House of the Dragon Season 2 Recap: Episode 1 - A Son for a Son

“They killed the boy.”

SPOILERS AHEAD!

House of the Dragon is back, and we’re immediately served a big helping of nostalgia for its parent series, Game of Thrones. Winterfell! The Wall! Northern accents! It really makes you realise just how much you’ve missed this part of Westeros, with its snowy forests, its constant talk of winter and its dour, earnest people - a far cry from the scheming, manipulating silver-haired clan that we’ll be revisiting shortly.

Lord Cregan Stark (Tom Taylor), ancestor of Ned and the rest, is still loyal to Queen Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy), but needs all of his forces to defend the Wall. Still, not wanting her eldest son Jace (Harry Collett) to leave empty-handed, Stark pledges a thousand greybeards to the cause… and offers some typically ominous words about ‘death’ lurking in the frozen north. Classic Stark behaviour.

Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Rhaenyra’s rival Alicent (Olivia Cooke) is struggling to be heard in the Small Council. Her son, newly-crowned King Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) is starting to settle into the role, pushing for aggressive use of their dragons (of course) and legitimately trying to do right by the small folk (more surprising). It seems premature to call him a good ruler, but there’s certainly more to him than the depraved proto-Joffrey that he appeared to be last season. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad if he stayed on the Iron Throne?

On the other side of that argument is Queen Rhaenyra and her contingent, still grieving over the (sort of) accidental murder of young Prince Luke at the end of Season One. There are arguments for both retaliation and restraint, but when Rhaenyra finally returns from her mournful wanderings, she chooses vengeance. A son for a son. A choice that her uncle-husband Daemon (Matt Smith) is only too willing to support.

And this is where the episode gets dark. Sneaking into King’s Landing under cover of darkness, Daemon hires two lowlifes - a disgraced city guard and a ratcatcher - to sneak into the palace and remove Luke-murdering Aemond’s (Ewan Mitchell) head. As Daemon says, the man has long silver hair and one eye: he’s hard to miss. And yet the bumbling would-be assassins instead find themselves in the bedchamber of Queen Helaena (Phia Saban) and her two young children. Figuring that, in the grand scheme of things, any son is as good as the next, they force Helaena to point out Jaehaerys, the heir to the throne. Cue some very horrifying sound effects as the killers do their dark business and the Queen flees with her one surviving child.

House of the Dragon is back, everyone!

Death Count: Only one this week - poor little Jaehaerys.

Shout-Outs:

  • Some lovely comedy as preening fop Ser Tyland Lannister (Jefferson Hall) is humiliated on the small council by a toddler. Great stuff.
  • The dragons were cool, as usual. Shooting them from a distance really helps to emphasise their size and power, and why they’re so feared.
  • Episode MVP has to be Lord Cregan Stark. He doesn’t have much screentime but everyone in this show is so morally dubious, it’s nice to have someone who (at least right now) seems to be a fairly decent guy.

Verdict: A pretty strong opener filled with everything you’d want in a visit to Westeros: dragons, scheming, sex and truly disturbing violence. And, most excitingly, the promise of a swift escalation to the brewing Targaryen civil war. Bring on the Dance of Dragons!

House of the Dragon airs every Monday at 9pm on Sky Atlantic, and can be streamed from 2am the same day.

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