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House of the Dragon-season 2-Helaena-Phia Saban.jpg

The 'House of the Dragon' Season 2 Recap

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | June 18, 2024 |

By Kaleena Rivera | TV | June 18, 2024 |

House of the Dragon-season 2-Helaena-Phia Saban.jpg

(spoilers for season 2, episode 1)

Though the pursuit of power governs all of Westeros, grief is what fuels the machine that runs roughshod over its denizens. Never is it more apparent than in the second season premiere of House of the Dragon, where a deadly, arguably unintentional, act turns the ignition on war, and the resulting eye-for-an-eye act of retribution slams the gas pedal. It’s even harder to watch than Game of Thrones, where power was sought under the thin guise of doing what’s “best for the realm” or self-righteousness. These justifications aren’t exactly in short supply here, but the way tragedy compounds on itself through one error after another is overwhelming.

Before the bloodshed, however, I must take a moment to admire the new credit sequence. Gone is the maze-like trail of blood through the model of Old Valyria, now replaced by a gorgeous tapestry that takes after the genuine historic remnants of the medieval period (showrunner Ryan Condal cites the famous Bayeux Tapestry as inspiration per THR). It’s my tv favorite intro in recent memory and sets up the mood nicely for opener, which brings us to a very familiar sight: The Wall, providing an excellent excuse to intone our favorite tagline, “winter is coming.”

It’s also the setting for Jacaerys Velaryon (Harry Collett) to meet with Cregan Stark (Tom Taylor) to request the North’s aid for his mother’s fight for the throne. When a raven appears with the terrible news of younger brother Lucerys’ death—as witnessed in that heart-stopping season finale—Jace races home to attend to his family. It’s a duty shared by all except for Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy), who has spent these last few days scouring the coast for any remains in order to come to grips with the fact that her child is now gone, a sad mission that eventually proves successful after she comes across the little that is left of Luce and his dragon. Rhaenyra and Jace’s reunion is just as hard to watch, as we see Jace’s valiant attempt to compose himself quickly fall apart, as the young man sobs into his weeping mother’s arms. Rhaenyra still isn’t ready to consider strategy once she does rejoin her family members and council, but her and Daemon (Matt Smith)—hungry for vengeance and ready to dole out blame at every turn (“Would that you were king.” Right on, Rhaenys)—are on a similar wavelength when she declares, her only line in the entire episode: “I want Aemond Targaryen.”

Such a simple and direct order. Incredible how horribly it goes wrong.

While House Black deals with the aftermath of their beloved family member’s death, House Green is clambering along as best it can considering that each of its major players are working nearly at cross-purposes. Alicent (Olivia Cooke) is still trying to assert herself to no avail, save for Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) who is at her, ahem, every beck and call. This is possibly a controversial opinion, but my personal feelings for these two characters aside, this coupling not only makes perfect sense, but they deserve one another.

Unsurprisingly, their affair is a poorly kept secret, what with creepy Lord Larys (Matthew Needham) having installed so many new servants who no doubt report all of the castle’s goings-on (“Your handmaidens said you were … indisposed?” Reader, I literally gagged). I’m unsure why Alicent has kept him around, as his usefulness is now outweighed by his liability. Alas, foresight is not her strong suit. Compared to Alicent, her father, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), commands slightly more respect from her two sons, but his hubris leaves him wide open for the likes of Larys. I would wager that by the end of episode two, Otto will find himself suddenly unemployed, which, all things considered, is nowhere near the worst fate one could have among Westerosi royalty.

Which brings me to the main thrust of the premiere (I swear no pun intended): the horrific murder of Jaehaerys, the titular “Son for a Son.” An alternate episode title could have been “If You Want Something Done Right, Do It Yourself.” I place part of the blame on Daemon, who could have been a little more explicit in his order that he wanted Aemond, and only Aemond’s head in hand. As immoral as Daemon is, killing a six-year-old in their bed is a level of monstrosity not even he would stoop to … at least as his first choice. We’re thankfully spared of the gruesome beheading, instead given the more artistically sound, if unsettling in its own right, view of Queen Helaena (Phia Saban) fleeing with her now-sole living child in her arms. It’s no surprise that the ephemeral and vaguely clairvoyant (her fear of rats was all too well-founded, sadly) young lady would seek shelter from a nightmare in the relative safety of her parent’s bedroom. The timing couldn’t have been worse, but I don’t think that the sight of Alicent and Criston registered with Helaena for even a moment.

“They killed the boy,” will be echoed throughout the realm. Whatever little bit of genuine allegiance the crown, whether Black or Green, manages to eke out from the various lords and power players of the land, killing a small child may well be enough to make some substantial shifts happen. One could always assume the Dance of Dragons would be heralded in blood, but the surprise is in how much of it is of the innocent variety.

Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. She can be found on Bluesky here.