House of the Dragon Episode 2 review: A reminder of Game of Thrones’ greatest strength

Cameron Frew
A still from House of the Dragon of Rhaenyra and AlicentHBO

Quarrels of politics and blood thicken in House of the Dragon Episode 2, a heady dose of dialogue-driven storytelling that brings depth to the debris surrounding the impending civil war.

Has there ever been an episode of television with higher stakes than House of the Dragon’s debut? Some hurdles, to name a few: the bitter memory of Game of Thrones; the dueling high-fantasy hype for The Rings of Power; and a $20 million budget to answer for amid Warner Bros’ content cull.

One man renewed our affection: Ramin Djawadi, the returning mastermind composer who simply employed a few notes from his old theme, and the magic was back.

After the premiere’s gory spectacle, from “wanton public brutality” to one of the most horrific birth scenes put to screen, Episode 2 is a reminder of Game of Thrones’ greatest strength: the episodes some would consider “filler” or “boring”, when they’re cataclysmic.

Spoilers for House of the Dragon Episode 2 to follow…

House of the Dragon’s politics become clearer in Episode 2

After the first-ever title sequence, we open on a beach blighted by carnage; crabs crawl over rotting corpses and fidgeting, wailing souls. It cuts to a council meeting, where Viserys (Paddy Considine), Otto (Rhys Ifans), and the others are discussing who’ll fill an empty Kingsguard slot.

Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) storms in, demanding Viserys wages war on the Stepstones – a lawless area of land contended by the Free Cities – over a “Crabfeeder” who’s inflicting critical damage on his fleet. He also criticizes the king’s lack of action over Daemon (Matt Smith), who’s since taken the seat at Dragonstone and ruled over it for half a year with nary a concern.

When Rhaenyra suggests sending Dragonriders to the Stepstones, she’s cast aside to go choose the new Kingsguard, where she deliberately ignores Otto’s advice and chooses a soldier with combat experience.

Grief and anxiety still loom over House of the Dragon

Six months may have passed since Episode 1, but its events are raw. While Viserys mourns Aemma, Corlys and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) urge him to remarry, as it’ll strengthen his rule. There’s two problems: they want him to marry their 12-year-old daughter, Lady Laena (Savannah Steyn); and Otto’s daughter Allicent (Emily Carey) has been instructed to charm him in a bid for marriage.

Game of Thrones wasn’t afraid to tackle taboos and ickiness; lest we forget how the first episode ended with incest. Fortunately, Viserys doesn’t seem at all interested in marrying Laena, even when she stomach-curdlingly reveals her mum told her doesn’t have to “bed him” until she’s 14.

Meanwhile, Rhaenyra keeps her guard up, despite losing her mother and a brother she never saw. One of the episode’s strongest moments is a short conversation between Rhaenyra and Rhaenys, with the latter princess urging Rhaenyra she won’t ever sit on the Iron Throne, despite being named heir. “Your father is no fool,” she tells her, desperate to make her aware of the sexism inherent in any Westeros dynasty.

The first dance of dragons, an obvious marriage, and an unlikely team-up

Smith’s scene-stealing prince doesn’t appear much in Episode 2, only coming to the fore after stealing Baelon’s egg and returning to Dragonstone. Otto pays him a visit with a small army, with tensions almost reaching boiling point; Daemon believes he’s the rightful heir, and Otto thinks he’s a brat.

A still from House of the Dragon Episode 2HBO
Daemon faces off against Otto in Episode 2.

Then, Rhaenyra swoops through the clouds on Syrax, just as Caraxes seems posed to rain fire upon the bridge. She strolls past Otto and comes face to face with Daemon, asking him to stop “all this bother” and kill her if he wants the throne. After grandstanding against Otto, this actually brings Daemon pause, and he retreats to the castle and returns the egg.

Rhaenyra’s actions anger Viserys, who stresses that she’s his only heir and their bloodline could easily be wiped out. However, just when things stabilize between them, Viserys makes a big announcement: he’s decided to remarry, but it won’t be to Lady Laena – he’s chosen Allicent, Rhaenyra’s best friend.

Soon after, angered by Viserys’ dismissal of his daughter, Corlys takes decisive action to stand against the King, and asks for Daemon’s support in tackling the “troubles in the Stepstones… our luck is not given, it must be made.”

House of the Dragon ignores fears of boredom and delivers

Game of Thrones ditched what made it great by the end. Show-stopping episodes like Hardhome and Battle of the Bastards were once earned, not expected, and shock was found in searing words and betrayals, not just death.

House of the Dragon Episode 2 delivers the same vital, in-between storytelling that made its predecessor a television titan. The show already took flight, but now its wings are spreading.

House of the Dragon Episode 3 will be available on September 4 in the US and September 5 in the UK.

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