This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 5.
After last week’s devastating moon tea stinger, it would be reasonable to assume that House of the Dragon episode 5 “We Light the Way” might continue the story of Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock), Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey), and they’re increasingly frayed relationship.
Instead, however, HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel zigs when viewers expect it to zag once again. The first scene of this hour features Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) interacting with a character who we haven’t met yet: Lady Rhea Royce of The Vale, played by Rachel Redford.
Though audiences have not yet made Lady Rhea’s acquaintance, Daemon very much has and the experience was not enjoyable for either party. Rhea Royce is Daemon’s wife but that’s a fact that both of them would like to forget. Or it might be more accurate to say that Rhea Royce was Daemon Targaryen’s wife, for as we see in that first scene’s closing moments, Daemon kills her and stages the murder as a hunting accident
Aside from being Daemon’s now-late bride, who exactly was Lady Rhea Royce? What house does she belong to? And why was her inclusion necessary in this story? Let’s unpack all of that right now.
Who is Lady Rhea Royce?
In George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire continuity, as described in the prequel text Fire & Blood, Rhea Royce is the head of House Royce and the Lady of their ancestral homestead Runestone in The Vale.
As we are now seeing with King Viserys (Paddy Considine) and Rhaenyra, it is rare for a woman to ascend to a position of power in the Seven Kingdoms, but not unheard of. Rhea Royce is one of the few examples of a woman who serves as the ruling “Lady” of her family and their holdings. King Viserys’s predecessor King Jaehaerys I and his sister-wife Queen Alysanne recognized Rhea Royce as a prime marriage prospect for that very reason.
Rhea’s father Lord Yorbert Royce had no natural-born sons (or at least that appears to be the case) to succeed him as Lord of Runestone, so that task would fall to Rhea. That’s why in 97 AC, Queen Alysanne arranged for Rhea to marry her grandson Daemon Targaryen. On paper, the duo was a perfect match. Daemon brought the honor of marrying into truly royal blood for House Royce, while Rhea brought the potential of House Targaryen gaining cultural influence in the Vale.
There was just one problem, however: Daemon Targaryen is an insufferable little brat.
Why Does Daemon Hate Rhea?
Who even knows, man. As we see in “We Light the Way,” Lady Rhea Royce is a perfectly attractive young lady, calling into question Daemon’s judgement that men in the Vale would rather “fuck the sheep than the women.” She also seems to be an engaging conservation partner and enjoys active hobbies like grouse-hunting that the similarly physical Daemon would be likely to enjoy.
Daemon claims that the problem with his marriage match is that he found the Vale of Arryn to be punishingly boring. There could be some truth to that as the region is naturally beautiful with numerous mountains surrounding the titular “vale,” but it is sparsely populated. It’s certainly no capital of culture like King’s Landing.
But…Daemon could just have well brought his new wife to King’s Landing with him. The real issue for Daemon simply appears to be that someone told him he had to marry Rhea and Daemon does not respond well to orders, even if they come from his royal grandmother. And as we see with his recent courtship of Rhaenyra, he also just may be a true, dyed-in-the-wool Targaryen who can’t imagine diluting his own precious blood in a marriage match.
What is House Royce and Why Are They Important?
Many Game of Thrones viewers are probably pretty familiar with the Great Houses of Westeros. Families like the Targaryens, the Starks, the Lannisters, the Greyjoys, and the Baratheons are all the dominant houses in their respective regions and therefore frequently factor into the story at play. One thing that House of the Dragon has excelled at thus far though is introducing its viewers to Westerosi houses on the second tier of power and influence.
House Royce is one of those houses on the Seven Kingdoms’ “B-team.” House Royce is similar in size, holdings, and strength to the two houses introduced last week, Bracken and Blackwood. They are not the wardens of their region, that distinction belongs to their overlords House Arryn, but they are still an immense presence in the realm all the same.
Like many other old houses (including the aforementioned Brackens and Blackwoods), the Royces claim to have been kings way back in the day. In the pre-historical era of Westeros known as the Age of Heroes, the Royces styled themselves the “Bronze Kings” due to their distinctive garb and donned the Runic Crown to symbolize their authority. Because if there are two things that Royces love it’s bronze stuff and runes.
Daemon dismissively refers to his wife as his “Bronze Bitch” because noble Royces are usually clad in bronze armor. Bronze is not only the dominant color on their sigil but the ancient Royces worked extensively with bronze material. To this day, members of House Royce stand out on the battlefield in their all-bronze drip. Their bronze armor and dress is usually accompanied by numerous inscrutable runes. As an ancient house of First Men peoples, House Royce claims to have the knowledge of magical rune-making. This claim is dubious at best as Royce knights and bannermen blessed with runic armors of protection die at the same rate as any other soldier.
At the time of the House of the Dragon, the main branch of House Royce resides in and rules their holdings from Runestone in the Vale, due east of House Arryn’s The Eyrie and on the coast near the populous city Gulltown.
Is House Royce in Game of Thrones?
Here’s a fun fact to squirrel away for a trivia night. The very first character ever introduced on Game of Thrones was a member of House Royce. The noble lad who comes across white walkers in the Game of Thrones pilot’s prologue is named Ser Waymar Royce.
Since Ser Waymar’s family already had two elder sons (an heir and a spare) who would inherit their father’s Lord of Runestone title, Waymar opted to join the Night’s Watch and bring some honor to the Royce name that way. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way and he was killed by monsters early on. Ser Waymar’s older brother, Robar, served as one of King Renly Baratheon’s Kingsguard. When Renly was killed under his nose, Brienne of Tarth killed Robar in a fit of rage.
The only other Royce seen in Game of Thrones is Waymar and Robar’s father, Yohn “Bronze Yohn” Royce. Bronze Yohn turns up in season 4 and remains loyal to the Starks throughout. He even gets a seat on the council that tries Tyrion Lannister for his crimes in the finale. Tyrion convinces Yohn to vote for Bran for king.
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.