House of the Dragon 2×2 Review: “Rhaenyra the Cruel”

The internet seems divided about “Rhaenyra the Cruel”. Some feel it was an improvement over the Blood and Cheese mess from last week, while others feel the show has descended into a tailspin worse than its predecessor. I feel it was much better, personally.

There was no one single scene this week for people to rally around and hate on like there was with Blood and Cheese, so criticism seems fairly minor and somewhat nitpicky. If I have to point to one scene with particularly bad vibes, it would have to be the end scene with Alicent and Ser Criston getting violent and then having sex. I find their relationship tedious and unnecessary. I think we can understand that they are both miserable people who are desperate for comfort and a release from their pain without this subplot.  Especially since Alicent was already doing the weird foot thing with Larys. 

It’s possible they’re also setting up drama with Larys with this, as it seems obvious he knows and isn’t too happy.  Thus far he’s been fairly tactical and has kept his emotions in check in order to play the game.  If he reacts to this at all, it’d likely be in a similarly restrained and tactical way, but I don’t quite know what that’d look like.  What can you do to a Dowager Queen who is already emotionally broken and pushed to the very edges of power?  Completely remove her from power, I guess, but I’m not sure Aegon would dismiss her like he did his grandfather. Then again, her unwillingness to comfort him in his time of need may cause some resentment. 

Side note: was anyone else momentarily thrown off by Otto Hightower referring to himself as Jaehaerys’ grandfather? He’s his great grandfather, isn’t he?  Is it some old custom to call oneself a grandfather to all your descendants below children? I would Google this, but Google is broken. I’ll get over this quickly, no worries, but it seemed like such an odd thing to me. 

Speaking of Otto’s grandchildren, I found Helaena’s emotional journey this episode much more understandable and clearly depicted than last week.  It was definitely different than how most people would react, but as Aegon said, the Queen is an enduring mystery, isn’t she? But the close up shot of her traumatized face as she was retrieved from her chambers really hit me hard. Harder than the entire fiasco last week.  This is the type of deep, emotional but unusual characterization I think the actress has been generally giving us for the most part and it works for me. 

Aemond was also fascinating this week. I feel like we don’t see this sort of deep, vulnerable side of him much.  We’ve caught glimpses of what lurks beneath his cunning and bold exterior, but we got to see him open and literally naked.  I’m not about to switch to Team Green here, but I really feel for him. It’s clear he just wants to be held and reassured, which his mother is unwilling to provide. 

As much as I’m a Team Black loyalist, I find myself drawn to Aemond in a way I can’t quite pinpoint. The actor has a quality about him that makes it hard to look away from. I haven’t seen any of Ewan Mitchell’s other work, but I feel like I should change that.  He had my attention. 

Meanwhile, Otto’s fourth grandchild… exists! There is a fourth sibling out there named Daeron. If you feel like you’ve missed something, don’t worry. They ignored him last season and, based on some of Alicent’s dialogue, it seems they originally intended to cut him out entirely. 

Over on Team Black, the ambiguity around Daemon’s exact instructions to Blood and Cheese is being kept as a mystery. This doesn’t absolve him, though. Like Rhaenyra, I strongly suspect he told them to take any son, knowing a small child was a possibility. We’ve seen him murder his wife, set up a murder of some random servant (with Rhaenyra, in fact) to fake Laenor’s death, and a whole lot more violent incidents that clearly indicate he has an underlying cruelness.  Age likely isn’t much of a factor to him like it is for Rhaenyra. 

And yes, Rhaenyra is upset about killing a child.  But let’s not forget she agreed to kill off some random servant so Laenor could run away to Essos.  She has a line, but she’s still capable of murder. She’s not a soft, passive, innocent person here.  Almost none of the Targaryens are, with maybe the exception of Helaena. 

The climax is the episode, however, was Arryk vs Erryk.  What an absolutely brutal scene, both physically and emotionally.  I’m sad to see them go out so early, but if it’s gonna happen, this was a great way to do it.  They really are a tragic tale that highlights just how much the citizens of the realm suffer and are torn apart as they’re swept up in the Targaryen civil war.  

Seeing the common people who are swept up in this catastrophe is actually a great thing.  We can lose sight of that in this franchise, as almost all the main characters are high born in some way.  But there are regular folk who are suffering out there. The blacksmith, Hugh, is another window into the world of the common folk that I’m interested in seeing more of.  No spoilers for the non-book readers here, of course, but he’s a named character in the books as well and I’m glad to see him get some quality screen time. 

I can’t let a single review of this show go by without praising Emma D’Arcy’s portrayal of Rhaenyra.  It feels like a crime to do so.  So yes, they continue to be spectacular and I continue to sing their praises.  The rest of the show could be a flaming pile of garbage, but as long as they churn out their spectacular portrayal of Rhaenyra, I’m eager to tune in every week. 

Overall I enjoyed the episode.  It wasn’t perfect, but I felt a lot of emotions.  And really, that’s what I want out of any story I choose to devote my time to.  The awesome dragons only make it more appealing to me because, you know, dragons. But making me empathize with these characters makes me care about the story and that’s enough to keep me satisfied. 

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.

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