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In 'House of the Dragon' episode 2, two royal heirs stand off, and one stands down

Bridge of Guys: Daemon (Matt Smith) cradles a dragon egg in <em>House of the Dragon</em>.
HBO
Bridge of Guys: Daemon (Matt Smith) cradles a dragon egg in House of the Dragon.

This recap of House of the Dragon's second episode contains spoilers for...well, for House of the Dragon's second episode. That's pretty much what a recap is. Proceed accordingly.

If you're just joining us, here's a recap of episode one and here's a glossary of people and places you may have forgotten.

Welcome to the Stepstones, the Seven Kingdoms' vacation wonderland. In this sun-dappled archipelago stretching between Westeros and Essos, you'll find crystal blue waters, white sand beaches, screaming pirates staked to the ground so crabs can feast on their soft bits, state-of-the-art spa facilities, balmy ocean breezes, the bleached, leering, picked-clean skulls of corsairs scattered across the sand, and fun souvenir shops. The fine folks of the Bloodstone Tourist Board invite you to "Step up to the StepstonesTM"!

Last week Corlys, leader of the King's fleet, mentioned to the Small Council that the Triarchy, an alliance of Free Cities, had tasked their navy's admiral with cleansing this vital trade route of pirates, earning said admiral the nickname "Crabfeeder" in the process.

If you thought this show was gonna just sort of leave that fact up to our collective imagination, you don't know this show. As should be clear by now, House of the Dragon, as a general rule, chooses violence.

At the Small Council, there is, as usual, Big Exposition: The Triarchy have overstepped, and sunk four of Corlys's ships; he wants to take out the Crabfeeder and seize the Stepstones, but to do so would be an act of war. We also learn that it's half a year since Daemon was soft-exiled, and he's now taken up residence on Dragonstone with an army of Gold Cloaks.

Quick aside about the Targaryen Dynasty's fetish for little tchotchkes and gewgaws: Every member of the Small Council has a little marble sphere they plunk into a receptacle on the table in front of them. Don't recall seeing that back in Game of Thrones. Doesn't seem to have anything to do with procedural votes or anything, though I've misplaced my copy of Aegon's Rules of Order. Maybe they're like the cocktail napkin you place over glass of Sav Blanc when you head to the john? Or is it just a needlessly complicated way to say "Present"?

Similarly, in the next scene, where Rhaenyra chooses a new member of the King's Guard, there's this whole business with figurines representing each House that the various candidates are from. Hold on: There are hundreds and hundreds of Houses mentioned in George R.R. Martin's books. Does each one get its own figurine? Think of the logistics! Think of the storage!

And then later on, the King has got his scale-model cities and dragons. Say what you will about Viserys's reign, but at least he's keeping Westeros's artisan class thriving.

Anyway, yeah: Amid a fair amount of fetishistic folderol, Rhaenyra chooses Ser Criston Cole to serve on the King's Guard, as he's the only one of the candidates with real combat experience. Otto Hightower argues for a more overtly political choice, but is rebuffed — and once again, his unctuous affect is giving me Littlefinger/Iago vibes.

Alicent (Emily Carey) feigns interest while getting mansplained about Old Valyrian infrastructure projects.
/ HBO
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HBO
Alicent (Emily Carey) feigns interest while getting mansplained about Old Valyrian infrastructure projects.

Alicent? Her aim is true.

In King Viserys' chambers, he shows young Alicent his intricately carved stone model of Old Valyria, the birthplace of both his ancestors and of dragons. He asks her how his daughter's dealing with the death of her mother, and Alicent — firmly, but with a healthy dollop of flattery — suggests he should talk to her his own damn self. He then dwops one of his widdle stone dwagons; this is not a sexual metaphor, unless it very much is.

In a sept that pre-dates the doomed Great Sept of Baelor, Alicent prays, and asks Rhaenyra to join her. It's not stated explicitly, but the figure they're praying to (more work for the King's Landing artisans!) seems to represent The Mother, one of the Seven Gods of Westeros. (I base this on the fact that they spend this scene talking a lot about their dead mothers, and the fact that the figure before them is posed as if it's saying, "No, honey, don't feel like you have call to check on me, I'm fine, I mean I just gave birth to you.")

