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House of the Dragon: A Son for a Son

“There’s a chill in the air. Summer is well and truly through.”

Well, it’s about to heat up.

We return to the past and find Westeros on the brink of war once again. In the wake of King Viserys's death, House Targaryen became divided between Queen Rhaenyra I and her half-brother King Aegon II, as well as by their respective factions within the royal court, the Blacks and the Greens. Although, we know the real rivalry is between Rhaenyra and her former best friend/evil stepmother, Alicent Hightower. The end of last season saw the family feud turn to blood, when Aegon's brother Aemond killed Rhaenyra's second son Lucerys. And so began the historical conflict known as the Dance of the Dragons.

The last two episodes of the first season did a lot to show us that both the Blacks and the Greens have serious cracks in their foundations, hindering them from within before the war is even fully started.

What I found most interesting about 'A Son for a Son' is the tug-of-war between patience and impulsiveness within each faction. And how much more volatile that becomes when you add revenge to the equation.

Team Green

We'll start with them. Because, despite starting from the strongest point with their possession of the capital city and the Iron Throne, they are the messiest and least cohesive faction.

Alicent and her father Otto Hightower both urge for caution in war while fighting for influence over King Aegon and Prince Aemond. The brothers are effectively the most powerful men in Westeros at the moment, Aegon as the king on the throne and Aemond as the rider (though, not necessarily the tamer) of the world's oldest, biggest dragon. As such, they are quite arrogant and already chafing under mommy and grandpa's control. Alicent's poor judgement reasserts itself, still seeing Aegon and Aemond as boys when they are now dangerous men. She excuses away Aemond's blood lust and thinks Aegon will fall in line after he grows bored with his embrace of kingship.

I think she's underestimating her son's now overinflated ego, as well as his sociopathic tendencies. While he still comes off like the fickle, petty, drunken tool that he is, he does show an alarming enthusiasm for at least presenting himself as a serious, worthy ruler. Which can be dangerous too, as we see when resident shit-stirrer Larys Strong starts whispering in Aegon's ear to remove Otto as Hand of the King. Which seems likely, since Aegon's already getting tired of Otto's annoying sound advice and his boring patient strategies.

Meanwhile, the realm's hottest new bad boy Aemond and his mentor Criston Cole are plotting war strategies behind the king and small council's backs. Otto tries to advise Aemond, seeming to recognize that he's getting nowhere with Aegon, but it's hard to tell if Aemond will listen. He carries himself like he's the superior and merely tolerating everyone else. Power's a hell of a drug.

Oh yeah, and Criston and Alicent are now getting it on. Often, and well. And it's pretty obvious that most of the royal court is aware. There were hints of attraction towards the end of last season, but it's not really clear how long this has been going on. It definitely seems like a new development; Cole strikes me as the kind of guy who'd murder someone in public, but wait until a man was dead before screwing his wife. Either way, good on Alicent pulling a Rhaenyra and getting herself some hunky knight action after over two decades of laying down for her rotting corpse of a husband.

Team Black

These guys come off looking much better in comparison, even as we see them in total disarray.

The two leaders, Rhaenyra and Corlys, are both too broken up over Luke's' death to make a move. Their two toughest players, Daemon and Rhaenys, are butting heads. They've secured alliances with the North and the Vale thanks to Prince Jacaerys and the Velaryon naval blockade is making trouble for King's Landing, but there isn't really a plan of action yet. They receive a new asset in the form of Mysaria the White Worm, but she's out for herself and can't be fully trusted. Daemon is chomping at the bit for revenge, frustrated at his lack of control and taking his anger out on his allies. He proves to be the impulsive one this time around.

When Rhaenyra returns after finding what little remains of her son and merely states "I want Aemond Targaryen," Daemon immediately jumps at the chance to plan an assassination. Donning his crime hood once again, he returns to King's Landing and hires a City Watch brute called Blood and one of Mysaria's contacts in the Red Keep, a ratcatcher called Cheese. Together they sneak into the royal chambers and, after getting turned around, happen upon Queen Helaena's bedchamber with her young son and daughter. Since her and Aegon's kids are near-identical twins, they force Helaena to point out her son, threatening to kill her along with both children if she refuses. And Lucerys Velaryon's death is avenged with the coldblooded murder of Aegon's heir, Jaehaerys.

Daemon's order was for them to kill Aemond, but it's left ambiguous as to whether Blood and Cheese simply went with Aegon's son due to convenience and impatience or if Daemon instructed them to kill the boy if they couldn't locate Aemond. Either way, this was a horrific reprisal. If things weren't escalating quickly enough for Daemon before, they certainly will now.
Blacks and greens:

* Very strong Jon Snow vibes between Jace and Cregan Stark on the Wall. It was great to hear Ramin Djawadi’s leitmotif for House Stark once again; it’s the most memorable bit of music from Game of Thrones for me. Also, I'm glad I was right about them starting the new season in the North.

