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House of the Dragon Season Two Premiere: ‘A Son for a Son’ Embraces the Chaos of Civil War

Olivia Cooke Alicent Hightower House of the Dragon Season 2
Photo Credit Ollie Upton/HBO

Whenever Ramin Djawadi’s iconic Game of Thrones score kicks in during the opening credits of a Thrones property, it’s hard not to feel a visceral reaction. Longtime fans can feel each note brimming with the potential for intrigue, wisdom, bravery… and trauma. We conjure up a fantasy universe in which the harsh realities of power dynamics almost always trump the sort of honor and sacrifice that we tend to embrace in more traditional (and hopeful) storytelling.

Thrones’ first spinoff, House of the Dragon, aims to unlock all of the complicated potential that comes with a world in which powerful, entitled families with access to weapons of mass destruction (aka dragons) are locked in civil war. It certainly understands the chaos of the situation, and at the outset of season two, show runner Ryan Condall places us in a sort of dark snow globe: every time our characters agitate the world of their conflict, we see blood, limbs, and severed dragon wings settle across the landscape. 

The hotly-anticipated House of the Dragon Season Two Premiere, ‘A Son for a Son’ sets up key character dynamics and conflicts for the upcoming season effectively, but misses a key opportunity to heighten the emotional stakes. Please be aware that there are spoilers ahead for both the show and the source text as we break down the premiere.

Our biggest and most important setup for the season involves the dangers of centering ones claim to power on vengeance. We open with a quick stop at Winterfell for a reminder that the safety and security of the realm comes through personal service and sacrifice. Lord Cregan Stark (Tom Taylor) takes Prince Jacaerys “Jace” Velaryon (Harry Collett) on a field trip to The Wall to help him understand that there are forces at play that transcend the interests of the crown, and that the Stark family willingly sends their family members to fulfill that sacred duty – a reminder that they are entitled to nothing. 

When we cut to Dragonstone, Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) offers a jarring reminder that the royals at the center of this civil war believe that loyalty comes for free. Daemon is frustrated that his wife (and protector of the realm), Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) is off on a lengthy mourning tour to find the remains of her son Lucerys Velaryon. Team Black is losing precious time in waging their war for the throne. In his frustration, Daemon attempts to order the Queen Who Never Was, Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) to hop back on her dragon after a lengthy scouting campaign; he believes that if they strike now, they can kill Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) and his mighty dragon, Vhagar, in retaliation for Lucerys’s murder. 

Rhaenys is unimpressed by Daemon’s demanding push for vengeance and refuses his call. Instead, she empathizes with Rhaenyra’s quest for closure. Then, she twists the knife with a few simple words: “Would that you were king.” Unfortunately, when the harried Rhaenyra later returns to Dragonstone, she is also consumed by vengeance after discovering the remains of her son’s dragon. In fact, her only line of dialogue in the episode is, “I want Aemond Targaryen.” While her rage is certainly justified, her one-track focus probably didn’t instill a ton of confidence in her team; the war council had a lot of questions about the finer points of strategy and naval blockades in the wake of their queen’s lengthy absence. It’s unclear how long her sworn followers can remain loyal to her need for personal vengeance. 

Of course, The Greens are dealing with some troubles of their own; they have a few too many power brokers in the mix. Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) has been eager to run the show as Hand of the King since we met him back in season one, but with his idiot grandson Aegon Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney) trying to meet the demands of each and every petitioning peasant for a quick rush of praise and glory…he has his work cut out for him. Our girl Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) is also bemoaning her waning influence over her children; the only one taking her orders seems to be resident incel Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), who pops in to project his own lack of honor and loyalty onto Rhaenyra. Even Alicent’s other pet monster, Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), is conspiring against her influence when he counsels Aegon to choose a new Hand. 

Knowing that Aegon is ready for this change, audience members are nearly drowning in dramatic irony when Alicent goes to her father, Otto, for his support on the small council. It’s painful to see the depth of their denial when Otto tries to chalk up Aemond’s recent act of murder to “the caprice of youth.” These two are in for a rude awakening when they realize that this little war they’ve cooked up is no longer in their hands. 

Meanwhile, Aemond is doubling down on dragon war as he faces the fallout of his accidental murder of Lucerys. He may be cruel and bloodthirsty, but he is also the only member of Team Green who fully understands that force and violence are the only avenue left open to them in their war with Team Black. We also get a nice setup for a future confrontation with his mother Alicent; while she believes Aemond’s anger is pushing him toward recklessness, he believes that his mother’s anger over his rush to violence is simple hypocrisy. In Aemond’s eyes, Alicent blames him for starting a war despite the fact that she was the one who schemed to usurp the throne: “Her Grace speaks with two tongues,” he says. There is certainly an awful lot of projection going around.

