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House of the Dragon season 2 episode 2 recap/review

A young man has a patch on his eye in season 2 episode 2 of House of the Dragon, from the Loud and Clear recap and review

We recap and review Season 2 Episode 2 of HBO’s House of the Dragon, where bonds are broken and blood is spilled as the realm inches towards all-out war. 

Spoilers below for Season 2 Episode 2 of House of the Dragon and Fire & Blood, obviously.

Creators: Ryan J. Condal & George R.R. Martin
Number of episodes: 8
Season 2 Episode 2 Release Date: June 23, 2024
Where to watch: Max

Chaos reigns in the Red Keep. The various smallfolk that work within its walls are rounded up and questioned about the murder of Prince Jaehaerys as Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) takes advantage of the pandemonium to sneak out of the chambers of Dowager Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) unnoticed.

King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) is full of violent rage, destroying his father’s model of Old Valyria as he screams about declaring war and killing his half-sister Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy). 

He calls his small council, demanding answers as to how this assassination could have occurred under their noses. His grandsire and Hand of the King Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), a shrewd opportunist who never saw a tragedy he couldn’t exploit, attempts to convince Aegon that his son’s death might actually be a good thing for their cause. They should hold a funeral procession and march Jaehaerys’ body throughout the city to show the smallfolk what Rhaenyra is capable of and spurn them – and the lords of the realm – from her cause. “Jaehaerys will do more for us now than a thousand knights in battle,” Otto says, which is an incredibly cold-blooded thing to say about a dead child, even if he does kind of have a point. 

Alicent breaks the news to Helaena (Phia Saban) that the two of them will have to be front and center during the funeral procession so that the smallfolk can share in their grief. Helaena is resistant to the idea, saying that she does not know them, but Alicent insists that they must play this part as representatives of the throne. Despite her mother’s words, Helaena’s discomfort continues during the procession as the herald cries, “Behold the works of Rhaenyra Targaryen, pretender to the throne, kinslayer, defiler of the innocent”. 

Season 2 Episode 2 director Clare Kilner, a genre TV vet known for shows like Gen V, Fallout and season 1 of House of the Dragon, truly shines in her work throughout the whole episode and this sequence in particular. Her camera keeps us grounded in Helaena’s POV as her discomfort turns to panic and the smallfolk crowd the procession. Helaena almost reverts to a childlike state as she tries to climb in her mother’s lap to escape the smallfolk’s grief, and Phia Saban makes the most out of the sequence. 

The greens aren’t the only ones taking the prince’s death hard. Rhaenyra struggles to process the news that the assassination is being blamed on her, knowing that this will weaken her claim to the throne. When she learns that her husband Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) is responsible, the two of them have a verbal smackdown for the ages. Rhaenyra confesses that she can’t trust Daemon, and maybe she never has. It’s telling that when she questions Daemon’s support for her claim, he refers to the greens as having usurped “[his] brother’s throne” rather than Rhaenyra’s. 

Emma D’Arcy is Rhaenyra Targaryen and Matt Smith is Daemon Targaryen in season 2 episode 2 of House of the Dragon, from the Loud and Clear recap and review
Emma D’Arcy is Rhaenyra Targaryen and Matt Smith is Daemon Targaryen in season 2 episode 2 of House of the Dragon (Ollie Upton/HBO)

With his back to the wall, Daemon finally speaks his truth; his brother Viserys (Paddy Considine) was a coward who feared him because he was the stronger son, so he used Rhaenyra as a tool to put him down. Rhaenyra calls him pathetic and he storms out, mounting Caraxes and flying off to Harrenhal, supposedly to raise an army there in the name of his queen. 

Both D’Arcy and Smith have discussed in interviews that they filmed most of this season apart from one another; having read “Fire and Blood” and knowing where Daemon’s narrative goes from here, if this scene is the last time we see these two actors together in season 2 (or even in House of the Dragon overall), it would certainly serve as a worthy culmination of the decades-long relationship between these characters and an explosive showcase for their actors’ talents. 

Back in King’s Landing, Ser Criston struggles with his guilt over his failure to prevent the death of the prince because of his indiscretions with Alicent. Does he try to deal with his emotions in a healthy manner? Of course not! We’re talking about the guy who has held a decade-long grudge against Rhaenyra because she didn’t want to throw away her claim to the Iron Throne to run away with him after they spent a single night together, so it’s fair to say that emotional intelligence is not something he possesses.

Criston decides to project his guilt onto Ser Arryk (Luke Tittensor), whose twin member of the Kingsguard Ser Erryk (Elliott Tittensor) fled to Dragonstone to pledge to Rhaenyra shortly after Aegon’s coronation. Criston demands a show of loyalty from Arryk to prove that he is not a traitor like his twin: he commands the knight to go to Dragonstone alone, sneak into the castle under the guise of his brother, and strike the pretender queen down, ending the war before it even properly starts. 

Episode 2 then turns its attention to a pair of seemingly minor characters from the previous episode, Hugh Hammer (Kieran Bew) and Alyn of Hull (Abubakar Salim). Hugh has a wife and child that he is struggling to care for as a result of the blacks’ blockade of King’s Landing; still, he holds out hope that Aegon’s promised relief will come to them sooner rather than later. Alyn, meanwhile, connects with his brother Addam (Clinton Liberty), a shipwright who has been called to help repair the ship of Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint), the lord of Driftmark.

The scenes featuring these three characters might seem purely tangential at first glance, but it’s clear that showrunner Ryan Condal is looking to lay the groundwork for the important roles these men will play in the narrative to come. What does Addam mean when he says that Lord Corlys “owes” him and his brother? Why is there a sequence of Addam watching a lone dragon fly overhead while on the beaches of Driftmark? I’m eager to see how these questions are answered during the rest of season 2 and how Condal continues to subvert expectations, even for book readers. 

