House of the Dragon‘s steady rise in quality has ended with this week’s episode, “We Light the Way.” While not a bad addition to the series, it pales in comparison to its two most recent and outstanding predecessors. Little plot or character development happens in this one, and information is often repeated with little to no justification for the rehashing. Overall, the necessary parts of this episode could have been condensed into roughly half an hour, leaving room for legitimate character development and great dialogue, which is all but absent. The performances of “We Light the Way” are still incredible, especially Matt Smith’s. However, most of the characters are given very little to work with; even Paddy Considine and Rhys Ifans, both previously giving incredible performances, are wasted in this episode, with very little to do.
Boring is a highly subjective term, but it seems the aptest description of “We Light the Way.” This could have been a bad episode if it weren’t for the actors doing their best. As it stands, it’s middle-of-the-road, returning to the mediocrity of the premiere. It’s inoffensive yet has nothing of quality to truly entice the audience.
In “We Light the Way,” the King begs the Sea Snake to allow the marriage of their children, but there’s some drama with the Sea Snake’s son being gay. They have a party to celebrate the betrothal, and a fight breaks out, forcing them to rush the marriage. That’s about it. Several small scenes progress the plot of the overall series. However, for the story of this specific episode, that is the sum total of plot-essential scenes. So much could be cut from this episode, trimming the excessive fat and bloat which defines “We Light the Way.”
As always, the best part of this episode is Matt Smith’s performance. Once again, he has very little dialogue but shows the audience everything he’s thinking through things as subtle as his body language and how he walks. His two primary interactions are with his wife and his cousin-in-law. When he murders his wife, he doesn’t say a single word, but it’s easy to understand his thinking and why he’s doing this while his wife figures it out at the same pace as the audience. However, if he genuinely wants it to seem like an accidental death, bashing her head in with the rock isn’t the way to go about it; abandoning her to die or placing the stone behind her head and smashing her head against it would have been better. The news of her breaking both her skull and spine is so unusual that nearly everyone knows it was murder right off the bat, but they say nothing.
This is one example of good acting and a good moment marred by poor setup that ultimately falls apart upon closer inspection. The excellent action sequence ending the episode is the other scene that most falls prey to the same downfall. The fight between the Sea Snake’s son’s boyfriend and Cole is brutal and visceral. The scuffle starts in the middle of a crowd where the audience cannot determine what’s happening. This is a great way to build suspense while distressing the King, perhaps leading to his death. The King fears for his daughter, worried that Daemon may be hurting her because both Daemon and Rhaenyra are in the middle of the newly created mob. However, this excellent sequence falls apart when the audience remembers where Cole and the boyfriend were standing mere moments before. They were on the opposite end of the room while the boyfriend attempted to blackmail Cole. If Cole was enraged by this, why calmly walk into the middle of the dance floor next to the Princess and Daemon? It’s another example of an engaging scene that crumbles upon closer inspection.
Daemon’s encounter with his cousin-in-law features the most dialogue that Smith utters. This conversation is fascinating, full of non-confessions, feigned grief, and firm demands. The quality of the scene is once again mainly driven by Matt Smith’s talent. Nevertheless, the writing is superb and blameless. Matt Smith so easily cows his cousin-in-law that no question of his rights can be denied.
“We Light the Way” is meant to be a powerful episode for the evolution of Alicent’s character. In some ways, it succeeds in this endeavor. However, the primary scene intended to solidify her new direction crumbles due to poor dialogue, clunky exposition, and a reveal that is undone moments later. Once Alicent determines that Rhaenyra is her enemy, she interrupts the King’s speech, entering the Great Hall in a green dress with all eyes upon her. Her interruption is scandal enough for the extreme reaction from the crowd. The color of her dress means war for her family, intended to come as an accusation. There are several ways to explain this unknown feature of the color to the audience. Perhaps a child or someone who would be wholly ignorant of the color’s meaning could ask. However, the writers decided to have two characters who absolutely know what it means comment on it clunkily. One of them is supposedly one of the smartest people in the castle who has one of the most intelligent scenes from earlier in the episode. Despite that, he is either foolish to reveal his knowledge to his brother, or he is truly not as smart as we believed, needing to get his brother’s confirmation of his suspicion.
This big and bold statement by Alicent is again damaged when she goes to greet her uncle. He is also wearing green, as are several family members with him. If green is such a big deal to this family, why did no one react when they arrived in the Great Hall? If only they had chosen a different color of costumes for the rest of her family, the green statement could have at least withstood some scrutiny. As it stands, the impact of this big rebellious statement is ultimately made meaningless by such a weird costume choice.
A final point of praise comes from the interaction between Alicent and Larys Strong, the disabled son of the new Hand of the King. The ambiguous delivery of the moon tea, Westeros’s Plan B, from the last episode came back in a big way as a weapon in Larys’ subtle manipulation of Alicent. Larys comes across as incredibly intelligent and a worthy heir for the Master of Whispers in the future. He so effortlessly sows the seeds of doubt in the Queen, leading toward her abrupt separation from Rhaenyra. Of the characters and the performances of this episode — except for Daemon — Larys is by far the best part and the sole character enticing anticipation for the future.
“We Light the Way” is an inoffensive episode but offers nothing truly good. It’s not the worst way to spend an hour, especially considering the current state of television. However, it is nothing special to remember or dissect excitedly amongst fans, as the previous episodes have inspired. Admittedly, it is primarily made worse due to a comparison of quality to its stellar predecessors. Overall, “We Light the Way” will likely be known as the most forgettable addition to House of the Dragon.