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‘House of the Dragon’ Season 2, Episode 2 Recap: Sleep with one eye open

Even Rhaenyra Targaryen can’t believe her eyes.

This woman flew through the sky on the back of a dragon. She has seen gentlemen kneel at her feet, only to rise up against her years later. She lost a child in her battle for the Iron Throne and was shocked to learn that another child had been killed in her child’s name. But watching Erryk and Arryk Cargyll (Elliott and Luke Tittensor), two identical twin knights, locked in a fight to the death in her own bedroom, with the outcome determining whether she lives or dies? You can see it on actress Emma D’Arcy’s face: even in Rhaenyra’s wildest dreams, she didn’t see this coming.

This ability to shock — not in the gross sense, although that is often the case, but rather in the sense of sudden, severe surprise — is the greatest power that “House of the Dragon” possesses. Civil wars are often thought of as fights between brothers; fantasy can make the metaphorical literal. What better way to illustrate the senseless cruelty of warfare than to have two men who look and sound exactly the same, who love each other, who say they are one soul in two bodies, die in a brutal murder-suicide that yields nothing at all?

The whole affair is a sordid one, something Ser Arryk should never have asked of Ser Criston, his supreme commander. In fact, Criston only did it as a maladaptive way to vent his sexual frustrations during a time when his on-again, off-again relationship with Queen Alicent was coming to a head. By the end of the episode, they’re back together and having rough sex — a much healthier way to channel those frustrations, though still an unwise pairing overall.

Despite the secretive nature of their relationship, Alicent and Criston are still doing better romantically than Rhaenyra and Daemon. When the Black Queen learns that young Prince Jaehaerys has been murdered and beheaded in his bed, she is furious that anyone could think she had anything to do with it. She’s even angrier when she finds out did had something to do with it despite herself: it was Daemon who, in a reckless attempt to carry out her request for revenge on Prince Aemond, demanded the life of another child.

You can’t trust someone like him, Rhaenyra concludes—rightly. She dismisses him as “pathetic”; he dismisses himself from her company.

Back in King’s Landing, Daemon’s actions continue to pay horrific dividends. Both men involved in Jaehaerys’ murder are captured and killed, along with about twenty innocent men whose only crime was serving as Pied Pipers in the palace alongside one of the murderers. When his grandfather Otto blames him for making this PR blunder, King Aegon — who, despite all his faults, is genuinely devastated by the death of his young son — fires him as the king’s henchman and replaces him with Ser Criston — a man of action compared to the intriguing but subdued Otto, but also the most tense man in Westeros. There are literal dragons that would make better hands.

Not that Otto’s advice is half as good as he thinks. His grand plan to take advantage of Jaehaerys’ death was to sew the poor boy’s head back onto his body and parade him through the streets for all to see. But the child’s corpse was not alone: ​​Jaehaerys’ mother, Helaena, and grandmother, Alicent, rode on a float behind him, like the queens of a grim Rose Bowl Parade.

Otto was undoubtedly right that this public display of both cruelty and grief would convince the common man that Rhaenyra was a monster. But he failed to consider how vulnerable his granddaughter Helaena was. Already traumatized by her non-consensual role in Jaehaerys’ murder, she had to watch him be pushed and grabbed like a cartload of turnips for the equivalent of a campaign ad. The whole scene played out like a nightmarish precursor to Queen Cersei’s walk of shame centuries later, as seen in “Game of Thrones.”

Of all the people on Team Green to echo Rhaenyra’s regret that it all came to this, it’s Prince Aemond who does so: Aemond One-Eye, whose dragon slaying of Rhaenyra’s son Lucerys sparked hostilities in earnest. Cradled in the arms of the prostitute who took his virginity years earlier (Michelle Bonnard), he brags about Daemon’s attempt to have him whacked – “I’m proud that he considers me such an enemy” – but he is weighed down by its own mistakes.

“I regret that affair with Luke,” he says, a faraway look in his eyes. “I lost my temper that day. I’m sorry.” A day late and a dollar short, sure, but it’s honestly refreshing to hear someone with the Targaryen surname take responsibility for his own actions once and for all. I truly believe he’s telling the truth.

But what is said next is more important. “When princes lose their temper, it is often others who suffer,” says the woman in whose arms Aemond mumbles this regret. “Little people,” she says, “like me.” Does this get through to the one-eyed royal?

The little people get a few more turns in the spotlight this episode, a relative rarity for a franchise centered on the aristocracy. In the land of House Velaryon, sailor Alyn meets his brother Addam (Clinton Liberty), another seafarer with an oddly aristocratic air despite his modest upbringing. It quickly becomes clear that the two men’s relationship with their lord, Corlys the Sea Serpent, is more complicated than simple service; an immediate interruption of the intimate pillow talk between Corlys and his wife, Rhaenys, seems appropriate in that regard. Maybe these particular people aren’t as little as they seem.

What about Hugh the Blacksmith (Kieran Bew) then? This prematurely snowed-in laborer first showed up to ask the king in advance for cash for all the weapons he and his colleagues had been trying out for the crown. This episode follows him home, where he has a sick daughter and a wife who rightly complains that the promised money has not yet arrived.

Are Hugh’s scenes just local color, or will he play a role in the war to come? Considering Otto Hightower spent an entire monologue yelling at Aegon for ignoring the plight of the people, we should probably avoid doing the same.

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