‘House Of The Dragon’ Recap: Beware The Rat(Catchers) In Season 2, Episode 1

The internet’s little dragon show is back and bloodier than ever.

In its season two premiere, House of the Dragon sets fire to any preconceived notions of what this George R.R. Martin prequel is meant to be.

Two years gone from a finale that managed to shock and awe the most battle-hardened of Game of Thrones fans, the series wastes no time in setting its board and moving its pawns towards a vicious civil war that feels all but inevitable (despite the best efforts of the few women afforded council seats here). “A Son for a Son” welcomes fans back to Westeros with a (thankfully) small time jump, raising armies and murdering any hope of reconciliation between its warring Houses even as it languishes in the very human emotions of its god-like rulers. Sure, they command fire-breathing weapons of mass destructions, but if HotD is here to prove anything it’s that powerful people are still just people, ruled by pettiness and greed and volatile emotions that can raze a kingdom if left unchecked.

Picking up just days after Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) killed his cousin at Storm’s End, an “accident” that has thrown the realm into chaos, HotD is quick to remind fans of its stakes. A new king sits on the usurped throne at the Red Keep, a grieving mother and rightful heir plots her revenge, Northmen are being recruited to the cause, and dragonseeds are subtly planted, hinting at bigger ambitions for the show’s later episodes.

From failed assassinations and the court intrigue of King’s Landing to journeys to Winterfell and a fracturing at Dragonstone, here are the biggest takeaways from House of the Dragon’s season two premiere.

House of the Dragon Winterfell Stark

The Introduction Of Cregan Stark

How does one build a 700-foot wall of ice meant to ward off death itself? Sadly, that’s not a question with an answer in the season two premiere, but fans missing the bone-chilling climate and Northern brogue of House Stark probably won’t mind. (Who cares about physics if it means a return to Jon Snow’s old stomping grounds?) Prince Jacaerys (Harry Collett) has made the trip to Winterfell to treat with Lord Cregan Stark (Tom Taylor), reminding him of his oath to his mother, Rhaenyra as he tests his own ability to command his House’s bannermen in the war to come. Choosing to open the episode away from the action down South feels deliberate on showrunner Ryan Condal’s part, a message that HotD intends to expand its borders, roping more of Westeros into the drama that was previously contained to the walls of the Red Keep in season one.

Alyn Hull Corlys Velaryon

Alyn Of Hull And The Sea Snake Meet

In the waning episodes of season one, Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) seemed marked for death. A battle at sea had left him gravely wounded, opening the door for his brother to challenge Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) for her claim to Driftmark – a petition that ended with Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) relieving him of his head. Season two’s premiere quickly settles the question of Corlys’ fate, showing him injured, limping, yet very much alive as his crew works to make his ship seaworthy once more. One dock worker, a sailor known as Alyn of Hull (Abubakar Salim) identifies himself as the man who saved Corlys, pulling him from the wreckage and bringing him back to Driftmark, a feat the Lord of the Tides intends to thank him for. Book readers know there’s more to Alyn than meets the eye, but we’ll avoid any spoilers other than to mark Salim’s character as a major player in the game to come.

Alicent And Criston Cole’s Affair

Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) and Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) are fully on their hypocritical bullsh*t in season two, banging it out on every surface of the Red Keep as they plot to keep Rhaenyra’s stolen throne. (If therapists existed in Westeros, they’d truly have a field day with these two and their shared obsession with the Black’s Queen.) Their coupling comes as a bit of a shock, but unfortunately for both Alicent and Criston, secret trysts in King’s Landing never stay secret for long and the season two premiere is quick to point out just how precarious their “romance” is. There’s no way it can stay under wraps for much longer, especially as Cole continues to shirk his duties and worm his way to power via Alicent’s sons, but if we’re being honest, their shared karma can’t come soon enough. It’s enough that children are being murdered and Matt Smith is back in our least-favorite wig – don’t make us watch these two orgasm on screen.

Aemond targaryen Criston Cole

Daemon and Aemond Eye Harrenhaal

Sons are a running theme in House of the Dragon. Kings desire them, mothers mourn them, but while the first-borns get all the glory, the second-born sons in Martin’s canon are the real drama queens. They’re out here causing chaos with their unresolved mommy issues and crippling sense of inadequacy and sure, it’s all going to lead to the downfall of a kingdom, but it’s also going to make for some great television. So thank you Daemon for being a power-hungry husband who refuses to give his niece-turned-wife even a moment to grieve the death of her son before making a play for her throne. And thanks to Aemond, a grown man who got so fed up with wearing an eye-patch he decided to murder a boy then use that death to become the walking endorsement for “all press is good press.” Here’s hoping the haunted halls of Harrenhaal give you the warm welcome you both deserve.

Otto Hightower

The Hand Loses Control

Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) is having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day in HotD’s season two premiere which should be good news to all you karma doubters out there. He’s managed to maneuver his bloodline atop a throne that doesn’t belong to him and yet, as close as he is to that power, it’s not his ass that’s really in the seat, something Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) is quick to remind him of in this episode. It’s almost comical how desperately he tries to be a voice a reason to an emotionally stunted drunkard with absolute power, considering the safer, smarter choice would’ve been to follow his king’s wishes and put Rhaenrya on the throne, but then again, greed is a funny thing. It gives you everything you want and nothing you’re prepared for.

Helaena Targaryen Blood And Cheese

The (Failed?) Blood And Cheese Plot

One of the joys of watching House of the Dragon is seeing how its writers adapt the complex, sometimes dull cannon of Martin’s Fire & Blood novel. While the book is a drawn out history lesson told by unreliable narrators, on-screen, Condal and company twist and shape the narrative to become a fascinating character study. Even the most intense, action-heavy sequences are grounded in human emotion, something that makes the long-awaited translation of Martin’s Blood & Cheese chapter all the more thrilling. Here, it’s a heist-gone-wrong, a bungling of a poorly-planned revenge plot carried out by a rat catcher and a Gold Cloak motivated by greed and blood lust. These two men are amateur assassins, paid by Daemon to bring him the head of a son – preferably Aemond’s but Matt Smith’s mischievous smirk tells us any boy’s noggin will do. Instead of overplaying things with too much blood and gore and violence, the show ignites a war with a silent atrocity – the beheading of a child as its mother looks on in horror. Phia Saban (Helaena) has been underutilized on this show until this point, but it’s her restraint here that makes the death of Prince Jaehaerys and its immediate aftermath so nightmarish.

That’s all for this week. Check back for our thoughts on next week’s episode!

New ‘House of the Dragon’ episodes air on HBO (and stream on Max) on Sunday nights.