Rhaenyra tells Alicent she wishes she could talk to her father, and Alicent — firmly, but with a healthy dollop of flattery — suggests she should talk to him her own damn self. Alicent would make a canny and successful Real Housewife of King's Landing.

In the gardens of the Red Keep, the King meets with Ser Corlys Velaryon and his wife Rhaenys, the Queen Who Wasn't. They inform him that the Iron Throne is looking weak: A girl is set to inherit (Why, 'pon my word! The devil you say! Splutter!)! Daemon has disobeyed the King and instead of returning to the Vale, he has seized Dragonstone (the Targaryen ancestral home)! And now the Triarchy have set up a colony in the Stepstones! (This guy's more like Ser Corlys Exposishyon, amirite?)

Their carefully considered, entirely selfless, no-agenda-whatsoever solution? Have the King wed their daughter Laena, thereby uniting the Old Valyrian bloodlines of Targaryen and Velaryon.

Later, the King attempts to treat his latest Iron-Throne ouchie by sticking his finger into a bowl of maggots. Which I can't help but notice looks kind of soothing, like one of those devices they sell at Spencer Gifts with metal pins that take an impression of your hand? Only gooier?

Otto Hightower at first objects to the idea of a marriage to Leana, but quickly relents. (Gonna save myself time and make an "Otto relents" macro, because it seems like it's that guy's whole, oleaginous deal.) The King is worried about how Rhaenyra will feel about it all, and he should be.

"Have I got a girl for you! Wait till you meet her! Have I got a girl for you, boy! Hoo, boy!" Viserys (Paddy Considine), Rhaenys (Eve Best) and Corlys (Steve Touissant).
/ HBO
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HBO
"Have I got a girl for you! Wait till you meet her! Have I got a girl for you, boy! Hoo, boy!" Viserys (Paddy Considine), Rhaenys (Eve Best) and Corlys (Steve Touissant).

"Can I steal you away from a minute? Disturbingly?"

In the gardens, The King has a gross and awkward blind date with 7-year-old (!) Laena. It's The Bachelor: Medieval, and neither of them wants to give, or get, a rose. They talk about dragons, and the fact that she won't have to lie with him until she's 14.

... yay?

Paddy Considine, bless him, finds the pitch-black humor in all this; he looks like a man who's gotten his first glimpse of the true face of the patrilineal oppression he embodies, and suspects it might not be all that great.

As has been pointed out by now, this is a show about meetings. When they're simply repeating stuff we've already seen, those meetings — and House of the Dragon itself -- can be bloodless, officious, boring.

But when the meeting in question is a scene like the one between Eve Best's world-weary Rhaenys and Milly Alcock's would-be-world-weary Rhaenyra? The episode pays for itself.

Rhaenyra makes a show of not caring if the Iron Thone is stolen out from under her, should the King finally get the male heir he's always longed for. Rheanys, who's been there and bought the t-shirt, sees through this smokescreen and impatiently waves it away. I really like the interplay between Best and Alcock, here — these characters clearly dislike each other, but there's a grudging respect and understanding hovering between them as well. The implacable, deeply entrenched systems of the Seven Kingdoms are arrayed against them, and both know enough to make a public show of accepting it. Privately, however, they can share their impatience, their disappointment — and, guardedly, their rage.

This is as close to a beating heart as the series has managed to find so far. It's hinted at in the book, but not given the room to breathe that it gets here. Here's hoping we get more of it, because House of the Dragon, aka Many Mendacious Medieval Meetings, could use it.

Alicent's had the King's broken dragon fixed, and gives it back to him. Also not a sexual metaphor, probably.

How do you say "Leggo my Eggo" in Old Valyrian?

We learn that Aemon's snuck into King's Landing and swiped a dragon egg from the Dragonpit. (We don't actually see this happen. This show being this show, we likely would have, had he hacked off a few dragonkeeper limbs and heads or disemboweled a hapless citizen or two in the process, but he didn't, so we don't.) He's declared himself the rightful heir, and announced that the dragon egg will be placed in the crib of his child, so that the kid can bond with it in the Targaryen way. He's also invited the King to attend his marriage ceremony to Mysaria on Dragonstone in two days' time.

"Uch," says the King, if he were me. "A destination wedding. See what I'm saying? This guy's the worst."

Upon learning that the egg in question was the one intended for the King's late infant son, Rhaenyra sets her jaw.

