‘House of the Dragon’ Season 2, Episode 2 Recap: Sleep With One Eye Open

Not even Rhaenyra Targaryen can believe what she’s seeing.

This woman has flown through the sky on the back of a dragon. She has seen lords kneel at her feet, only to rise against her years later. She has lost a child in her fight for the Iron Throne and recoiled to learn that another was killed in her child’s name. But watching Erryk and Arryk Cargyll (Elliott and Luke Tittensor), two identical twin knights, locked in a battle to the death in her own bedroom, with the outcome to decide whether she lives or dies? You can see it on the face of the actor Emma D’Arcy: Not even in Rhaenyra’s wildest dreams did she see this one coming.

This ability to shock — not in the gross-out sense, although this is often the case as well, but rather in the sense of a sudden, severe surprise — is the greatest strength “House of the Dragon” possesses. Civil wars are often said to be battles of brother against brother; fantasy can make the metaphorical literal. What better way to illustrate the senseless brutality of warfare than by having two men who look and sound exactly alike, who love each other, who say they are one soul in two bodies, perish in a brutal murder-suicide that achieves exactly nothing?

The entire affair is a sordid one, something Ser Arryk never should have been asked by Ser Criston, his lord commander, to carry out. Indeed, Criston did so only as a maladaptive way of venting his sexual frustrations during a moment when his on-again-off-again relationship with Queen Alicent was dialed to off-again. By episode’s end they’re back together and having rough sex — an altogether healthier way of channeling these frustrations, if still an ill-advised coupling overall.

Despite the clandestine nature of their relationship, Alicent and Criston are still faring better romantically than Rhaenyra and Daemon. When the Black Queen learns that the young Prince Jaehaerys was murdered and beheaded in his bed, she is outraged that anyone could think she had anything to do with it. She is even angrier when she finds out that she did have something to do with it, despite herself: It was Daemon who, in a reckless attempt to make good on her request for vengeance against Prince Aemond, claimed another child’s life instead.

You can’t trust someone like that, Rhaenyra determines — accurately. She dismisses him as “pathetic”; he dismisses himself from her company.

Back in King’s Landing, Daemon’s deeds continue to pay gruesome dividends. Both of the men involved in the murder of Jaehaerys are captured and killed, along with a score of innocent men whose only crime was to serve as palace rat catchers alongside one of the assassins. When his grandfather Otto upbraids him for this public-relations blunder, King Aegon — who for all his faults is genuinely devastated by the death of his young son — fires him as the king’s hand and replaces him with Ser Criston — a man of action compared with the scheming but restrained Otto but also the most tightly wound man in Westeros. There are literal dragons who would make better hands.

Not that Otto’s advice is half as sound as he thinks it is. His grand plan for capitalizing on Jaehaerys’s death was to sew the poor kid’s head back on his body and parade him through the streets for all to see. But the child’s corpse wasn’t alone: Jaehaerys’s mother, Helaena, and grandmother, Alicent, rode on a wagon behind him, like the queens of some grim Rose Bowl Parade.

Otto was undoubtedly right that this public display of both atrocity and grief would help convince the commoners that Rhaenyra is a monster. But never once did he stop to consider the fragile state of his granddaughter Helaena. Already traumatized by her nonconsensual role in Jaehaerys’s murder, she had to watch him be jostled and grabbed at like a cartload of turnips for the equivalent of a campaign ad. The entire sequence played out like a nightmarish precursor to Queen Cersei’s walk of shame centuries later, as seen in “Game of Thrones.”

Of all the people on Team Green to echo Rhaenyra’s regret that it has all come to this, it is Prince Aemond who does so — Aemond One-Eye, whose manslaughter-by-dragon of Rhaenyra’s son Lucerys kicked off the hostilities in earnest. Cradled in the arms of the prostitute who took his virginity years earlier (Michelle Bonnard), he brags about Daemon’s attempt to have him whacked — “I am proud that he considers me such a foe” — but he is weighed down by his own mistakes.

“I do regret that business with Luke,” he says, a faraway look in his eye. “I lost my temper that day. I am sorry for it.” A day late and a dollar short to be sure, but it’s frankly refreshing to hear anyone with the last name Targaryen take ownership of his own actions for once. I actually believe he is telling the truth.

But what is said next is more important. “When princes lose their temper, it is often others who suffer,” says the woman in whose arms Aemond murmurs these regrets. “Small folk,” she says, “like me.” Does this get through to the one-eyed royal?

The small folk get a couple of more turns in the spotlight this episode, a relatively rarity for a franchise centered on the aristocracy. In the lands of House Velaryon, the sailor Alyn meets up with his brother Addam (Clinton Liberty), another seafarer with a strangely aristocratic mean despite his humble upbringing. It soon becomes clear that both men’s relationships with their lord, Corlys the Sea Snake, is more complicated than simple service; an immediate cut to intimate pillow talk between Corlys and his wife, Rhaenys, seems pointed in that regard. Perhaps these particular folk are not quite as small as they appear.

What to make of Hugh the blacksmith (Kieran Bew), then? This prematurely snowy-haired laborer first showed up to petition the king for cash up front on all the weapons he and his colleagues have been hammering out for the crown. This episode, we follow him home, where he has a sick daughter and a wife who rightfully complains that the promised money has not yet come through.

Are Hugh’s scenes just local color, or will he play a role in the war to come? Given that Otto Hightower spent an entire monologue yelling at Aegon for ignoring the plight of the people, we should probably avoid doing the same.

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