House of the Dragon Season 2 is a worthy continuation of the series

House of the Dragon Season 2, a blend of mourning and grandeur, is a mostly arresting continuation of its scintillating set-up. While it may have some unfocused elements, the first half of the season, which Binge allowed for review, remains a captivating display of dramatic, fantasy television. Though less tumultuous than anticipated initially, the war is brought to life by the cast’s layered performances, the crew’s stunning production, and now sole showrunner Ryan Condal’s commitment to exploring the fruitless cycles of violence in intimate, familial detail.

It surprised many that the first season of House of the Dragon became such a triumph. After Game of Thrones’ disastrous final season echoed into the halls of all-time television disappointment, the Thrones brand became marred by failure – a stark contrast to its previous status as the pinnacle and epitome of ‘event, peak television’.

Despite some jarring time jumps, lighting issues, and characters being played by people the wrong age, House of the Dragon reignited what fans love about the world of Westeros: palace intrigue, warring factions, measured writing, and complicated characters navigating a floored and bleak world. Usually, a fair dollop of sex and violence, too. Under showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik, HBO reawakened the dragon.

House shifted the gear toward many Westerosi women who remained in the shadows of, or let down, by the flagship show for too long. Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) and Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) proved to be a dynamic duo that charted a course, albeit in different ways, through and against a patriarchal system of monarchism. 

The audience watched them grow together, and now they must witness them at odds with each other. Season 2 wisely decides to have the feud between the two women at the forefront of the show; it would all fall apart without caring about the bond built between the now-faces of Team Black and Team Green. It also does an excellent job of emphasising the bloodthirsty nature of the men around them who desire such conflict – even when they do not.

After the Season 1 finale, Rhaenyra – wholly broken after the heart-wrenching loss of her son Lucerys to the merciless jaws of Prince Aemond Targaryen’s dragon Vhagar (Ewan Mitchell), she is seen as unfocused from the war at hand. Her grief is palpable, and her voice is silenced for weeks (in the audience’s case, an entire episode).

She has lost her inheritance, her father, and her son. D’Arcy’s performance is exceptional; it captures the raw pain of a mother torn apart by war. Her advisors, driven by their agendas, push for violent retaliation, but Rhaenyra, true to her lineage, is torn between duty, revenge, and restraint as a means toward peace.

For the rest of Team Black, it is all about reaction, strategy, and alliance building. Rhaenyra’s eldest son, Prince Jacaerys “Jace” Velaryon (Harry Collett), is sent in the opening scene of the season to Winterfell, the home of House Stark (Ramin Djawadi’s iconic leitmotifs will quickly prick the ear to the most devoted of Thrones fans).

Jace is to garner support from Lord Cregan Stark (Tom Taylor), who is patiently guarding the wall. To a Stark, “Duty is sacrifice. It eclipses all things”. Jace reminds Cregan of their oath to Rhaenyra as they look out into the cold abyss. As world-building and set-up for what would transpire across that wall in the flagship series, audiences will either admire the connection or find it a disappointing reminder of what it would amount to. Regardless, it is a nostalgic reminder that brings people back into the world.  

Eve Best’s brilliant but often underutilised Rhaenys Targaryen is holding a blockade against the shores of King’s Landing – her dragon Meleys patrols the seas. All seaboard travel and trade are cut off to the Greens thanks to the Velaryon fleet, still helmed by Rhaenys’ husband Corlys (Steve Toussaint). As the ‘Sea Snake’ and ‘Queen That Never Was’, their marriage remains dutiful to Rhaenyra. They believe the Targaryen bloodline should have passed down to Viserys’ female offspring – and because Rhaenys feels solidarity in that, she offers Rhaenyra good counsel.

Rhaenys and Corlys’ grandchildren, Baela (Bethany Antonia) and Rhaena (Phoebe Campbell)—also the offspring of Daemon and his previous wife, the now-deceased Laena Velaryon—are keen to aid Rhaenyra in battle but are shackled to the side-lines. Baela has her dragon Moondancer at the ready, but Rhaenyra hesitates for her and Jace to ride in battle. She can’t face another loss already.  

Rhaenyra has relegated Rhaena to babysitting duties for her three younger children: Joffrey, Aegon, and Viserys (a search into the family tree may help audiences navigate all the very similar and sometimes reused names).

This narrative ploy is an apparent contrivance in the writing to reduce the sprawling cast—a shame, considering these two sisters have the most minor characterisation. Hopefully, they will come more to the forefront. 

