House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 1 Character Death Explained: What Is Blood and Cheese?

House of the Dragon showrunner Ryan Condal explains how the season 2 premiere's Blood and Cheese moment came together.

The shadows of Alicent Hightower and Larys Strong in House of the Dragon season 2.
Photo: Ollie Upton | HBO

This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon season 2 episode 1.

Westerosi history is littered with events so monumental that they often receive their own nicknames. In George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire canon, King Aegon I Targaryen’s years-long campaign to unite the Seven Kingdoms under one rule is known simply as “Aegon’s Conquest.” Even further back in the lore, the cataclysmic event in which darkness fell over the known world is called only “the Long Night.”

Game of Thrones watchers understand the importance of good historical branding as well as anyone. They know the “Red Wedding” wasn’t a nuptial ceremony that just happened to be adorned in red hues—it was massacre at The Twins that damn near wiped out House Stark and the armies of the North. Now with the premiere of House of the Dragon season 2 episode 1, viewers have once again borne witness to a moment so upsetting that it has to be referred to euphemistically in the annals of history. The final moments of “A Son for a Son” depict what comes to be known as “Blood and Cheese” in all its bloody and cheesy glory.

That moment, of course, is the murder of the child Prince Jaehaerys Targaryen, eldest son of King on the Seven Kingdoms Aegon II and his sister-wife Helaena. Poor Jaehaerys is slain by two assassins, who are identified in the historical record only as “Blood” (so-called because he was purportedly a member of the City Watch who lost his Gold Cloak for being too violent) and “Cheese” (so-called because he was purportedly a ratcatcher). They were sent by Prince Daemon Targaryen to kill Aemond Targaryen (or the closest son they can find). What’s particularly horrific is that both Jaehaerys’ mother Helaena and his twin sister Jaehaera are present for the murder and are completely helpless to stop it.

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Den of Geek spoke via press roundtable with Queen Helaena Targaryen actress Phia Saban, King Aegon II Targaryen actor Tom Glynn-Carney, Prince Daemon Targaryen actor Matt Smith, and House of the Dragon showrunner Ryan Condal about the challenges of depicting this long-dreaded moment from George R.R. Martin’s source novel Fire & Blood.

Unlike the Red Wedding, which was an unabashed buffet of blood and violence, Blood and Cheese plays out like more of a horror movie. And like the best scary movies, the goriest bits here are depicted offscreen to better torment the viewer’s imagination. The lead up to Jaehaerys’ murder is also quite long, with the third act of “A Son for A Son” taking place from the killers’ perspectives as they infiltrate the Red Keep in King’s Landing.

“We spend the first two-thirds of the episode with all the characters we know, then we’re suddenly spending an inordinate amount of time with these two guys that we just met,” Condal says. “There’s this growing sense of dread and horror. Why are we spending all this time with them? That’s the visceral experience we wanted to put the audience through.”

While the events do indeed play out like a horror movie, Condal has another genre in mind when it comes to describing Blood and Cheese.

“We wanted to dramatize it as a heist sequence with these two dastardly criminals being hired by Daemon and sent on a mission—then obviously taking a hard left turn at the end. We wanted it to feel more like a heist gone wrong.”

But did it really go wrong? Blood and Cheese do not kill Prince Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) as Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) wished. (Hauntingly, the only four words spoken by Rhaenyra in this entire episode are “I want Aemond Targaryen.”) But the killers do ask Daemon what their new instructions are if they’re unable to find Aemond in the sprawling maze that is the castle. Pointedly, the show never reveals Daemon’s response to Blood and Cheese. According to Condal, however, that’s only because it didn’t have to.

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“Certainly Daemon didn’t just stare into the distance for 20 minutes and then get up and walk away,” Condal says. “He said something, but I think that’s left to interpretation. I will say that we hear from the conversation that Blood and Cheese have with each other in the room that Daemon clearly said ‘a son for a son’ and ‘bring me a head.’ I don’t think there’s that much mystery to it. We know who Daemon is, it’s not like him to leave the castle empty-handed.”

