‘House of the Dragon’ Wants Men to Get Their Asses to Therapy

Daemon, Aemond, and Aegon are all going through it in this week’s episode, and maybe men are too emotional to govern??? IDK!

‘House of the Dragon’ Wants Men to Get Their Asses to Therapy

House of the Dragon has been back for over two weeks now, but we’ve perhaps never been more back than this Sunday’s episode, which features a generous heaping of full-frontal nudity in a fun (?) little callback to the show’s predecessor, Game of Thrones. But there’s also surprising emotional depth at the core of this graphic scene at a King’s Landing brothel, which sees Aemond fully naked and cuddled up with his mommy-prostitute-therapist when Aegon and his Kingsguard frat bros bust in on them. Meanwhile, Mr. Uncle-Husband Daemon Targaryen is camping out at the haunted house that is Harrenhal, where, after his anticlimactic conquest of the ancient ruins, he’s confronted by a chilling vision of a young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock!!!) sewing the slain baby Jaehaerys’ decapitated head back on. It’s the first time in the whole series that Daemon is forced to confront his own behavior and who he’s harmed, and it’s also the first time we ever really see him display human emotion. 

It’s hard to not interpret the events of this episode as HotD instructing all men—particularly these three—to book it to therapy. While Rhaenys is counseling Rhaenyra on averting war and Alicent is trying to stop her failson-king from flying off to battle on his dragon and getting himself killed, for Aemond, Aegon, and Daemon, this episode largely explores their struggles to cope with recent events. 

For Aemond, that seems to be his internal reckoning with killing Lucerys in the Season 1 finale. And, in an utterly illuminating interview with Variety, director Geeta Patel details all the other things Aemond is struggling with that have prompted him to turn to a significantly older madam for the healing that he’s never going to find from his family—as Aegon’s mocking and bullying him this episode very clearly demonstrate. “What we came to is that Aemond was hurt. He was bullied when he was little. Since he was hurt, he had created this persona that was the exact opposite of how he was feeling. He created a persona of someone who doesn’t give a fuck,” Patel said. She continued:

“That shift, from someone who’s vulnerable to literally watching him put on his armor, was what we were going for in that scene. It’s one of the few times you see the young child in him and you see the pain in him. Slowly he starts putting on his armor and when he stands up, the fact that he doesn’t care that you see his penis is such a strong visceral shift. And so, of course, Ewan [Mitchell] was like, ‘I want to be fully nude in that moment. It’s important to me because that’s who my character is. That’s what he would do.’”

I am, personally, not particularly moved by any of this considering that Aemond killed a child and inevitably started this whole war. But I’m certainly intrigued by the level of thought and consideration being devoted to male characters’ mental health on a show that, in another director’s hands, could very easily be little more than a hollow gore-fest. 

Then, of course, there’s Aegon. The end of episode 2 sees the young king privately break down in tears following the killing of his young son. Alicent walks in on her son in this vulnerable position and… simply walks away to have more gross, passionate sex with Ser Criston Cole. So, we can infer that Aegon is not doing well and his family isn’t much comfort to him, either. He’s deeply affected by his son’s assassination (fair!), and it’s clearly dawned on him that he’s in over his head as king, and he has no idea what he’s doing and no one takes him seriously—hence, his ill-advised, short-lived plan to ride off into battle. And now, we see him processing all of this by fraternizing with his Kingsguard, a group of men who are supposed to be celibate and disciplined and generally very un-fun. Instead, under Aegon, their chief role seems to be bro-ing out with their young king. Where Aemond is turning to his sex worker-therapist for comfort in these trying times, Aegon appears to be avoiding human emotion altogether, or at least drowning it in alcohol and nights out with what can only be described as a college fraternity that happens to be on his payroll.

As for Daemon, Patel described his arc this season as “therapy” for the Rogue Prince. “He’s been running so fast, he’s never really stopped to feel things.” In his vision, when he sees the young Rhaenyra, she tells him, “Always coming and going, aren’t you? And I have to clean up afterwards.” After all, Daemon is at Harrenhal in the first place both for the war effort and to run away after an intense fight with Rhaenyra about her inability to trust his true motivations, and his role in Jaehaerys’ death, which has inevitably hurt her claim to the throne by casting her as a baby-killer. “When [young Rhaenyra] turns and looks at him, I wanted to make sure that without words he would be confronted because she’s seeing him and knows him. … I remember being in tears when we were shooting that, because the way that Matt [Smith] portrayed Daemon’s pain as she looked at him, I felt the remorse and regret—which we don’t see in Daemon very often,” Patel said.

Pardon my overthinking here but it’s telling that Daemon sees a young Rhaenyra tending to Jaehaerys’ corpse; he’s more or less confronting his mistreatment and manipulation of her as a child—intentional or not—and possibly what his real motives were in courting her, his brother’s heir, after being overlooked as heir himself. Other points of the episode shine further light on his ongoing insecurity and—please excuse my use of 2014-era, Tumblr vernacular—fragile masculinity, as Ser Simon Strong, keeper of Harrenhal, accidentally refers to Daemon as a prince instead of King (as Rhaenyra’s husband), much to Daemon’s chagrin.

So, what are we to take away from all of this—perhaps that, as a Hillary Clinton 2016 surrogate might impress upon us, men are too emotional to govern??? Sure, maybe. Of course, the women at the center of this circus have demonstrated that while they are clearly more rational than this lot of dudes, they’re (*ahem*, Alicent) unwilling to put their own stubbornness and ambitions aside to avert the war either. In their first (possibly only?) scene together this season, Alicent and Rhaenyra unsuccessfully try to work things out on the remix, as Rhaenyra explains that what Alicent thinks was Viserys on his deathbed choosing Aegon as heir was actually just Viserys sputtering about an old prophecy about Aegon the Conqueror. There’s a look of realization on Alicent’s face that suggests she registers this—but just doesn’t care!

I am unapologetically pro-Rhaenyra, but hey, maybe the only thing we can all agree on at this juncture is that monarchy is bad, emotionally unstable men and the women who cover for them probably shouldn’t govern, and maybe a lot of men could benefit from going to therapy. At least, that’s what I’m choosing to take away from all of this!

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