'House of the Dragon' Season 2 Breathes Fire into the Tarnished Legacy of 'Game of Thrones'

Created by George R.R. Martin and Ryan Condal

Starring Emma D'Arcy, Olivia Cooke, Matt Smith, Fabien Frankel, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Tom Glynn-Carney, Ewan Mitchell, Rhys Ifans

BY Karlie Rogers Published Jun 17, 2024


After the catastrophically disappointing final season of Game of Thrones, the apprehensively anticipated House of the Dragon spin-off series managed to bring the hype back to the land of Westeros, with Season 1 finally regaining the trust of die-hard fans.

After an unforgettable finale, Season 2 is tasked with a tall order: in the storm that brews after King Viserys's death leaves a usurped throne, an outcast queen, a dead son, a kingdom divided and a realm on the brink of civil war.

We last saw Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy), the heir to the Iron Throne, robbed of her succession by her younger half-brother Prince Aegon Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney), the son of her former childhood best friend Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke). This decision divided the realm — smallfolk and nobility alike rallied behind either the Greens (supporters of King Aegon) or the Blacks (supporters of Rhaenyra) as their chosen, rightful ruler. Further propelling this internal grapple over succession, Rhaenyra's son Lucerys was killed by Alicent's son Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) at the end of season one.

The feud between Team Black and Team Green takes off on gigantic scaled wings in Season 2 as Rhaenyra reels from the death of her son. D'Arcy delivers a calculated, controlled and devastating performance as the Black Queen Rhaenyra, whose rage only continues to build over the four episodes provided to critics (of a total of eight). Only speaking a single sentence in the first episode, D'Arcy is the picture of barely restrained fury and grief, where a single slicing look pierces right into the soul. The depth of emotion and thinly-veiled hurt humanizes Rhaenyra in the eyes of the viewer as she is continuously dehumanized by the world that rejects her.

On the opposite side of the war, Dowager Queen Alicent is in over her head with her newly appointed king. Cooke's performance parallels D'Arcy's in both skill and physicality, and Alicent's big mournful eyes are pools of emotion that transcend language.

Both Alicent and Rhaeynra try to handle the cards they are dealt with as much dignity as they can, a feat that is becoming near-impossible as each woman's agency is robbed from them by the men in their council. This thievery is especially exemplified when the choice to take revenge for Lucerys's death is stolen from Rhaenyra. After a devastating blow to the Greens at the end of the first episode, Westeros is thrown into a war that neither Rhaenyra nor Alicent want.

To no one's surprise, House of the Dragon is not gentle on those who struggle with faces or names. With the combination of similar names (have fun figuring out the difference between Rhaenyra, Rhaenys and Rhaena, as well as identical twins Arryk and Erryk Cargyll), and the trademark Targaryen silver manes on both teams, House of the Dragon demands full attention from its audience. It's not a show that can be simply put on in the background.

With a tone and pacing that echoes the earlier seasons of Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon's second season is packed with violence as the realm descends into war.

The first two episodes of the second season make for a slow start, with paralyzing moments awaiting at the end of each episode that left me catching my breath as I stared at my reflection as the credits rolled. This pacing, paired with some strange character choices that seem to contradict previous convictions, have the second season off to a rocky start, but that are soon remedied by the third and fourth episodes.

This season is filled with standout performances by its ensemble cast. Tom Glynn-Carney delivers an excellent performance as the ill-fitting King Aegon as he experiments with what he believes to be absolute power with sick humour and a hair-trigger temper. Ewan Mitchell compels as the slimy Aemond Targaryen, and Eve Best shines as Rhaenys, Rhaenyra's aunt and the Queen Who Never Was. Matt Smith's Daemon Targaryen will be remembered in GoT/HotD history as a formidable figure.

The beating heart of the series remains the undeniable connection between Alicent and Rhaenyra. The two former friends are paralleled by their grief and reluctance to go to war, and keep finding themselves counselled by bloodthirsty men who yearn to see the opposing side destroyed in the name of the other. Their connection is an invisible string that intertwines their lives together; no queen can move without the other feeling it, which leads to a powerful and gut-wrenching reunion.

In a series where viewers are encouraged to pick a side, House of the Dragon continues to remind fans that it's not a football game. Each character is their own complete island that makes each side engaging, and audiences are asked to judge each character on their own merit. Episode 4 brings the much-needed dragon action that many fans yearned for in Season 1, and echoes the devastation of the Season 1 finale by tenfold, leaving the future of both Team Black and Team Green — and House Targaryen as a whole — in unknown hands.

With House of the Dragon already renewed for Season 3, fans can look forward to the series as it continues to shed Game of Thrones' tarnished reputation by making the Targaryen legacy and the land of Westeros into its own.


Latest Coverage