Home Featured TV Shows All TV Shows Movie Reviews Book Reviews Articles Frequently Asked Questions About Us

House of the Dragon: Rhaenyra the Cruel

"And what if the hand that's done it is not the one to blame. The gods punish us."

The season premiere was mostly about regrouping with everyone and setting the scene for the escalating war. Now that the escalation is underway, things are starting to get interesting. And very intense.

Seriously, between the funeral procession for the dead prince and the climatic fight to the death, there was an insane amount of tension in this episode.

I like how deep they go into the aftermath of the Blood and Cheese incident from last episode, from the perspective of both factions; it mirrors last episode, with the aftermath of Luke’s death.

Grief and fear brings out the worst in Aegon II right away, becoming (understandably) irrational, paranoid and lusting for revenge. Counseling against outright bloodshed, Otto Hightower proposes a plan to use Prince Jaehaerys' murder to win public sympathy, showing the people of King’s Landing “the works of Rhaenyra Targaryen.”

His plan initially succeeds, but not all of the Greens are as coolheaded as Otto. Alicent and Criston Cole are both feeling guilty because they were having sex when Cole could have been guarding the king’s family. While Alicent tries to wash her guilt away in a bath, Cole has a less healthy method. He takes his feelings of insecurity and shame and projects them onto his fellow Kingsguard, Ser Arryk Cargyll. He bullies, threatens and guilt-trips this honorable knight into undertaking a suicide mission to walk into Dragonstone and kill Rhaenyra; he banks on the Blacks mistaking Arryk for his twin Ser Erryk, who joined the other side.

Gotta say, Cole is quite a loathsome individual. Maybe even more than Aegon and Aemond; those two at least have Targaryen madness and royal privilege to explain away their wickedness.

They're all united in badness, though. Aegon avenges his son's death by killing the captured Blood, but since Blood couldn't identify Cheese, Aegon orders a mass-execution of all the Red Keep's ratcatchers. Aemond's only takeaway from the assassination meant for him is pride over Daemon's fear of him, showing no concern for his family's anguish; he does apparently regret his killing of Lucerys, but only because he lost control. And for his ruthless planning and general brutish attitude, Criston Cole is named Hand of the King by Aegon, after stripping his outraged grandfather of the title.

Alicent is either firmly in denial or beside herself. She can't even comfort her own heartbroken children, though I suspect that's because she feels guilty for making it her mission in life to force them into this very situation. The way her father once forced her to be queen. She seems to be getting by entirely on suicidal baths and decadent sex with Criston Cole; the fact that he's now the second most influential man in the realm now probably raises the attraction factor. That and the wrongness, of course. I like to imagine they're both thinking about Rhaenyra the whole time.

Speaking of which, the other team on Dragonstone is really no better off. While the Greens' two leaders are off passionately making love, the Blacks' are becoming bitterly estranged. Rhaenyra is horrified that she's now got a decapitated baby on her rep thanks to Daemon, and Daemon is frustrated at her aversion to violence. They're once again divided over Daemon's questionable motives: does he fight now for Rhaenyra or is he still playing by his own rules? To which I say, can't it be both?

Daemon does clearly want to be the one steering the direction of her campaign. He escalated the war, and now he's off to raise an army. But let's not pretend Rhaenyra's innocent in this. She indulged Daemon's bad behavior for years, and was even an accomplice here and there. And grieving mother or not, she does hold some responsibility for the assassination attempt when she returned from her absence and gave her council only one vengeful demand. While she's not really wrong to lambast Daemon in this case, Rhaenyra has always played fast and loose with the rules and her responsibilities. The attempt on her life in this episode is as much to do with Criston Cole's personal vendetta against her for how she toyed with his life in their younger days as it is vengeance for Aegon's son.

The entire sequence of Ser Arryk infiltrating Dragonstone, posing as Erryk while trying to carefully sneak around Erryk and confusing the viewer as to which was which, was beautifully suspenseful; like an even more intense version of the Blood and Cheese segment from last episode. The duel that erupts between the twin Kingsguard just underscores how harsh this conflict is, though; this fatal encounter becomes a tragic legend in Westerosi culture. Ser Erryk falling on his sword in despair after he kills his brother is another reminder of the cost of Rhaenyra and Aegon's feud. And another fateful omen of what's to come.

Blacks and greens:

* Was very worried that I was gonna see a little boy's hastily sewn-on decapitated head roll off onto the street. Was very glad I didn't.

* Cheese's abused dog kneeling beneath the corpse of his hanged master, as if out of respect, was an amusing little detail.

* I like that they deflate Aemond's tough bad boy mystique a little bit by revealing his bizarre mother/baby roleplay fetish, complete with naked cradling and pitchers of milk. Can the Greens get any more uncomfortable to watch?

