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HOUSE OF THE DRAGON 2×2 “Rhaenyra the Cruel” is the second episode of the second season of HBO’s extended apology for the final season of GAME OF THRONES. Ha-ha. Just kidding, except not. Overall, I was a big fan of the first season but I feel like the two year wait on the follow up killed a lot of forward momentum that the series had been accumulating and this is from a guy with a Targaryen wallet. Still, the first episode was gutsy enough to kill a toddler and I was invested enough to be there at 9PM Eastern on a Sunday for the next episode.

The premise for this House of the Dragon episode is that everyone in Kings Landing is stunned by the assassination of Prince Jaehaerys. One of the failures of the previous season was the fact that they didn’t take episodes to follow up the emotional beats to the big epic changes of episodes. Instead, it just lightning shot past these big moments and the story was the lesser for it. Here, we get to see how the death of Jaehaerys has broken his father, Aegon II, and his mother, Helaena. We see how the death has stricken Ser Criston Cole and World’s Youngest Grandmother, Alicent Hightower, with guilt because they were making the beast with two backs when they should have been defending the royal family’s youngest.

The Greens have been rightly called out as the “villains” of House of the Dragon and consistently made to be an utterly despicable bunch of scumbags with rare exceptions. Many of their virtues from the books have been washed away and their sins have been made worse. Still, this is an episode that humanizes them a great deal while actually doubling down on their worst traits. After the previous episode showed a softer side of Aegon II, trying to do right by the common people, we see him engage in Joffrey level sadism by hanging a hundred rat catchers in hopes of catching one.

Honestly, this moment kind of fell flat for me because one of House of the Dragon’s flaws is that it someitmes has its characters acting far too modern. Alicent and Rhaenyra acted like teenage girls when they were, well, teenage girls versus adult women as they would have been treated post-sixteenth birthday in Westeros. The hanging of the rat catchers is in Fire and Blood but almost an afterthought as killing a hundred Smallfolk is just not that big of a deal in this society. Here, it’s an atrocity that Otto acts like would live in infamy throughout Westeros history. Come on, people rarely remember that George Washington burned a bunch of villages during the Revolutionary War.

By contrast, I really liked how utterly devastating the charge of infanticide and kinslaying is to Rhaenyra’s cause. Because Rhaenyra is a woman who recently lost her child, everyone assumes she’s the one who sent assassins to kill Aegon’s son. Honestly, I was surprised the show had her react with unequivocal disgust because I’m inclined to think a woman of Westeros would see some small satisfaction in “blood for blood.”

Instead, Rhaenyra is disgusted by Daemon and figures out he was the party responsible very quickly. Daemon also finally confesses his jealousy and petulance regarding his disinheritance for his wife. This would have been an excellent time to introduce Nettles to soothe Daemon’s wounded pride but they still haven’t cast her and may even end up removing her (which would be a mistake, IMHO). We also get a good moment where Rhaenyra realizes her jealousy and distaste for Mysaria is unqueenly before pardoning the woman. It pays dividends because Mysaria then warns Rhaenyra about Aegon’s ill-planned attempt to avenge his son.

The best parts of this episode are probably Prince Jaehaerys’ funeral procession and the Battle of the Cargyll Twins. House of the Dragon does a fantastic job showing Queen Helaena’s grief as she’s forced to become a propaganda point to the common people. She’s clearly agoraphobic and hates crowds yet is moved through crowds of weeping strangers who scare the living hell out of her with her son’s corpse just a few feet away. Arryk and Erryk Cargyll have a fight to the death as the twins find themselves divided by their loyalties. Ser Criston Cole sends Arryk on a suicide mission to soothe his own guilt and this leads to horrible tragedy for the Kingsguard. Almost as good as these two moments is Ser Otto Hightower having the realization that Aegon is uncontrollable and a monster, which means that his efforts to prevent war via crowning him were not only doomed but counterproductive.

In conclusion, House of the Dragon 2×2 “Rhaenyra the Cruel” was an excellent follow up to a strong first episode.There’s a lot of character moments and strong dramatic heft, which is what we’re here for in the first place. As much as I love dragon fights, I’d rather they remain more devoted to getting to know all of these wacky incest royals.

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