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House of the Dragon: Second of His Name

“The lords of the realm gather like crows to a carcass, hoping to feast on my bones.”

Enter: Aegon...

'Second of His Name' jumps a little bit ahead in time. It's been two years since Viserys I made Alicent Hightower his queen and she has already given him the son he always wanted, much to the delight of many high lords as well.

Second Nameday

Not to Rhaenyra's delight, though. Not only has she had to deal with the humiliation of seeing her dad marry her best friend, now she's made to feel like an afterthought as various nobles praise her half-brother as if he were heir. It's quite understandable; that would be a huge personal slight.

Everyone gathers to the Kingswood for a grand hunt in honor of the boy prince's second nameday. Like everything involving the royal court, the real game being played is politics. The King's Hand and father-in-law, Otto Hightower, is under pressure from his brother, Lord Hobart, and others to ensure Viserys makes Aegon heir over Rhaenyra. This, as well as personal conflicts between the king and princess, sours the event.

Viserys gets drunk and depressed after displaying his lack of control over his daughter, enduring various politically-motivated marriage offers he's meant to force on her, and generally recognizing how ill-suited he is to be king.

Rhaenyra goes riding off on her horse, and ends up wandering through the woods with Ser Criston Cole after he gives chase. She longs to have freedoms like the common-born Kingsguard, Criston, not really realizing that the common-born and smallfolk aren't really free. Luckily, a boar comes along and attacks them, allowing Rhaenyra to blow off some steam with Criston as they kill it. It also leads to a fun scene where the princess and her knightly champion return to camp with the boar in tow and covered in its blood. This gets quite a reaction from everyone, as opposed to the king's pitiful slaying of a random stag in place of the fabled white hart his hunters were seeking.

It is Rhaenyra who sees the white hart, and chooses not to let Ser Criston slay it.

The King Wavers, The Prince Rages

In the background of all this is the War in the Stepstones. Prince Daemon Targaryen and the might of House Velaryon versus The Crabfeeder and his Triarchy-backed pirate army. The war is causing everyone a lot of trouble, especially when the fighting slows to a crawl as the pirates figure out how to use the craggy island terrain of Bloodstone to evade the dragons and hold off the Velaryon fleet. Viserys refuses to acknowledge it for a long time out of bitterness over his falling out with his brother Daemon and Corlys Velaryon, and because Otto Hightower hates Daemon and would rather the king stay mad at him.

Otto, of course, gets his very pregnant daughter to do his work for him. Alicent remains simultaneously the most interesting and most understated character so far. Whip smart and far more perceptive than her father, she's suffering through the awkward royal family situation as much as her husband and unruly stepdaughter/former BFF. And so far, she's the one who is most mature in handling it.

In one conversation, she rouses Viserys out of his gloom and shows him a way he might resolve his issues with both Rhaenyra and Daemon.

Treating Rhaenyra with a bit more respect and agency by urging her to find a husband of her own choosing to strengthen her claim to the throne allows Viserys to mend the rift between him and his daughter. He affirms her status as heir, and can now hopefully rely on her to behave. Unlikely, but that's not the only lingering issue remaining. Many lords are still actively conspiring to see Rhaenyra usurped by little Aegon, which Viserys briefly detects in his interaction with Lord Jason Lannister but does not pursue further. And though she is supportive of Rhaenyra now, she also witnessed her husband drunkenly questioning whether he made the right choice in naming his daughter heir.

And where Viserys kept ignoring the pleas and suggestions of diligent small council members like Lyonel Strong and Tyland Lannister, Alicent finally convinces him doing something with his power as king would be a better look than doing nothing when it came to the War in the Stepstones. So he finally sends the word that he's going to provide the help Daemon and his allies need to win the war.

Prince Daemon does not respond well when he receives this message; literally, he beats the messanger half to death. Then he storms away to make the one risky move his war council thought might turn the tide back in their favor: a lone suicide mission to draw the Crabfeeder and his men out of their caves. He nearly dies doing it, but it inspires the Velaryon army to follow his lead and they crush the pirates. I love that Daemon was willing to risk death just so he could win a war to spite his brother.

The final battle brought to mind 'The Battle of the Bastards' episode from Game of Thrones (one of the few GOT reviews I had the privilege of writing), a crazy episode full of dragon-fire and bloody warfare. Daemon coming out of the cave at the end, covered in bloody muck and victorious, felt like a distinct call-back (or call-forward?) to Jon Snow near the end of that episode.

This war may be over, but House of the Dragon's real war is just getting started.
Blacks and greens:

* In addition to Aegon, the Lannister twins and Otto Hightower's older brother, we also get to know a few more new characters. In the Stepstones, there’s the Sea Snake’s hotheaded brother, Vaemond Velaryon, and son, Ser Laenor; we also meet Laenor’s dragon, Seasmoke. And in the Kingswood, we are also introduced to Lord Lyonel Strong’s two sons, Harwyn “Breakbones” and Larys “Clubfoot.”

* As a nerd for this universe, it’s funny to see several of the Targaryen servants wearing their three-headed dragon symbol with inverted colors: black on red instead of red on black. This inversion later becomes the sigil of House Targaryen’s rival family branch, the Blackfyres. That whole affair might get its own series too, if this one does real well.

* It’s nice to see characters wearing helmets in battle. I know the lack of helmets in movies/TV is a bit of a pet peeve for George R.R. Martin. He was probably extra annoyed that there were so few in Game of Thrones.

* There's some symbolism or foreshadowing to be found in the scene where the white hart appears before Rhaenyra. You might say we're meant to see it as a sign of the gods showing their favor to Rhaenyra as opposed to her father, who is so controlled by his council, his wife, and his own demons. It also might be a small hint at what's to come later in this world. As Otto states, the white hart was a well-known symbol of royalty prior to House Targaryen's reign. In the future of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, House Targaryen is overthrown and replaced by House Baratheon... whose sigil is a crowned black stag. A sigil the original Baratheon lord took from one of the Westerosi kings he helped the Targaryens overthrow in their conquest of the Seven Kingdoms.

Quotes:

Viserys I: “Can someone tell me where in the seven hells Rhaenyra might be?”
(cut to)
Bard (singing): “Under the dragon’s eye…”

Rhaenyra: “No one’s here for me.”

Viserys I: “You’re of age, Rhaenyra. And Jason Lannister is a good match.”
Rhaenyra: “He’s arrogant and self-serious.”
Viserys I: “Well, I thought you might have that in common.”

Otto Hightower: “You’re not only Rhaenyra’s father, you’re the King. She’ll do as you command.”
Viserys I: “It is not my wish to command her, Otto. I want her to be happy.”
I love how Otto doesn't reflect on this at all. Just completely ignores it and dives straight in with his idea to force Rhaenyra to marry the infant Aegon.

Rhaenyra: “Do you think the realm will ever accept me as their Queen?”
Ser Criston Cole: “... They’ll have no choice but to, Princess.”

Alicent Hightower: “What of my son? Would you have me raise a man to steal his own sister’s birthright?”
Otto Hightower: “It is Aegon that’s being robbed. He’s the firstborn son of the King. To deny that he is heir to the throne is to assail the laws of gods and men. The road ahead is uncertain, but the end is clear. Aegon will be king.”

Viserys I: “I did waver at one time. But I swear to you now, on your mother’s memory, you will not be supplanted.”

Four out of five white harts who live to see another day.

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