REVIEW: ‘House of the Dragon’ season 2 premiere packs heat with grief, not rage

Hold your dragons. The episode is the calm after the deadly storm — the grieving period for Rhaenyra and her family.

The premiere episode of House of the Dragons season 2 is not the highly charged revenge and “war is here” tale that the gripping finale of the first season promised, especially its very last shot. Not that A Son for A Son doesn’t spill any blood in that direction; it does, but only after an hour of mostly muted, hush, no-rush drama.

Some viewers may come away disappointed. Nobody can blame them. They waited all of 18 months for Rhaenyra and her dragon to unleash hellfire, metaphorically and literally, on the Greens after her son Lucerys is killed by his uncle Armond and his dragon Vhagar while on a mission to recruit potential allies at Storm’s End.

A Son for A Son packs the heat with the fire and blood of deeply wounded hearts. 

That’s the first blood shed between the Blacks and the Greens and it should’ve been the last straw that finally pushes the Black Queen over the edge, ending her season-long reluctance to turn the Dance of the Dragons into a Battle of the Dragons. 

But instant gratification has never been how House of the Dragon works. And it rarely takes the obvious routes to its narrative tentpoles. It doesn’t plunge into the action right away; instead, it lets tensions simmer by letting the various strands of its storyline and its many characters breathe until things come to a boil and then it throws a curveball nobody saw coming. 

The calm after the deadly storm

Rhaenyra Targaryen grieves for her son Lucerys, killed in season 1 finale.

That’s how it told, in season 1, the events leading to King Viserys’ death, the relationship  between Rhaenyra and her uncle, Prince Daemon, the journey of Alicent into a Lady Macbeth figure, and so on. Every climactic high point is usually followed by a period of relative quiet, the calm during the gathering storm. 

A Son for A Son is the calm after the deadly storm — the grieving period for Rhaenyra and her family, the season for celebration in Alicent’s Targaryen House, the window for Daemon to design his own cunning plan and put it in place in the shadows.

Emma D’Arcy and Matt Smith on House of the Dragon season 2

Thus, the episode’s most compelling, haunting moments are those fraught with bruised feeling: when Rhaenys tells off an overeager Daemon and declines his command to ride with him to the Greens to exact revenge on behalf of the absent Rhaenyra by reminding him of the unbearable grief mothers suffer when losing their children.

When Rhaenyra, asked to declare war, responds by saying “I want Armond”; when Jacaerys, while reporting about his mission upon coming home from his deployment in the Ice Wall, starts tearing up and Rhaenyra stands up and tearfully embraces him, together lamenting Lucerys’ death without saying a word about it; when Alicent, after lighting a candle for dearly departed loved ones, goes on to light one last candle for Lucerys.

A Son for A Son packs the heat with the fire and blood of deeply wounded hearts. 

The North will remember: Cregan Stark makes an appearance at the Wall, with Rhaenyra’s son Jacaerys Velaryon
Phia Saban as Helaena

This push-and-pull dynamic between the emotional character-driven elements of the show and its narrative elements is how House of the Dragon builds its mighty house. It’s what makes the show constantly engrossing, occasionally maddening, and often riveting. 

This season opener actually plays out more like the next episode in one long uninterrupted series and less as the big first salvo of the next installation of the epic story. It makes more narrative and artistic sense and is best viewed this way.

Be patient. The dragon-size reward of much fire and blood will come soon enough.  

The new lifestyle.