House of the Dragon Season 2, Episode 2 Review

House of the Dragon Season 2, Episode 2 Review

House of the Dragon Season 2, Episode 2 Review

A shaken looking maid is carrying a bloodied cloth from a child’s room; castle staff are rounded up and menaced by men in armour and snarling guard dogs. Later, in case you missed it, staff will dismantle a child’s bed and the dead boy’s body will be displayed to the world, severed head clumsily sewn back on. A horrific crime has taken place, and one side in the brewing Targaryen civil war is determined that everyone should know about it – though perhaps not quite as keen as the House of the Dragon showrunners are to emphasise it because this is yet another episode about aftermath rather than action, grief rather than get-go.

King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney), with his usual restraint, smashes up his father’s cherished model of King’s Landing in his rage. His grief is real, but there’s also the terror that he too could have been assassinated. He beats one of the captured assassins to death and orders the execution of all the castle’s pest control workers. Cue weeping and wailing outside the walls; Ser Otto (Rhys Ifans) calls him feckless, self-indulgent, an idiot and an “insolent pup”. Not entirely surprisingly, he is dismissed as Hand of the King. “Fuck dignity; I want revenge,” is Aegon’s position. “My next Hand will be a steel fist.” He tosses the office to Ser Criston (Fabian Frankel). There’s no way that anything could go wrong with that moody oathbreaker in charge. One of his first acts is to send Ser Arryk (Luke Tittensor) to Dragonstone to pretend to be his twin, Ser Erryk (Elliott Tittensor) and assassinate Rhaenyra. The honourable Ser Arryk is appalled but has his orders.

Cole’s regular booty call, Dowager Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke), is also going through it. She is worried that her daughter, Queen Helaena (Phia Saban) will reveal that Ser Criston was in her bed after the assassination; she’s grieving her own loss and her daughter’s unbearable pain (“The child is dead, his pain is ended. But what they’ve done to my girl,” weeps Alicent, her composure broken for once). She reluctantly sees the wisdom in her father’s plan to stage an open casket funeral and show the world the child’s defiled corpse, though Helaena is visibly appalled by the commoners. And she assures Otto that they can get their power back, though he won’t hear his daughter’s attempts to confess a sin (presumably her relationship with Ser Criston). Alicent sees Aegon weeping and leaves him to it, calling her lover to her side again despite both their moral misgivings. There goes the mother of the year award.

It’s tough to get terribly invested in the King’s Landing crowd: the conventionally nicest character is Helaena, but she’s off in another world. Alicent seems to have some good impulses but is also conniving against her former bestie on behalf of children who even she knows are awful. She’s also allied with Ser Larys (Matthew Needham) but terrified of him at the same time. It’s not a good scene.

Meanwhile on Dragonstone, Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) is appalled that anyone might believe her responsible for Jaehaerys’ murder. But as Daemon (Matt Smith) watches her discussion, she sees the truth in his slightly amused face. Cue their biggest argument ever – which is not unreasonable, given that he killed a literal child. He says he sent “the Queen’s vengeance” but “cannot be responsible” for his killers hitting the wrong target: my dude, legally you absolutely can be. What’s more, he absolutely has damaged Rhaenyra’s cause, perhaps irreparably. She asks, “Do you accept me as your Qqueen and ruler, or do you cling even now to what you think you lost?” We all know that the answer to that is “no” and “yes” respectively, and he stalks off with his dragon, Caraxes.

Rhaenyra honours Daemon’s promise to give Mysaria her freedom – which is a big swing given the proven flexibility of her loyalties. At least the current crisis has forced Rhaenyra to take the reins again, which is good; she also seems to have a firm alliance now with Rhaenys (Eve Best), who gets a little bit more to do on the Black council. Rhaenys and Corlys (Steve Toussaint) also get a fun scene in bed together, using politics as pillow talk. It’s nice to see them given more to do so far this season. That said, while House of the Dragon displays a marked preference for the Blacks in a way that George R.R. Martin’s source material did not, there’s still not a huge amount of character here relative to Game of Thrones. Rhaenyra is so reserved, and her children largely still just sketches. Her council are a mass of barely delineated figures shouting at her, and there’s little sense of the wider stakes for Westeros, beyond King’s Landing and Dragonstone – despite the trip to the Wall last week.

On her way to the boat, Mysaria spots what appears to be Ser Erryk coming up from the shore – which is strange, since she just left him in the castle. She pauses, and it’s not entirely clear if she’s going to go back and warn the castle that a doppelgänger is among them. This felt like slightly loose storytelling: maybe a scene was edited out? Anyway, Ser Arryk infiltrates Dragonstone, though Erryk finds him just in time, and the pair have a brutal duel as one tries to protect and one to attack Rhaenyra. Erryk finally deals his brother a fatal blow, and cradles him as he dies, before falling on his own sword. It should be a devastating finale – and it is, a little, but we haven’t spent enough time with either character for it to really hurt as much as it did when, say, Brienne fought the Hound.

Outside those main story strands, this was a good episode for people not born with a dragon egg in their cradle and an overly complicated family tree. We get another look at Alyn of Hull (Abubakar Salim) and meet his brother Addam (Clinton Liberty), who’s a little easier going than his older sibling. Addam also gets an odd scene where he is interrupted while digging for cockles or mussels or something on the shore by a pale dragon (Laenor’s Seasmoke?) circling overhead. We also get another glimpse of the smith, Hugh (Kieran Bew), who petitioned the King last episode. Here we see his family are struggling to put food on the table and his daughter is sick: – the stakes for him are higher than for any of the Targaryens, not that they’re likely to appreciate that. There’s also one final newcomer, as yet unnamed but played by Love & Friendship’s Tom Bennett, who arrives in King’s Landing and pauses to stare at the bodies of the murdered ratcatchers. It’s a fair guess that there must be more for him to do than that.

It’s a heavy-hearted episode, weighed down by the grief of almost all the main cast

This episode is directed by Claire Kilner, who did three episodes on season one. She manages the chaos of those opening moments well, with a handheld camera following running figures through the Red Keep. But it’s a heavy-hearted episode, weighed down by the grief of almost all the main cast: even Jac (Harry Collett) and Baela (Bethany Antonia) talk about loss. Still, it’s effective in showing the different ways that loss can spur people into ill-advised action or keep them paralysed, and there’s drama in that.

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