House of the Dragon S2E1 Recap: Revenge and Remorse

“A Son for a Son”

Alicent lights candles in the sept for those who have died in House of the Dragon S2E1
Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for House of the Dragon S2E1, “A Son for a Son” (written by Ryan Condal and directed by Alan Taylor)

When “The Rains of Castamere” aired as the penultimate episode of Season 3 of Game of Thrones back in June of 2013, it depicted an event that had been anticipated since the beginning of the George R.R. Martin adaptation series. The Red Wedding, as it became known in the zeitgeist, both satisfied book-readers who had long looked forward to the bloody scene, and simultaneously shocked those who did not see the deaths of many of the Stark family coming so soon. Episode 1 of the second season of House of the Dragon—with a blunt foreshadowing title “A Son for a Son”—just unveiled this prequel series’ Red Wedding moment so it’s only appropriate to start there as we break down this new season.

The climactic event of House of the Dragon (HOTD) Season 1 was the death of Rhaenyra’s son Lucerys and his dragon Arrax at the hand of Aemond and his “hoary old bitch” of a dragon (Daemon’s words!), Vhagar. Rhaenyra’s final look to camera in Episode 10 encompassed anger, revenge, and determination and ushered in two years of speculation for fans of HOTD about what she would do in response. As Season 2 opens, Rhaenyra is doing what any mother would do after losing their young son: grieving, mourning, and coping.

Rhaenrya mourns her son at the coast of Harrenhal
Photograph by Theo Whitman/HBO

Rhaenyra, it turns out, fled Dragonstone after Daemon delivered the news of Lucerys’ death. She made haste to Harrenhal because she wanted to see with her own eyes that the news was true. After Rhaenyra and her dragon Syrax scour the coastline for days, they finally spot a group of fishermen who had pulled a dragon’s wing out of the water. Syrax brushes the men away, allowing Rhaenyra to inspect, where she does find Lucerys’ cloak and confirms that he is dead.

Moving on from the denial stage of grief, Rhaenyra flies back to Dragonstone and her small council, fully evolved into the next stage—anger. Rhaenyra speaks but one line in Episode 1: “I want Aemond Targaryen.”

Daemon, Rhaenyra’s husband-uncle and always one to jump at the chance to spill some blood, immediately springs into action. Bargaining with the recently captured Mysaria (The White Worm), who had allowed Aegon II to return to his family and assure his coronation last season, Daemon offers her freedom for information about the Red Keep that would allow spies to penetrate the royal quarters and take Aemond’s head. She provides him with information about a Red Keep rat-catcher desperately in need of money. Combined with Daemon’s knowledge of disgruntled City Watch soldiers who have no love for the king, his plan begins to take shape.

A War Between Dragons

(This weekly section will break down the most crucial part of the episode that impacts the Targaryen civil war.)

These two men are instructed to sneak into the castle and take a “son for a son” to avenge Lucerys’ death. Daemon wants them to murder Aemond, but when asked what they should do if they can not find them, Daemon only offers a mischievous smile. The two men creep through the castle, including walking past a drunk King Aegon and his patrons, but fail to find Aemond. What they do find, however, is Aegon’s wife Helaena watching over their two children, Jaehaerys (the king’s first-born son and heir) and Jaehaera (the younger daughter).

Blood and Cheese make their way through the castle to find Aemond
Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

After struggling to identify which one of them is the “son,” even after demanding an answer from Helaena, the two men bind Jaehaerys down and saw off his head (off-screen) while Helaena and Jaehaera flee.

This “Blood and Cheese” incident is the most (in)famous and gruesome part of Fire & Blood, the text upon which House of the Dragon is adapted. In this story from the text, Blood (the City Watch member) and Cheese (the rat-catcher) act on Daemon’s orders to kill one of Aegon’s sons (he has two sons in the book, but not in the show). Blood and Cheese bind both Alicent and Helaena and force Helaena to choose which of their three children should die, threatening a rape of her young daughter if she does not. In the text, she chooses the youngest, knowing that Aegon’s heir must live and the youngest can’t comprehend what is happening. Blood and Cheese refuse and still kill Jaehaerys, forcing Helaena and her youngest to live with the fact that she sentenced him to die.

House of the Dragon S2E1 purposefully deviated from this version of the story and spared us the most gruesome parts of the violence as well. Writer and showrunner Ryan Congal has admitted that they chose this direction perhaps to let us see Daemon in a different light and be more sympathetic to him as a character. Rhaenyra clearly did not want a six-year-old boy murdered, but rather just vengeance against the man who killed her own son. Daemon asks Blood and Cheese to kill Aemond, but also doesn’t tell them to hightail it out of there if they don’t find him. Blood and Cheese want to get paid and they know a “son for a son” is the only way they complete their mission.

