House of the Dragon Season 2, Episode 4 Review

One of Game of Thrones’ major innovations was the removal of most of the fantasy from fantasy. That first season in particular eschewed magic in favor of sexposition and extreme violence, lulling cooler viewers into a false sense of security before they were ambushed by baby dragons in the finale. But that non-nerdy audience has had time to get used to scaled creatures by now, so it’s a pleasure to report that the ending of this episode of House of the Dragon finally sinks its teeth fully into the possibilities of a warring clan all riding dragons as the Targaryen Cold War heats up. Real is called.

The results are of the level of shout-at-the-TV glory. The dragons are no longer confined to a three-headed sigil on a banner in the background while a guest debates whether to marry a cousin or niece. These are living, fire-breathing monsters with big claws and sharp teeth and a willingness to tear each other to pieces. The sight of three dragons battling it out in a small castle under siege while soldiers below try to figure out which way to run to safety is juicy. These are dragons with red teeth and claws, finally delivering the kind of epic fantasy some of us have been craving since the day we first saw the Reign of Fire poster.

It’s impossible not to start by discussing that finale, because the human stakes make it compelling and the story is genuinely impressive. The fearsome Prince Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) rides Vhagar into battle with no trace of the pangs of conscience he felt after Lucerys’ death last season. Now he wants to prove himself in battle, and he’s happy to take a family member or two with him in the process. To that end, he holds off the greatest dragon in Westeros long enough to ensure his brother is committed to a fight he can’t win. Rhaenys (Eve Best), meanwhile, knows far better than either of the younger fighters what’s at stake, and yet she still sends her Meleys (whom she affectionately calls “old maid”) back into the fray when she could have safely run away. Then, on Sunfyre, Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) is goaded into battle and suffers horribly—perhaps fatally—to his ego. What a final act. Even Ser Criston (Fabien Frankel) is shocked.

That’s not to say the rest of the episode falls short, as it’s easily the best of the season so far. Daemon (Matt Smith), at Harrenhal, is steadily losing his grip on reality after further encounters with Alys Rivers (Gayle Rankin) and an ill-advised decision to accept a sleeping potion from her. He’s also, it turns out, sleeping in a bed made from the heartwood sacrilegiously cut down to build the cursed castle, which might explain all his visions. He sees the young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) again, and teases him in High Valyrian, like when they sparred together in the old days. He’s also offered the fealty of the Blackwoods if he’ll use his dragon Caraxes to attack the Brackens, their enemies in the Battle of the Burning Mill last weekThere we see the Targaryen civil war begin to spread along other fault lines in Westeros, and the family’s fire-breathing weapons of mass destruction threaten a larger population than ever before.

Still, it was nice that the show reminded him this episode that the Targaryens all speak the language of the Freehold, and informative to learn that Aegon never learned it properly while Aemond is fluent. We learn the latter fact from scenes in Aegon’s council, where the immature king is bored beyond belief with running a country. After being humiliated yet again by Aemond’s superior knowledge and scheming with his counselors, he picks a fight with his mother. But Alicent (Olivia Cooke), enduring the pain of a medical abortion, has absolutely no time for his own self-righteousness. “You should humbly seek our opinions and counsel. You have no idea of ​​the sacrifices that have been made to get you on that throne,” she tells him. “Just do what is expected of you: nothing.” Ultimately, she does at least as much as Aemond does to put him on the back of his dragon and send him into battle; There’s also a beautiful moment where Aegon slowly pushes a probably priceless water jug ​​off the table, like a cat, which beautifully expresses his sheer nihilism.

Ser Larys (Matthew Needham) is still creeping around, well aware of Alicent’s condition and unconcerned about the loss of his family seat at Harrenhal. There’s an interesting moment where he questions her sudden dip into historical research: is she now doubting her son’s right to rule? “Rhaenyra’s followers will believe what they wish, and so will Aegon… the meaning of Viserys’ intentions died with him,” she replies – suggesting that she did indeed take Rhaenyra’s (Emma D’Arcy) pleas from last week seriously, but that as a result she’s going to do nothing to change the attitude of her troops.

Season 2, episode 4 is of a glorious, TV-shout-out-to level.

Rhaenyra, meanwhile, has left her council fighting in her absence and is almost completely dysfunctional. Rhaenyra attempts to restore order, but it is only her husband, Corlys (Steven Toussaint), who can do so; an ominous sign for Rhaenyra’s own attempts to keep a strong hand on the throne. When she eventually returns, she is ultimately able to quell the infighting and agrees to send Rhaenyra to defend her Rook’s Rest—both the seat of her ally and a vital land connection to her Dragonstone base. Even now, the show emphasizes that she does so reluctantly. “To unite the realm, I had to send the dragons to war. The horrors I have just unleashed cannot be for a crown alone.” For Rhaenyra, it’s still all about the prophecy of the Song of Ice and Fire and the Prince Who Was Promised (though of course there’s no way to know which family line he or she will come from).

It’s a good episode all round. We get one more scene of affection between Rhaenys and Corlys before she goes off to battle, with the remarkably sane Rhaenys correctly figuring out that Rhaenyra has disappeared on some sort of peacekeeping mission, and encouraging her husband – reading between the lines – to acknowledge his bastard sons now that he no longer has a legitimate male heir. There’s an even more poignant moment towards the end when she and Meleys exchange a look as Vhagar’s fangs sink into her dragon’s neck and they both know they’re done for.

It’s all directed by Alan “Thor: The Dark World” Taylor, a Game of Thrones alum who also directed the season two premiere. He finds the right tone to play here, switching well between political machinations and outright warfare. He’s also tapped into the evil sides of Daemon, Larys, and especially Aemond. The latter stands over his brother with a sword when Criston arrives to help, eliminating the possibility of a coup de grace. Yet somehow, even from behind, he looks smug. That day, he’s taken out a Black leader and a rival dragon, taken out an enemy stronghold, and possibly plotted the death of his underachieving older brother. It’s no surprise that he looks pleased. He and his family have finally unleashed the beasts on each other. If the rest of the season follows this episode’s lead, we’re in for a treat.

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