House of the Dragon Recap: Putting Tragedy Through the Political Spin Cycle

House of the Dragon Recap: Putting Tragedy Through the Political Spin Cycle

After that wrenchingly grim end to episode one, episode two, “Rhaenyra the Cruel,” is here to remind us that all actions have consequences—while also extolling the ways tragedy can be exploited in unexpectedly positive ways. But of course, even the best-laid plans can go awry on House of the Dragon.

In the aftermath of lil’ Jahaerys’ gruesome murder, the Red Keep is full of chaos—and none more potent than King Aegon II expressing his grief by smashing up the late King Viserys’ prized model of King’s Landing. “I declare war!” he wails.

The search continues for the assassins, and Hand of the King Otto Hightower assures his daughter, Dowager Queen Alicent Hightower, “They will pay for this.” There’s no question Rhaenyra loyalists are to blame, but Alicent thinks maybe the gods are punishing her side of the family—and, given the fact that she was having forbidden sex with Ser Criston Cole when her grandson was killed, perhaps even punishing her specifically. But Otto’s brain is already miles down the track. “Some good may come of this,” he tells his daughter, and we’ll see what he means soon enough.

In an emergency Small Council meeting, Aegon continues his tantrum; when he asks Cole what he was doing when his son was targeted (rather than, um, his job of protecting the royals from things like assassinations), we see Alicent flinch, her guilt ever more palpable. The king is busily calling Rhaenyra “the Bitch Queen of Bastards” and “the Smug Cunt of Dragonstone” when Lord Larys Strong enters and calmly announces they’ve captured a gold cloak trying to escape with a child’s head in tow. Aegon’s in favor of killing the man ASAP, but others advise him to see what other information might be extracted first. Everyone knows Team Black is behind this, but perhaps they had help from someone inside the Red Keep?

King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) in a mood.

Otto has another point to make, following up on what he said to Alicent earlier: there’s an opportunity for spin here. If they blame Rhaenyra outright for the hideous killing of a child, and hold a highly public funeral procession so all the smallfolk can see the child’s mangled corpse up close, they’ll gain sympathy for Team Green and Aegon’s claim on the Iron Throne. “I will not have him die in vain,” Otto says, but his true grasp of the situation is unmistakable: “Jaehaerys will do more for us now than a thousand knights in battle.”

And there’s more: “The realm must see the sorrow of the crown,” Otto insists, meaning that Alicent (who is reluctant) and Queen Heleana (who’s repulsed by the idea) must ride in the procession. (When Alicent imparts this order to her daughter, she tentatively brings up the fact that Heleana caught Alicent and Cole in bed together–but Heleana ignores her.) In the dungeon, Larys and company are preparing to torture the gold cloak for information, but it’s not necessary: “Daemon hired me,” he blurts out, and sputters that an unnamed ratcatcher helped him. From the shadows, a seething Aegon steps into the cell to work out his anger.

Meanwhile, in the streets of King’s Landing, the gloomy procession begins; “Behold the work of Rhaenyra Targaryen,” an announcer bellows as the wagon rolls through. It’s an open coffin and you can see that Jahaerys’s tiny head has been stitched back onto his body, Frankenstein-style. The smallfolk are aghast—and so is Rhaenyra herself, back on Dragonstone, when she learns what’s happened. As a mother who’s recently lost her own son, she’s sorry to hear about the boy’s death, sure, but the brewing PR disaster is also a big concern. “And they are accusing me of having a hand in this?” she wonders, while working out in her head what must have happened.

Later, when she’s alone with Daemon, she asks him “Did you send assassins to murder children in their beds?” He corrects her; he sent “the Queen’s vengeance for her son,” and his instructions were to kill Aemond, not Jaehaerys or anyone else. She then comes out with what she’s really thinking. She doesn’t trust him. He’s selfish. He’s always been selfish. And now, “you’ve used me as a tool with which to grasp at your own stolen inheritance.” He bites back as she questions his loyalty and motivations, and they do not part on good terms as he flies off to Harrenhal, tasked with helping raise an army for Team Black. “He must follow his own path,” she says—ostensibly speaking to her stepdaughter, Baela, but also reminding herself in the same breath.

