Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3.

The Big Picture

  • In
    House of the Dragon
    , Young Rhaenyra’s appearance, played by Milly Alcock, in Daemon’s dream highlights his emotional state and past regrets.
  • The relationship between Daemon and Rhaenyra is complex and filled with pain and hurt.
  • Young Rhaenyra’s judgment forces Daemon to process his actions and face the consequences of his mistakes.

House of the Dragon Season 2, Episode 3, “The Burning Mill,” has many pivotal moments for the characters as the first battle of the Dance of the Dragons breaks out, Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) reunite, and Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) struggles to be taken seriously as King. Yet the strangest scene is equally significant as it shows Daemon (Matt Smith) hallucinating in his newly-taken stronghold. The odd sequence is notable for the introduction of Alys Rivers (Gayle Rankin) and its portrayal of the supernatural elements in the world, but more than that, it marks the brief return of a familiar face: Milly Alcock‘s young Rhaenyra. Though they played important roles in the first season, cameos from the younger actors looked unlikely, especially after Emily Carey, who played young Alicent, admitted she was not asked to appear. Yet, Alcock shows up, contributing to Daemon’s nightmare as he processes the events of the war and the fight he had with Rhaenyra in the previous episode.

There is a lot going on in the scene, but Alcock’s appearance is important. Initially, it’s jarring as Alcock’s and D’Arcy’s Rhaenyras have never appeared in the same episode before, but it makes sense. It’s a dramatic moment for Daemon as his past reemerges and collides with her presence. This is not the Rhaenyra that Daemon saw last, but the one that idolizes him. Having a young Rhaenyra in this scene was a conscious choice, and it was not just to please fans, though seeing Alcock’s Rhaenyra was an unexpected treat. Her appearance of Rhaenyra, specifically young Rhaenyra, depicts what is going on in Daemon’s mind and represents his emotional state.

How Does Milly Alcock’s Rhaenyra Appear?

Playing into the inherent creepiness of the cursed Harrenhal, Daemon is haunted by his past as his door rattles. Expecting to finally meet an enemy, Daemon draws his sword, but no one is there. He follows the sound of humming and finds Milly Alcock’s Rhaenyra singing to herself in front of a fire in her childhood room. But he doesn’t receive a warm welcome. Rhaenyra stitches baby Jaehaerys’ head back onto his body, saying to Daemon, “Always coming and going, aren’t you? And I have to clean up afterward.” This statement references their fight in the previous episode and Daemon’s hasty departure from Dragonstone. But this is a different version of Rhaenyra.

Daemon’s eyes fill with tears as his focus moves to the dead child. With horror on his face, he finally shows remorse for his mistake that led to the prince’s murder, but he suddenly wakes up standing in front of a weirwood tree as Alys Rivers tells him, “You will die in this place.” The entire scene is no more than a few minutes, but it contains several layers as it highlights Daemon’s relationship with Rhaenyra and his emotional state in the wake of recent events.

Young Rhaenyra Is a Source of Pain for Daemon

Initially, it seems odd that Daemon sees a young Rhaenyra and not the woman he fought with just days before, but the change is significant. Daemons and Rhaenyra have always had a complex relationship as husband and wife, uncle and niece, and, for a time, competitors for the Iron Throne. And the way they left things before he went to take Harrenhal adds another layer of hurt and regret. Daemon is literally haunted by Rhaenyra and, specifically, young Rhaenyra. As series co-creator Ryan Condal told EW, “It’s that version of Rhaenyra that removed him as the heir to the throne, and then was named heir and took his claim. As you’ll see his story at Harrenhal unfold, there is an element of Daemon having to reckon with his past and choices that he’s made and things that he’s done.”

There is a power imbalance in their relationship throughout Season 1 as Daemon flirts with her and eventually tries to seduce her, only to leave her alone in a compromising situation. From their first scene together, it’s clear that Daemon wants more despite Rhaenyra still being a child, and it only gets worse from there. Daemon and Rhaenyra’s entire relationship is messy and not just because of the normal Targaryen reasons. The pair snuck into King’s Landing and visited a brothel, slept together and Daemon’s wife’s funeral, faked the death of Rhaenyra’s husband so they could be together, and that is just the highlights. Daemon has many regrets that could haunt him regarding Rhaenyra, but the most prevalent was brought up in the episode before.

The fight they had brought old wounds to the surface for Daemon as Rhaenyra accused him of resenting her for becoming heir in his place. However, she asserts that his behavior led Viserys (Paddy Considine) to choose her over him. This statement provoked Daemon, who tried to justify the decision by insulting Viserys, but his reaction only proved that he is still hurt by being replaced. The source of this problem occurred in the first episode of the series, rooting Daemon’s pain in his ties to young Rhaenyra, not D’Arcy’s. Because Daemon’s past is hurting him, he sees the Rhaenyra present at the time.


This ‘House of the Dragon’ Reunion Is a Bittersweet Reminder of What Could’ve Been

There’s no turning back now.

Young Rhaenyra’s Judgment Forces Daemon to Reevaluate

Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon Season 2
Image via HBO

Young Rhaenyra’s appearance in Daemon’s dream not only makes sense as their past has resurfaced, but it adds to the emotional implication for Daemon. His fight with Rhaenyra was not only about their past, but it started because of his actions. He sent assassins to kill Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), but they killed young Jaehaerys instead, hence the dead child’s presence in the dream. D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra expressed her thoughts on the subject, berating Daemon for his actions, but Daemon explains that it was a mistake, ignoring the criticism.

Yet that changes when the same sentiment comes from Alcock’s Rhaenyra. The episode’s director, Geeta Vasant Patel, explained it by saying:

“What he remembers [is] the person who loved him the most was the young Rhaenyra. When he walks into that dream, she turns to him, and she judges him, and is basically saying, ‘You killed a young boy. How could you do that? Look at yourself.’ She’s the mirror for him, because otherwise he walks around and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. But with Rhaenyra, she’s the only person that gets to his heart. And so that’s the first time that we see Damon process his actions.”

Young Rhaenyra’s opinion matters more to him because it proves how badly he messed up.

Daemon was always the black sheep of the family. Despite loving his brother, the king disapproved of his actions more often than not. And the council was even more judgmental, but not Rhaenyra. As a child, Rhaenyra idealized Daemon, never judging him. In their episode 2 fight, Rhaenyra brings up that dynamic, saying that she saw gaining his love and approval as a challenge. When the girl who once idolized him suddenly loses faith in him, it cuts deep. By turning against him, Young Rhaenyra opens Daemon’s eyes as he processes the result of his action for the first time. In that moment, Patel describes Daemon as “just a man who made a mistake and just realized it.”

Daemon’s dream portrays a significant moment for his character, and Alcock’s presence highlights that. Bringing back his past and acting as a mirror for him, young Rhaenyra is necessary to Daemon’s self-discovery. Though it is a dream, this interaction represents their entire relationship, contrasting Daemon’s memory of young Rhaenyra with the state they are in currently, and in that way, forcing Daemon to see the truth.

House of the Dragon is available to stream on Max in the U.S. with new episodes on Sundays.


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