Otto Hightower arrives on Dragonstone with a detachment of soldiers, determined to take the egg back and send Daemon scurrying.

Daemon, Mysaria and a hell of a lot of Gold Cloaks confront Otto et al. on the bridge to the castle. There is the kind of saber-rattling you'd expect — taunts and challenges and defiance, etc. Daemon's dragon Caraxes crests a ridge behind him, and is all like, "'Sup?"

Hightower is just about to cede the day when Rhaenyra arrives astride her dragon Syrax ("'Sup, indeed?") and approaches Daemon.

They exchange a few words in Old Valyrian, and she challenges him to kill her, if that's really what he wants. Daemon backs down, but not before tossing her the egg like he's throwing a lateral in an NFC playoff.

Later, Mysaria gives Daemon a talking-to about lying that she's with child when she very much is not, and generally using her in his silly games with the King. She reminds him — and us — that she's the one in danger, not him.

Guys I don't think things are gonna turn out well for Mysaria.

Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) senses something in the heir.
/ HBO
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HBO
Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) senses something in the heir.

At least they won't have to hire a Frozen princess for the wedding ceremony

The King gets more advice — yep, Li'l Laena's the one, the smart choice, the right pick, the ideal bride, everything's comin' up Laena.

Rhaenyra returns from Dragonstone, and the King dresses her down a bit for acting without his permission, but has to accept that she accomplished what Otto could never and would never. They then finally have the heart-to-heart they've been putting off for months. Rhaenyra assures him that she'll understand if he marries little Laena, the Playskool Princess, the Dollhouse Damsel, the Lady of LEGO, the Fairest in all First Grade.

The Small Council meets to let the King announce his new bride. Lord Corlys is there, looking smug. So is Otto Hightower, but that's less to do with anything he's expecting and more to do with his Resting Smug Face.

Game of Thrones delighted in what it believed were sudden, surprising rug-pulls, like in the episode in which Littlefinger met his ultimate fate. House of the Dragon also loves a fake-out, it seems, so when the King announces his decision to wed ... Alicent Hightower, the only ones not gobsmacked by this twist are those of us who've been watching the episode.

Alicent looks shocked. Rhaenyra looks betrayed. Otto looks smug (must be Tuesday). And Ser Corlys looks outraged and storms out.

If you found yourself feeling some degree of relief that we wouldn't have to watch a full-grown man wed a child, remind yourself that we will instead be watching a full-grown man wed a teenager. (All of this is complicated by the fact that in the book, Viserys is only around 29 at this point in his reign. Paddy Considine is 48. So either the show is ramping up the age difference to make it even more unsettling, or all that high-altitude dragonriding plays hell on Targaryen skincare regimens.)

On Driftmark, home to House Velaryon, Ser Corlys attempts to convince his guest, Daemon Targaryen (shocked gasp, ostensibly!) to prove his worth to the King and everyone by going after the Crabfeeder in the Stepstones.

Cut to: the Crabfeeder in the Stepstones, wearing a creepy mask as he sets about setting hordes of hungry crabs upon a bunch of pirates and slavers. It's like a Red Lobster seafood buffet in reverse.

Parting Thoughts:

  • The show's called House of the Dragon. We're told there are 10 royal dragons in the Dragonpit. But we're two episodes in and we've only seen two of them — Syrax and Caraxes. That'd be like calling a show Gotham but never showing Batman — what would be the point, exactly? But trust me, once war breaks out (spoiler: war will break out) the skies are gonna be lousy with dragons.
  • I'm missing an earthy POV character who sees through the pomp and pompousness. On GoT, Tyrion, Davos, even Sandor — they helped orient the audience. But House of the Dragon is all aristocracy, all the time, and everyone's breathing the same rarified air. Alicent seems too sweet and doe-eyed to fulfill that POV function (for now; sweet-seeming characters have a way of turning into schemers, in GRMM's world). I'd say that right now, the characters who are easiest to identify with are ...
  • ... Rhaenyra and Rhaenys. Granted, the thing they're being denied — absolute power over the Seven Kingdoms — is not particularly relatable. But the fact that they're being overlooked, ignored, discounted and expected to fall in line? That's more likely to resonate with viewers than, say, Daemon's whines of "But my birthright!" privilege.
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    Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.