House of the Dragon’s seventh episode opens with Daemon Targaryen doing the most Daemon thing he can: tittering—nay, I say giggling—at his late wife’s funeral. To be sure, Daemon is a complex character; to believe he finds actual amusement in the death of Laena Velaryon, his companion for the past 10 years, would be to misunderstand his lack of etiquette. Rather, Daemon is sharp, even in grief. In House Velaryon’s eulogy for Laena, he recognizes a few not-so-subtle jabs at Rhaenyra’s not-so-Velaryon sons. His eyes sweep over Jace and Luke’s brunette bowl cuts, then over the scornful eyes of his fellow funeral guests, and he can’t help but laugh at the open secrets swirling in the air around him. There’s a reason the king’s younger brother never had much taste for politicking, even if he could never quite sate his thirst for power.
After Laena’s coffin is released into the sea surrounding Driftmark, Daemon and Rhaenyra exchange a few loaded glances—oh, boy, do we know what’s coming—while Viserys asks that Daemon return with his daughters to King’s Landing, where he will want for nothing. Daemon argues he wants nothing as it is, brother, and anyway he needs a moment to accuse Otto Hightower—back in town as Hand of the King, following Lionel Strong’s death last episode—of lecherous behavior.
Meanwhile, the Velaryons are crumbling beneath the weight of their grief. Laenor, Rhaenyra’s husband and Laena’s twin, stands waist-deep in the roiling ocean, his jaw slack and cheeks sunken. Rhaenys and Corlys work out the kinks of their pain with an old-fashioned marital row: Rhaenys blames Daemon for dragging Laena to Pentos, but she also blames her husband for his “insatiable pride.” Corlys, surprised to hear his normally steadfast wife criticize him, argues his pursuit of power is only to restore the crown to Rhaenys’ own deserving head. She rolls her eyes, retorting, “It is not justice for your wife that drives you; it is your own ambition.” Corlys, flipping the script of Larys Strong’s children-are-a-weakness speech from episode 6, leans forward and whispers, “What is this brief mortal life, if not the pursuit of legacy?”
Rhaenys tries a different tactic: Appeal to Corlys’ yearning for glory. She wants Driftmark, House Velaryon’s ancestral home, to pass through Laena’s line to Baela, Daemon and Laena’s daughter. Such a move would be unorthodox in Westeros, where the firstborn son’s line tends to inherit power and property. To seal the deal, Rhaenys speaks the quiet part out loud. “Rhaenyra’s children are not of your blood,” she says. “But Laena’s are.”
Finally, we escape this mournful debating for a long-awaited reunion—and what a union it was! The Daemon girlies will be dancing in the streets tonight, and I’m sure to be one of them. But if you cheered this little dose of incest, know this: To borrow a line from peak Tumblr…you will go down with this ship.
On the shores of Driftmark, Daemon and Rhaenyra take a romantic moonlit stroll, during which niece tells uncle of the fruitlessness of her sexual exploits with her husband. (Apparently a quaint topic of conversation in Westeros.) Rhaenyra admits that she and Laenor did try to conceive, but “there was no joy in it. I found that elsewhere.” Daemon, already filled in on the Red Keep’s hottest gossip, gives her such a loaded look I had to pause the episode and step away, laughing hysterically. Matt Smith’s delivery of, “I understand Ser Harwin was quite…devoted to you,” should be the clip that wins him his Emmy next year.
The pair move through a few other topics of conversation, catching up after years apart. Does Daemon think Alicent’s responsible for Harwin’s death? Check. Did he love Laena? Sure, enough to be content. Check. Rhaenyra says she’s sorry for his loss but scoots a little closer. Is she no longer a child? Check.
The ensuing sex scene is steamy but not gratuitous—a welcome departure for a Game of Thrones franchise. Rhaenyra and Daemon’s tryst is one of pleasure, but also one infused with a palpable sense of relief. They feel most free when they’re together. And they both seem to sense this was always inevitable; the act itself might as well be the fulfillment of prophecy. That would make sense, given how Targaryens think of their own line and legacy. Of course an uncle and a niece falling in love would be the wish of the gods.
But while they’re busy getting it on, their families are fracturing around them. In one of the show’s most stunning sequences of the season, Aemond conquers the chip on his shoulder and claims Vhagar as his mount, taking to the sky upon the back of the last surviving witness of Aegon’s Conquest. Their bonding is breathtaking to watch, but it is also a betrayal: Aemond claiming Vhagar denies Baela of her right to her late mother’s dragon.
Jace and Luke run up to defend Daemon’s daughters, but Aemond and Aegon use the opportunity away from their parents’ prying eyes to pronounce the Velaryon boys bastards. (That’s considered treason, by the way.) The resulting squabble breaks noses and slices through eyes, but perhaps no one takes the wounds more personally than Alicent, Aemond and Aegon’s mother, who invokes Hammurabi’s Code: an eye for an eye.
When Viserys refuses to punish his grandchildren in such a manner, a furious Alicent steals the king’s Valyrian steel blade—the one with the “Prince Who Was Promised” inscription, remember?—and charges toward Jace and Luke. Rhaenyra throws herself in front of her sons, finally giving Alicent the opportunity to confront her former best friend with a few choice words: While she, the Queen, has sacrificed everything in the name of duty, Rhaenyra has spat in its face. Rhaenyra flaunts sons who are clearly not her husband’s. She (by Alicent’s estimation, anyway) sleeps around. She is so convinced of her Targaryen-born sovereignty that she betrays the rules of “decency” just by breathing. Alicent’s fury is partially that of a worried mother’s, but Olivia Cooke’s hissing delivery makes it clear just how much of Alicent’s reaction is really born of jealousy.
Finally, Alicent loses her cool and slices Rhaenyra’s wrist. (Fret not, your fave is fine.) But the near-death experience grants the princess both clarity and conviction. She sees, finally, the rot within her own household, and so she seeks to strengthen it with a union of—forgive me—fire and blood. She proposes that she and Daemon marry, which of course would require Laenor’s death.
And so the secrets tangle tighter. Together, Rhaenyra and Daemon pull off Westeros’ finest Houdini act, faking Laenor’s death with the help of his lover, Ser Qarl. After the latter engages Laenor in an impromptu duel within the halls of High Tide, they dump a man’s body into the fireplace, charring away any distinguishable features. (Does Driftmark just have random dead bodies freely available for frying, or…?) Rhaenys and Corlys barge into the foyer to discover what they think is their only remaining child burned alive. But the real Laenor and Qarl escape to a rowboat on the shore, embarking on a trip across the Narrow Sea, where they can live and love together without interference or judgement.
Even as I took a few shaky breaths to recover from the intensity of this showdown, episode 7 charged ahead. Days, perhaps even months, pass in a single scene as Daemon and Rhaenyra are wed, their bleeding lips pressed together in a kiss between kin. Like most Targaryen love affairs, it’s so wrong it’s almost right. But heed my warning from earlier, Daemyra shippers: Best remember George R. R. Martin is no romantic.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is an associate editor at ELLE, where she covers news and culture.