Welcome back to House Of The Dragon, the show designed especially for George R.R. Martin fans who wished that Game Of Thrones featured 80-percent more slow-moving court intrigue. This week, the Targaryen court goes a-hunting, King Viserys gets drunk and stares off into the middle distance, Rhaenyra is a sullen teen, and Daemon gives the Crabfeeder a taste of his own medicine.
It’s been three years since the events of the last episode, when Viserys announced his intention to wed Alicent Hightower to the delight of absolutely no one (except her father Otto). Now, that fateful decision has borne the king fruit both ripe and rotten. On one hand, he and a very pregnant Alicent are celebrating the second birthday of their son Aegon, and the king seems content in his marriage (to, I will stress once again, an underage girl). On the other hand, the king has alienated his daughter and heir Rhaenyra—and worse, lost the loyalty of the powerful Lord Corlys Velaryon.
“Second Of His Name” largely exists to demonstrate what an ineffectual ruler Viserys has become. Whenever any of his advisors bring up the war in the Stepstones that Corlys and Daemon are losing badly—and whose outcome poses a very real danger to the Seven Kingdoms—Viserys all but mashes his fingers in his ears and goes, “La, la, la, can’t hear you!”
He’s also waffling over the matter of Rhaenyra’s future. As a woman who’s come of age—not to mention the heir to the Iron Throne—it’s vital that the princess takes a husband. Preferably, that groom-to-be should be powerful enough to forge a useful alliance for the Targaryens, but not so powerful that he tries to make a grab for the throne.
Instead, the king prefers to stare into the middle distance, getting smashed on a goblet of Arbor Red and stewing over the fact that his daughter hates him and his lords view him as weak and indecisive (because he is!). The episode is centered around the world’s most anticlimactic stag hunt, an absurdly lavish affair on the edge of the Kingswood in celebration of Aegon’s birthday—because there’s nothing a toddler loves more than a bloody deer carcass!
And speaking of the lords of Casterly Rock, there’s a new lion kicking around: Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall), a swaggering frat bro with his eye on Rhaenyra. With the tacit encouragement of Viserys, Jason makes a move on the princess. “I’d do anything for my queen…or lady wife,” he says, after bragging about how dope his castle is. She rejects his proposition like the steaming turd that it is.
Just like the audience, the princess is extremely over her father’s shit—not to mention all the gossipmongers at court. If House Of The Dragon took place in the modern era, she’d be walking around dressed in head-to-toe Hot Topic and listening to Paramore. But trapped in medieval times as she is, Rhaenrya copes by skipping out on her dad’s parties, first by hiding out under a tree outside the Red Keep, and later by galloping off into the forest on horseback—the Westerosi equivalent of flipping the bird and then skateboarding away. Ser Criston “Hottie” Cole follows close behind, ultimately getting roped into a night of camping and girl talk.
As they sit together in the dark, Rhaenyra unloads. She doesn’t want to get married off to some random lord (understandable!), and she resents the fact that her former best friend is now her stepmom (even more understandable!). And she knows that now that her father has a son, it’s only a matter of time before she’s displaced as heir.
Like many characters on this show, Criston is pretty one-note. But what he does have going for him is a sparking chemistry with Rhaenyra; and god, do I wish they would kiss already. Instead, they’re charged by a raging boar, which they take down together in a bloody skirmish. I guess that counts as foreplay?
There’s a heaping pile of exposition in this episode as the writers try to prevent us from confusing or Rhaenyras with our Rhaenyses, our Velaryons with our Valyria. There’s a whole scene in which Alicent and a few of the court’s grand dames (none of them, alas, remotely as fun as Game Of Thrones’ Olenna Tyrell) catch us up on the latest on the war in the Stepstones, as well as Rhaenyra’s estrangement from her Uncle Daemon.
Meanwhile, a rare white hart has been spotted in the Kingswood, which, this episode reminds us about ten times, is a symbol of royalty. If Viserys were to bag it, it would be a good omen for the crown, which he sorely needs right about now. Unfortunately, all the royal huntsmen manage to catch is a regular old stag. His men hold the struggling animal by ropes tied around his antlers so Viserys can make the kill, and he sucks at it. His first stab only maims it, and he’s frozen in place for too long before he finally fells it with a second strike.
It’s a potent metaphor for how he’s failing as a ruler—and it’s much more effective than all the other scenes in this episode that exhaustively spell out that fact. Viserys is a leader by halves; he’s soft-hearted and indecisive, and the slowness of his actions only leads to more suffering. The wails of the tortured deer send a clearer message than a whole chorus of whispers.
