NOTE: I’m assuming a fairly intermediate level of familiarity with the world of Westeros and the first season of House of the Dragon.

You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be spoilers. Other reviews in this series can be found here.

Holy shit, this season came out SWINGING. It was impossible to know what to expect when season 1’s pacing was all over the place, but I’d say season 2 is currently on track (after all of one episode, but it was a really good episode). As for season 1: I might have been a little harsh in my earlier assessment of the season as a whole. The story hangs together much better when binged; the week-long break between episodes didn’t do the show any favors. With that in mind, I might start this season’s Sundays by watching the last week’s episode at 8 and then moving smoothly into the new episode at 9.

Opening some time after the mostly unintentional murder of Lucerys “Luke” Velaryon (the amount of time is not clear – it could be days, or it could be weeks), season 2 begins with Jacaerys “Jace” Velaryon, son of Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen, as he travels to the North to negotiate with Cregan Stark, Lord of Winterfell. Having been usurped by her eldest half-brother, Aegon II Targaryen, Rhaenyra is now scrambling to gather support from the lords who swore fealty to her when her late father named her heir to the Iron Throne. Her main support comes from Lord Corlys Velaryon and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, who pledge the resources of the seagoing House Velaryon to Rhaenyra’s cause; and, thanks to Jace, they are joined by Lord Stark, who – though unwilling to take fighting men from the Wall – agrees to provide 2,000 experienced warriors. Midway through his visit, Jace receives news of Luke’s death but still carries out his mission competently, also securing support from his grandmother’s relatives in the Eyrie before returning to Dragonstone.

Back in King’s Landing, the newly crowned Aegon II attempts to carry out his royal duties, but, though his heart is somewhat in the right place, he finds that he has not been prepared for the throne in any way: his father heavily favored Rhaenyra and didn’t trouble himself much with his younger children, and his mother and his grandfather thus far have provided little guidance, except when he screws up. In private meetings with her father, Hand of the King Otto Hightower, Dowager Queen Alicent Hightower openly admits that Aegon is not suited to the throne, and expects to assume the bulk of his duties when he tires of the role. Though she plans to include Otto in her quiet takeover, she is uncomfortable with his more violent inclinations and tries to bring him in line with her vision for the future, which does not involve the wholesale slaughter of Rhaenyra’s family. While Otto alternately schemes with and against her, Aemond becomes impatient with the pace of the anticipated war and begins to lay plans of his own with Ser Criston Cole, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. The only bright spot in Alicent’s current life – and perhaps the brightest spot she’s had in decades – is her passionate affair with Ser Criston, who seems to have overcome his season 1 anxieties about the sanctity of his white cloak.

Meanwhile, the grieving Rhaenyra flies to the Stormlands alone in search of some solid evidence of Luke’s death. Upon finding the remains of his dragon and part of his cloak, she returns to Dragonstone, where she tells her council that she wants Aemond Targaryen dead. Ever obliging, Prince-Consort Daemon Targaryen travels to King’s Landing and tasks a disgruntled City Watch guard named Blood and a deeply indebted rat-catcher named Cheese with the assassination of Prince Aemond. Unfortunately, Blood and Cheese are neither the best nor the brightest, and, failing to find Aemond, they make do with Prince Jaehaerys, the five(ish)-year-old son of Aegon and his sister-wife Helaena. After forcing Helaena to tell them which of her sleeping children is Aegon’s first-born son, the money-minded assassins become so preoccupied with cutting off Jaehaerys’s head that they forget all about Helaena (again, Daemon didn’t send his best, lol), giving her the chance to escape with her daughter Jaehaera. After escaping her own quarters, Helaena makes her way to Alicent’s rooms, where she finds her mother energetically bedding Ser Criston, and tells her that “they killed the boy.”

A few quibbles:

  1. Who sent Rhaenyra the raven about Lucerys? I can’t imagine Aemond writing to his half-sister for any reason, let alone to fess up to the murder of her son. I suppose the likeliest answer is that he fessed up to Alicent, who then wrote to Rhaenyra, given that Alicent is known to have sent Rhaenyra multiple letters whose contents are unknown.
  2. Why was the Red Keep so empty during Helaena’s escape? Are there not supposed to be guards on the royal family’s floor during the night? If so, why not? Isn’t this the best time, at least theoretically, to catch assassins?
  3. Why is Viserys the only adult character who ages?

