Laena, her brother Laenor, and an individual whose identity we never learn. In the House of the Dragon’s seventh episode, while Westeros is sliding uncontrollably toward what will undoubtedly be a catastrophically bloody conflict, its own body count is quite low compared to previous episodes.
The single on-screen death in this episode, that of the unnamed man whose neck is broken as part of a complicated ruse to fake Ser Laenor’s (John Macmillan) death, is an excellent example of the episode’s emphasis on social norms as a means of covering and revealing the truth. Laena’s burial gives her uncle the opportunity to make a veiled attack on Rhaenyra over the legitimacy of her children.
Rhaenyra’s secret marriage to her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) is used to boost her image as a ruthless power player, while Ser Laenor’s duel with his lover Qarl (Arty Froushan) provides cover for their bittersweet escape from the bloody political games of the royal court. Every place we look, the traditions and customs that connect people within Westeros together are being challenged by personal interests.
The fact that the episode manages to keep so many plates spinning at once while also slowing down after last week’s breakneck pace is nothing short of a miracle, but Miguel Sapochnik and Sara Hess pull it off with ease. From the sombrely political funeral sequence to the darkly magnificent and frightening capture of Vhagar by young prince Aemond (Leo Ashton), “Driftmark” effortlessly glides along.
The gothic setting of House Velaryon, where the royal family has gathered to mourn, gives the whole affair a sense of foreboding. The return of the cadaverous Rhys Ifans as Otto Hightower, Hand of the King only adds to this feeling. It is more than a little reminiscent of The Masque of the Red Death with these inbred nobles scheming and trysting while their realm teeters on destruction.
During the episode’s centerpiece action sequence, a scrap between the royal children that goes from awful to worse in the blink of an eye, it is clear no good will come of this. When Prince Aemond returns victorious from attacking Vhagar, Rhaenyra’s sons and Daemon’s daughters waylay him in Driftmark’s dungeons. The scene is lit and filmed like something out of Neil Marshall’s The Descent, torchlight flickering over the faces of young Targaryen heirs as their childish squabble rapidly becomes deadly with fists and feet giving way to stones and knives. It’s enough to make Viserys’ (Paddy Considine) request for a return to the family’s status quo seem almost comically out of touch, with him pleading with the referee to stop World War II with a whistle. As Aemond, Ashton makes an excellent showing, his every appearance and movement carrying the sullen bitterness of his position as a dragon’s second son, and he’s just as bad a winner as he is a sore loser, bullying and abusing his younger cousins and nephews with staggering prejudice.
It’s no surprise that Aemond gets his temper and attitude from Rhaenyra. Her one-time buddy has become a brittle, dysfunctional woman, but she emerges as an independent figure in the aftermath of the kids’ quarrel. Alicent entering into a rage demands recompense for Aemond’s lifelong injury: an eye from one of Rhaenyra’s children. The episode once again chooses a ritual — the most basic, literally biblical tradition of an eye for an eye — as the focal point of its drama.
We see the real Alicent during the demand ceremony: a confused and frightened woman who is in a state of constant panic because of her father’s abuse. The final conversation between parent and child mirrors the moment of honesty between Rhaenys (Eve Best) and her husband Corlys (Steve Toussaint) after their daughter’s funeral. During this conversation, Rhaenys rejects her husband’s ambition to have his own descendants seated on the throne. Instead, the king praises his daughter’s strange conduct, calling it a sign of bravery. His pleasure at her obvious sickness is perhaps the episode’s most repulsive sight, a yet another lie hidden behind his solemn facade and royal court’s arcane traditions.
Movie Name: House of the Dragon episode 7 – Driftmark
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Cast Leads: Paddy Considine, Matt Smith Matt Smith, Olivia Cooke Olivia Cooke, Emma D’Arcy Emma D’Arcy, Rhys Ifans
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Producer: Kevin Lau, Alexis Raben, Karen Wacker
Written by: George R.R. Martin (based on “Fire & Blood” by), Ryan J. Condal, Kevin Lau
Music: Ramin Djawadi
Director Of Photography: Fabian Wagner
Movie Rating: 4.7/5