‘House of the Dragon’ throws yet another red wedding in Westeros

Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

Welcome back to "House of the Dragon" recaps! In the fifth episode, "We Light the Way," alliances are formed, allegiances are broken and another bloody royal wedding enters the "Game of Thrones" pantheon. Here’s all the latest from Westeros. "House of the Dragon" is streaming via HBO Max.

King’s Landing has seen its share of unlikely sources of drama — and we can now add fashion (and one dress in particular) to the list. The fifth episode of "House of the Dragon" — titled "We Light The Way," the motto of House Hightower — seems to mark the moment that Alicent Targaryen née Hightower (Emily Carey) truly comes into her own. Previously, we’ve seen her endure the marriage chamber, a fraught friendship with Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and her new role as a mother. But here she finally takes a stand. Before we get to her big moment, however, we must deal with an engagement. 

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The big news out of Westeros

It’s a nice day for another red wedding. At long last, Rhaenyra has to meet her royal fate, as the nuptials between her and Leanor Velaryon (Theo Nate) sit at the center of this week’s story. It will come as no surprise to "Game of Thrones" fans that a sense of foreboding builds from the very beginning of the episode, as Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) makes a dramatic exit from court that promises disaster for Alicent; he suggests her children will have to pray for mercy if Rhaenyra becomes Queen. After all, the easiest way for Rhaenyra to shore up her claim would be to eliminate her potential rivals — even if they are her half-siblings. 


Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

While Alicent frets, King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Rhaenyra take a quick trip over to Driftmark to formalize her betrothal. In a courtly power move, Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and Rhaenys (Eve Best, in a welcome return) keep the ailing king waiting before formally discussing the matter of their children's engagement. Corlys is clearly still scheming to get his family close to the Iron Throne, even though his wife has pretty much made her peace with being passed over as queen. 

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Over on the beach, meanwhile, Leanor and Rhaenyra enjoy a slightly warmer reunion. They’ve known each other since birth and quickly come to an understanding about their marriage: Rhaenyra suggests that Leanor keep seeing his lover, Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod), while she continues having her own affairs as well. It seems like a perfect arrangement, until Rhaenyra’s lover and Kingsguard protector, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), begs her to forget the throne and elope with him — an offer Rhaenyra swiftly refuses.


Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

To Ser Criston, it appears as if Rhaenyra is choosing her birthright over him — but viewers will realize that Rhaenyra was trying to explain that birthright goes beyond a title, referencing Aegon the Conqueror’s darkly prophetic Song of Ice and Fire (which her father shared with her in the series premiere). Unfortunately, Rhaenyra’s rejection, and Ser Criston’s failure to understand the reasons for her choice, sets up the darkest parts of the episode. 

A royal wedding gone wrong


Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

Back at King’s Landing, Alicent gets a guilt-ridden Ser Criston to confess that Rhaenyra lied to her face about that wild night in King’s Landing and the state of her "maidenhood" — not a small betrayal, since Alicent vouched for Rhaenyra with King Viserys (a move that ultimately led to Alicent’s father losing his position as Hand and leaving the court). So the queen sets out to light her own way for once.

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Enter: The Dress. As book readers know, the Targaryen civil war in George R. R. Martin’s "Fire and Blood" is often divided into "the blacks" and "the greens" thanks to the respective dresses Alicent and Rhaenyra wear to a big tournament. 

We get a parallel moment in this episode, which Emily Carey plays perfectly as a stoic Alicent arrives late to the betrothal feast, clad in a stunning emerald green dress. It’s a statement and a half — a sartorial shift of allegiance that’s clear to all the lords and ladies in attendance.


Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

But The Dress is only one of the moments of upheaval at the betrothal feast. Daemon (Matt Smith), with terrible timing as ever, shows up fresh off of brutally murdering his wife in the Vale in the episode’s opening moments. Viserys, meanwhile, tries to keep himself together while his green-dress-wearing wife ignores him. Elsewhere, Laenor’s paramour Joffrey lovingly tries to protect his partner’s interests. And then there’s Ser Criston Cole, watching his seemingly happy ex-lover marry somebody else.