Rheanyra (Emma D’Arcy) and Daemon (Matt Smith) have it out.

There’s a melancholy interlude as we see servants dismantling Jaehaerys’ tiny bed in the Red Keep—while on Dragonstone, Rhaenyra plays with her own younger children, who are as white-blonde as Jaehaerys was. In the doorway to her bedroom, Alicent asks Cole “Have you told anyone?” (obviously, he hasn’t), and she shuts the door on him before taking another contemplative bath… this time sliding below the waterline to hold her breath for a worrisome amount of time.

A restless Cole stalks around the castle, looking for someone to absorb his frustration, and finds Ser Arryck dining after a long shift. Cole criticizes his subordinate’s muddy cloak, then unleashes his real fire: “Where were you when Jaehaerys was murdered?” Arryck says he was guarding King Aemon in the throne room, actually, then asks “Where were you, Lord Commander?” It gets snippier. Cole brings up Arryck’s disloyal twin, twisting the knife much like Daemon did to Ser Erryck in last week’s episode. “You have brought disgrace upon our ranks. And now you must restore it,” Cole snaps, speaking to himself as much as to Arryck. Then he orders him to go to Dragonstone, sneak in by pretending to be his identical brother, and get payback by killing Rhaenyra.

In a King’s Landing pleasure house, Aemond is having a mope about it with a sympathetic sex worker he apparently pays to cradle him like a baby. “Daemon sent them to kill me,” he worries, but he’s also pleased by the idea that he’s threatening enough to be made a target. “I do regret that business with Luke. I lost my temper that day,” he admits to her, referring to what happened in the season one finale. She’s an older woman who’s clearly a regular service provider for him, and she’s comfortable enough with him to impart an important bit of truth: “When princes lose their tempter, ‘tis often others who suffer… the smallfolk, like me.”

Whether this feeling of guilt or those very wise words about gazing beyond one’s own royal navel make a difference or not is yet to be seen, but House of the Dragon underlines its emerging theme about the struggles of the smallfolk by shifting scenes. We’re in an unfamiliar location for Westeros: a peasant family’s home, specifically Hugh, an iron worker we saw in last week’s episode petitioning King Aegon for his long-overdue pay. Hugh and his wife have a sick child and growing worries about finding enough food to eat. He’s still hopeful the king will make good, but she’s rightfully afraid for the future.

Rhaenys (Eve Best) takes a seat during Rhaenyra’s Small Council meeting.

Meanwhile, on Driftmark’s docks, brothers reunite: Alyn of Hull, who we met last week, and the younger Addam. They share a big hug and a quick catch-up chat in which Addam encourages Alyn to lean into Lord Corlys’ good graces; the Sea Snake does owe him for saving his life, after all. “To serve with the Sea Snake is to make your fortune,” Addam enthuses, but Alyn’s preoccupied with his concerns about the upcoming war. A bit later, there’s an interlude—short, but worth noting—where we see Addam on the beach, digging for crabs. Suddenly he looks up as a dragon swoops overhead. On a show like House of the Dragon where every minute counts and every glance is full of meaning, this sure feels like foreshadowing.

In their castle nearby, Corlys and Rhaenys lie in bed discussing their worries about Daemon’s behavior and whether or not they can trust him. “We will not let the Queen falter,” Rhaenys says, as we cut to Rhaenyra meeting with Mysaria, who’s still imprisoned at Dragonstone. First, she grills her about what role she played in Jaehaerys’ death; much like she did with Daemon, Mysaria insists her involvement was only about getting paid—and it takes a beat before Rhaenyra remembers meeting her before. (In season one, Daemon pretended he was going to take her as a second wife—and claimed she was pregnant with his child—without properly letting her in on the ruse.) As the woman share an unspoken moment filled with their mutual Daemon annoyance, Mysaria explains that all she wants is for Rhaenyra to honor Daemon’s word and set her free. She has no ulterior motives. She’s only interested in her own survival.

Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) skulks in the shadows.