* This episode features several new characters, and hints at more to come. Significantly, we get our first mention of Alicent and King Viserys's youngest child, Prince Daeron, who Otto Hightower will soon be visiting in Old Town. And in this episode we get a formal introduction to Alyn and Addam of Hull, as well as a less formal one for Hugh Hammer, a blacksmith in King’s Landing.

* Addam sees a silvery blue dragon in the sky when he’s on the beach.

* Rhaenyra and Mysaria come to a mutual respect; they seem to bond over their shared frustration with Daemon and the lack of respect they receive from male peers. She offers Mysaria safe passage to Essos, but I imagine she'll be sticking around somehow. Also, Mysaria's monologue about how she got where she is was nearly identical to the one Varys gives in Game of Thrones.

* This episode features a lot of great acting from the cast, but the one who takes the cake is probably Rhys Ifans as Otto. He so perfectly sold the frustration and disillusionment of his character in the end.

* On that note, let's talk about Otto for a minute. Because I think his actions in this episode illustrate why the Greens are so messed up. Sure, he somewhat cares for his family on an emotional level, but his main concern is raising their status. He's constantly playing the game of thrones to maintain House Hightower's position or elevate it further; he is very much the Tywin Lannister of this show. This cold-calculating nature often works in his family's favor, but it always comes at the cost of his family's personal well-being. Otto did this with Alicent when she was young, and this is how they treat her children and grandchildren. Not as loved ones or people, but as pieces in the game. Parading Aegon and Helaena's dead son around the city might have won much needed sympathy, but Aegon might not have felt the need to make his moronic show of strength later if Otto and Alicent had just allowed the family to grieve in private. Even if he is justified in calling out Aegon for killing the ratcatchers and ruining the Greens' reputation, Otto is the one who made it his mission to place this unworthy punk on the throne and is responsible for the parenting style that led him to be an unworthy punk.

* Most Obvious Symbolism: Aegon, insane with rage, destroying the massive model of the Valyrian Freehold that we saw his father spend decades working on last season. Just thoughtlessly wrecking what Viserys carefully built, a clear sign of his willingness to destroy the era of peace his father tried so hard to maintain.

* I mentioned tension, but the season is also already heavy with emotion. Rhaenyra's tearful reunion with Jace last episode got to me, but the tragic deaths of the Cargyll brothers hurt even more.


Herald: “Behold the works of Rhaenyra Targaryen! Pretender to the throne! Kinslayer! Defiler of innocents! Behold the works of Rhaenyra, the cruel!”

Rhaenyra I: “So we’ve come to it, at long last. I cannot trust you, Daemon.”
Took ya long enough, Your Grace.

Daemon: “When Ser Erryk brought you the crown… did I myself not place it upon your brow?”
Rhaenyra: “Yes, but before that, you sought to lead a war council while I labored alone in my bedchamber. And afterward when I thought it right to consider the terms our foes put before us—”
Daemon: “A folly! A folly! To give up my brother’s throne to the traitorous lies of Otto Hightower!”
Rhaenyra: “My throne, Daemon. Mine! I think you used my words as an excuse to take your own revenge… to indulge the darkness you keep sheathed within you like a blade.”
Daemon: “You think me some kind of monster.”
Rhaenyra: “Oh, I don’t know what to think of you. I don’t know what you are or who it is you serve.”
Daemon: “Am I not on my way, even now, to Harrenhal to raise an army in your name, Rhaenyra? Yours!”

Alicent: “Have you told anyone?”
Ser Criston Cole: “What do you take me for?”
Alicent: “One who seeks absolution.”
Criston: “There is none for what I’ve done.”

Criston: “The white cloak is a symbol of our purity… our fidelity. Kingsguard are a sacred trust. Will you so easily sully our ancient honor?”
This man's hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Criston: “Put down the pretender and you will end a war before it begins.”
Arryk: “If they see the two of us…”
Criston: “You must not let that happen.”
Arryk: “You would send me to my death.”
Criston: “Or to triumph. And glory. Now, will you go? Or must I question your loyalty to the king?”

Corlys Velaryon: “You do not think… Daemon will challenge her?”
Rhaenys Targaryen: “Not as such. But neither can he allow her to command him.”
Corlys: “Pity. I have, on occasion, found that to be quite enjoyable.”

Otto: “The king is my grandson, and my grandson is a fool! He’s worse than a fool! He’s murdered innocent men!”
Aegon II: “And one guilty one.”

Otto: “Do you never think of your father? His… forbearance, his… judiciousness, his… his… dignity.”
Aegon: “Fuck dignity. I want revenge.”

Alicent: “… I have sinned.”
Otto: “I do not wish to hear of it.”
You've ignored your family's emotional turmoil this long, why stop now?

Just in time for the next episode, at least. Five out of five brothers slain.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We love comments! We moderate because of spam and trolls, but don't let that stop you! It’s never too late to comment on an old show, but please don’t spoil future episodes for newbies.