Revenge Burns Slowly in ‘House of the Dragon S2’

Vanessa Obioha

The first season of ‘House of the Dragon,’ the prequel to HBO’s monumental ‘Game of Thrones’ series, concluded with a looming battle for the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne and a death that cries out for vengeance, signalling an inevitable civil war between the Greens and the Blacks.

With the death of King Viserys and the tragic killing of Lucerys—one of Rhaenyra’s (Emma D’Arcy) bastard children—by Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell), the second son of Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenyra’s half-brother, the second season promises to propel the succession drama into a fiery realm with a swift narrative.

Yet, in the first four episodes of the second season sent to critics for preview, the buildup to war is a deliberate slow burn. War demands patience and strategy, virtues conspicuously absent in the impulsive King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney). However, the writers seem to have all the time in the world, stretching the initial episodes to a pace that risks boring the audience with their meticulous setup of events 200 years before ‘Game of Thrones.’

From Rhaenyra’s hesitation to her uncle/husband/king consort/ Daemon Targaryen’s (Matt Smith) nightmarish episodes to the councils’ disapproving views, and the breathtaking scenery, the writers seem to be holding viewers back from the dragons’ fight, the real meat of the series based on R.R. Martin’s books.

Even though the quest for revenge and rage unfolds slowly, ambition is not in short supply. Motivations range from selfishness to loyalty and outright foolishness. Each character harbours a personal reason for aligning with either the Greens (Hightower) or the Blacks (Rhaenyra). Betrayal remains a dominant theme in the second season, typical of familial political dramas.

The season begins with the two claimants to the Iron Throne, Aegon and Rhaenyra, plotting their retribution from their respective strongholds. On one side stands a peevish king, and on the other, a hesitant queen who seeks her rightful claim to the throne. Yet, with a hot-headed husband and a council that subtly undermines her authority, Rhaenyra appears increasingly disoriented as the narrative progresses.

‘House of the Dragon’ predominantly revolves around Rhaenyra and Alicent, once close friends now ensnared in a political maelstrom driven by personal and familial ambitions. The portrayal of these women is commendable. Instead of rendering them as emotionless figures striving for validation in a patriarchal society, the writers adeptly reveal their humanity—from the trials of their friendship to their maternal love—while highlighting their formidable strength in preparing for war. This duality is evident as they ready their families, forming alliances and confronting adversaries.

The political intrigue will eventually quicken, setting the stage for the climactic dragon fight. Of course, there will be fire, blood and tears. But the ultimate victor of the throne remains a matter of cunning, strategy, and mastery over the dragons.

‘House of the Dragon’ premieres on Sunday, June 16, on HBO and is available on Showmax.

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