If we were skeptical last week about the true nature and merit of this Westerosi prequel, it is now perfectly clear: this IS Game of Thrones. As the opening credits swelled with a lovingly familiar melody, memories of this fandom flowed through our blood. And blood there will be.
House of the Dragon still has a lot to prove. But after two episodes, things are already heating up.
SPOILER ALERT: If you want to avoid spoilers, consider yourself warned. We’re about to dive into episode 2 of House of the Dragon.
Don’t be so crabby
Episode 2 opens on a gruesome shore. During low tide, pirates and sailors are nailed to the bloody beach, forced to be eaten alive by crabs. There are many horrible ways to die in Westeros, but this is a particularly awful way to go. Who could be the source of this barbarous cruelty?
Not much has changed
Six months have passed since the events of the first episode, and Rhaenyra was named heir to the throne. Yet, the small council proceeds, business as usual, and Rhaenrya Targaryen is still relegated to pouring wine for the men who surround her, even though they bent the knee to her.
Corlys Velaryon takes the matter of the Crabfeeder and the Triarchy (mentioned in the first episode as a growing alliance among the free cities) seriously. After all, he just lost one of his ships on the Stepstones. But mundane royal obligations win the attention of King Viserys in this episode, as he shirks off the importance of multiple dangers. This naturally feeds the ire of Corlys.
For her part, Rhaenyra chimes in with actionable advice, but the members of the small council merely placate her. They send her away to judge the qualifications of some King’s Guard hopefuls – a task they believe is low-stakes enough for a young woman to do.
In both scenes, Rhaenyra demonstrates a lack of decorum and wisdom in matters of political theater. But she makes up for it in decisiveness, making decisions naturally based on aggressive actions and effective results. Already, she seems more fit for the throne than its present occupant.
Out of the King’s Guard contenders, she chooses Ser Criston Cole. We remember him in the King’s Tournament from episode 1, as he memorably unseated and defeated Daemon Targaryen after easily besting the other competitors. (We also may remember that Rhaenyra gave him her favor.) Though Hand of the King, Otto Hightower, cautions a consideration of politics in her decision, Rhaenyra opts to choose based solely on battle experience.
Such an easy way
In the six months since his wife’s brutal death during childbirth, King Viserys has had little interest in being proactive. Instead, he maintains a companionship with Alicent Hightower, confiding in her as he builds his stone model of Old Valyria.
Alicent is forced into a delicate position. On the one hand, her father (Otto, Hand of the King) is clear in his intentions to use her for political means in order to secure his family’s power. He’s truly playing the game and has no problems pimping his daughter to do so. And after all, what higher aspiration could there be than to be a Queen?
Alicent seems to have grown a sincere attachment to King Viserys (trauma bond anyone?), but he clearly wants their connection to remain a secret – particularly from his daughter.
Forced to repress her own agency in favor of the whims of the men around her, Alicent still does her best to stay connected with Rhaenyra, as they share a deep love and affection for one another. However, keeping such a secret from someone so close is bound to cause a rift.
A storm is coming
Meanwhile, the Hightowers aren’t the only ones taking advantage of the King’s apparent weakness in order to secure their own authority in the realm.
Power couple Rhaenys Targaryen & Corlys Velaryon lay it out for the King: Daemon is fortified in Dragonstone with his Gold Cloaks, a foreign power is taking over a vital shipping lane, and (gasp!) a girl has been named heir to the throne. All of that is to say, the crown appears weak.
But the couple has a proposition. They offer their child, Laena, to be wed to the King.
Viserys is NOT into this suggestion. Everyone around him is telling him to wed the child – even his own daughter – but it is Otto’s deft and subtle manipulations that sink in.
In Viserys’ defense, he did meet with the girl, taking a standard courtship walk through the gardens. However, this walk only cemented his discomfort with her youth, despite them being a strong political match.
Rhaenys, meanwhile, cautions Rhaenyra that she will never be Queen. Rhaenyra is defensive, but the words sink in. She knows she must prove her metal.
Stand-off at Dragonstone
For being so politically cunning, Otto Hightower really can’t read the room where Daemon Targaryen is concerned. He travels to Dragonstone after the moody Prince stole a dragon egg, an armed guard in tow.
Otto might have considered how his dismissive attitude might provoke a Targaryen with known murderous tendencies and a dragon. But his distaste for Daemon and his personal pride are too potent.
This might have been the end to a whole slew of side characters were it not for Rhaenyra defying her father’s wishes and appearing just in the nick of time atop her own dragon.
Despite the youthful brashness (and trademark Targaryen) choice to ride in and do as she pleases, Rhaenyra was the right choice to stand against Daemon. He might like to show off and act out, but if there is one thing he’s exhibited so far, it’s his love for his family.
Seriously, what is up with Viserys?
Avoidance is a common trauma response, but King Viserys has now made a rash decision two episodes in a row. Rather than stand his ground and demand the time he needs to mourn the death of his wife, he acts out against those seeking his marriage to Laena Velaryon by making the emotional decision to wed Alicent Hightower. This is a decision that blindsides everyone, including the Hightowers (even if they are pleased by it).
This directly parallels his response in episode 1 to Daemon’s offensive remarks about his dead child. Viserys reacted swiftly, naming his daughter as his heir more out of emotion than logical consideration.
Don’t get me wrong, Viserys seems a sensitive and loving man. But King material, he is not. Although he values the preservation of peace above all else, his decisions continue to ensure that the future is anything but peaceful.
Meanwhile, his body continues to deteriorate oddly – the same finger which cut itself upon the iron throne six months ago now in a state of necrosis, fodder for maggots.
We know from Game of Thrones that even the best of intentions can result in devastating consequences. We recall the Starks on multiple occassions making choices guided by their own moral compass, only to plunge themselves into peril and the realm into turmoil. How much damage will King Viserys inflict on himself and the political body of Westeros before all seven hells break loose?