It is an understatement to say that weddings rarely go well in the world of George RR Martin, and the game of Thrones prequel series house of the dragon is not an exception. The first season of house of the dragon moves much faster than game of Thrones: Five episodes later, and we’ve already covered half a decade in the life of King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) and his treacherous royal family. And episode 6 will see another time jump, this one will take viewers another 10 years.
Alliances are changing, factions are forming, and animosities are deepening. Book readers, as usual, know where this is all headed. But “We Light the Way” gives its viewers an elegantly constructed recap anyway, to help keep everything on track as we go along, whether they realize that’s what they’re watching or not.
An area where house of the dragon stands out is laying a visual foundation that gives observant viewers clues as to what comes next. Queen Alicent’s (Emily Carey) green dress in this week’s episode is a great example of this visual storytelling, as are the blood-sucking rats on the dance floor at the end of the episode. (Look up “Blood and Cheese, Dance of the Dragons” if you’re curious.) These clues point to where the story is going. But the episode’s director Clare Kilner’s most elaborate device reminds us where she’s been, setting up the throne room in King’s Landing, outfitted for a week-long wedding celebration, to have multiple lines of sight, each of they looking down and/or across the room to the central hallway 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, who have a stake in the outcome of this marriage. The happy (or at least content, with the understanding that their marriage is a political arrangement) couple stands in the center of the frame as the assembled lords and ladies rise to join the dance.
Here, Kilner cuts to Alicent’s uncle, Lord Hobert Hightower, who rises from his seat to tell Alicent to leave, “Know that Old Town is with you.” As the dance continues, the camera cuts back to Rhaenyra’s bodyguard and lover Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), a foreshadowing of her final moments in the episode, then cuts to Ser Gerold Royce of the Vale, who has developed his own reasons for opposing Targaryen rule. More gamers have joined the dance, both literally and figuratively.
Although, for the time being, these knowing looks and unspoken slights remain within the rarefied realm of courtly manners, these tensions will inevitably escalate into larger conflicts that will mean life or death for thousands of people in Westeros, noble and common alike. . The characters understand the importance of these small symbolic gestures. Alicent being late to Rhaenyra’s wedding feast is not just the end of their friendship; it is a declaration of war between them. And by blocking and editing this scene to allow such a close reading of posture, gesture, and lines of sight, the show also acknowledges its importance.
Even Viserys, who usually prefers to ignore the tensions in his court, can’t help but notice the resulting confrontation between Ser Gerold and his arrogant brother Daemon. But he then turns back to the dance, concentrating on his daughter in the center of the swirling fabrics and outstretched limbs. This is Viserys’s fatal flaw: he only has eyes for Rhaenyra and her dream of keeping the Targaryens on the throne for the next hundred years, unable to see the rats scurrying around the edges of his grand plan. Eleanor and its The bodyguard/lover, Ser Joffrey Lonmouth, are more observant, however, noticing Ser Criston’s sad expression and correctly assuming he is the reason Rhaenyra is happy with a “settlement” with her betrothed. Daemon, who is used to (and is good at) hiding under his brother’s nose, also manages to become his niece’s dance partner.
From here, the cut becomes faster and the wide shots of a packed dance floor more often, and Kilner refocuses the camera on the Targaryens and Velaryons, now completely distracted by their own internal dramas. We don’t see the fight start 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 Targaryen myopia) and Rhaenyra is pushed aside in the middle of the crowd. The fight is glimpsed in fragments, and we lose track of Rhaenyra and Laenor amid the chaos.
As soon as the body is dragged away, someone (presumably Viserys) decides that it would be better to end this wedding as soon as possible, before someone else dies. The secret ceremony that follows takes place among the remains of an abandoned feast, rotting and gnawed by rats. For now, it is a symbolic loss and a temporary humiliation. But as personal grudges continue to mount, the “Dance of the Dragons” will transform from a literal dance to a symbolic one: the dance of swords and knights on the battlefield. game of Thronesand now house of the dragon, which tends to get a lot of attention and credit for its meticulously planned battle scenes; “We Light the Way” approaches the political aspect of the show with a similar cinematic sensibility, brilliantly underlining the connection between the two. Today, a party ruined; tomorrow, a house in ruins.