Our journey with House of the Dragon continues in episode 2, as we explore how our characters go up society’s expectations and deal with political intrigue.
Last week’s episode of House of the Dragon proved that audience members are still hungry for more stories within the world of Westeros that George R.R. Martin created. Not only did the pilot episode have the biggest rating numbers for any series premiere in HBO history — earning up to 10 million viewers in the U.S. alone — but its success granted the company to officially announce that a second season of their Game of Thrones prequel spin-off is underway. It’s exciting to know that our investment for the new show will be rewarded with more seasons to come.
Episode 2 of House of the Dragon, “The Rogue Prince,” takes place roughly six months after Queen Aemma’s (Sian Brooke) passing and after Rhaenyra’s (Milly Alcock) ceremony where she is named the new heir to the Iron Throne. Right off the bat, it is being established that the show will be doing time skips from episode to episode, since we need some of our key players in the story to grow older so other cast members can portray the older versions of characters by the time season 1 comes to its end.
Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) reminds us of the threat that can be found in the Stepstones — a chain of islands between Westeros and Essos — as we see the Triarchy torturing people by feeding them to the crabs nearby the sea. Like in last week’s episode, Corlys’ concerns are disregarded by the King’s Small Council, despite the urgency of the matter, as ships and men flying House Velaryon’s banner have been destroyed, taken as hostages, or killed. On top of all of that, Daemon’s (Matt Smith) defying actions against The Crown — taking his gold clocks of the City Watch with him to occupy Dragonstone — have been noticed by everyone in the realm and it is feared others will follow his example and try to rebel against King Viserys’ (Paddy Considine) reign. This is particularly worrisome for Corlys as he understands that if the Triarchy continues to be allowed to keep control of the Stepstones, it will make things more difficult for trading and shipping.
This is where Rhaenyra’s journey of having to prove herself begins. She is the named heir, yes, but she still continues to serve her father as his cupbearer during council meetings. Whether it’s intentional or not, this undermines Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne because she’s yet to be invited to voice her opinion about issues in the Seven Kingdoms, and you can’t help but feel this is the case because she’s a woman. This becomes particularly obvious when she suggests sending the dragon riders of the family to deal with the Triarchy. It’s arguably a fine solution, but it’s dismissed by her father and Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) almost immediately. Instead encouraging Rhaenyra to participate, Otto persuades Viserys to send her away to choose a new member of the Kingsguard, one that will personally protect her. After seeing her instant fascination with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) during last week’s tourney, she picks him to enter the service. Once again, Rhaenyra’s wits come to light when she’s forced to explain her decision, arguing that a Kingsguard should have combat experience instead of a fancy family name.
Meanwhile, Alicent (Emily Carey) and Viserys continue to develop a close bond, after Otto Hightower ordered his daughter to comfort the King after his wife’s death. During these very intimate scenes — clearly setting up a romantic relationship between the two — we get a quick history lesson about the Targaryen’s old home, Valyria. While watching this, you can’t help but feel the show is setting up other potential spin-offs about this subject matter, which is done cleverly, since this is very obvious exposition but it doesn’t feel as such. Emily Carey shocked the world last week with her portrayal of Alicent, and this week is no different. Her subtle mannerism radiates so much anxiety, almost as if she would rather be doing anything else but courting her best friend’s father. It becomes even more uncomfortable when she gets the time to spend time with Rhaenyra, keeping secrets from her and already embracing the motherly role in Rhaenyra’s life without her noticing. As if these things weren’t bad enough, your heart breaks even more when Otto starts demanding Alicent to stop messing with her hands in fear Viserys will find it repulsive.
In an attempt to pursue his family’s ambitions and goal to get rid of the Triarchy, Lord Corlys and his wife Rhaenys (Eve Best) try to make a deal with Viserys to unite both House Targaryen and Velaryon. They suggest the King should remarry sooner rather than later and that he should consider marrying their daughter Lady Laena Velaryon (Nova Mose-Foueillis), a 12 year-old girl. Of course, this idea is extremely uncomfortable and out of line for us — it’s borderline pedophilia — but we need to remember that Westeros does not operate under the values or beliefs we have today. After all, this is medieval fantasy, and, when we stop to think about Corlys and Rhaenys’ proposition, it isn’t totally crazy. Both of their houses are the last remaining families from Old Valyria, the Targaryens sit on the throne, and the Velaryons have the strongest fleet in the realm. Together, having a monarch from each House, they would be unstoppable, and, to make things more complicated, Viserys could have a male heir by taking a new wife. It’s a constant theme that comes up in the episode.
