The ‘House Of The Dragon’ Showrunner Gives Us Insight Into That Blood & Cheese Ending

Spoilers for House of the Dragon season two, episode one “A Son for a Son” below.

House of the Dragon’s season two premiere delivered a cold-blooded message to audiences wondering just how far the show was willing to go to faithfully adapt George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood novel.

In “A Son for a Son,” the catalyst for war between the Blacks and the Greens ended up being the casualty of a failed assassination plot as a ratcatcher named Cheese and a trusted Gold Cloak guard carried out the murderous orders of Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith). As payback for the death of her son Lucerys, Rhaenrya (Emma D’Arcy) demands revenge against her brother, Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), something her king consort readily delivers by sneaking into King’s Landing and paying for the services of the two men. Despite initially calling for Aemond’s head, Daemon’s phrase “a son for a son” fuels the shocking murder of Prince Jaehaerys, the eldest son of King Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) who is introduced earlier in the episode.

The brutal Sophie’s Choice that plays out in the queen’s tower is spiritually faithful to Martin’s original work, but showrunner Ryan Condal wanted to avoid the sins of Game Of Thrones slayings past by making key changes to the all-important scene.

“We just didn’t want to be gratuitous about it,” Condal tells UPROXX. “I don’t say this lightly, but it is a very cruel sequence. It’s horrific. However you cut it, forgive the term, but we didn’t want it to be outrageously cruel or just beyond the pale.”

In the book, the murder is told primarily via Helaena’s (Phia Saban) account as she takes her children to visit her mother, Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) before they go to bed. Blood & Cheese, unable to find Aemond or reach Aegon, purposefully make their way to the tower, killing a maid and holding Alicent hostage as they force Helaena to choose between her two sons (both of whom are awake and aware of what’s happening), threatening to rape her daughter if she doesn’t comply.

On the screen, Condal chose to set a different tone.

“The way we approached it was essentially to make it feel like a heist-sequence gone wrong,” he explains. “Instead of telling it through Helaena’s perspective, we decided to tell it through this perspective of Blood and Cheese, knowing that the audience was going to feel a shift at that point in the narrative. We’re telling this very… not predictable, but I think traditional season opener — here are the players on the board, here’s how everything’s changed. Alicent’s pissed [off] her sons, Rhaenyra’s in grief and Daemon’s looking for revenge. We feel this piece is starting to be moved into place, and then suddenly, we’re following these two characters that we’ve just met.”

Both men are easily bribed to murder with the Gold Cloak harboring a particular dislike for House Hightower, but neither are adept at killing quietly. Cheese, the ratcatcher, is unsure of the layout of the castle, ready to renege on his deal with Daemon in fear they might get caught while Blood is determined to deliver someone’s head to his master. As the sequence goes on, the tension builds.

“It’s not one scene, it’s two scenes, it’s three scenes and oh, we’re not cutting back. We’re not cutting away, oh God, what’s going to happen?” Condal says of his thinking while editing the episode. “We’re trusting our very seasoned TV audience to know that this is taking us to something that’s going to be horrible and unexpected, and living in the suspense of that, making everybody feel that and almost overstaying our welcome to a point where people are just sitting on the edge of the seat wondering what’s going to happen next.”

The episode ends with Helaena forced to make a terrible choice, one that also differs slightly from the book. There, she marked her youngest son for death, reasoning her eldest was more important in the line of succession. The pair still murdered Prince Jaehaerys, but Helaena and her youngest son were forced to live with the knowledge she had originally picked him to die. While the showrunner wasn’t as cruel in his depiction, Saban still gave a hauntingly restrained performance, giving Helaena a depth and maternal instinct audiences likely hadn’t seen before.

“I’ve seen it a hundred times at this point,” Condal said of the scene. “It still gets me every single time.”

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