* I must reiterate that I love how much more of the language of this world that House of the Dragons uses as compared to Game of Thrones. “Would that you were the king,” “little and less,” "many and more," “words are wind,” so good. Do please keep that going, Ryan Condal.

* We are introduced to Alyn of Hull, a member of the Sea Snake’s crew who helped save Corlys Velaryon during his last wild adventure.

* There’s a pretty epic wall mural depicting Balerion the Black Dread burning Harrenhal in the room Aemond and Criston were plotting in.

* It seemed like there was a reason Cheese brought his dog along for the assassination, but when they get upstairs he just kicks it away. Most Obvious Symbolism?

* Then again, the Most Obvious Symbolism might actually be all the twin characters. I'm just now realizing there are several pairs of twins in the cast. There are the two Cargyll brothers serving on the Kingsguard, Ser Erryk serving Rhaenyra and Arryk serving Aegon. Then there's Aegon's twin son and daughter, Jaehaerys and Jaehaera. Daemon's daughters Baela and Rhaena are also twins. And then we have the Lannister twins, the wayward Lord Jason and Ser Tyland who serves as Aegon's master of coin; there's some twin-on-twin violence as Tyland finds himself at the mercy of Prince Jaehaerys during the small council meeting. Maybe all the twins are meant to underscore the fact that, despite the violent mutual animosity that divides them, the Blacks and the Greens are still family and not so different from each other at the end of the day.

* The issue fans seem to be having is with the whole Blood and Cheese thing, the murder of Aegon's son. Yes, in the source material, it's a much more graphic and traumatizing scene. Part of me does understand the issue. This is conveyed in the histories as a sort of Red Wedding type event of brutal sadism. The way its portrayed here is still undeniably brutal, but it's missing that element of sadism. I honestly don't mind, though. Game of Thrones tended to lean hard into the gratuitous violence of George R.R. Martin's, so I'm kind of glad this show has a bit less of a fixation on that. Also, it has to be said that the Blood and Cheese tale is from the histories, which are written from the POV of incredibly biased maesters who use a lot of unreliable sources. House of the Dragon plays with this fact, so I think it can get away with making that scene a bit more understated.

* My biggest beef with the episode is the lack of guards. You'd figure there'd be at least one or two around the queen and her children's bedchamber. We see a lot of the royal apartments in the final scenes, and they look empty save for the one odd serving girl. A lack of guards where there should be guards was how they got away with many of the sneaky plots from last season. I get that we sometimes need these conveniences for the tragic, clandestine story beats to occur, but it still irritates me.

Jacaerys Velaryon: “The realm will soon tear itself apart… if men do not remember the oath sworn to King Viserys and to his rightful heir.”
Lord Cregan Stark: “Starks do not forget their oaths. But you must know that my gaze is forever torn between north and south.”

Rhaenys: “The queen was wise to recuse herself. She has not acted on the vengeful impulse that others might have.”
Daemon: “If you’d have acted when you had the chance… Aegon’s line would be extinguished. And Luke would be alive.”

Aegon II: “What news?”
Otto Hightower: “Our letters to the Vale and to the North continue to go unanswered.”
Aegon II: “Cunts.”

Otto: “We must now favor patience and restraint. I send ravens by the hour. Many and more houses will declare for you in time. History and precedent will come to your side.”

Alicent Hightower: “We only need mind Aegon until the novelty of rule is spent. Once he tires of it, you and I can steer our cause to victory.”
Otto: “A fine strategy, daughter. But you must accept that the path to victory now is one of violence.”
Alicent: “I know it. But that does not mean it must be wanton.”

Daemon: “Aegon was in your grasp. You should’ve killed him yourself.”
Ser Erryk Cargill: “Arryk and I were named to the Kingsguard at just eight and ten. And we swore the same oath: to defend the whole of the royal family. So what were we to do when they turned against one another?”

Aemond: “She blames me for starting this war after she plotted with my father’s council to usurp his throne. Her Grace speaks with two tongues.”
Ser Criston Cole: “She has a gentle heart. And Rhaenyra is a cunning spider. Long ago, she drew Alicent into her web… intoxicated her. It’s not your mother’s fault.”
Aemond: “She holds love for our enemy. That makes her a fool.”

Otto: “You and Vhagar are the greatest single power in the realm. If it wasn’t obvious before, it certainly is now. But there are many pieces at play here… some of which you can’t yet see. I promise you, Aemond, you will have all the vengeance that you seek, but you must keep a grip on your impulses. We both know your brother can’t.”

Blood: “Did you not hear the prince? No head, no gold.”

This episode got the season off to a decent start, but I'm more interested in what comes next. Three and a half out of five rats.

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