The stag’s dying scream echoes through the Kingswood, all the way to Rhaenyra and Criston, dragging their own kill behind them. The white hart may not have appeared for Viserys, but it does for his daughter—and she takes her own brand of decisive action by letting it walk away with its life. Milly Alcock continues to be House Of The Dragon’s most compelling performer, and its plain in the way she gazes into the eyes of this obviously CGI stag, recognizing in it a reflection of herself: a proud, solitary creature whom men would rather dominate than allow to live up to its full potential.
Back in King’s Landing, Viserys reconciles with Rhaenyra, which is exactly the same plot beat that happened last week. He tells her that she should be the one to choose whom she marries, not him, and swears on her mother’s memory that he won’t rescind her heirhood. Surely this will all go off without a hitch!
Meanwhile on the Stepstones, a battle-torn Daemon dismounts his dragon Caraxes to find his Velaryon allies on the verge of mutiny, as well as a letter from his estranged brother. In it, Viserys reveals that he’s finally decided to come to the aid of Daemon and Corlys’ forces despite their disloyalty, and troops and dragons are already on the way.
Daemon reacts to this news with his trademark calm, beating the king’s messenger bloody with the crest of his helm. His tantrum takes him all the way to the Crabfeeder’s hideout (sans dragon), waving a white flag of surrender. But it’s a double-cross: As one of the raiders bends down to accept his proffered sword, Daemon seizes the hilt and runs the other man through. What follows is a thrilling scene, especially after the glacial pace of the rest of the episode. Daemon is a one-man army, charging up the beach toward the Crabfeeder himself, weaving his way through a hail of arrows, annihilating every man in his path on the tip of his sword.
Just when he’s finally surrounded and death seems certain, huge gouts of fire sweep through the lines of the Crabfeeder’s men. It’s Corlys’ son Laenor (Theo Nate) astride his own dragon, accompanied soon after by the Sea Snake and the rest of the Velaryon forces on foot. Turns out Daemon’s “surrender” was bait to distract the raiders.
This battle scene is so confusingly filmed that it took me several watches to figure out what was going on. Laenor, a character we only met about ten minutes ago, is riding a dragon we didn’t know he had. With that blond mane and his face mostly obscured by his helmet, viewers could easily mistake him for a Targaryen—especially considering we just found out that Viserys promised a complement of dragons. Meanwhile, how did Corlys’ forces arrive by ship without anyone noticing?
Amidst this chaos, the prince doesn’t hesitate to make his big move: He books it for the cave where Crabfeeder is hiding and reemerges dragging his enemy’s severed torso behind him, trailing intestines through the filthy sand.
Daemon doesn’t speak a single word in this episode, which is highest trump card he could play, compared with the talky waffling of his brother. The rebel prince may be a monster, but he’s pure action and determination—and it may just win him the throne one day. After all, as the old Westerosi aphorism goes, “Words are wind.”
- The episode’s title, “Second Of His Name,” refers to the fact that baby Aegon shares a name with Aegon the Conqueror, the legendary warrior who united the Seven Kingdoms under Targaryen rule. Considering most of House Of The Dragon’s power players assume young Aegon will supplant his big sister as heir, the name is a portentous one.
- Of the many advisors who come to Viserys with a suggestion for who should marry Rhaenyra, Otto’s is by far the grossest: her own two-year-old half-brother. We all know the Targaryens are traditionally cool with incest for the sake of “keeping the bloodline pure” (shudder) but good god, man. Fortunately, Viserys is as disgusted by the idea as we are.
- Master of Laws Lyonel Strong, ak..a. the Reasonable One, makes what is obviously the smartest proposal of a future king consort—Corlys’ son Laenor. A union between the two houses would win Corlys—and his sizable navy—back to the crown’s side.
- Rhaenyra mentions that Jason has a twin named Tyland who’s on the king’s council. Fingers crossed he’s less of an asshat than his brother.
- This episode is shot through with imagery of lavish food, but none of it looks particularly appetizing. The half-eaten husks of suckling pigs and abandoned dessert tarts speak to all the resources Viserys is leaving out to spoil in the sun. It also serves as a chilling visual echo of the crab-devoured corpses littering the Stepstones.
- Rhaenyra dismisses Jason as “arrogant and self-serious.” Girl, you could be talking about literally any character on this show—including yourself.