All of these pieces are effective and intriguing, but the closing act of the episode falls a bit flat. Consumed with a desperate need for vengeance, Daemon turns to the recently captured “White Worm,” Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) for information on how to access the Red Keep. While she is no longer interested in scheming, she does agree to this transaction with her old flame.

At this point, Daemon inexplicably travels to King’s Landing in his murder cloak to hire two loose cannons to assassinate one of the most powerful men in the realm. Initially, viewers are excited to see the choice to get Daemon involved with one of the most notorious moments in the Dance of the Dragons. In the infamous “Blood and Cheese” incident, a pair of mysterious murderers sneak into the Royal Family’s quarters and force Queen Helaena to choose one of her two sons (the two male heirs to the throne) to die in retaliation for Lucerys’s death. In the text, she picks her youngest son, Maelor, to die only for the murderers to mock the child and take the life of her other son, Jaehaerys. This is a particularly dark murder plot, but it certainly establishes the personal stakes of the conflict and paves the way for future treachery and cruelty in the conflict.

Instead of a big emotional swing that might replicate some of the furor over things like The Red Wedding and the death of Joffrey Baratheon in the original Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon opts for indecision and chance here. While we saw them make similar calls in season one (Alicent’s betrayal and the death of Lucerys are framed as a misunderstanding and an accident, respectively), this moment was an opportunity to raise the stakes, help audiences understand why there is no turning back, and better inform Rhaenyra’s upcoming loss of confidence in Daemon. What we get in ‘A Son for a Son’ is a tale of two desperate assassins scrambling for a pay day. 

First of all, Daemon disappears – he doesn’t take personal responsibility for the murder coming all that way. Then, the murderers panic after finding their way into the Red Keep and desperately rush to collect the head of an heir, any heir, for Daemon. When they confront Helaena (Phia Saban), they simply ask her to distinguish the male heir from his sister; the assassins argue amongst themselves about whether or not the Queen is telling the truth. Ultimately, Saban gets very little to do as Helaena (“They killed the boy,” is her only line of lukewarm dialogue), and the murder feels anticlimactic – it even feels somewhat in keeping with the stakes that have been established up to this point rather than crossing a line and raising the stakes of the conflict. 

So who won week one? If we are talking about Team Black vs. Team Green, the season two premiere goes to Team Green. Certainly, Helaena was traumatized and Aegon lost his beloved heir, but there is no shortage of Greens looking to step into a seat of power, and the cowardly nature of this murder from Team Black makes them look pretty petty and desperate in the eyes of the elites in the Seven Kingdoms. Plus, The Greens still have Vhagar and a couple of very angry psychopaths in Aegon and Aemond.  

Of course, if we are talking about the cast and crew of the show, the winner of week one is easily Tom Glynn-Carney as King Aegon Targaryen. After hopping into the role in the back half of season one, Glynn-Carney gave a solid performance as a creepy idiot who was unfit to rule; however, in the season two premiere, he captures a piece of the magic that can make a Thrones story so special. He manages to sell the dark irony of this idiot king with no fewer than three iconic moments:

  • When Helaena confuses Aegon and her handmaidens with a cryptic reference to rats, the assembled company look around the room for the furry little critters. In an effort to transition out of this awkward moment, Aegon looks around the room and says, “The queen is an enduring mystery, is she not?” Watching him create that space to transition out of the awkward moment, both for his own benefit and for the benefit of the servants, is absolutely remarkable.
  • At the small council meeting, Ser Tyland Lannister, the Master of Coin, is absolutely fed up with young Prince Jaehaerys’s antics; rather than maintain focus on the war at hand, Aegon decides to defend his son by humiliating Tyland. He demands that his Master of Coin give Jaehaerys a pony ride. Unfortunately, the cowardly showrunners allow wiser heads to prevail, and we are deprived of what would have been one of the most important moments in television history.
  • Before Aegon takes the Iron Throne to hear petitions from the smallfolk, he is introduced with the title, “Aegon the Magnanimous.” His utter disdain and disgust for this nerdy mouthful of a title is palpable and pays off nicely later during a drunken rant with his buddies. He confirms that he would prefer to be known as “Aegon the Dragoncock” – a perfectly juvenile title for our new favorite idiot king. 

While not all fans will be pleased with how House of the Dragon Season Two Premiere handled one of the most hotly anticipated events from the source material, there is no doubt that they’ve put a lot of compelling material on the table. For now, fans can sit back and hope that their favorite bloody royals will start to be a bit more proactive in achieving their goals as the Dance of the Dragons continues to escalate. 

House of the Dragon Season Two Premiere is now streaming on MAX.


Randy Allain
Randy Allainhttps://randyallain.weebly.com/
Randy Allain is a high school English teacher and freelance writer & podcaster. He has a passion for entertainment media and is always ready for thoughtful discourse about your favorite content. You will most likely find him covering Doctor Who or chatting about music on "Every Pod You Cast," a deep dive into the discography of The Police, available monthly in the Pop Break Today feed.


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