House of the Dragon: Exclusive First Look at the Big Battles and Family Drama of Season 2

Exclusive: The next generation of Targaryens in Team Black and Team Green break down the war to come in House of the Dragon season 2.

House of the Dragon Season 2 Cast
Photo: HBO

This article appears in the new issue of DEN OF GEEK magazine. You can read all of our magazine stories here.

Before House of the Dragon season 2 began filming, showrunner Ryan Condal assembled the actors of the Game of Thrones prequel to view a simple slideshow. The subject of this presentation? Dragons, naturally. The dragon riders needed to get acquainted with their bonded beasts, as they’ll never actually meet them in the scaly flesh. 

“These poor actors climb up on a saddle but they never interact with the creature they’re supposed to have this close bond with,” Condal says. “If you believe Westerosi historical propaganda, Aegon [II] and Sunfyre famously had the closest bond between dragon and human in history. It’s important for Tom Glynn-Carney as an actor to know what Sunfyre looks like.”

While the lesson was successful in introducing the new flying monsters to the cast, it came with an unintended consequence. It got some of them really hyped for the carnage to come.

Ad – content continues below

“When [my dragon] Moondancer came on the screen, I just screamed in front of all my colleagues. I had no chill,” says Baela Targaryen actor Bethany Anthonia.

Fire and blood are in the air in House of the Dragon season 2. The epic Targaryen civil war known as “the Dance of the Dragons” is now officially underway as the two sides of the family have aligned under either Team Black (supporters of Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen’s claim to the Iron Throne) or Team Green (supporters of King Aegon II Targaryen’s claim).

Based on writer George R.R. Martin’s fictional historical tome Fire & Blood, House of the Dragon’s first season picked up nearly 200 years before the beginning of Game of Thrones. The Seven Kingdoms were, at the time, enjoying peace under the century-old Targaryen dynasty. But thanks to an unsettled matter of succession for the sickly King Viserys I (Paddy Considine), things are about to blow up into a continent-shredding civil conflict that will kill off most of the Targaryen’s precious dragons and set the table for the family’s ultimate collapse against Robert Baratheon, The Usurper King, in Game of Thrones

Queen Rhaenyra has already lost a son with Lucerys Velaryon (Elliot Grihault) meeting the business end of his cousin Aemond’s dragon at the end of season 1. The question thus lingering in season 2 (for those who haven’t read the source material at least) isn’t just, “Who else will die?” but rather, “Will there even be anyone left to sit on that Iron Chair after all of this?”

The Dance Begins

For Condal, the proper arrival of the Dance of The Dragons meant a necessary increase in scale. 

“We can fit two Avengers films inside of our shoot schedule,” Condal says. They can also, it turns out, fit in two of the biggest battles this franchise has ever seen. 

Ad – content continues below

“The battles are episodes unto themselves,” Condal says. “We have two of the largest sequences that we’ve ever filmed on House of the Dragon. Both of them outstrip anything that we did in season one. They are episodes within episodes.”

Even at the height of its budgetary powers, Game of Thrones only ever had three dragons to contend with in the form of Daenerys Targaryen’s “children”—Drogon, Viserion, and Rhaegal. House of the Dragon has already introduced nine dragons in season 1, and Condal has promised five more for season 2, including King Aegon II’s Sunfyre and Baela’s beloved Moondancer. That potential for aerial action opens up the scope for House of the Dragon’s combat immensely.

But even with all of the spectacle to come, Condal and the storytellers are eager to keep the proceedings grounded in what really matters: the people. House of the Dragon season 1 followed two childhood friends, Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) and Alicent (Olivia Cooke), who were slowly driven apart by societal expectations, misunderstandings, and good old-fashioned bad luck. The real tragedy at the core of season 2 is that this isn’t merely a clash between Rhaenyra and Alicent but the next generation of Targaryens as well.

“‘The kids,’ as I say—Alicent and Rhaenyra’s children—take center stage in this conflict. We put a lot of focus on them and their stories because it really does become about them,” Condal says.

