House of the Dragon, Season 2, Episode 1 Review: A Devastating First Episode - The Fantasy Review

House of the Dragon, Season 2, Episode 1 Review: A Devastating First Episode

The Fantasy Review’s review of House of the Dragon, season 2, episode 1.

SPOILER WARNING! This is a spoiler-filled review of House of the Dragon, season 2, episode 1, so do not read it unless you have watched the episode!

Immediately, we see the new opening sequence, with the classic theme tune, and it’s absolutely beautiful! It really sets the scene for a story about historical events with the tale being stitched onto cloth, setting itself apart from the more “modern” Game of Thrones introduction.

They really know how to make the fans happy, opening with a Raven flying over Winterfell with a voice over from a Stark. Everything from the music, to the set design to the wide shots over the landscape is gorgeous – Rings of Power could learn a lot from House of the Dragon – you don’t need a billion-dollar Disney princess colour palette to make a fantasy world look incredible.

House of the Dragon, Season 2, Episode 1 Review

It was exciting to see Lord Cregan Stark on the Wall, and with Prince Jacaerys Velaryon requesting assistance in the coming battles for the Iron Throne. For fans of Fire & Blood, it might feel a bit disappointing to see so little of Cregan Stark, but this is a show that does well when it isn’t sprawled across an entire continent. 

House of the Dragon is a tight, political fantasy tale told predominantly from the point of view of characters in their respective throne rooms, and it works well like that. Of course, we need to venture out now and again, but if you introduce too many new characters, and have to give them lots of screen time to show who they are and what they want, then we lose screen time with the main cast of Targaryens and Velaryons.

Daemon Targaryen and Rhaenys Targaryen then have a scene where Rhaenys returns from the blockage on her dragon, knackered, only for Daemon to “order” her back into the saddle and join him in finding Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen. This is one of those scenes House of the Dragon does so well! There is a lot of subtext, so you have to read between the lines, listen to what is not being said, but instead shown on their facial expressions. The writers on this show are insanely talented and it is so much fun to watch!

We need to talk about Tom Glynn-Carney’s performance as King Aegon II Targaryen: he is perfectly cast in the role! This is a character who is King only because he is told to do so, and he has no idea how to rule. He’s not necessarily cruel, or more awful than the culture he presides over, but rather he is attempting to play a game he knows nothing about. 

The show gives us a great example of this when King Aegon II has to listen to petitions from the “small folk”, and he makes a few obvious blunders – he wants to keep them happy and be liked, but there is a lesson here that he can’t be their friends, making their dreams come true.

The way Aegon II reacts when we get the ominous foreshadowing from his wife, Queen Helaena Targaryen, is telling of how little he really listens, or cares. His wife is a problem for him, with no solution, so he leaves her to be tended to, in a room far from where he is.

Alicent Hightower and Ser Criston Cole are getting it on, and that will drive every viewer up the wall! Was it not these two who scorned Rhaenyra Targaryen’s actions of a similar nature? To turn Rhaenyra away, ostracise her, and then do what she was doing, makes little sense, so it has given the viewers yet another reason to hate them – not that Criston Cole doesn’t get enough hate from the fans!

This is actually a great scene, because it comes straight after the scene where Helaena Targaryen tells the King about her fear of the rats, and this mirrors the scenes at the end of the episode. It’s just so great to have creators of a show who are talented and know what they are doing! (unlike with The Acolyte, Rings of Power… and so many more).

Now we are on to one of my favourite scenes in the entire episode: King Aegon II’s small council meeting. The Lannisters continue to be painted as worms; cowardly and snivelling. It’s an enjoyable portrayal for fans of Game of Thrones and the books!

The council meeting is another example of Aegon’s unsuitability to the crown, wanting to play games and have fun, rather than think about difficult decisions. He is gently reminded that there are decisions to be made and he looks disappointed, but also a little embarrassed. I think King Aegon II might be quietly one of the most interesting characters in House of the Dragon.

Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen is grieving the loss of one of her sons, and after 25 minutes we finally see Emma D’Arcy’s fantastic portrayal of the character. They are harrowing in their depiction of a grieving mother; and when Queen Rhaenyra finds what is left of her son and his dragon, she weeps, and the other mother, Rhaenyra’s dragon, also weeps, as her child was killed too. It is just a masterful scene that will live on in my mind for a long time. 

An intriguing development is the relationship between father and daughter, Otto and Alicent Hightower. Alicent feels like her father is undermining her in front of all the other men in the council, taking away her control over her son, King Aegon II. Otto claims this was unintentional and insists they are focused on the same goal, however that guy always creeps me out. 

It is strange in a show like this for the characters to be so honest with one another, so either they are lying and attempting to out manoeuvre each other, or they are sincere. We will see.

Rhaenyra Targaryen walks into her much darker, candle-lit council meeting and gives us the best execution of the only line she gets in this episode, before walking out again. It’s these quiet, subtle moments that make House of the Dragon stand out – these characters can be badass and brutal with a severe silence, and it’s brilliant.

So, she wants one of Alicent’s sons dead; preferably the fan favourite Aemond Targaryen, brother to the King, and the one who killed Rhaenyra’s son. You know right away that won’t work, not on that character, but if someone is going to die, who will it be?

The answer is a gut punch for the viewer. Helaena Targaryen watches on as her son is murdered by the “ratcatchers”, sent by Prince Daemon Targaryen. Her fear is made true and she escapes with her daughter to find Alicent, only to see the King’s mother in bed with Ser Criston Cole, again.

You can only imagine how much worse this conflict is going to get between Rhaenyra and Alicent. Before this atrocity, there was perhaps a chance of peace (small, but possible). Now, there will be blood.

Related to our Review of House of the Dragon, Season 2, Episode 1

Owner and Editor of The Fantasy Review. Loves all fantasy and science fiction books, graphic novels, TV and Films. Having completed a BA and MA in English Literature and Creative writing, they would like to go on to do a PhD. Favourite authors are Trudi Canavan, Steven Erikson, George R. R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson.

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