House Of The Dragon Episode 6 Felt Like A Second Premiere
This article contains spoilers for all released episodes of House of the Dragon.
House of the Dragon's sixth episode, The Princess and the Queen, marked such a fundamental change from the episodes that came before it that it felt like the show started a second season halfway through its first.
The biggest change was obvious from the first shot, in which an older Rhaenyra gave birth to her third son, Joffrey. Immediately after the baby's birth, the child is summoned by Alicent, and Rhaenyra stubbornly and still-bleeding, marches up the stairs to show the infant to the queen herself. With most of this opening scene playing out in extended long takes, House of the Dragon is giving us plenty of time to get accustomed to the fact that Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke have replaced Milly Alcock and Emily Carey as Rhaenyra and Alicent.
Laenor, now played by John Macmillan, is at Rhaenyra's side and later in the episode we see Laena, now played by Nanna Blondell, with Daemon and their children. We first saw these characters as children, so seeing them now portrayed by actors in their late twenties and thirties brings home the time jump in a striking way.
The older actors grabbing the baton from their younger counterparts was just one of several ways The Princess and the Queen unmoored us from the season's first half. Viserys is still with us — despite the ominous blood loss and portentous collapse of last week's episode — but looks a bit worse for wear. He's missing an arm, his face has gotten wrinkly, his scalp is dotted with liver spots, and his hair looks less like the telltale locks of the Targaryen bloodline and more like Sméagol’s greasy stragglers.
The actor swaps and aging up significantly escalated several characters' arcs. Rhaenyra and Alicent, who were just beginning to distrust each other in the last few episodes, now hate each other. Given that, for weeks, a prominent promo image from HBO has shown Rhaenyra holding back Alicent with a knife in her hand, it's unsurprising that this is where things are headed. But, it is a bit of a shock to go from Alicent's arrival at Rhaenyra's wedding banquet in a green dress, signaling war, to the middle of open conflict between the two former best friends.
HBO forecasted the time jump from before the first episode, so most viewers likely knew that D'Arcy and Cooke would be taking over in the lead roles. But, I've been watching this show closely and reading and writing about it every week, and I was still confused as hell by the litter of children that just got delivered to King's Landing this week. Two boys with blonde wigs, two boys with short dark hair, a girl who we only see briefly, and a newborn. It's a lot to keep track of and, for the first time since the premiere, I felt a little bit overwhelmed by the show.
All of these changes could lead to a loss of momentum (which is a complaint I've seen against the episode). But, some dynamic camera work in the opening scenes helped to give the episode a feeling of perpetual motion. With minimal cuts as we were introduced to the new Rhaenyra, Laenor, and Alicent, the episode was able to hold us in suspense as it revealed the ways that the established status quo had changed. Given that time jumps are likely to continue to be a part of a series that covers as much ground as House of the Dragon, suspense is a key tool in the tool belt. House of the Dragon will continue to change, but the smart writing and direction in The Princess and the Queen is a blueprint for how to keep viewers invested as the ground shifts beneath their feet.
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