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‘House of the Dragon’ Episode 2: What the Dragonstone Showdown Means

Time passes quickly in Westeros, or at least in “House of the Dragon.” Six months have passed since the events of last week’s premiere, and the tendrils of new stories introduced at the start of the “Game of Thrones” prequel take root on Sunday when the HBO drama returns with its second episode, “The Rogue Prince”. The stage is now set for all manner of royal betrayal, underdog heroics, and the wholesale slaughter of characters we’ve come to love.

The first season of “House of the Dragon” has the luxury of moving much faster than the first installments of “Game of Thrones” simply because it’s not hampered by the introduction of strange new kingdoms, the mapping of complicated family trees, and the translation of foreign vernacular languages. Anyone who has seen the original series has at least a passing familiarity with the bad blood between the houses, and where the bodies will eventually be buried, burned, mutilated, etc. Connecting the dots between the two series is half the fun, but “House of the Dragon” isn’t based on that game to blow up the drama. The ruthless conquest of power by the men, the ingenious machinations of the women, and the near absence of diplomacy are all set to propel this narrative forward.

Episode 2 captures the first signs of unrest in Westeros: pirate ships threaten trade routes, bringing the Targaryens closer to a major war than they’ve been in decades. Acrimony between the gentle king Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) his brash brother, Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), threatens to overflow as Daemon was denied his place as next in line to the throne and was banished from King’s Landing by his brother. The prince flew away on his dragon, surreptitiously claiming the Dragonstone family’s ancestral castle as his own. He also stole a precious dragon egg from House Targaryen, claiming that he is entitled to the treasure because his future second wife, the prostitute Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), is pregnant (she is not) and it is customary to lay an egg dragon in the baby’s crib.

The newly appointed heir to the throne, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock), has little power. She is a girl, after all, and she is still relegated to pouring wine for the men of the council of elders instead of sitting at the table with them, making decisions for the future of the kingdom. She knows of her uncle’s transgression and the king has forbidden her to get involved.

She does anyway, and her confrontation with Daemon on the bridge to Dragonstone is both a stunning cinematic achievement and a nuanced scene between members of a rival family that draws inspiration from “Game of Thrones'” most indelible moments. The Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), is already there with a small army demanding that the prince hand over the egg and vacate the castle. But Daemon is a fearless warrior and, with the king’s former guards backing him up and a dragon perched atop the cliff, Hightower & Co. are immediately outmatched.

Until Rhaenyra emerges through a layer of clouds on top of her dragon, that is. After landing on the bridge, the petite teen confidently makes her way through rows of armored grown men until she’s directly in front of her uncle. She delivers the egg, she demands. She says that she is saving it for his new wife. She reminds him that he is already married. But he couldn’t choose his first wife, she protests. She clucks her tongue, ignoring her complaint as if she were dealing with a small child, and then gets to the point: she took her place in line for the Iron Throne. Hey, he’s crazy. So go ahead and kill her. That will end this farce forever. Caught up in her own posture and arrogance, she collapses. She walks away, egg in hand.

Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in “House of the Dragon.”

(HBO)

It is a silent shift of power, a sign that she will be a formidable queen and proof that she is already more cunning and brave than her father.

Where it is the king? Back in King’s Landing, he mourns the death of the queen and her newborn child as he faces the pressure of choosing a new wife. Lord Corlys Velaryon as Steve Toussaint head of House Velaryon and earner of the name “The Sea Serpent” due to his record as the best sailor in Westeros, he wants the king to marry his daughter. It doesn’t matter that he’s only 12 years old. He is a good match, at least on parchment. Lord Corlys is the richest man in the kingdom and one of the most powerful next to the king. He is a direct descendant of the old House Velaryon, and that means something.

For 5,000 years, Valyria was the capital of the greatest civilization ever known in the land of Essos. (By comparison, Westeros was an uncharted frontier.) Much of Valyria’s power was derived from taming dragons and using them to conquer surrounding houses and kingdoms. But a volcanic eruption decimated Valyria centuries ago, wiping out its people and nearly all of its 1,000 winged beasts. The distant House Targaryens and their handful of dragons survived the catastrophic event and rose to power after the fall of the Valyrians. A century later, they conquered Westeros and established the dynasty we see in “House of the Dragon.”

Although we are just getting to know the king, he seems like a guy prone to making bad decisions, and his choice of wife in Episode 2 seems to be another bad move, setting off a new political rivalry. There is also the mystery of what is eating it, literally. The king’s body is riddled with festering sore spots, perhaps inflicted by the sharp edges of the throne. The remedy for his finger ailment? Dipping his hand in a bowl of worms. (Did I mention it’s best not to snack while he’s watching “House of the Dragon”?)

“The Rogue Prince” exponentially advances the story and delivers the drama, grandeur and intelligent speech that “Game of Thrones” fans have come to expect. And the girl who would be king now is a big part of that intrigue.

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