House of the Dragon Season 2, Episode 1 Recap: Watch Out for the Rats


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Spoilers below.

Dragon lovers, we are so back. After nearly two years without a Targaryen or perfectly braided silver hair in sight, we’re once again in the throes of fiery family drama in House of the Dragon. This new season picks up shortly after season 1 left off, when Rhaenyra Targaryen’s very valid claim to the throne was brushed aside as her half-brother Aegon usurped the throne, and his younger brother, Aemond, killed Rhaenyra’s son, Lucerys, during a rainy night on dragonback. War between the Greens (pro-Aegon) and Blacks (pro-Rhaenyra is afoot. Here’s how things started off.

Did you miss Winterfell? If so, you’re in luck, because season 2 opens in House Stark’s icy home base. Rhaenyra’s older son, Jacaerys, is seeking the North’s allegiance to his mother in the incoming war. He negotiates with none other than Cregan Stark, who takes him to the Wall to show him that there are greater threats in this world than human ones. In the end, he promises thousands of “greybeards” to Rhaenyra’s cause. Then a raven arrives with grave news for Jace: His brother is dead.

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Down in Dragonstone, the rest of his family is already grieving in their own ways. Rhaenyra is distraught on the shores outside their castle, somewhat in disbelief. Rhaenys, a fellow mother who has lost a child, is showing empathy for Rhaenyra while upholding their blockade on King’s Landing. And Daemon? He’s ready to kill Vhagar. (Rhaenys holds him back.) Over in Driftmark, Corlys, alive and well, gives thanks to—a new character!—Addam Velaryon for saving his life in the deadly shipwreck and says he’s now indebted to him.

In King’s Landing, the Greens are bracing themselves for a counterattack. Ser Arryk Cargyll (twin of Ser Erryk, who sided with Rhaenyra) readies a scorpion to take down any enemy dragons, and the great Vhagar keeps watch over the city. Still, Helaena Targaryen has a nagging feeling something horrible is about to happen. She tells her brother-husband (classic Targaryens) Aegon II that she’s afraid, but not of the dragons. “The Rats,” she says. Remember that for later.

Elsewhere in the Red Keep, their mother, Queen Alicent Hightower, has Ser Criston Cole up her skirt. Their surprising relationship is a new development that wasn’t in George R. R. Martin’s book, but it checks out, especially for Cole. Of course the man who was rejected by Rhaenyra moves on with her former best friend. When they’re done, Alicent tells him, “We cannot again.” They head to the small council meeting together, where Aegon’s son, Jaehaerys, twin brother of Jaehaera (they really need to get more creative with these names), is causing a bit of a disturbance. Alicent learns that her letters to Rhaenyra remain unanswered. Turns out, it will take more than letters to apologize for the death of her son.

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With a target on her house, Alicent’s paranoia is on the rise. Lord Larys informs her that he has questioned the castle staff, disposed of the traitors, and personally chosen the new recruits. As for the ones let go, “They no longer breathe our air.” I don’t know who does HR in the Red Keep, but they need a new severance package for sure.

Larys works his influence on Aegon, too. The young king is fumbling his regal duties, with his grandfather and Hand, Otto Hightower, often cleaning up his mistakes. Larys plants an idea in Aegon’s head: If you want to differentiate your reign from your father’s, don’t work with your father’s Hand.

Otto, meanwhile, has a private conversation with his daughter, Alicent, who still believes victory is possible. And by “victory,” she means “Rhaenyra bending the knee and Aegon sitting on the Iron Throne in peace.” But she’s struggling to uphold her power. She tells her father, “If you undermine my voice, both those boys,” meaning her sons Aegon and Aemond, “will grow deaf to it.”

Cue a few new arrivals to Dragonstone: First, Arrax’s wing washes ashore, along with Lucerys’ coat—heartbreaking confirmation to Rhaenyra that her son is really gone. And second, Mysaria, without her accent. Daemon is furious at her for doing business with Otto Hightower and returning Aegon to him, but he soon comes up with another job for her. When Rhaenyra gathers her strength to return to the painted table, she has one directive: “I want Aemond Targaryen.” And Daemon takes that to heart. He presents Mysaria with a deal: He’ll let her go if she shares knowledge of a certain assassin in King’s Landing.

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Theo Whiteman//HBO

Jace finally returns home from his travels and struggles to keep his composure as he reports the alliances he has forged around Westeros (from the Arryns and Starks). This is his and Rhaenyra’s first time seeing each other since Lucerys’ death, and they break down in each other’s arms. As the family holds a proper funeral for Lucerys on the cliffs of Dragonstone, Alicent reluctantly says a prayer for Lucerys over in King’s Landing.

Later, Daemon also finds himself in King’s Landing, disguised in a cloak and hiring two assassins to “find and slay Prince Aemond Targaryen” for a handsome sum. The men don’t reveal their names, but book readers know them well: They’re Blood and Cheese, which means things are about to get gruesome. The latter is a rat catcher who has intimate knowledge of the Red Keep—no wonder Helaena had a feeling about the rats. “What if we can’t find him?” Cheese asks. Daemon simply stares back.

As the pair weasel through the tunnels of the castle, their target, Aemond, is in his room brainstorming war strategies with Ser Criston Cole to the dismay of his grandfather. Aegon and his boys are getting so drunk in the throne room, they don’t even notice the killers passing through. Once deep within the Red Keep, it appears there’s been a misunderstanding: Cheese doesn’t actually know his way around the royal residences. He only knows how to get up there.

Nevertheless, he and Blood carry on, pretending to lay rat traps if anyone catches them. They don’t find Aemond, but they do find Helaena with her twins. Daemon told them “a son for a son,” so, any son will do, right? They force Helaena to point out which of the children is a boy, and she gestures to Prince Jaehaerys sleeping in his crib. As he’s slaughtered (thankfully, offscreen, but the sound effects are still nauseating), Helaena takes her daughter and runs to her mother’s chambers, where Alicent is in bed with Criston Cole. Helaena, however, seems too in shock for her mother’s affair to register. Crouched on the ground carrying Jaehaera, all she can mutter is: “They killed the boy.”

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