House of the Dragon S2E3 Recap: Growing Restless

“The Burning Mill”

Rhaenyra and Rhaena discuss the plan for her to leave
Photograph by Theo Whiteman/HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for House of the Dragon S2E3, “The Burning Mill” (written by David Hancock and directed by Geeta Vasant Patel)

Rhaenys Targaryen—the Queen Who Never was—says it best in this week’s episode, as the realm plunges further and further towards the brink of war. “They wish to punish, to avenge. Soon they will not even remember what it was that began the war in the first place.”

Even when Rhaenyra Targaryen quickly responds, “That is easy enough. They usurped my throne,” Rhaenys knows that nothing in war—or in families—is that simple.

“That is one answer,” she responds. “Or was it the child beheaded? Or when Aemond killed Luke? Or when Luke took Aemond’s eye? We teeter now on the point where none of it will matter. The desire to kill and burn takes hold and reason is forgotten.”

Who is at the point of killing and burning and who has not yet forgotten reason will be the central themes of this episode. Rhaenyra, desperate to avoid bloodshed and save the people she wants to call her queen, will do battle with her small council when they propose a full-scale dragon attack. Alicent tries to convince King Aegon and Ser Criston Cole that their haphazard plans to take control of part of the Riverlands are disorganized and unwise.

Rhaenyra and her small council debate what to do next in the war
Photograph by Theo Whiteman/HBO

Daemon, fresh off a tongue-lashing from his wife-queen, flies to Harrenhal to take it by force, looking to prove not only his worth to Rhaenyra, but also that he remains the mightiest warrior in the realm. Even young Baela, under strict Do Not Engage orders from Rhaenyra, sees an opportunity for glory and bloodshed in this episode and attempts to attack a group consisting of Criston Cole and his riders.

The episode opens with an unseen battle between the Brackens and the Blackwoods, two ancient families who have declared for opposite sides of the war. Although no official fighting has begun, their bloodlust and “desire to kill and burn” takes over, leaving hundreds of soldiers dead in the name of a war that has not yet started.

“The Burning Mill” is an episode about intentions revealed, and who is interested in avoiding the dragon war ahead. A last-ditch effort by Rhaenyra to appeal to Alicent, her childhood friend, reveals that the Queen of Dragonstone shares much in common with Seasmoke, the dragon seen flying around screeching at the beginning of the episode:

“Are they always like this?” Mysaria asks Rhaenyra.

“He’s grown restless lately. We can not know why.”

“Maybe he’s lonely.”

Rhaenyra spends Episode 3 learning how lonely she truly is.

A War Between Dragons

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

Before Season 2 began, there was a lot of hand-wringing about how Ryan Condal and the HOTD crew would find a way to ensure Emma D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra and Olivia Cooke’s Alicent spent some time, ANY time, on screen together. Just in the very few episodes they acted together in Season 1, and most specifically the scene in Episode 7, “Driftmark” (“Now they see you as you truly are.” CHILLS), we see the crackling energy these two have on screen together.

I, for one, never doubted they would find some way to make this happen whether via flashback or confrontation. But I never anticipated such a quiet but stirring scene as we were treated to in “The Burning Mill.” Rhaenyra, who seems to have enlisted Mysaria as her new Master of Whispers, asks how she can possibly find a way to meet with Alicent alone. Alicent has sent ravens with messages but Rhaenyra knows face-to-face is always better than written messages (Westeros at this time is also still waiting for that sarcasm font, I guess). Regardless, FaceTime > texts so the two concoct a plan to get Rhaenyra in front of Alicent in the only place where she is ever alone: the Sept.

