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House of the Dragon episode 5 review: "Weddings never end well in Westeros"

GamesRadar+ Verdict

A slow start builds to a dread-filled wedding that rewrites the complicated relationships of the series

Warning: Major spoilers ahead for House of the Dragon episode 5! Turn back now if you haven't seen the new episode!

Weddings never end well in Westeros. This week's episode of House of the Dragon focuses on the nuptials of Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) and Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate) – but the episode builds toward disaster from the beginning, and the big day ends in bloodshed, a collapsed king, and newly drawn lines between allies and enemies. 

'We Light the Way' starts with a shock death and Otto Hightower's (Rhys Ifans) abrupt exit from court, but slows considerably for the politics of Laenor and Rhaenyra's betrothal. Complications soon arise. Laenor is already in love with another, Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod), while Rhaenyra is in the midst of a fling with her Kingsguard protector Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel). Laenor and Rhaenyra come to a refreshing understanding: they'll marry for duty, but keep their lovers secretly to themselves. It should be the perfect solution, but Ser Criston complicates things by asking Rhaenyra to forget the throne and elope with him. While Rhaenyra looks conflicted for a moment, ultimately she declares "I am the crown" in a speech that crushes Criston's heart. The strong-willed princess is not going to give up her birthright so easily, no matter how much she may complain about what comes with it – and it sets the episode's dark events into motion. 

King Viserys (Paddy Considine), Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), and the lively Rhaenys (Eve Best) have less romantic matters needing their attention. Corlys wants the children of Laenor and Rhaenyra to carry the Velaryon surname, which, as Viserys points out, would bring an end to the Targaryen dynasty purely because Rhaenyra is a woman. It goes to show how deeply entrenched gender politics is in the world of Westeros: later, Corlys talks to Rhaenys of the injustice of the sexism she faced in the past. It's been a few episodes since the Queen Who Never Was last made an appearance, but her spirited entrance brings a welcome, sparkling energy that adds life to what's otherwise a fairly mundane negotiation. 

(Image credit: HBO)

When the wedding comes around, it's permeated with dread from the outset. The spectre of the Red Wedding looms large – but what will go wrong this time? There are so many plates being spun that it's impossible to predict which will fall first. There's Corlys and Rhaenys watching Laenor and Joffrey, the heartbroken Ser Criston Cole, the outrageously audacious return of Matt Smith's Prince Daemon, and even Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) walking with scorched-earth purpose into the middle of Viserys' speech.

When the storm finally breaks, it's a deliberately confusing and muddled sequence that ratchets the tension up even higher. It's so chaotic that it's unclear what's going on and who's in jeopardy until it's revealed that Ser Criston is brutally beating Joffrey to death. Joffrey made a fatal error in trying to play the game of thrones: he let Criston know that the knight's deepest, darkest, and most dangerous secret isn't such a secret after all, Joffrey mistakenly believing mutually assured destruction would keep him safe. Forbidden love and its perils is a central theme throughout this wedding – Daemon, fresh from murdering his wife in an especially gasp-worthy sequence, still can't be with his niece Rhaenyra (if that's even what he wants, which remains tantalizingly opaque), and Joffrey and Laenor are held apart by Westeros' strict traditions. When it all boils over, it's ugly and violent, while the marriage ceremony itself is a tear-stained, muted affair, punctuated by Viserys' sickly health worsening to the point where he passes out. It's an ill-omened way to end – and another reminder that a devastating civil war is rolling ever closer. 

Much like the chain of events moving to the wedding's bloodshed, the dominos that lead to war have already inexorably begun to fall. Alicent's dramatic entrance comes after Criston – in a disappointingly frustrating moment of miscommunication – confesses to an affair with Rhaenyra, while Alicent is seeking information about the supposed dalliance with Daemon. It pushes Alicent to breaking point, especially after her father Otto blames his disgrace on Alicent believing Rhaenyra over him, then warns his daughter her children will never be safe with Rhaenyra on the throne. After how insistent Rhaenyra was on her virtue last episode, it's understandable that the revelation of Rhaenyra’s affair is enough to sever her and Alicent's bond for good, and it's possible it pushes the young queen to realize the Daemon rumor is true after all – though Alicent's heel turn could have been better established, considering just how momentous it is. 

(Image credit: HBO)

Nonetheless, Alicent sweeping late into the wedding, icily furious and clad in a vivid green dress, is the show's most powerful, hair-raising moment so far. Book readers will know the significance of the color, but the remark that the Hightower's beacon glows green for war is sign enough of the seismic shift in relations that has occurred. Alicent coolly calling Rhaenyra, her one time dearest friend, "stepdaughter" is the final nail in the coffin. 

Carey gives her strongest performance yet, effortlessly moving between bereft heartache when her father leaves, to devastation when she learns of the tea by the Weirwood tree (the site of her most significant scenes with Rhaenyra), to palpably hurt and angry at the wedding. This is Carey's last episode and it's a fitting send-off. The decision to recast the two leads (along with the Velaryon siblings) still seems an odd one when Carey and Alcock have so firmly made the characters their own, and it's a shame that Alcock doesn't have as much to work with as Carey in this final appearance.   

We've crossed the halfway point of House of the Dragon’s first season, and, as we head into that final stretch of episodes, the battle lines have been drawn. Rhaenys and Corlys are now bound to Rhaenyra, and her wildcard Uncle Daemon is still irresistibly drawn to her but has romantic friction with Laena Velaryon (Savannah Steyn). Alicent and the Hightowers are on their own side, Ser Criston now allied with them, and Viserys still sits queasily in the middle ground, unwilling to brave the landmines around him despite fretting over his legacy in this episode. The board is set for the wars to come – and that legendary Targaryen dynasty is more fragile than ever. 

Check out our House of the Dragon release schedule to find out exactly when the next episode arrives in your time zone – and in the meantime, see our roundup of the best Netflix shows streaming now to fill out your watchlist. 

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Entertainment Writer

I'm an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things film and TV for the site's Total Film and SFX sections. I previously worked on the Disney magazines team at Immediate Media, and also wrote on the CBeebies, MEGA!, and Star Wars Galaxy titles after graduating with a BA in English.