House of the Dragon’s’ pacing has been a problem. Episode 8 might finally solve it

The eighth episode of “House of the Dragon,” “The Lord of the Tides,” raises a query that few of us had previously given much thought to: Who will take the throne of Driftwood? It would have said, “I waited all week for ‘House of the Dragon,’ and all I got was a stupid piece of beach trash,” if my disinterest could be expressed in a T-shirt slogan.

And I don’t believe my frustration was excessive. The Warlocks of Qarth, the Wight babies, and the hippy commune that is only remembered today because its leader was portrayed by the charismatic Ian McShane were all side trips that “Game of Thrones” made that now seem unnecessary. However, the television industry is now far more crowded than it was in the past. Even on the back of a dragon, there is no time for meandering travels.

But despite a rocky beginning, “House of the Dragon” on Sunday night turned out to be the prequel’s most important and pivotal episode yet. In order to ensure 200 years of brutal unrest and plenty of material for upcoming seasons, fortunes were turned, heads were rolled, enemies united, and a dying dynasty’s intentions were badly misread.

While it has been a fascinating journey, the final seven episodes of the series have felt rushed at times as they have given viewers a crash course in the people, places, and rivalries of old Westeros. On Sunday, it seemed like the drama had finally found its place in a predetermined timeline and selected its major characters for the long term. The series is now set up for major family feuds and other conflicts over the Iron Throne.

Six years have passed since Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) wed uncle Daemon, the brother of her father, in episode eight (Matt Smith). When word reaches Castle Driftmark that Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) has been hurt in battle and may not survive, they already have blond twins and another child is on the way. The Sea Snake’s brother, Ser Vaemond, challenges the legitimacy of his heir, Rhaenyra’s brown-haired son Prince Lucerys Velaryon (Elliot Grihault) (Wil Johnson).Given that the Sea Snake owns the largest navy in the world and is wealthier than the Lannisters, there is a lot at risk. Vaemond requests a hearing on a petition in King’s Landing. When all the families come together in the Red Keep, a chain of things happens that alters the course of the realm forever.

The state of King Viserys Targaryen’s health is another factor (Paddy Considine). Due to repeated dosages of the painkiller known as “milk of the poppy,” he is terminally ill and scarcely conscious. Additionally, the king’s degeneration is a horrifying and gory event because the program enjoys gore. (I’ll admit, I could only see him from the protection of my hands.) To Queen Alicent’s dismay, he musters the energy to preside over the hearing and restore his grandson’s right to Driftmark at the request of Rhaenyra and Daemon (Olivia Cooke).

Then it’s on to supper, where the king begs his family to “Set aside your differences, if not for the sake of the kingdom, then for the sake of this old man who loves you all passionately.” He who dared to question the legitimacy of the princess’ “bastard” son lost his head. For a fleeting, heartwarming second, rivals unite in support of the ailing king. Even proposing toasts in each other’s honor, Rhaenyra and Alicent. But once he’s been taken back to bed, past grudges between their offspring resurface (such as tearing out a cousin’s eye or stealing a deceased aunt’s dragon), exposing a tinderbox of entitlement and hatred. By the time the episode is over, the fuse is lit.

The new actors portray the royal children, who are now young adults. Jacaerys Velaryon, the eldest son of Rhaenyra, is portrayed by Harry Collett, and Aemond Targaryen, the haughty middle son of the king, is portrayed by Ewan Mitchell. Aemon One Eye is a cunning character with an eye patch and an evil grin. He is in a position to succeed Prince Daemon as the most dangerous outlaw in the court.

Regardless of who occupies the Driftwood throne, Westeros’ future appears bleak. Start the games now.

This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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