Children are often doomed to fight their parents’ wars. Such is the case for the young guard on Team Black and Team Green (the sides are named after the black on Rhaenyra’s Targaryen banners and the preferred green of Alicent’s House Hightower). Rhaenyra’s Team Black includes Rhaenyra’s eldest son, Jacaerys “Jace” Velaryon (Harry Collett), and her uncle-husband (yes, really) Daemon’s two daughters by his deceased first wife: Baela (Bethany Antonia) and Rhaena (Phoebe Campbell). Alicent’s crew consists of her three children with the now-dead King Viserys: eldest son King Aegon II (Glynn-Carney), scheming and capable second son Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), and Aegon’s spacey sister-wife Helaena (Phia Saban).

“There are plenty of examples of generational conflict going on in the world,” Condal says, pointing to The Troubles in Northern Ireland as an example. “As you go on through the generations, it just gets worse and more entrenched. Because you don’t break bread with them. You don’t have a community with them. You don’t run into each other at the hardware store.”

Ad – content continues below

Back in Black

Of the two sides in the Dance of the Dragons, it’s Team Black that has the largest chip on their shoulders. Or at least that’s how the younger generation feels about it.

“From Jace’s point of view, it’s Jace’s war now,” actor Collett says. “Because he’s lost his little brother over it. He is one of the characters that actually wants to be in the war.”

Though would-be monarch Rhaenyra is the driver of the Blacks’ efforts, Jace may be their most important player. Officially, his father is the deceased Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan). But Jace’s shock of black hair (which the actor cheerfully notes is particularly unruly this season) belies the truth that he’s really the bastard son of his mom’s affair with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr). As such, “the Strong heir” is eager to prove himself as a real-deal Targaryen. And what better place to do that than in a legendary Game of Thrones location: the North.

“In season 2, the family has already been divided and scattered to the winds,” Condal says. “People have to curry favor with the other lords and figure out who’s on what team. It’s nice because instead of just introducing 18 new characters, we follow characters who we already know going to these new places and meeting new people.”

At the end of season 1, Jace was dispatched by his mother to Winterfell to meet with the enigmatic Lord Cregan Stark and to win the Northern banners to Rhaenyra’s cause. 

“We filmed it on the backlot, so it wasn’t actually cold. There was lots of fake snow, though,” Collett says of Jace’s journey “north.”

Ad – content continues below

While meeting with Cregan Stark (who is set to be played by Tom Taylor), Jace will have the opportunity to take in one of the known world’s Nine Wonders Made by Man.

“Seeing The Wall in person was quite surreal,” Collett says. “I think the fans are going to absolutely love seeing Jace in Winterfell with Cregan.”

While Jace is off breaking bread with the Starks, his two closest allies back at Dragonstone are trying to find their place in this war. The sisters Baela and Rhaena were introduced midway through House of the Dragon season 1 as the daughters of Daemon Targaryen and Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell). With both their father and maternal grandparents (Corlys Velaryon and Rhaenys Targaryen) bound to Rhaenyra’s cause, they are fully committed to Team Black but still have some awkward history to work through.

“There’s a little bit of tension because of their separate upbringings,” Campbell says. “Baela was raised with grandma and grandpa, and I was raised with stepmom and my half siblings. Rhaena feels quite a lot of resentment there.”

Adds Antonia, “For Baela, this war has created such a frantic sense of urgency and family loyalty. She’s had to grow up a lot quicker than anticipated.”

Lean Green Machine

There is no “right” side in the Dance of the Dragons. As Condal puts it: “There are heroes and monsters that wear green and heroes and monsters that wear black in equal measure.”

Ad – content continues below

Still, even the green-clad heroes and monsters in this story are well aware that most fans have taken a side, and it’s not theirs. 

“All these people choosing Team Black are driving me insane,” Aegon actor Glynn-Carney says. “Just stop being so boring! You need a bit of spice in your life. You need some danger. You need some betrayal. You need some vileness.”

Danger, betrayal, and vileness are the name of the game for King Aegon II in House of the Dragon’s second season. Despite being named after the conqueror himself, Alicent and Viserys’ Aegon had no real designs on power. Aegon was so comfortable with Rhaenyra being Viserys’ chosen heir that he had to literally be dragged by his younger brother Aemond to his own coronation. 

Now that Aegon I’s crown is on Aegon II’s head, however, he’s come to like the fit of it.