Because of this proposition, and Otto’s not so subtle attempts to push his daughter into Viserys’ lap, we understand nobody really respects Rhaenyra’s current status as heir. Everyone is playing the game of thrones in their own, yet similar, way. When concerned about what his daughter might think, even Grand Maester Mellos (David Horovitch) reassures Viserys that Rhaenyra’s feelings aren’t as important as the realm. The level of frustration that Alcock brings to this side of Rhaenyra is captivating. As a woman, she knows she can’t raise her voice or else she will be made to think of herself as “mad” or “unprofessional.” Rhaenyra’s conversation with her aunt Rhaenys reinforces these ideas as much as it establishes tension. These are two women who understand how the game was designed to oppose people like them, no matter how qualified they might be to be rulers. Yet, despite their similarities, there is disagreement and a hint of resentment between the two. Rhaenys is trying to pass down a bit of wisdom to her niece, but she can’t help herself but begrudge that somebody else got the title that she should have gotten years ago. Rhaenyra, on the other hand, understands the tight position she finds herself in, but she still believes she will be the exception in spite of all the warnings and red flags around her.
As mentioned earlier, Daemon Targaryen is causing trouble by taking over Dragonstone — the royal seat for whomever is the heir of the Iron Throne — and announcing his intentions to take a second wife in Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno). This, as expected, infuriates Viserys and the Small Council, especially after learning that Daemon had stolen a dragon egg and taken it with him for his future child, which we later learn he was lying about. To make matters worse, this egg was meant to be for Viserys’ now dead son, whom Rhaenyra had specifically picked for her baby sibling in anticipation of his birth. Otto Hightower doesn’t want Viserys to see his brother just yet, and offers to deal with Daemon as he embarks to visit The Rogue Prince at Dragonstone. Because he can’t put his differences aside, and because Daemon just loves being a rebel, Otto almost causes a confrontation where his men’s blood would have been spilled. It isn’t until Rhaenyra comes in — as the only person who can truly communicate with her uncle — that the issue is resolved peacefully. This ends up being a big moment for her because it proves she can amend conflicts with her wits, not just by force. Even her father comes to see it when she returns to the Red Keep.
Back in King’s Landing, King Viserys I Targaryen is having second thoughts about Lord Corlys and his cousin Rhaenys’ proposal. He seeks counsel from Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes) in search of an answer whether or not he should take Laena as his new wife. Lord Lyonel urges him to accept the deal, as it is better for him to make allies of the Velaryons than enemies. As we near episode 2’s ending, Viserys calls his Small Council for a meeting to make a final decision on the matter. In a not so shocking twist, the King chooses Alicent as his Queen-to-be over Laena — proving Otto’s scheming plans to have worked — pushing Lord Corlys to storm out of the room after his house’s wishes have been denied from yet another position of power. Rhaenyra, in a sense of betrayal from both her father and best friend, runs out of the room as well. The King’s choice forces Corlys to make drastic decisions of his own, as he invites Daemon to visit him at his seat in Driftmark to discuss what’s to be done about the upcoming war on the Stepstones against the Triarchy, in an attempt for both men to prove their worth to the realm. Episode 2 closes with a mysterious and off-putting scene that presents us with the leader of the Triarchy’s armies and fleets, Craghas Drahar (Daniel Scott-Smith), better known as the Crabfeeder.
Within two episodes, House of the Dragon shows us that the drama, character buildup and storytelling will only get stronger as it goes on. For every epic-scale sequence with dragons, there are intimate, quiet moments that allow the audience to breathe in the same room as the characters and what they’re feeling in the moment. This is where Game of Thrones shined the brightest, so it is no surprise these scenes are the highlights here as well. Small moments, like Daemon and Ser Criston Cole’s exchange about their fight in the tourney, are a great example of this. And to touch on the opening credits of the show, I can’t blame HBO and composer Ramin Djawadi for reusing the same theme song from the original series. Some will complain it is a lazy choice, but to those I’d counter argue with the following: this is like complaining that John Williams’ iconic Star Wars theme opens nearly every film in the franchise. Ramin Djawadi’s Game of Thrones theme has become unanimous with Martin’s world. Why not keep it around? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Episode 2 stands out as beautiful, yet tragic, too. Viserys, Rhaenyra, Alicent, Laena, Rhaenys, Corlys and Daemon; all of these characters are constantly trying to prove their worth to one another, but are cut short by the unfair expectations and traditions of Westeros. They can’t change the order of things by playing by the rules, so some of these characters might be obligated to change how they’re perceived by force. After this week’s episode, more drama is sure to ensue in the coming installments of the show, as well as spectacle with the brewing war in the Stepstones.
Episode 2 of House of the Dragon is now available to watch on HBO Max. Find out why you should be excited for House of the Dragon and come back next week for our next review of the series.