House of the Dragon, following in the footsteps and long shadow of its predecessor, wasted no time in giving itself a meaty battle scene this week. But its first major skirmish marked a noted difference—beneath the blood and guts, a sort of grimly hilarious mythos plays out.
“Second of His Name” is largely focused on the burgeoning conflict between Rhaenyra Targaryen and her father King Viserys, as the latter deals with the former’s rebelliousness planning her future as both Viserys’ chosen heir of the Seven Kingdoms and as a daughter destined to marry one of those Kingdoms’ most powerful men. But it climaxes far away from Rhaenyra and Viserys’ struggles, in the Stepstones, with what can only be described as Daemon Targaryen—Matt Smith’s unruly brother to Viserys, and the former named heir to the Iron Throne before his spat with his brother—going absolutely sicko mode in one of the most unhinged, yet brutally awesome scenes in Thrones history.
At the beginning of the episode, and throughout it, we are reminded that Daemon and Corlys Velayron’s war in the Stepstones—fighting off the militia raiding forces of a masked general known only as the Crabfeeder—is going incredibly poorly. By the end of the episode, Viserys finally relinquishes to advice and sends Daemon a letter promising ships and men to aid in the effort, hoping that this help will not just turn the war in his favor, but begin to mend the rift between them. Daemon responds to this by taking his helmet and bludgeoning the messenger to near-death, which is already a kind of hilarious reaction, but it’s what follows that almost turns House of the Dragon into a bloody dark comedy for the episode’s climax.
After turning the aforementioned messenger into almost-pulp, Daemon sails off alone to the Crabfeeder’s cavernous hidehout, waving a white flag of surrender and dramatically laying down his sword. Although at first it seems like he’s earnestly doing so—after all, the Velaryons were just discussing a bold plan to use Daemon as bait to lure the Crabfeeder’s men out from their caves, where they can successfully hide from Ceraxes’ dragonfire. That, and it would be an incredibly petty move for Daemon to willingly allow his own capture just to spite Viserys. But the second the Crabfeeder’s men begin to get close to the disarmed Viserys, instead Viserys lunges out, hacking and slashing with a dagger and then his sword to carve a one man-path through his foes.
And... it works? What follows is the closest House or even Thrones has come to John Wick. Daemon power runs like the Terminator as arrows sing all around him, less like volleys and more like machine gun fire as he just legs it fast enough to avoid them all (well, for the most part). No one can challenge him as he slices and stabs through one man after another, most of them barely getting a sword swing in or a deflection before Daemon just brutally offs them. It’s only after Daemon has single-handedly killed, like, 10 to 15 men that he’s hit by a few arrows, and even those barely stop him, only enough to give himself the time to remove one from his body completely and then snap off most of the other before he can stand up and prepare to keep fighting. Even when Ceraxes and the Velayron forces arrive just in time to save him, Daemon keeps fighting like he’s alone, power running to go tear the Crabfeeder in half—with his own hands or with his sword is left unseen, but he returns remarkably blood-caked—and drag that said half out into the sea.
It’s unhinged. It’s so badass that it borders on almost the comical. We’ve seen feats of martial skill and prowess on Game of Thrones before of course, but nothing quite like this, even by its most fantastical in the series’ climax. Game of Thrones always prided itself, even with ice zombies and eventually dragons, on this sort of grim, grounded fantasy realism—that even the greatest warriors could be bested in battle, that death was sudden and brutal and unjust. But Daemon runs, leaps, and slashes through the Crabfeeder’s men—good soldiers, attested to by the fact we’ve been constantly reminded that they’re winning the war—like a video game character with God Mode switched on... or like a mythic, epic figure, like what we watched was a heightened retelling, a tall tale for a Maester’s history books that’s not entirely accurate.
It makes sense of House of the Dragon’s casually more fantastical world than the one we first encountered in Game of Thrones—where dragons are just a fact of life—to see this sort of heightened surreality play out. Its fantasy is grounded not by the outlandish action, but what drives it; it speaks to Daemon’s character and his very real feelings, so easily vindictive and angered, that what it would take to achieve this sort of wild fury was little more than the chance to prove to his brother that he did not need help, like two sullen teenagers arguing with each other instead of the elites of the realm.
It’s what makes it, in a way few Game of Thrones battles have been before it, grimly funny. One of the most wild, unrealistic feats of bloody combat in the entire franchise, stretching the suspension of a disbelief that already allows us dragons, hinged on the very real, often silly emotions of two squabbling siblings. There’s something Game of Thrones-ian about that, in and of itself: something real and human at the heart of something so fantastical.
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