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The music speeds up, the camera moves swiftly from one lingering look to another and it’s all comfortably (and uncomfortably) familiar: This is the Westeros of "Game of Thrones," where observation is just as important as participation, and gossip is king (or queen). And where royal weddings often come with a body count. 


Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

When all the tension boils over, it’s chaos. Criston brutally kills the devoted Joffrey, then moves to turn his dagger on himself — but he’s stopped by Queen Alicent (so it’s probably safe to assume his allegiance has shifted too). Oh, and the muted marriage ceremony concludes with the sickly King Viserys passing out. It’s not a whirlwind. It’s a full-on hurricane.

Most memorable line

Alicent calling Rhaenyra "stepdaughter" was practical dripping with poison. It’s an entertaining moment, but as with Rhaenyra’s scene with Rhaenys in episode two, this writer can’t help but wish that the women in this misogynist and patriarchal world could be on the same side for once. 

Episode MVP

Emily Carey’s complicated, emotive goodbye to her onscreen father was perfect. Similarly, Eve Best just electrifies any scene she’s in.


Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

Our critic’s take

This was the most exhilarating episode of "House of the Dragon" yet, albeit with a few worrying elements. Once again, an LGBTQ+ character in the "Thrones" universe met a violent end. Even more troublingly, Joffrey’s death didn’t really seem to add much in the way of character or plot development — a fight between Daemon and Criston, for example, would’ve ratcheted up the chaos and tension in much the same way. And while it wasn’t a major storyline, the episode also features the tired trope of the duplicitous disabled person in the form of the pot-stirring Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) and his new alliance with Alicent. It wasn’t egregious, but the "Thrones" universe still has a long way to go when it comes to diversity and representation. 

Still, those are ultimately minor qualms in a damn good episode. In fact, "We Light The Way," brought us back to a time when waiting a whole week between "Game of Thrones" episodes felt nearly impossible. 


Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

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Nearly everything about this episode works in perfect harmony — the beautiful score from Ramin Djawadi; the fun new players, like Savannah Steyn as Laena Velaryon; and some truly electrifying scenes, like Rhaenyra verbally cutting down Daemon in Valyrian.

Perhaps most importantly, "We Light the Way" serves as an excellent send-off for the young versions of Alicent and Rhaenyra, with Emily Carey and Milly Alcock giving what are arguably their best performances on the series to date. Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke will have some big shoes to fill as they step into their roles next week.

Next week

A 10-year time jump.

The first season of "House of the Dragon" is a 10-episode medieval fantasy series. New episodes arrive weekly through Oct. 23. Featuring: Milly Alcock, Paddy Considine, Emma D'Arcy, Matt Smith, Emily Carey, Olivia Cooke, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Fabien Frankel, Sonoya Mizuno, Rhys Ifans.

About the writer: Chloe Johnson is a freelance writer, magazine editor and longtime Sansa Stark fan. You can find her other work at The Bookseller, The Grammys, and The Independent.

Binge while you wait: "Shameless," streaming free on Tubi

Shameless (2004-2013): Before "Shamless" was a hit Showtime series starring Emmy Rossum and William H. Macy, it was a British dramedy featuring (among others) a young James McAvoy. Set on the fictional Chatsworth council estate in Manchester, "Shameless" chronicles the lives of the Gallagher family and their neighbors, zeroing in on the nuances of British working-class culture. Frank Gallagher (David Threlfall) is an alcoholic single dad trying (and mostly failing) to raise his six kids right. Instead it’s his eldest daughter Fiona (Anne-Marie Duff) who actually keeps things in order. "Shameless" deploys such a unique tone that it even managed to win both Best Drama Series at the BAFTA TV Awards and Best TV Comedy Drama at the British Comedy Awards. Rated TV-MA. 11 seasons, 139 episodes. Also featuring Rebecca Atkinson, Alice Barry.

How to watch "Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon" episode five

The first five episodes of "House of the Dragon" are currently streaming on HBO Max. They’re also available On Demand for HBO subscribers.

When is the next episode of "Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon"?

Episode six of "House of the Dragon" premieres on HBO on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. It will also stream on HBO Max at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT — so West Coast fans can watch along simultaneously. New episodes air weekly through Oct. 23.

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