Rhaenyra and Alicent talk in the sept about the Targaryen prophecy
Photograph by Theo Whiteman/HBO

This would, under normal circumstances, be a difficult proposition (or even Mission: Impossible). The Queen Dowager, as Mysaria says, has eyes that watch her wherever she goes. But apparently Mysaria does not know everything that happens behind those walls, because she doesn’t know that THE KINGS LANDING GUARDS ARE THE WORST EMPLOYEES EVER IN THE HISTORY OF WESTEROSI LABOR. Seriously, they let the queen’s son get beheaded. One of them went off on their own to try and kill Rhaenyra in a fortified castle. They are, this very same day, off with King Aegon at a brothel trying to get a squire to lose his virginity. The Commander of the Kingsgaurd oscillates between playing the Hightower Hustle with Alicent and riding off with about 13 men to prepare for a battle.

It’s no wonder Alicent’s guards just let her slip into the Sept and don’t keep eyes on her while she is praying. Observation and protection don’t seem to be prerequisites for the role. But their incompetence allows for our indulgence. This confrontation between Rhaenyra and Alicent is perhaps the series’ best scene since Viserys walked into the throne room in Season 1’s “The Lord of the Tides.”

Not at all a part of the Fire & Blood source text, this scene is purely meant to capitalize on the chemistry between these two brilliant actors, but also to give each side one last chance to capitulate to the other before bountiful amounts of blood are shed. This type of scene is why the creators of House of the Dragon purposefully changed the source material and made Alicent and Rhaenyra the same age instead of Alicent being 10 years her senior. We have spent time with these two and understand the decades-long bond they have, making this conversation that much more agonizing.

It is true that Alicent and Rhaenyra may be the only two people left on either side who are interested in peace over war. Rhaenyra even says, “I know you do not have that desire in you for blood and glory.” Having lost a grandson, a husband, a father who has been shipped out of town, and understanding the cruel nature of her two boys, Alicent tries to help Rhaenyra understand that Viserys did change his mind on his deathbed about who should be the ruler.

Daemon walks through Harrenhal castle
Photograph by Theo Whiteman/HBO

It’s almost enough to convince Rhaenyra that her father, even though he earlier that same day stood his ground for his daughter to rule, might have moved off that stance. It was, after all, Rhaenyra and Daemon who didn’t allow Viserys to take his milk of the poppy, which gave Viserys a clear mind to confirm Lucerys as the heir to Driftmark. Maybe that clear mind sought to shield Rhaenyra from the role and give it to Aegon.

But when Alicent recounts the conversation, Rhaenyra realizes from the “prince that was promised” language that he actually was talking about Aegon the Conqueror, and not Aegon the Asshole Brothel Visitor. Rhaenyra tries to share the prophecy of The Song of Ice and Fire with her, but Alicent wants none of it. Although her trembling voice masks that she can see the wall of defense she has built starting to crumble, Alicent says with increasing volume over and over, “There has been no mistake!”

Will this be the last time these two share the screen together? Who can say at this point, but inserting this creative license into the show was an excellent example of how the showrunners can use their freedom to make a more compelling show. The conversation ended without resolution, and now both sides must face the facts that war is imminent.

Who Danced Best with Dragons?

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

Rhaenyra’s actions in this episode show the two minds she must have throughout this entire process leading up to war. The conversation between Cersei and Ned Stark from Season 1 of Game of Thrones kept playing in my head every time Rhaenyra made a decision. Cersei tells Ned, “When you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die.”

Certainly, the game is something Rhaenyra wants to win, as she believes Aegon II and Alicent usurped her throne. But she wants to win it in a way that does not require the nuclear deployment of dragons and countless lives lost. Her conversation with Lord Jasper is fascinating at the Dragonstone small council meeting. When they are discussing the use of the dragons, Jasper makes a valid point that the “value of a sword is not within its scabbard.”

However, Rhaenyra understands that dragons are a bell that cannot be unrung. They are a card that can be played once. “If dragons begin fighting dragons, we invite our own destruction,” she says. Because this period in history is known as the Dance of the Dragons, we know that is coming down the road, but Rhaenyra wants to judiciously explore all options before having to try and win the game that way.

