This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 7.
An uncomfortable but inevitable romance has finally ignited in Westeros. It feels a bit wrong to have been rooting for Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) and her uncle Daemon (Matt Smith) all season, but at least House of the Dragon’s newest power couple aren’t twins? And the seventh episode definitely addresses the slow burn building of an alliance between the two rebellious dragonriders on their way to an epic “dance” of war.
But is it also true love?
Fire calls to fire, and if one overlooks their royally tangled bloodlines, the sexual tension between Rhaenyra and Daemon has simmered from the show’s start. In episode four, desire escalated when Daemon encouraged his young niece (then played by Milly Alcock) to sneak away from the palace in disguise and join him on a tour of the capital’s seedier side, leading to an almost-tryst in a brothel that had fate-changing consequences for all of the show’s main players.
Naturally, the pair was spotted, word got back to King Viserys (Paddy Considine), and it resulted in Daemon’s banishment to the Vale, Rhaenyra being forced to wed Ser Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan), and a final break in the friendship between the princess and Queen Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey/Olivia Cooke). That evening also saw a frustrated Rhaenyra calling upon Ser Criston Cole (Fabian Frankel) and his, er, swordsmanship, to put her to bed. That completed, treasonous sexual encounter between Rhaenyra and her Kingsguard protector would of course turn sour, when Rhaenyra flaunted her ironically untouchable status as Viserys’ heir and the ethically compromised knight wrestled with his loyalties to the crown.
Ten years passed between that night in the brothel and Rhaenyra and Daemon’s next secret rendezvous and the similarities between the two Targaryens have only grown. That Rhaenyra is now played by an older actress, Emma D’Arcy, and Matt Smith’s bad boy uncle still looks the same age (a reverse-Matthew McConaughey in Dazed & Confused, if you will) only helps to keep the couple appearing equally matched in every way, right down to their nearly invisible eyebrows.
Both Targaryens have navigated the question of King Viserys’ succession as outsiders in the court of public opinion. Daemon has always felt he had the strongest claim to the Iron Throne, before Viserys wed his second wife and had sons, and all but declared an open rebellion against his brother. Rhaenyra, too, was an outsider at court, as even those who took an oath to support Viserys’ naming of his daughter as his rightful heir to the Iron Throne could not keep their displeasure with the decision secret. Both uncle and niece (and viewers of House of the Dragon) grew increasingly frustrated with Viserys’ weakness as a ruler, denying his court and kingdom were sliding unchallenged into warring factions.
Viserys is no dragon. Who needs a dragon in peacetime?
But Rhaenyra and Daemon understand that war has already been declared on House Targaryen. Rhaenyra’s marriage to Ser Laenor Velaryon was political only, as his sexual interests were with handsome men, but a woman in this world is only as powerful as her son-making abilities. Rejected by her one-time paramour Criston Cole, she found her sperm donor – and, it is implied, companionship – with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr). But the children are so obviously not Laenor’s, not even Viserys’ deep denial can keep the queen’s supporters from fighting for Viserys’ legitimate son’s succession.
Daemon’s relationship with his third wife Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) was definitely less contentious than his previous marriages, and though the show skipped over their honeymoon phase, the pair was like the Beyoncé and Jay-Z of the Seven Kingdoms and the Free Cities, wealthy celebrities putting on majorly popular dragonriding shows and decadent feasts for audiences around the world. Yet when Laena chose to die by dragonfire instead of in a bloody childbirthing bed, Daemon did not seem terribly sad, not for himself.
Daemon’s openly had his eyes on his brother’s throne, but in his supreme narcissism, he can’t help but be drawn to the aspects of Rhaenya that remind him of himself: willfulness, cunning, ambition, and a love of rulebreaking. It’s still unclear if House of the Dragon wants us to think that Daemon couldn’t consummate things with Rhaenyra a decade ago because she was too young and naive suggesting that Daemon had changed for the better after he won his battle against The Crabfeeder. It implies his care is genuine.
While Rhaenyra wasn’t as openly eager to rule the Seven Kingdoms as her uncle, when Queen Allicent and her allies tightened their ranks against Rhaenyra’s claim and threatened her children’s legitimacy – and their lives – she made a calculated protective mother’s decision worthy of Cersei Lannister. Her uncle’s popularity, his powerful military skills, and his dragon can only help strengthen Rhaenyra’s stake in the Iron Throne.
When Rhaenyra proposes marriage to Daemon, she knows he’s the only person she’s ever trusted with her secrets and the only person devious enough to arrange the “accidental” death of Rhaenyra’s inconvenient current husband, Laenor. Like the famous baptism montage in The Godfather, Laenor’s “demise” was intercut with a Targaryen wedding ceremony conducted in Valyrian and with more consensual bloodshed than any nuptials we’ve seen in the Thrones universe before. Rhaenyra and Daemon are committed to fully embracing the conquering nature of their forefather Aegon in the name of House Targaryen
This wedding between these two powerful dragonriders is the spark that officially sets The Dance of Dragons in motion. While their desire for each other burns hot, one can’t help but assume that these newlyweds will be spending more time burning down all enemies for their honeymoon. Sure hope the wedding registry asked for lots of bannermen.
New episodes of House of the Dragon premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max in the U.S. and Sky Atlantic in the U.K.