Criston Cole and Aemond scheme about the next steps of war
Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

This change from text to screen puts the responsibility of Jaehaerys’ death more on the perpetrators instead of Daemon, but Team Green surely will not see it that way. Once the news comes out that Daemon ordered the hit (and it surely is going to come to light), the restraint from war that is hanging on a thread will surely snap.

The choice to not focus on the gruesome violence of Jaehaerys’ death is an interesting one, especially considering what we saw in Season 1. This is the same show that forced us to watch Aemma being cut open so a baby could be delivered and also showed Rhaenyra delivering her own stillborn child. I respect the decision to not show every frame of a small child’s head being sawed off, and the sound design team certainly made the circumstances more real based on what we could hear, even if he couldn’t see it.

Who Danced Best with Dragons?

(This weekly section will look at who played the game of war the best within the episode.)

Fresh off a season where he hired criminals to burn his father and older brother alive inside their own home, Lord Larys Strong (the Lord of Whispers; Larys the Clubfoot) seems to have expanded his agenda beyond trying to align himself with Queen Alicent. Perhaps he satiated his foot fetish desires with Alicent in the days before this season started, but he seems to have his eyes on a bigger prize now that there is a new King and Queen installed.

Lord Larys searches the castle at night
Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

To start, Larys tells Alicent he was able to rid the castle of all those who were not loyal to her side (“they no longer breathe our air”). When Alicent seems more distant and cold to him than in the preceding weeks, Larys begs for an audience with King Aegon. Larys seems intent on convincing Aegon that Otto Hightower means to control his every movement, even against his will if necessary. Despite proclaiming how devoted he is to Alicent, Larys has begun sowing discord and casting doubt on her father’s ability to effectively play the role of Hand of the King.

Does Larys have ambitions for the role of Hand? Perhaps, and it does seem that Larys will stop at nothing (including murder) to achieve what he wants. And now that he seems to know Alicent is sharing her un-hosed feet with another, how soon will it be before Larys turns on her?

What is Within the Dragon’s Egg?

(This weekly section will identify some of the plot points or surprises that hatched during the episode.)

1. Speaking of Alicent’s new paramour, it seems Ser Criston Cole (Commander of the Kingsguard) is now a regular visitor to Alicent’s private chambers. And Alicent is fine with doing much more than feet stuff with him. On two separate occasions we see them in intimate moments even though Alicent proclaims they have to stop meeting like this. Larys clearly suspects something and Helaena bursts in on them with Jaehaera at the end of the episode to proclaim her son has been killed.

Alicent and Criston Cole talk in her private bedroom
Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

This raises the question: How does Cole still have his job? In Season 1, he allowed Rhaenyra to sneak out and visit a brothel with her uncle. He then broke his chastity vow by bedding Rhaenyra. Cole beat Lord Joffrey Monmouth to death with his hands because he didn’t like something he said. He repeatedly called the heir to the Iron Throne vile names. And now his affair with Alicent left her unguarded at night, allowing Helaena to burst in on them and discover their affair.

That guy needs to be fired and expelled to The Wall, like yesterday.

2. We get to meet Lord Cregan Stark for the first time at the very beginning of this episode as Jacaerys completes his mission of recruiting the North to the side of Team Black ahead of war. It was so fulfilling to see Winterfell, The Wall, the Stark family, and winter again, and brought back fond memories of the time spent with the Starks and Jon Snow in Game of Thrones.

The alliance between the North and the Targaryen family goes back decades to when King Torrhen Stark (the King Who Knelt) bent the knee to Aegon the Conqueror, securing the friendship between their strong families. Cregan Stark will be a crucial ally to Rhaenyra and Team Black going forward, and Jaecerys didn’t even need his literal elevator pitch for Cregan to confirm they remain allies.

Jaecerys and Cregan Stark talk upon the Wall about he upcoming war in House of the Dragon S2E1
Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

3. We have a new title card for the show! Gone are the caverns with Targaryen blood running through them. Now we have a tapestry being woven of the entirety of the Targaryen history, including some of the most infamous moments, the horrific kings that have come before, and the separation of the line between the Greens and the Blacks.

It’s an interesting analogy to bring into the show in the second season. It stands in clear contrast to the threads that once bound this family together now coming apart at every seam. This war, it seems, will be fought over a series of avoidable mistakes and unforced errors. Namely, the death of Jaehaerys when it was supposed to be Aemond, the death of Lucerys at the hands of Aemond, Alicent’s misinterpretation of Viserys’ deathbed confession, and the fake death of Laenor Valyron. The opening tapestry coming together will, for the rest of this series, feel poignant compared to a family tearing itself apart.

Written by Ryan Kirksey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *