You don’t think of Game of Thrones as a show that embraces seriality; with the exception of its big battles, most episodes felt more like chapters in a book than stand-alone installments. (Probably because they were once chapters in a book.) But in its second episode, the spinoff House of the Dragon broke the mold. This episode was not structured like a normal Game of Thrones episode. It was structured like a season finale of The Bachelor. So we decided to recap it like one.
After recent heartbreak (murdering his wife via C-section), King Viserys is ready to find love with one of our two finalists. The first: Laena Velaryon, Viserys’s first cousin once removed and a literal 12-year-old. The second: Alicent Hightower, a comparably mature woman of 15 being groomed as a sexual prospect for the king by her father. Which of them will receive the final rose? (A rose that, because this is Westeros, is surely covered in gigantic thorns that leave the hands of anyone who touches it a bloody, mangled mess?)
To recap, both girls made it through Hometowns: In Driftmark, seat of Laena’s parents Corlys and Rhaenys, Viserys was treated to the Velaryons’ family tradition of lingering resentment served with bitter condescension. For Alicent’s, they couldn’t just stay in King’s Landing, so the producers shipped everyone out to Oldtown, which was awkward because the family hadn’t been back in years. “That’s the Hightower … they named it that because it’s a very high tower.” Gripping television.
But now it’s our Bachelor’s finale, and instead of being whisked away to an exotic locale, the contestants will remain in the same place they’ve spent 90 percent of this season — the Red Keep and its surrounding environs. Tax breaks in the Vale of Arryn are not what they used to be.
Alicent’s date is up first, and I don’t know if the producers are cutting corners or what, but filming ventures no farther than the king’s own study for this one. The theme of their conversation is “vulnerability,” which for Viserys means showing Alicent his most prized possession: a full-scale model of pre-Doom Valyria, complete with dragon action-set accessories. He somewhat embarrassingly has to explain that he didn’t build it himself, but Alicent, who has clearly been instructed that the way to a man’s heart is through his miniatures, does her best to engage as he mournfully notes, “The glory of Old Valyria will never be seen again.” Ever helpful, Alicent plays her Personal Tragedy Card under the auspices of healing the king’s strained relationship with his daughter. Luckily, Viserys doesn’t give pay much attention to the reason she gives such good advice about Rhaenyra: They are exactly the same age.
After a bit of spon for the maesters’ latest innovation in medical technology, the maggot spa, we’re on to Laena’s date. The producers have pulled out all the stops for this one, transporting the happy couple a whole 300 feet from the Red Keep to the palace gardens. On paper, Laena would seem to have everything going for her: She and Viserys have a lot in common, including an interest in dragons and also their DNA. But, the age thing. To paraphrase Walter Sobchak, “12-year-olds, dude.” When Laena gives Viserys her little memorized speech about bearing him “many children of pure Valyrian blood,” there’s no way for her to not sound like a fifth-grader giving a class presentation on Why Eugenics Is Important. Which, of course, is exactly what she is.
Things get worse when Laena reveals that her mother promised she wouldn’t have to sleep with the king until she turns 14. Not that Viserys seems particularly eager to head to the Fantasy Suite, but it’s the kind of thing he’d prefer not to think about either way.
Things have been moving a little too briskly, so before we can get to the final Rose Ceremony, we’ve got to sit through a 15-minute tease of next season’s Bachelor, which will be — surprise — Viserys’s little brother, Prince Daemon. We’re told this is going to be the craziest season yet: Not only is Daemon our first Bachelor who’s already married, but his stable of contestants includes his own biological niece, Princess Rhaenyra! When these two dragon-riders face off, will sparks fly?
Ahead of the Rose Ceremony, Viserys agonizes over his choice. If he goes with Laena, he’ll strengthen the realm, heal a dynastic rift, and keep those all-important bloodlines pure. But he’ll also be marrying an actual child, which is gross, as well as suboptimal on the “getting more heirs ASAP” front. If he goes with Alicent, he’ll destabilize the balance of power on the Small Council and possibly ruin his relationship with his daughter. On the other hand, she’s played the Shoulder To Cry On role to a tee, and is clearly the one he prefers. We’re in for a classic Bachelor dilemma — will the king go with his head or his heart? (Before you ask how these girls made it to the finale because surely there are better choices of a more reasonable age somewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, the answer is no. It’s one of these two or nothing.)
Tensions are high in Small Council HQ as the ceremony commences. Viserys begins by announcing he’s chosen a new bride — a small thing, sure, but it puts him ahead of a ton of previous Bachelors on the decisiveness front. Without beating around the bush or even giving a little consolation to the unlucky loser, he reveals his choice: It’s Alicent Hightower getting out of the carriage! Corlys Velaryon proclaims the entire show a farce while Otto Hightower looks pleased as punch. The drama is high. It’s too bad this is the season finale, which means we won’t get to see if there are any adverse consequences of this decision!