Rhaenyra and Baela discuss where she should take her dragon
Photograph by Theo Whiteman/HBO

She also understands that once the game truly begins, it is only a binary decision: win or death. To that end, she begins taking the right steps to secure her family line, protect the most valuable military and economic asset they have (young dragons and a clutch of four dragon eggs), and send someone she trusts to watch over it all. Rhaena Targaryen certainly does not seem pleased with the assignment she has been given by Rhaenyra. She almost seems jealous that her sister, Baela, will get to remain and take part in battles on dragonback. Phoebe Campbell, who plays Rhaena, had a great line in the Inside the Episode section for “The Burning Mill” when she says how it plays out between them is “very classic for sisters.”

While King Aegon and his merry band of drunk guards banter about and Aemond is snuggling (at the breast?) with his surrogate mother in a brothel, Rhaenyra is at least making moves that prove productive in a variety of ways as things escalate.

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. Literally, what is within the dragon’s egg? The director of this episode confirmed that, of the four eggs that are sent off with Rhaena to the Arryns at the Vale, three of them are the eggs that will eventually end up with Daenerys in Game of Thrones. This is a mild deviation from the text, but one with potentially much more impactful ramifications. Knowing where these eggs are in the present tense, but now knowing how they made their way to Essos, will make for an interesting mystery the show might choose to solve before it comes to an end. This also leaves one more egg that will eventually hatch, and perhaps become a part of Team Black.
  2. Ser Criston Cole’s new haircut that is one part George Clooney at the end of ER and one part Russell Crowe in Gladiator does nothing to dissuade us from the fact that he is a despicable human being and perhaps a lackluster military strategist. We know he is a fine warrior and he is able to defeat anyone in one-on-one combat, but what exactly was his plan when he took Alicent’s brother and a few soldiers to take Harrenhal? We see from Daemon’s perspective that Harrenhal is easy to take, but Daemon landed there with Caraxes. How will a few men with horses hold that place when they surely know Rhaenyra sees Harrenhal’s importance as well?
  3. We are introduced to Ulf the White in this episode, who claims to be a bastard Targaryen son. In addition to Ulf, we have also now spent time with Hugh Hammer (the blacksmith), Kat (Hugh’s wife), and Alyn and Addam of Hull (in Driftmark). If you think the smallfolk are not going to have a major role in this season, you haven’t been paying attention.

    Ulf the White tells stories at a tavern with his friends
    Photograph by Theo Whiteman/HBO
  4. The other character we are introduced to in this episode is in Harrenhal, where we meet Alice Rivers. In the text, Alice is a mysterious and enchanting healer with a number of mystical powers and is in the service of House Strong. One source says she maintains her youth by bathing in a virgin’s blood. If this all sounds very Melisandre to you (the foreign witch in Game of Thrones), I believe we are meant to see the parallels there. She appears before Daemon in a vision at the Godswood tree in Harrenhal and tells him he will die there. Whether her prophecies are to be believed is something we will have to wait and find out.
  5. All of the social media accounts that openly and proudly spoiled that Milly Alcock would be returning as Rhaenyra in a cameo in this episode before it aired need to be fired off into the sun.
  6. As I was watching this episode for the first time, my wife walked by and said, “Are you watching your boobs and dragon show right now?” I had to admit I was, but that she was completely wrong this time. This episode was the “Aemond’s-confident-full-frontal-nudity-strut and dragons” show for at least one night. Bravo, Ewan Mitchell. In one of the series’ best episodes, you stole the spotlight and shined it right on…well, you know.

Written by Ryan Kirksey


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  1. Yes – excellent series, demonsting what woulda-coulda been had better minds been approched for the final GOT seasons; sadness is defined by potential lost.

    Nevertheless, this episode may ullimately be remembered as the first-ever showing of full-on fellatio within a prestige television show. Whowouldathunk.

    • Lol, yeah that didn’t QUITE make the cut for the content this week. I am curious if you are right about it being the first, but since I’m on a work laptop, I will refrain from searching…

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