House of the Dragon: ‘King of the Narrow Sea’ (Episode 4) Review
'House of the Dragon's' fourth episode makes a solid step in the right direction, but it needs to maintain that pacing as it moves forward.
House of the Dragon continues to soldier its way forward through the first season with a fourth episode that is a marginal touch better than the previous three. There’s a bit more to unpack after this episode, and it marks the first time that the show has finally laid down some actual meaningful plot points. Where it goes from here remains to be seen.
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There’s no sense drudging up all the good and bad of past episodes, as the same formula is still playing out. This time, however, there’s a bit more meat on the bone, and it will cause some significant ramifications for the kingdom as the story moves forward. It achieves this by dragging the viewer down a twisted tunnel of sexual debauchery and incestual behavior that was better left insinuated, rather than shown.
Nevertheless, ‘King of the Narrow Sea’ somehow manages to avoid the trappings of perverse titillation in an effort to set up a game-changing narrative that upends the status quo. That’s the best thing that could have happened to the show since its run-of-the-mill debut a few weeks back.
The story focuses largely on Princess Rhaenyra and her complex relationship with her uncle Daemon Targaryen, who returns to King’s Landing to gift his prize of victory over the Crabfeeder to his brother, King Viserys. He does so with a rather convincing display of humility, and for a brief moment, it seems all is well with the world.
That is, until viewers remember Daemon beating the living spit out of a messenger from King’s Landing in the last episode. Here, Daemon appears both clear-headed, and conniving, and it’s hard to tell which is winning the battle.
Trouble brews when Daemon convinces Rhaenyra to leave the castle keep with him and enter the city streets below under disguise. He takes her to several spots in an effort to get her to understand public sentiment towards the ruling class, including their feelings about her as the future leader.
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He then capitalizes on Rhaenyra’s frustrations with the duties associated with her royal bloodline by taking her to a pleasure house, where he puts the moves on her. It’s a wholly uncomfortable scene, especially given how aroused Rhaenyra is. However, before copulation occurs, a frustrated Daemon stops his own advances, for reasons unknown.
A disappointed Rhaenyra decides to seek out an alternative sexual partner in the form of a reluctant Ser Criston Cole, which is a violation of his oath of service. That sexual liaison goes unnoticed, while her initial friskiness with Daemon becomes known to Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King.
When Hightower breaks the news to King Viserys, it drives an immediate wedge between the two. Viserys confronts Daemon for the truth, and it is revealed that the latter wishes to wed Rhaenyra, which hints at the Targaryen penchant for incestuous marriage arrangements to maintain power within the House.
If there’s one thing that can be said about ‘King of the Narrow Sea,’ it’s that the pace is finally starting to pick up. There are no great battles or action sequences to speak of, but rather, a tense undercurrent of frayed political relationships straining under the bulk of a King who cannot seem to keep his own House in order.
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For the first time, there’s actual risk injected into the story, and it makes for an interesting read. Everyone in the episode screws up in a big way, from Rhaenyra nearly throwing away her virtue to her biological uncle, to Daemon once again antagonizing the King, and of course, Otto Hightower’s big gamble, which backfired in cataclysmic fashion.
It’s about time the characters, and the show writ large, had the rug pulled out from under them. The elements to craft a compelling story are now present, but the table still hasn’t been set. For now, credit where credit is due, even if the road to get there was paved with monotony and creepy creative decisions.
The feminist narrative has also resurfaced, but quite honestly, it doesn’t feel all that exploitative. Princess Rhaenyra makes a number of compelling and truthful statements regarding the double standard between male and female rulers in ancient times, none of which can be argued. While the actors have made their feelings on this matter clear, the show has stuck largely to simple fact.
As such, it’s not nearly the feminist train wreck that fans might have expected. Rhaenyra clearly doesn’t enjoy the marital expectations placed on her, and that’s not entirely surprising. It’s doubtful that many girls in her position down through real-world history enjoyed it either.
House of the Dragon has so far steered away from the rampant sexual content of its predecessor series, but that’s not to say it isn’t there. However, there’s a distinct difference between watching hedonistic elites indulge their pornographic fantasies in a pleasure house, and watching an uncle and his young niece stop short of the horizontal mambo.
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The sexual content of this episode drags on for an uncomfortable amount of time, and although Rhaenyra’s sexcapade with Criston Cole is somewhat tender and sweet, it’s clear that the former’s intentions are wildly selfish and irresponsible. Perhaps that’s the point – to showcase Rhaenyra getting increasingly sick and tired of being used as a political football.
The story is still moving slower than expected, and again, the reason is due to a lack of interweaving storylines that helped keep Game of Thrones feeling so narratively fresh. This is one singular plotline that rarely steps outside of its own front door, which means monotony is still a constant. If the entire season continues down this path, it’s hard to see it retaining viewers for the long haul.
‘King of the Narrow Sea’ is a step up from the previous House of the Dragon episodes, and that’s a good thing, but it needs to go farther, push harder, and make true inroads into series lore. The stuffiness of the main narrative is hard to endure, but the clever themes that underline the events of this episode are strong.
With Otto Hightower’s fall from grace, the stage is now set for the back stabbings that will inevitably lead to large-scale conflict. However, in order to stand on its own two feet, House of the Dragon needs to finally acknowledge that it doesn’t have any White Walkers, Three-Eyed Ravens or vengeful continent-hopping Dragon Queens to pad the story.
That means taking the battle outwards into the various lands of Westeros, and allowing the show to expand its chest, instead of constricting the plot with a narrative corset. This fourth episode is a step in the right direction, but it feels a lot like the Fed gradually raising interest rates in small increments to combat inflation, instead of doing what needs to be done.
NEXT: House of the Dragon: ‘Second of His Name’ (Episode 3) Review
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