“I was brought to Westeros with nothing,” she begins, then explains that she did what she had to do to earn a living—including learning to be a very astute listener. “For too long I made it my aim to be of consequence. But now I see that was the wish of a child. Daemon, Otto Hightower—makes no difference. They will never accept me. I might as well have remained a whore,” Misarya says. Though she comes from very different circumstances, Rhaenyra knows how it feels to not be accepted by powerful men, and the speech gives her pause.

In King’s Landing, we get another moment that illustrates the theme of “smallfolk are growing tired of being treated like garbage.” Outside the Red Keep, there’s an alarmingly large number of hanged men; it seems all of the ratcatchers in the king’s employ were exterminated, to make sure the one guy (who we see among their numbers) that aided in the young prince’s death is taken out. A mother looks up and wails: “My son!” A son for a son… for a son. And so it goes in Westeros.

Up in the Red Keep, Otto is, yet again, very displeased with this display and confronts King Aegon about it. In fact, he screams “IDIOT!” at him. It’s the episode’s second PR disaster, this time on the other side of things: “With your child’s blood, we bought their approval. With your mother’s tears we made a bitter sacrifice against the deprivations to come. And you’ve thrown it away.” Aegon, bitchy as ever, says “I wish to spill blood!” He wants to take action! Cole takes action! It’s here that Otto learns Cole decided to send Ser Arryck to murder Rhaenyra. “It’s time the bitch queen paid a price,” Cole adds unhelpfully.

Otto is apoplectic. “Instead of judgment, you display impetuousness and diminish us in the eyes of our enemy,” he thunders, then sadly realizes how much he misses King Viserys—who would never, ever have let something like “Fuck dignity, I want revenge!” slip from his lips. It’s an ugly scene, and it gets worse when Aegon orders Otto to remove his badge and, seemingly spontaneously, decides that Ser Criston Cole, the only other person in the room, should become Hand of the King instead. “You. Will. Regret. This,” Otto promises, speaking slowly so even an idiot like his grandson can understand. And we believe him!

He is an idiot.

Back on Dragonstone, Rhaenyra summons Ser Erryck and tells him Mysaria is free to go—she’ll just need someone to take her to the shore and put her on a departing ship, pronto. Rhaenyra doesn’t want her hanging around stirring up any more trouble in Westeros. Mysaria is grateful, but as she’s heading to the boat, she does a double take. There’s a knight with an awfully familiar face—one she’s just seen in the castle, in fact—heading up the path from the sea. She tells her escort to hold up a moment.

Even with Mysaria spotting the invader, the ruse almost works. Arryck bluffs way through the castle and right into Rhaenyra’s chambers. Just like last week’s House of the Dragon, we follow an assassin creeping up on their target and an awful anticipation builds—but this time, things end differently. Just as Rhaenyra’s about to meet the wrong end of a sword, Erryck bursts in and there’s an epic fight between the brothers. Nobody watching can tell who’s who, least of all us viewers at home, but it doesn’t matter… because when one finally dies, the other dramatically falls on his own sword in anguish. Both twins are dead.

Back in King’s Landing, Otto is blowing off steam to Alicent. “Aegon must be kept in check,” Otto warns. Only, Grandpa’s not the one to do it anymore. He’s leaving King’s Landing, bound for the Hightower stronghold of Oldtown, where Alicent’s third son (drink if you forgot there was another one) lives. Alicent asks him to go to Highgarden instead and convince the Tyrells to join their cause. She also thinks Aegon will soon change his mind, and will eventually want Otto back as Hand. It’s not clear what Otto’s going to do, but he reassures Alicent he still believes peace is possible, “as long as you and I hold fast.”

Alicent is itching to offload her big secret, and whispers “I have sinned.” His response: “I do not wish to hear of it.” There’ll be no easy absolution here; no fatherly comfort beyond matters pertaining to the realm. When she leaves the room, she hears sobbing, and realizes it’s Aegon, sitting by himself, overcome with emotion. Because his son is dead? Because he fired his grandfather? Because he knows what Otto said to him is true? Because he realizes he sucks as king? We don’t know, because Alicent takes in the scene, and turns and leaves without doing anything about it. Instead, she goes to her bedroom… where Ser Criston Cole is waiting. She slaps him, she shoves him, and then… the sinning recommences.

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