House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 2 Review: The Bloody Aftermath and Sullied White Cloaks

Everyone seeks vengeance - some more competently than others - in House of the Dragon season 2 episode 2.

Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) and Helaena Targaryen (Phia Saban) on House of the Dragon season 2 episode 2.
Photo: Theo Whitman | HBO

This House of the Dragon review contains spoilers.

Through its first two episodes, House of the Dragon season 2 has developed an admirable rhythm.

Both the premiere and now episode 2 spend their first two acts delving into the psyches of combatants on both sides of the Dance of the Dragons and, just as importantly, the smallfolk whose lives this civil war will surely ruin. Then in the third act, all hell breaks loose. The final minutes here aren’t quite as horrifying as the Blood and Cheese moment of episode 1 but they are almost equally as thrilling and far more palatable. That’s because House of the Dragon has exchanged wanton child murder for a …


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For all its high-minded artistry and exploration of complex themes, every now and then the Game of Thrones world likes to remind you that A Song of Ice and Fire series author George R.R. Martin is an entertainer first and foremost. With its splendid staging of the deadly duel between twins Ser Arryk Cargyll (Luke Tittensor) and Ser Erryk Cargyll (Elliott Tittensor), House of the Dragon suggests the folks making the show are consummate entertainers as well.

Of course, two brothers fighting each other to the death over their political differences is inherently tragic, and the lengthy fight scene plays up that sorrow. But the sight of two identical human beings throwing haymakers while Queen Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) and Ser Lorent Marbrand (Max Wrottesley) look on, unable to tell the two apart, is also satisfyingly slapstick. The scene really captures the whole appeal of this franchise in one brilliantly disorienting package.

It also helps that the set up for the Cargyll fight is appropriately goofy. Following the murder of Prince Jaehaerys Targaryen on their own home turf, the Greens differ on how to continue this terrible tit-for-tat. Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) points out, not wrongly, that no reprisal is needed because Rhaenyra’s cause has already been irreparably harmed by the vile act. This is as big a public relations victory as one can achieve. In more reasonable times (i.e. while King Viserys I was still alive) Otto’s perspective would have been the one that held strong. In this time of burgeoning war, however, vengeance tends to win out. And that’s how noted genius Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) comes up with the idea to send one guy to Dragonstone to kill Rhaenyra…leading to near-immediate catastrophe.

“A Son for a Son” established Ser Criston as a keen strategic mind – or at least someone who wants to be. Rather than indulging King Aegon II’s (Tom Glynn-Carney) tactical flights of fancy, the Dornish Lord Commander spent time with the shrewder Prince Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), poring over maps and plotting the liberation of The Riverlands. But the fog of war has a way of making idiots of us all – as does the embarrassment of being caught with one’s pants down (literally). Truthfully a straight line can be drawn from Helaena walking in on Criston and Alicent fucking right to the tragic deaths of Arryk and Erryk. That, my friends, is drama. Not necessarily because it’s smart but because it’s so believably stupid.

The big Cargyll climax also works because the rest of the episode is filled with so many little moments that remind you that showrunner Ryan Condal, episode writer Sara Hess, and the rest of the writers’ room have a deep understanding of this world and the people who inhabit it. My first watch of House of the Dragon season 2 episode 2 felt a little disappointing after the bloody excitement of “A Son for a Son.” A second watch, however, revealed that this is one of the more thematically-disciplined episodes of the show yet. This installment continues last week’s tradition of introducing “smallfolk” characters like Alyn of Hull (Abubakar Salim) and Hugh the Hammer (Kieran Bew) while exploring even further the impotent frustrations that come along with being a pawn in someone else’s schemes.

When Prince Aemond pays a visit to his matronly brothel madame of choice at a Flea Bottom pillowhouse, he confesses to her that killing Luke was an accident and he regrets it. In response, the woman carefully reminds him “When princes lose their temper, it is often others who suffer. The smallfolk like me.” The scene ends shortly after that with Aemond’s face showing no signs of recognition or understanding. How could it? It’s clear that this motherly figure holds some power over Aemond, as his sinewy naked body drapes itself across her lap. But she still might as well be a bug to him. Hell, we’re all bugs to Targaryens.

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The royals in House of the Dragon understand, in theory, that smallfolk have some importance in the grand scheme of things. As Sister Sage tells Homelander in this season of Prime Video’s The Boys: “If you crush the masses, who build your monuments? Who tongues your taint?” But when faced with even the slightest bit of inconvenience from the little people, the Targaryens crush them anyway, taint-tonguing be damned.

Following Jaehaerys’ death, Otto has the solid political idea (Otto is full of good ideas in this episode, which is probably why Aegon fires him as Hand of the King) to have a public funeral procession for the wee lad. Alicent (Olivia Cooke) sees the wisdom of it, telling Helaena (Phia Saban), “A blow to the king is a blow to the realm and the people share our grief. They draw closer to us.”

But Alicent doesn’t really believe that, nor does Helaena. The subsequent funeral procession through the cobblestone streets of King’s Landing is nearly as horrifying as the Blood and Cheese sequence itself. As the unwashed masses reach their grubby little hands to the two queens passing through, the women’s fear is palpable. When the crate holding little Jaehaerys’ body begins to precariously rock back and forth, the most horrific thing imaginable is the cart tipping over and these creatures…these people throwing themselves upon the hastily sewn together boy. Thankfully they do not. As with Blood and Cheese itself, however, the image in viewers’ minds still stands tall.

Just one episode ago, King Aegon II positioned himself as an unlikely working class hero by uttering from the Iron Throne that “our victory depends on the efforts of the smallfolk.” A day later, Aegon has publicly hanged all of the city’s innocent ratcatchers. A certain ignorance of the smallfok isn’t a Green-only trait either. Before Ser Arryk arrives on Dragonstone to attempt to slay Rhaenyra, she absent-mindedly wanders around her chambers, as a servant stumbles after her to tend to her hair.

Rhaenyra has a right to be distracted though. Putting aside only the Cargyll battle and maybe the funeral procession, the episode’s most explosive scene sees Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) endure a tongue-lashing a long time in the making. “You think of me some kind of monster,” Daemon tells Rhaenyra about his ordered killing of a child, to which she responds, “I don’t know what to think of you. I don’t know what you are.”

Truer words have never been spoken about The Rogue Prince and D’Arcy imbues them with real hurt and confusion. If House of the Dragon season 2 has a flaw in the early-goings, it’s the lack of movement – both literal and metaphorical – for the Black Queen. Perhaps that’s why she has paced around so restlessly. Still, D’Arcy remains one of the show’s most elite performers, capturing both Rhaenyra’s belated understanding of what Daemon really is and her political blindspots in equal measure.

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Of course, “the wealthy don’t care about the poor” isn’t necessarily an Earth-shattering observation. But it is a rich vein to pursue and one that this episode excels at. What’s more important, however, is that House of the Dragon also appears to be working to a storytelling climax within this commentary. Alyn of Hull once again appears, this time accompanied by his brother Addam (Clinton Liberty). Meanwhile Hugh is revealed to be dealing with a sickly daughter in King’s Landing, adding to the urgency of his request for advanced payment from the crown.

A true reckoning is never coming for the “bigfolk” of Westeros. We know that because of the events of Game of Thrones and also because of … *vaguely gestures around the world*. But that doesn’t mean some kind of reckoning won’t arrive – and perhaps arrive sooner than either the Greens or Blacks expect.

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

Learn more about Den of Geek’s review process and why you can trust our recommendations here.


4 out of 5