For better or worse, House of the Dragon Episode 4, "King of the Narrow Sea," focuses on what viewers have always known is the central relationship in this show: Daemon and Rhaenyra. That their relationship turns from mostly platonic to romantic isn't a surprise to anyone, but even as the episode frames their dynamic as one of actual care, there's a lot about both of them as individuals and the positions they're in that invites questions.
Does Daemon really care for Rhaenyra? Matt Smith's entire performance screams yes, from the little smiles he sometimes throws her way -- as if he finds himself amused by her, often against his better instincts -- to the way he is the one person to be unflinchingly honest with her. Does Rhaenyra care about Daemon? Milly Alcock's performance similarly indicates yes, not just because she gravitates towards him and craves his company but because even while being totally cognizant of the game of thrones going on around her, Rhaenyra always seems to trust that Daemon has her best interests at heart.
The entire episode is framed around their dynamic. Daemon returns victorious from the battle of the Steptstones and reconciles with his brother, but it's only Rhaenyra he truly has eyes for, and she for him. In the background, Rhaenyra and Alicent reconcile, Otto plots (once again), and Daemon and Rhaenyra almost consummate a relationship that seemed to go from zero to one hundred in a minute. Nothing is ever as easy -- if incest is meant to be perceived as easy -- in Westeros, and the hour sees Daemon banished back to his wife and Rhaenyra betrothed to Laenor Velaryon.
House of the Dragon, however, doesn't pretend the emotional center of this story is anything but what it is. Considering their honesty in that regard, it's worth examining where Daemon and Rhaenyra stand, particularly with another time jump in the near future. The answer isn't straightforward, but it is indeed interesting. The crux of the dynamic between uncle and niece right now isn't whether the two care for each other -- or in what way they do -- but if they would really be served by being together.
King Viserys doesn't think so, reacting with such rage to Daemon's suggestion that Viserys wed Rhaenyra to him that it's almost as if Otto Hightower didn't suggest betrothing her to her own brother, Aegon, an episode ago. Viserys' only reason for not even entertaining the idea was that his son was too young. As viewers, it's still hard to get over the incest of it all, but it's even harder to see how Daemon would be a worse choice than Aegon or why everyone is acting like Targaryen inbreeding isn't a thing.
The right answer for the realm, however, is indeed Laenor Velaryon, just as it would have been for the King to wed his sister, Laena, all those years ago. But Viserys' failings as a king are obvious when viewers consider he only gets to the right choice out of pure spite, and he similarly only takes action against the scheming Otto Hightower when Rhaenyra forces his hand. Despite the fact that the "King of the Narrow Sea" spends too much time discussing Rhaenyra's virginity as if it was the measure of her worth, while similarly having most men around her dismiss her truth in favor of Daemon's lies, the true irony in this episode is that in the end, Daemon and Rhaenyra did want the same thing -- even if they weren't fully capable of putting that into words.
It's still more than a little uncomfortable -- particularly as Matt Smith is just so much older than Milly Alcock -- to see the dynamics between Daemon and Rhaenyra turn not just romantic but sexual in nature. The contrast between their relationship and that of Alicent and Viserys is striking. Though Alicent is in no place to see that Rhaenyra's choices have, for better or worse, left her a freer person than Alicent will ever be, the real tragedy is that, for all his faults, Daemon Targaryen might just end up being the right choice for Rhaenyra, even if he isn't yet.
House of the Dragon doesn't have to be a happy tale, it only has to get the story to where fans know that it needs to be -- to Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow, to the "song of ice and fire." It just so happens that, for as many players as this particular game of thrones has, there is no getting there without Daemon and Rhaenyra Targaryen. It's only been four episodes, but that's probably the one truth everyone has already understood.
House of the Dragon airs Sundays at 9:00 ET on HBO, with episodes available to stream on HBO Max at the same time.