Matt Smith’s wild card and volatile Prince Daemon Targaryen, Rhaenyra’s husband and uncle (the incest continues to confuse), remains rash, fierce, and unpredictable. His chemistry with Emma remains heart-pounding; you are unsure if he will bow at Rhaenyra’s feet or choke her neck. Fans seem to idolise Daemon, but the show quickly reminds them that he is a man who groomed, murdered, and schemed his way to Rhaenyra’s side. He can barely stifle his rage – a sickness caused by his inability to grasp the throne and its associated power.

Though they share little time in the first half—Daemon is positioned at Harrenhal by Rhaenyra to strengthen the Black’s hold on the Riverlands in an intriguing but sometimes ponderous side plot—Smith carries on his shoulders a combustible conflict toward his feelings about his Queen. As a symbol of his brother’s sentiment of untrust toward Daemon, Rhaenyra’s authority is both a threat to his ego and a reminder of his rift with Viserys. He wants to spill blood, but you question if it is out of love and duty.

The Lady Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) copped much criticism in Season 1 for being reasonably absent as Daemon’s paramour and then leader of the spy network in King’s Landing – but also for portraying a heavy and orientalised accent as a representative of someone ‘far across the narrow sea’. Thankfully, softening the accent and giving the character far more attention is a more intelligent decision in Season 2. What part she plays will not be spoiled here, but rest assured, it is much more deserving of Mizuno’s talents.

Twins Ser Erryk and Arryk Cargyll (Elliott and Luke Tittensor)- who have each split and joined Rhaenyra or Aegon, are also brought more into the story. They represent the divide of the Kingsguard throughout Westeros. Even though built off a miscommunication overheard on King Viserys’ deathbed, the conflict’s nuanced history becomes lost in a family now tied to a cycle of war – and no character, small or large, can escape its grasp.

On the side of ‘Team Green’, King Aegon II Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney) sits on the throne. In an attempt to make him less of a clone of Joffrey from Thrones, Aegon still has cruelty about him – but he has a deep love for his children and a desire to make wise decisions as king. Carney does an admirable job at making him pathetic yet caring, callous but not entirely evil.

Aided by his hand, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), and master of whisperers, Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), Aegon takes a more central position in the narrative as he musters his strength in the crownlands with the help of the still completely vile Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel). Cole’s fragile masculinity remains at the forefront of his character—his inability to accept Rhaenyra’s rejection fuels his hatred of the Blacks. To call him spiteful would be an understatement.

Alicent remains one of the most influential characters in the series. Cooke is forthright yet beguiling. As mother and dowager queen, her role is a circus of ambition for Alicent to navigate. All Aemond wants to do is go to war; Aegon is too busy sipping wine, and her sympathetic daughter, Queen Helaena Targaryen (Phia Saban), still speaks in prophetic and vague riddles. She is only one person; controlling the small council and her children remains challenging for the woman who was once Rhaenyra’s closest friend.

Aemond, charismatic and ruthless as ever to watch, believes Alicent is a fool for still holding onto her friendship with Rhaenyra. It is secretly the Greens’ most significant asset. Alicent and Rhaenyra mirror each other on both sides of the war—they desire peace and an end to the murderous scheming, but the men in their councils only have one goal in mind: destruction. Once that destruction begins, the dance of the dragons truly gets going, and not everyone will make it out. Whether the show fully balances the political and the grandiose is too close to call at this point in the season.

On the production side, the Targaryen wigs have more detail, the lighting is a lot brighter (unless you had an HDR TV, many people had to squint their way through Season 1), the sets feel grander and of the world, and the cinematography feels gorgeously realised. The show’s episode count is down from ten to eight, but the scale of the show could not feel larger. Episode four remains a standout and a good sign for what will come.

Despite a few logical hiccups and under-realised characters, House of the Dragon remains a treatise on the trappings of rage, grief, and desire in war. The first casualty in a conflict will always be the truth – people are going to die, dragons are going to clash, and if the show does its job well by the end – audiences will feel sad and powerless while they clap and cheer at a family tearing itself apart. Fire will reign.

House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 1 premieres 17 June on BINGE, with new episodes dropping every Monday.

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House of the Dragon Season 2, a blend of mourning and grandeur, is a mostly arresting continuation of its scintillating set-up. While it may have some unfocused elements, the first half of the season, which Binge allowed for review, remains a captivating display of...House of the Dragon Season 2 is a worthy continuation of the series