserys’ fatal flaw: he only has eyes for Rhaenyra and her dream of keeping the Targaryens on the throne for the next hundred years, without seeing the rats scurrying around the edges of her grand plan. Laenor and his Bodyguard/lover Ser Joffrey Lonmouth is more observant, however, noticing Ser Criston’s forlorn expression and correctly assuming he is the reason Rhaenyra is settling for a “settlement” with her fiancé. Daemon, who has a habit (and is good at) of sneaking under his brother’s nose, also manages to slip into a position as his niece’s dance partner.
From there, the cutout gets faster and the wide shots of a full dance floor more frequent, and Kilner brings the camera’s focus back to the Targaryens and Velaryon, now completely distracted by their own internal dramas. We do not see how the fight begins on the dance floor; all we hear is a scream, which finally draws the attention of the royal families to their guests. The view of the action is obscured from the High Table – a powerful visual metaphor for the myopia of the Targaryens – and Rhaenyra is pushed back amid the crowd jockeys. The fight is glimpsed in fragments, and we lose track of Rhaenyra and Laenor amidst the chaos.
As soon as the body is taken away, someone (presumably Viserys) decides it would be best to end this marriage as soon as possible, before someone else dies. The secret ceremony that follows takes place amidst the remains of an abandoned, rotting, rat-chomped feast. For now, it is a symbolic loss and a temporary humiliation. But as personal grudges continue to escalate, the “Dance of the Dragons” will change from a literal dance to a symbolic dance: the dance of swords and knights on the battlefield. game of thronesand now Dragon House, tend to get a lot of attention and credit for their meticulously planned battle scenes; “We Light the Way” approaches the political side of the show with a similar cinematic sensibility, brilliantly emphasizing the connection between the two. Today, a spoiled party; tomorrow, a house in ruins.