‘House of the Dragon’ Season 2, Episode 4: Fire in the Sky

The same likely cannot be said for Daemon, who spends this episode battling hallucinations brought on either by the curse of Harrenhal or the magic of Alys Rivers, its resident witch. His sojourn in those damp, crumbling halls is delightfully gothic and replete with tips of the cap to other genre landmarks. In his visions, Daemon follows a doppelgänger of himself and beheads a young Rhaenyra, much like Luke Skywalker decapitated Darth Vader only to see his own face in “The Empire Strikes Back.” He sees himself with bloody hands like Lady Macbeth. He starts when he sees a black goat, who may as well be a cameoing Black Phillip from Robert Eggers’s horror film “The Witch.” This is not the sort of stable mind you need at the head of your army.

Nor would Aemond or Criston, the bloodthirsty ringleaders of the Greens, or Aegon, who is just trying to play catch-up with his brother and his Hand, have hesitated to burn their rivals. For all their faults, the Black and Green Queens are the Seven Kingdom’s best bulwarks against all-out slaughter.

At least they were until now. Alicent may have realized that her late husband, Viserys, did not in fact mean for their son Aegon to take the Iron Throne. But she’s also realized that it doesn’t matter. “The significance of Viserys’s intentions died with him,” she tells Larys the Clubfoot, her son’s newly minted Master of Whisperers. “Yes it did,” he agrees. As another HBO show once put it, “If it’s a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight.”

For her part, Rhaenyra realizes that Alicent can no longer be reasoned with. Her resolve to go to battle at once shocks her councilors, who for the most part seemed to have mistaken either her mercy or her gender for weakness. She assures them she was simply trying to ensure there was no other path before unleashing dragonfire.

This episode feels like the American answer to last year’s magisterially melancholy and moving creature feature “Godzilla Minus One,” the first Godzilla film to win an Oscar (for best visual effects). The director, Takashi Yamazaki, who also wrote and oversaw visual effects, followed in the footsteps of Ishiro Honda original “Godzilla” (1954) and Hideaki Anno’s nightmarish “Shin Godzilla” (2016) in rendering the King of the Monsters as a walking, radioactive primal scream — against war, against cruelty, against stupidity, against civilization’s ongoing assault against the people who comprise it. The death of the dragons is a stand-in for our own burning world.

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