A "House of the Dragon" wedding celebration turns into a crime scene, mainly due to the dancing

No other "Game of Thrones" wedding depicts guests busting a move. "We Light the Way" shows us why that is

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published September 19, 2022 6:00PM (EDT)

Milly Alcock and Theo Nate in "House of the Dragon" (Ollie Upton / HBO)
Milly Alcock and Theo Nate in "House of the Dragon" (Ollie Upton / HBO)

The following contains spoilers from "House of the Dragon" Episode 5, "We Light the Way."

Weddings in George R. R. Martin's Westeros and Essos are rarely remembered for their flowers and cake. Sansa Stark's marriage to Tyrion Lannister began with her being walked down the aisle by the sadistic boy who had her father murdered. Her second espousal to Ramsay Bolton, another psychopath, took place in the dead of night and was festivity-free.

Other weddings are marked by death. Joffrey Lannister's extravagant nuptial celebration to Margaery Tyrell features an array of entertainments, the main event being his purple-face collapse and demise from poisoning. The Red Wedding joined House Tully and House Frey and ignobly ended Catelyn and Robb Stark.

Heck, the very first episode of "Game of Thrones" shows us that a Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair by having one guest disembowel another, the result of a disagreement over whose turn it is to hump a random lady.

By those standards, the wedding between Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) and Ser Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate) in the fifth "House of the Dragon" episode, "We Light the Way," is in keeping with tradition. Their betrothal feast climaxes with a gory braining, delivered at the hands of a crazed Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel).

One element makes this hang stand apart from the others, though: the party's terrible dancing.

House of the DragonPaddy Considine and Milly Alcock in "House of the Dragon" (Ollie Upton / HBO)

If one of the Seven gods is known for being responsible for music and choreography, he or she neglected to bless this reception hall or the couple, who kick off the bash with ritualistic flailing. There are raised arms, as if to evoke dragon wings, followed by a variation on the classic "fishing reel" move, except with what looks like imaginary swords.

Wedding reception choreography is not supposed to be cool.

It closes with an awkward bow, commencing the "all skate" portion. The lords and ladies in attendance rise from the banquet tables and pair up, sort of. There's more milling about, along with a coordinated lift-and-hop move as the men gently toss the women away from them, or the women jump away; it's hard to say which.

The episode's party-fouling crime of passion happens during a confusing galumph that's occasionally punctuated by everyone throwing up a hand while yelling, "Hey!" Alas, it is not in the manner of Ye Olde Hip-Hop Hooray.

Wedding reception choreography is not supposed to be cool. But the Electric Slide, the Chicken Dance, and the Wobble qualify as dances. Then again, in the days when leeches were the medical equivalent of Robitussin, the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other must have been a small miracle. Maybe that's why medieval-style hoofing amounts to little more than variations on slowly walking, spiced up with risky hops and ankle bouncing.

House of the DragonPaddy Considine, Milly Alcock and Theo Nate in "House of the Dragon" (Ollie Upton / HBO)

Therefore, let us be merciful. The Europeans who came up with popular dances such as the basse or the carole could not conceive of Megan Thee Stallion's heroic twerking, the whole mood that is Beyonce, or Kendrick Lamar blessing a reception by crashing it. Hell, if somebody managed to clap on the twos and fours, they were probably accused of witchcraft.

I mean no disrespect to the dance consultant who worked with the production. (HBO kindly tried to track down the U.K.-based person on our behalf, but it was impossible to connect before press time.)  Based on what we know about medieval moves, the ones busted in "We Light the Way" are authentic to the spirit of the age.

What is dead may never die. That as true for lackluster prancing as it is for loveless unions

There isn't much in the way of instructional documentation for dances from these times. Robert Mullally, one of the few historians to write extensively on the carole, explains that no such manuals or treatises exist that are dated before the 15th century.

Whatever is known about them has been gleaned from artwork and references sprinkled throughout literature from the era. One example comes courtesy of another historian, Otto Schneider, who described the carole as "a medieval foredance for couples, which is normally walked."

There's also a 15th-century French poem Mullally references in his work that reads, "Girls, when you are in a carole, dance modestly and with decorum, for, when a girl behaves without decorum, there will be some who think her wanton." So if the so-called dancing at Rhaenyra and Laenor's rager wasn't high-spirited or sexy, that may have been intentional.

House of the DragonEmily Carey in "House of the Dragon" (Ollie Upton / HBO)

Acts of wantonness were not what doomed the shindig, however. Their problems pre-dated the event. Ser Criston, distraught over the twin slights of his soiled honor and Rhaenyra rejecting his marriage proposal, becomes enraged by a whisper from Laenor's lover Ser Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod) celebrating that they each get to keep on dancing in the sheets with their respective paramours.

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This aggravates Ser Criston's guilt over Rhaenyra pushing him to violate his oath of chastity, despoiling his honor, and stealing his heart at the same time. The only other person who knows about his sexual trysts with Rhaenyra is Queen Alicent (Emily Carey). And she is infuriated that Rhaenyra lied to her face and caused her father, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), to be fired from his gig as the King's Hand. Criston is at the Queen's mercy, but he can't tolerate the thought of another man knowing his secret shame.

Hence, "House of the Dragon" gave us a murder on the dance floor. But we mustn't blame Ser Criston for killing the groove, DJ, or Rhaenyra for wanting to burn this goddamn house right down. As the saying goes, what is dead may never die. That is true for lackluster prancing as it is for loveless unions. Rhaenyra and Laenor get hitched anyway after the guests have left — a hop, step, and a "HEY" away from a puddle of Joffrey's blood.

Maybe that's why we don't see dancing at the weddings that take place almost two centuries after this one. The realm can get over bloodshed at major events, but bad dancing is a crime nobody soon forgets.

New episodes of "House of the Dragon" air Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.



By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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