“He takes pride in the fact that he’s upset the applecart,” Glynn-Carney says. “But he’s also at a point now where he really believes he should be king. Dad was just having a senile moment when he said Rhaenyra should be his heir. I think he fully believes that.”

With Aegon II sitting upon the Iron Throne, bearing Aegon I’s name, crown, and Valyrian blade Blackfyre, the Greens really should have this war wrapped up already. But as is often the case in Westeros, dragons are the great equalizer. And in Aegon’s case, he might have to concern himself with a dragon close to home: his own younger brother, Aemond.

Ad – content continues below

“Although Aemond is the second son, he very much thinks that he should have been the first,” Mitchell says. “Aegon squandered his inheritance while Aemond lived with the maesters, trained with Ser Criston Cole, and became the baddest man in the Red Keep yard.”

Like his hero-turned-rival, Prince Daemon, Aemond Targaryen is the consummate second son. Burdened with the knowledge that he will likely never be king, Aemond sought a new way to etch himself into the hallowed history of his family. In season 1, Aemond claimed Vhagar, the largest and most powerful dragon in the known world, all for the low cost of his left eye. 

“One of the first things we talked about in the development stages of Aemond was the legend of the Cyclops in Greek mythology,” Mitchell says. “How he traded one of his eyes to Hades in order to see the day he would die. What would that do to a person to possess that extreme degree of self-certainty and belief? It’s scary, you know. Aemond scares me.”

Greek mythology is a strong influence on House of the Dragon. In addition to Aemond’s cycloptic inspiration, Condal points to the poet Homer as an example of how it feels to inject humanity into characters depicted solely by historians in Fire & Blood. The third Targaryen sibling on Team Green also finds Greek myth helpful. 

“It’s complicated for Helaena because she’s got this kind of Cassandra-like aspect to her. The curse is that no one will ever believe her,” Saban says.

As a Targaryen “dreamer” gifted with seemingly supernatural foresight, Helaena gleefully spoiled upcoming plot points with her idle ramblings in House of the Dragon’s first season. Unfortunately for Helaena, there’s one event coming in season 2 that even she hasn’t seen coming. And like the Red Wedding before it, it’s a Game of Thrones event so diabolical that fans have developed a shorthand for it: Blood and Cheese.

Ad – content continues below

“I remember reading it and just thinking wow, ‘George kind of outdid himself in his own George-ness’ in terms of finding the awful depths of certain characters,” Condal says of the moment that will be depicted in season 2 in all its bloody and cheesy glory. 

“It is not a feel-good story,” he adds. “As with the original Game of Thrones, there are moments of true hope and humanity that shine through the bleakness. But it’s almost the bleakness that makes those things at work worthwhile.”

You Win, or You Die

The splitting into Team Black and Team Green extended into the production of House of the Dragon season 2, with both factions filming on different sets within the cavernous Leavesden Studios in England. 

“We might as well have been shooting two separate shows,” Glynn-Carney says.

Despite the separation, the cast resisted the call of tribalism, spending time with one another whenever the opportunity arose. In that, they’ve already learned an important lesson from the text. In the end, there is no Team Green or Team Black in the Game of Thrones universe. There is only Team Survival. Or, as Syrio Forel once put it: “There is only one god, and his name is death.” 

Working on the second season helped clarify for Condal how much story there is left to tell in House of the Dragon. While Martin has previously estimated four seasons as the show’s lifespan, Condal only says: “We know where it ends now. We know the big set pieces that we have to pull off to get there. We know the remaining new characters that we need to cast.”

Ad – content continues below

Keeping the story focused on the next generation of Targaryens and honing in on what it means for the young to fight our wars also crystallized what the Dance of the Dragons is really all about for Condal.

“I read it as a cautionary tale,” Condal says. “‘Look what this great dynasty that should have ruled for thousands of years did to themselves.’ They went to war against each other, and they killed off all the dragons and ruined their own greatness. If our present-day historians could do a better job of warning us against the things that we’ve experienced that we’re in danger of repeating, maybe, maybe we’d have a brighter future ahead.”

House of the Dragon season 2 premieres Sunday, June 16 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.