House Of The Dragon: Season 2 Review

House Of The Dragon S2
King Viserys is dead. But the storm clouds of Targaryen civil war are gathering — one side fighting for King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney), the other for Queen Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy).

by Dan Jolin |
Published on

Despite the success of House Of The Dragon’s first season, both in terms of its burnished worldbuilding and its broadly positive critical response, the second arrives with much expectation that it can do better. Whether it was the relative lack of geographical and social scope, the big leaps forward in time, or the constant casting switch-ups as characters aged, even its biggest fans had a niggle they could mention. On all those fronts, we have good news. Season 2, now run solo by Ryan Condal (co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik having bowed out), is more chronologically focused, less fidgety with its actors, and has its eye on the world (and the social strata) beyond the highborn Targaryen court.

House Of The Dragon S2

It opens with a reassuringly familiar musical theme and location, welcoming us briefly back to Winterfell, where we meet Lord Cregan Stark (Tom Taylor), promising a Northern contingent in the war to come. And it takes us into the homes and lives of some of King’s Landing’s and Driftmark’s “smallfolk”, to witness how the internecine clash of nobles has repercussions on those toiling below them.

Above all else, House Of The Dragon remains a spiky, acidic human drama.

With the wedge now firmly driven between House Targaryen’s Green and Black contingents (headed by Olivia Cooke’s troubled Alicent and Emma D’Arcy’s grieving Rhaenyra, respectively), we can confidently expect the Dance of Dragons to heat up. But Condal is hardly rushing into the fray, and where Season 1’s flaws have been addressed, its strengths continue to be shine.

Above all else, House Of The Dragon remains a spiky, acidic human drama; an astute, timely and well-performed study of the way power and wisdom are so often mutually exclusive, and of the tragic consequences that occur when the former is exercised without the latter. (Dragons are mainly a form of travel and something for the smallfolk to be scared of in these early episodes.) The homicidal gaffe committed by Aemond One-Eye during the Season 1 finale was merely the first salvo, it turns out, in a series of early-episode plots that might be summed up as ‘impulsive, powerful men reacting in stupid ways’. The results are compellingly brutal, including a nursery-based decapitation and a spectacular duel between identical twins. It is left to the more reasonable characters to shake their heads in disbelief and hope they can pick up the pieces. As Hand of the King Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) eloquently despairs of his impetuous peers, “They are but peacocks. All shrieking and feathers!”

Otto’s pining for the more judicious and dignified style of the departed King Viserys has the side-effect of making us miss the presence of Paddy Considine, Season 1’s MVP. But fortunately, we have the equally impressive Cooke and D’Arcy — not to mention Ifans and Matt Smith (still brooding malevolently as Daemon) — to do the heavy lifting, while Tom Glynn-Carney, Ewan Mitchell and Fabien Frankel (as the dark-hearted Criston Cole) are able to spread their wings in juicy roles. With characters as troublesome and combustible as these, who needs dragons to blow the world to shit?

A confident and elegant improvement upon the first season, having settled into its cast, characters and era. It may still not be as much of an ‘adventure’ as Game Of Thrones, but the personal/political drama is as sharp as ever.
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