The first two are less urgent than the third. I really want to know why the producers took such pains to age up the kids when Corlys, Rhaenys, Criston, Larys, and too many others to name have been around far longer. This is especially odd when Rhaenys is supposed to be three years older than Viserys, and odder still when you realize Viserys had to have been crowned about twenty years ago and Rhaenys looked exactly the same back then as she does right now. I mean, jeez, at least cast younger actors to play Corlys and Rhaenys during Jaehaerys’s succession.

Anyway. Even if current evidence suggests that she is an immortal vampire, I’ve gotta admit that I’m really starting to like Rhaenys. She’s a bit of a puzzle in season 1, where she changes sides at the speed of light – not without cause, mind you, but still fast enough and often enough to give me a bit of whiplash. While her decisions change with the breeze, however, her character does not. She’s a tough old bat with an iron will and a dragon to back her up, and this is a thing that has been very consistent throughout the show. She really is not here for anyone’s bullshit. LOVED seeing her casually fart in Daemon’s general direction, like, literally she should have been queen. What an icon. I’ve also begun to fall for Corlys, stubborn old pillar of salt though he is. While I personally thought the Driftwood Throne should in fact pass to someone of Velaryon blood – Baela, for instance – I do appreciate Corlys’s desire to protect his nominal grandsons, even though he knows as well as anyone else that they are not descended from his line. I suppose you could argue that he’s more interested in appearances and names than the actual people involved, but if it were just about the name, Driftmark would’ve gone to Vaemond Velaryon the second Laenor “died.”

All of this fits neatly with the much more human vibe of the TV characters, who may possibly be the greatest triumph of the show. I’m partway through the corresponding chapters in Fire & Blood, and I completely agree with my notes from two years ago. The book characters are awful. The TV characters are frequently kinder, far more relatable, infinitely more rootable. Even if they’re not saints, they’re at least more dimensional than they are in the book. I really love the direction Alicent is taking. I know quite well that nobody is getting a happy ending, but damn do I love seeing her doing something impulsive and reckless and completely selfish, just because it makes her happy. I really love that she’s learning to keep some things just for herself, even if, objectively, an illicit affair with the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard is a terrible fucking idea. I am so pleased to see her standing up to Otto’s expectations and quiet sabotages. I would love to see her fight her way free of his cocoon of grooming and fearmongering and gaslighting. She doesn’t have to be her father’s daughter. But also, it might not be the worst idea to invest in some door locks if Ser Criston is not going to be attending to his duty. Just putting that out there.

Two years ago, I asked if the Targaryens were heading to war because a woman was in charge, or if they were heading to war because none of the menfolks could tolerate a woman being in charge. I have my answer now, though it took a complete rewatch of the first season to fully appreciate it. The answer is, of course, the menfolks. It is always the menfolks. And this is exactly the answer I was hoping for, because I cannot watch another show where a powerful woman is put back in her place with the laziest insanity plea I’ve ever seen in my life. Game of Thrones ended so horrifically, but I have great hopes for House of the Dragon, which ultimately is about a war between two queens, both with different ideas about ruling but both wanting what is best for the realm. Maybe it’s just that I love Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke, who are Rhaenyra and Alicent, but somehow I don’t think so. In the book they are caricatures at best, but in the show they are loving and angry and soft and vengeful and trying so hard to do their very best. I love that they are decent people who were driven apart by sheer happenstance, who have been holding firm on peace – despite everything that has happened between them – while the men in their lives force them to war.

War is now inevitable, of course. I don’t know that there was ever a point where it wasn’t – this is Westeros, after all, and that damn Iron Throne is just so stupidly enticing. Still, this was an excellent first installment in what I sincerely hope will be eight episodes of Dragon Lady Power, and I have no doubt I will watch it at least five more times before Sunday.

P.S. Just found out there’s going to be a season 3. Didn’t think they could wrap this shit up in eight episodes, lol. They’ve still got a lot of ground to cover.

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