Prince-slayer Blood (Sam C. Wilson) folded quite quickly under pressure from Aegon’s head torturer Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), revealing that his accomplice was one of the king’s own ratcatchers. As a result, Aegon hangs all of the Red Keep’s ratcatchers, innocent and guilty alike, igniting Otto’s fury.

Otto confronts the king, calling him a fool whose actions will undo everything they have done to paint Rhaenyra as a monster and turn the smallfolk against him instead. When Ser Criston reminds Otto that he is speaking to his king, Hightower bellows, “I am speaking to my grandson, and my grandson is a fool!” Otto tears into Aegon, and it’s clear that Rhys Ifans is relishing the opportunity to let loose a little bit. 

Tom Glynn-Carney is King Aegon II Targaryen in season 2 episode 2 of House of the Dragon, from the Loud and Clear recap and review
Tom Glynn-Carney is King Aegon II Targaryen in season 2 episode 2 of House of the Dragon (Ollie Upton/HBO)

In a parallel to the scene between Rhaenyra and Daemon, Otto finally tells Aegon how he really feels: his father King Viserys was right about Aegon all along, and the realm is worse off now that he is gone. Ifans brilliantly sells the weight of years futilely propping up this feckless king, and it’s enough to, if not exactly make the audience feel bad for Otto, at least appreciate that he is finally putting his grandson in his place. When Aegon says that his father made him king and Otto responds by laughing in his face and asking, “Is that what you think,” it’s a mic drop moment if ever there was one. 

Unfortunately for Otto, it’s not without consequence. Aegon demands that he resign as Hand of the King and gives the honor to Ser Criston, a decision Otto insists he will come to regret. 

Back on Dragonstone, Rhaenyra learns of the bargain made between Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) and Daemon: knowledge of the Red Keep’s secrets and the names of Blood and Cheese in exchange for her freedom. While Rhaenyra has little trust in the White Worm, she remains true to Daemon’s word and agrees to put Mysaria on a ship to Essos. As Mysaria is brought towards the dock, she seemingly passes by Ser Erryk – who she just saw inside the castle’s walls. 

In reality it’s Ser Arryk, come to do the king’s dirty work. He sneaks into the castle, Kirchner’s camera weaving around corners and through corridors as Arryk barely misses running into his twin. The ruse nearly works as Arryk pretends to be his brother to gain access to Rhaenyra’s chambers. He draws his sword, telling the queen, “Believe me, I had no choice”, when Erryk bursts through the door, and the two launch into a vicious fight

House of the Dragon adapts what is essentially a Westerosi in-universe history book that presents multiple possible POVs of certain historical events. The fight between Arryk and Erryk is one such moment, and episode 2 writer Sara Hess wisely combines elements of all possible depictions presented in the source material while also adding a twist: Erryk slays his twin and, begging his queen’s forgiveness, falls on his own sword. It’s a brutally unexpected capper to an already intense scene, and would’ve served as a more effective moment to end episode 2 on (but more on that in a moment). 

Otto tells Alicent that he plans to return to the Hightower seat at Oldtown, where she has another son who will “take more kindly to instruction”. Yes, that’s right, Alicent and Viserys have had another child this entire time, a revelation that I am sure induced quite a bit of whiplash in non-book readers. While it’s good that young Prince Daeron’s existence has finally been confirmed, the fact that it’s taken this long for him to even be mentioned seems like an incredibly odd omission.

 Why didn’t we hear about him during season 1? Why was he not at Laena Velaryon’s funeral? Why, in his final episode, does Viserys say that it’s important to him that his “entire family is together” when one of his sons isn’t even there? Again, it’s a good thing that Daeron is finally here, as he will be important in the next stages of the story, but his sudden inclusion seems like an adaptive misstep in a series that has mostly avoided them. 

Alicent, who earlier in episode 2 tried to tell her father that Jaehaerys’ death was the gods’ punishment for her sin, once again tries to unload her confession onto him, but he spurns her, telling her that he does not want to hear it. As we saw in season 1, Otto once again fails to be the parent that Alicent needs when it really counts. 

At least some of this lack in parental capabilities seems to have rubbed off on Alicent; she comes upon Aegon weeping in his chambers, but instead of going to him seems to be disturbed by the sight and leaves. The complicated love/hate relationship between Aegon and Alicent is a rich one, and Cooke and Glynn-Carney both sell the moment even without directly interacting with each other. 

House of the Dragon Season 2 Trailer (Max)

With nowhere left to turn, Alicent returns to her bedchamber, where Criston awaits her. Finally finding an outlet for her grief and shame, Alicent slaps and shoves her protector, which quickly turns to sex as the episode cuts to black. It’s a bit of an anticlimax that makes one wish that episode 2 had ended on the visceral high of the duel between Arryk and Erryk instead. 

Once again, House of the Dragon elects to take its time rather than rush headlong into war, giving ample space to flesh out its vast ensemble of characters. Season 2 Episode 2 is one of the show’s best yet, providing moments of explosive tension and heartbreaking intimacy as it expertly ends certain arcs while laying fertile ground for others. As the war seems to finally be kicking off in earnest next week, hopefully House of the Dragon can maintain the specificity of character that continually elevates it beyond mere spectacle.

Season 2 Episode 2 of House of the Dragon is now available to watch on Max. Read our reviews of Season 1 of House of the Dragon and join us next week for our recap & review of episode 3!

House of the Dragon season 2 episode 3 recap/review – Loud and Clear
We recap and review Season 2 Episode 3 of HBO’s House of the Dragon, where Rhaenyra attempts to avoid plunging Westeros into the chaos of war.
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