House of the Dragon episode 4 — out now on HBO Max and Disney+ Hotstar — is all about how quickly fortunes can change. By midway through episode 2, Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) had made an enemy of his brother, King Viserys (Paddy Considine), for stealing a dragon egg and styling himself Lord of Dragonstone. Daemon further angered him in episode 3 by starting a war in the Stepstones and dragging the Crown into it. Yet, at the start of episode 4, thanks to a victory he secured, Daemon is back in the king’s good graces. Publicly, at least. BUT—by the end of House of the Dragon episode 4, Viserys despises his brother and banishes him, thanks to his part in a royal scandal that has engulfed Viserys’ heir and daughter, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock).
Speaking of the future potential Queen, Rhaenyra ends up in a much bigger quagmire by the time House of the Dragon episode 4 wraps. All seemed to be well between father and daughter when we last saw them together. In the intervening time — Aegon II has turned three, we are told, which suggests about a year has passed — Viserys has organised a tour of potential suitors for Rhaenyra. It’s how House of the Dragon episode 4 opens, with men (and boys) of all ages making a verbal PowerPoint presentation on why they are best suited to be her husband. But Rhaenyra swipes left on all of them, and cuts the tour short two months early. Viserys is “frustrated” that she has returned without picking anyone, Rhaenyra’s best friend Queen Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) tells her.
“It’s rare for a woman to get a choice between two suitors, let alone two scores,” Alicent notes to the heir of the Iron Throne. “They only want my name and my Valyrian blood for their offspring,” Rhaenyra objects, to which Alicent replies on House of the Dragon episode 4: “I think it’s rather romantic.” The Targaryen teenager retorts near instantly without thinking: “How romantic is it to be imprisoned in a castle and be made to put out offspring after offspring?” Rhaenyra has inadvertently neatly summarised Alicent’s situation, and when she realises the unintended jab, she comforts her best friend by squeezing her hand.
But it’s also clear that while Alicent is happy with her position, Rhaenyra cares more for adventure. That has always been her. So later that night in House of the Dragon episode 4, when Rhaenyra finds a note and a bag full of commoner’s clothes in her chambers, she jumps at the opportunity. Slinking through a secret entrance in her bedroom, Rhaenyra finds Daemon waiting for her, who subsequently introduces her to the nightlife of King’s Landing. First up, they see a play — Game of Thrones did this very nicely, so I’m happy to see the prequel spin-off continue in that vein — that Rhaenyra doesn’t take kindly to. Largely because they are mocking her female credentials (A girl heir?! Will she be feeble?), while noting that baby Aegon II has a conqueror’s name and a penis. How does that count for anything?
The next section of the Flea Bottom tour is much more risqué. For Daemon though, it’s just another Tuesday. The Targaryen prince takes his niece into a pleasure den on House of the Dragon episode 4, opening Rhaenyra to a range of sexual gratification she has never witnessed before. Daemon then takes off her headgear — the very thing that aided in her disguise, keeping her unmistakably white Targaryen locks hidden — as they head deeper in. It’s like he wants everyone to know she was here.
And then, in full view of everyone, Daemon makes a move on his niece. “Marriage is a duty,” he says to Rhaenyra, as House of the Dragon episode 4 intercuts with Queen Alicent silently taking her husband, who woke her up on a booty call in the middle of the night, “but that doesn’t stop us from doing what we want.” As he undresses her, Daemon turns her around and pushes her against the wall, but when she turns around to face him and repeatedly tries to kiss him, he runs off. Clearly, the rogue prince has gotten too used to paying for sex, and doesn’t like it when someone else takes control.
When Rhaenyra gets back to her chambers, she’s still in a playful mood. She teases her bodyguard Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) by snatching his helmet, before kissing him as he tries to take it back. The Kingsguard take a vow of chastity, so Criston is naturally conflicted. He pauses to consider what he’s getting into, before giving into Rhaenyra’s very obvious desires. What follows is one of the most tender moments in the history of Game of Thrones as a franchise. Though admittedly, that’s a very low bar considering most sexual activity is either violent, gratuitous, or both. It’s been mere minutes since the Queen was essentially forced into sex on House of the Dragon episode 4 itself.
In the morning though, there’s no time for Rhaenyra to bask in the afterglow. The Hand of the King, Ser Otto Hightower’s (Rhys Ifans), spies woke him up during the night to tell him what the Princess was up to. And Otto’s first action in the morning is to barge into the King’s chambers and spew everything he has been told. Engaging in “behaviour unbecoming of a maiden”, Otto tries to put it respectfully on House of the Dragon episode 4, while still clearly punching down at Rhaenyra. But Viserys doesn’t react nicely — he thinks this is a plot on Otto’s behalf. Still, Otto gets what he wants, because the inquisition begins the moment he leaves.
A hungover Daemon is dragged into the Great Hall — his star has fallen quickly, considering where he was at the start of House of the Dragon episode 4 — where Viserys launches at him. The King is even more furious for how easily the Prince accepts his actions, and then has the gall to propose that he will take Rhaenyra as his wife if no other lord would. Viserys has no interest in his wishes. After all, it’s not the Princess he wants, but the Iron Throne. Also, Daemon already has a wife he’s ignoring, Viserys points out, and tells him to go to the Vale with the little shred of respect and dignity he has left. What a rollercoaster for Daemon — he has gone from outcast to being accepted to being thrown out.
First, Alicent confronts Rhaenyra who denies that Daemon even touched her. Though she’s unhappy that her best friend is accusing her of things she “overheard”, the Targaryen heir does admit that she went frolicking about Flea Bottom with Daemon. “It was foolish of you to place yourself in a position where your virtue could even come into question,” Alicent ultimately says to Rhaenyra in House of the Dragon episode 4. This would be unsettling coming from anyone, but it’s even more so when it’s uttered by a woman and one of her closest companions. Alicent is clearly not one to challenge internalised misogyny. No one would even bat an eye if Daemon was spotted in pleasure dens — he’s done it a thousand times, in fact — but we can’t have Rhaenyra lurking about such corners.
Rhaenyra points out those exact double standards to her father. “If I were a man, I could father a dozen bastards and no one in your court would blink an eye,” she says, after she’s summoned to his chambers in House of the Dragon episode 4. Viserys notes that she’s right, but “you were born a woman.” The King is effectively saying that the universe dealt her a bad hand — and now she must live with it. Rhaenyra’s late-night escapades have also blown apart the goodwill she had earned. Viserys has decided that she will marry Laenor Velaryon — the son of Princess Rhaenys “The Queen Who Never Was” and Lord Corlys “Sea Snake” Velaryon, just as Viserys’ adviser told him on episode 3 — to solve what he notes has become his “political headache”.
In return, Rhaenyra sets out an ultimatum to her father. Otto must go, she says, for he’s too devoted to his personal interests: to put his grandson Aegon II on the throne. And just like that, one main cast House of the Dragon member is out, it seems, as a blindsided Otto is stripped of his Hand of the King position.
And though I’m sure there will be more to this royal scandal, House of the Dragon episode 4 puts a note on it at the end, as Rhaenyra is served a “special tea”. The King had it brewed, to ensure there are no “unforeseen consequences,” the Maester tells Rhaenyra. What he’s trying to avoid saying is that the tea acts as a morning-after pill. It’s useful for the Princess too — she may not have had sex with Daemon, but she did take her bodyguard to bed.