There are some things you can always count on. The Joker will always escape from Arkham Asylum. Marvel movies will (almost) always end with a post-credits scene. And a wedding in Westeros isn’t complete until someone is dead.
HBO’s prequel series House of the Dragon continues this tradition, and it somehow even manages to improve on the beloved Game of Thrones formula in one very surprising way.
Warning! Spoilers ahead for House of the Dragon Episode 5.
Game of Thrones and the wedding episode
It started with the Red Wedding. In Game of Thrones Season 3 Episode 9, “The Rains of Castamere,” the Stark family walks into a trap when they attend a wedding hosted by Lord Walder Frey. You probably already know this tragic story, but the gist of it is that after Robb Stark (aka, the “King in the North”) broke his promise to marry one of Frey’s daughters, Robb’s uncle agrees to do it instead. This seems to appease Frey, until he has his men murder everyone at the wedding, including Rob, Rob’s wife Talisa, and his mother Catelyn. This effectively puts an end to the Stark-led rebellion against the Lannister-controlled Iron Throne.
For fans of the books, the Red Wedding was a pivotal moment they’d waited to see for years. For non-book reading viewers, it was a punch in the gut. Ultimately, it changed the course of Game of Thrones and raised the bar for plot twists everywhere. (There’s a reason people still use the term “red wedding” to describe any sort of literal or figurative bloodbath.)
Game of Thrones turned this one-time occurrence into a tradition with the Purple Wedding (King Joffrey’s wedding to Margaery Tyrell that ended with the king of Westeros dead on the floor). This time, the murder was more subtle — poison rather than sword and arrows — but the result was the same: the demise of a king.
So it’s no surprise that Princess Rhaenyra’s wedding to Laenor Velaryon in House of the Dragon turns ugly, but the HBO prequel series manages to pull off something much more meaningful with this tradition than Game of Thrones ever did.
House of the Dragon vs. Game of Thrones
In House of the Dragon Episode 5, we watch multiple plotlines play out during the festivities at Rhaenyra’s wedding. Daemon shows up uninvited and flirts with both the bride and her new sister-in-law, Laena Velaryon. Meanwhile, Laenor and his secret gay boyfriend Ser Joffrey Lonmouth figure out that Ser Criston Cole is in love with Rhaenyra.
When Joffrey confronts Criston and suggests that they should keep each other’s secrets, it doesn’t go well. Criston is already on the verge of a breakdown after Rhaenyra rejected his absurd offer to give up her crown and run away with him. Suddenly, he snaps, attacks Joffrey, and punches him in the face repeatedly until he’s a dead, bloody pulp.
Once again, a guy named Joffrey is dead at a Westeros wedding, but the stakes are different here. This Joffrey isn’t a king, he’s just some guy who got caught up in the wrong drama. (Sure, he’s also a knight from a noble house, but in the context of this episode, he’s sort of a nobody.)
The story at the heart of Game of Thrones has always been about how the power struggles between kings and queens hurt the people who serve them. The show used the metaphor of a giant wheel, which turned as the leaders on top changed while the citizens of Westeros were crushed underneath. But when it came to the show’s bloody weddings, the leaders were still the ones that mattered most.
House of the Dragon Episode 5 shows us how even a royal wedding in Westeros can have a negative impact on innocent bystanders. And in that way, it uses Game of Thrones’ proudest tradition to finally make good on the show’s most important message.
House of the Dragon airs Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.