Daemon actor Matt Smith concurs: “I do have a personal take on what the follow up instructions would have been. I know, in my head, the intention that Daemon went in with. I mean, what do you think?” When we point out the name of the episode and that Daemon didn’t stutter when he said “a son for a son,” Smith replies with a simple “Yeah. Go Den of Geek.”

Jaehaerys’ murder is a visceral, upsetting experience to be sure, but if House of the Dragon hewed closer to its source material, it could have been even more harrowing. The book Fire & Blood is written as a historical document that chronicles the rise and fall of the Targaryen dynasty. As such, many of the events presented are up for interpretation. Still, most historical sources seem to agree on how the broad strokes of Prince Jaehaerys’ killing played out.

Following the death of Lucerys Velaryon at Aemond Targaryen’s hands, Luke’s stepfather/great uncle Daemon promised vengeance, declaring there would be “an eye for an eye, a son for a son.” Shortly after that, the men known as Blood and Cheese sneaked into Dowager Queen Alicent Hightower’s chambers. There, instead of Alicent, they found Queen Helaena Targaryen and her three children: Jaehaerys, Jaehaera, and Maelor.

Presumably (but not provably) operating under Daemon’s directive of “a son for a son,” Blood and Cheese gave Helaena a choice of which son to spare from death: Jaehaerys or Maelor. After much pleading for mercy and offering herself up instead, Helaena finally settled on sparing the six-year-old Jaehaerys, since he was the king’s heir (and perhaps because the two-year-old Maelor was too young to understand what was about to happen to him). In response, Cheese supposedly mocked Maelor, telling him his mother wanted him dead, and then went ahead and cut off Jaehaerys’ head instead.

House of the Dragon fundamentally could not have depicted that version of Blood and Cheese – not because it’s so grim, but because there are other logistical challenges to consider.

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“The sequence in the book is wonderful and is a great version of the story,” Condal says. “But because we compressed time in the telling of the first season, we only have these two very young kids [Jaehaerys and Jaehaera]. Maelor, the third child, doesn’t yet exist in the timeline in the show.”

Like Game of Thrones before it, House of the Dragon has tweaked its source material’s timeline. The show has aged up certain characters, aged down others, and altered certain events to better fit the TV format. As such, many of this story’s young characters either have not been born – like Maelor – or merely hover around the periphery – like Joffrey (Rhaenyra’s third son with Harwin Strong), Aegon and Viserys (Rhaenyra’s sons with Daemon), and Daeron (King Viserys I’s fourth child with Alicent).

For as horrific as Cheese’s taunting and child-murder switch up is in Fire & Blood, it’s not like House of the Dragon‘s version is warm and cuddly. Helaena still has to pick between her two children and then suffer the immediate consequences of that decision. As Helaena scoops up Jaehaera and sweeps out of the room, the camera locks in on her face as the only visual evidence we have of the horror underway. It’s a hell of an acting challenge and one that Phia Saban was up for.

“To me, [Helaena] doesn’t have a choice,” Saban says. “In that moment, it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened. It’s the highest stakes thing. But it’s also just an emergency. That’s what’s going through her head when these men are in her bedroom with knives. They’ve drawn blood already and are saying ‘If you do not tell us which one, we’re going to kill all of you.’ They’re very clear about that.”

The events of Blood and Cheese and Prince Jaehaerys’ death will have long-lasting effects throughout the season and the rest of the Dance of the Dragons.

“There’s no denying that this is catastrophic in terms of the fallout,” Glynn-Carney says. “It’s going to be something that sticks with [Aegon] forever. I think it fuels his resentment and hatred and bitterness towards Team Black and Rhaenyra. That shift is something that completely throws him into a downward spiral.”

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Ultimately the men known as Blood and Cheese will be remembered throughout Westeros not only for the horrible act they committed, but also for the deadly reprisals to come.

New episodes of House of the Dragon season 2 premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and Max.