House of the Dragon 02×01 Review: A Son for a Son

Rhaenyra Targaryen from House of the Dragon standing outside at Storms End looking disheveled

House of the Dragon is back and the Targaryens are as messy as ever.

Aegon sitting on the iron throne wearing the conquerors crown.
Image courtesy of HBO

When we last saw the Targaryen Bunch, young Lucerys Valeryon and his tiny dragon had been eaten by Vhagar and Rhaenyra had just gotten word of his death when the credits rolled. This, on top of her infant being stillborn, her father dying, and her half-brother usurping the throne. She’s having a rough time, to say the least.  

Now we pick up in the days that follow. Queen Rhaenyra has flown to the Stormlands for proof that her son is dead. But her grieving process isn’t the thing that’s driving the conversation around this episode. Everyone is talking about Blood and Cheese and everything else seems to be an afterthought.

“Blood and Cheese” is the shorthand for the assassins Daemon sent after Aemond. This marks the first major departure from the incident as written. Making young Jaeharys a secondary target is an invention of the show itself. And people don’t seem to be enjoying the changes, to put it mildly.

With this particular change, people feel like it’s a way to soften the Blacks a bit. Child murder is a pretty indefensible act. If the showrunners let the protagonists intentionally do that, they may be too irredeemable. They had to add a qualifier to get around this issue: the child was targeted because Aemond wasn’t around.

I don’t necessarily agree with that bit of criticism, though. The Blacks have committed plenty of crimes. They’ve murdered a ton of people very intentionally already and carelessly killed small folk without much of a care. Besides, the child did die, after all. The extent to which this softens the Blacks is negligible. 

But the other criticism of the changes I pretty much agree with. And boy, there’s a lot.

Helaena was oddly subdued during the whole ordeal. And I get she’s just generally odd, but even for her the tone of character felt off. I don’t necessarily blame the actress. She’s done great with the weird quirkiness Helaena exudes at every waking moment. But this felt like a restrained performance somehow and I’m kind of curious how they arrived at this choice. Was this the director’s choice? Something in the script? It felt purposeful beyond Helaena just being odd and I’m not sure why. 

Awkwardly stumbling in on her mother banging Ser Criston Cole was also an odd choice. It felt like obligatory HBO nudity as opposed to anything done to further the characters or plot. I suppose their intimate relationship will add to the messiness of the Targaryens and everyone in their orbit, but it felt like an HBO Exec passed a note to the showrunner that simply said “more sex, please,” and this was the result.

Probably the most controversial change was the taking away of Helaena’s choice during the incident. In the book, Helaena had to choose between her two male children, which was honestly the most horrifying aspect of the whole ordeal. It seems that Maelor has been completely left out of the story, though, seemingly because the story has been condensed. Having to choose between her two sons left her and her surviving children fractured and traumatized. She struggles with Maelor in particular because she initially chose him to die, but the assassins chose Jaeharys instead. 

By taking that choice away from her, they took away a large part of the psychological horror element of the situation and we’re left with just the child murder. And oh boy do I know how outlandish “just the child murder” sounds but this is the Song of Ice and Fire series. There are worse horrors than a dead child. A mother struggling with the choices she made regarding the child’s death and how she can face the surviving children in the aftermath is certainly worse.

The backlash to these changes has been pretty severe. And I get it. I’m perhaps not as irate about it as some, but it was certainly a highly anticipated moment that didn’t quite land with fans of the story. Some are comparing it to the final season of the show’s predecessor. I don’t think it was that bad. But it wasn’t great, either. 

Rhaenyra hugging Jace and crying
Image courtesy of HBO

I didn’t hate the episode. Not by a long shot. Every single scene with Emma D’Arcy was perfect. The rest of the episode could have been worse than the final season of Game of Thrones (I don’t think it was that bad, but some do) and I’d still have enjoyed the emotional journey D’Arcy took us on with their performance. The scene where she hugged Jacaerys and they mourned Luke together just about shattered me.

I also enjoyed our brief glimpse of the North. But it was, indeed, terribly brief. But I get that for now. This is a show about Targaryen nonsense and not the magic beyond the wall. HBO had their chance to tell that story with the original Game of Thrones series and it fizzled out in the final season in a massive, poorly lit, tedious mess of a battle. The Starks have a part to play in this, but we need to put that aside for a moment and mourn Prince Lucerys.

Jace Targayen and Cregan Stark at the wall talking surrounded by snowThe Targaryens are what’s happening right now, basically. So the North needs to take a backseat. Still, it did make me miss the height of the original show just a bit. It’s amazing just how good that started out, and how much just this tidbit brings back the positive nostalgia from over a decade ago.  

Overall, it felt like two radically different episodes. Rhaenyra had her well-constructed emotional journey, and then one of the most anticipated scenes fell completely flat.

It was an episode of extremes, and I’m not sure how I feel. I hope we can move on from this flub because I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. We have a third season confirmed already, so I’m not necessarily concerned about renewal odds, but more the dicey atmosphere of the fandom. An unhappy fandom is a miserable place to be, and they are incredibly unhappy right now. 

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They identify as queer.

Help support independent journalism. Subscribe to our Patreon.

Copyright © The Geekiary

Do not copy our content in whole to other websites. If you are reading this anywhere besides, it has been stolen.
Read our policies before commenting. Be kind to each other.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *