Review: HBO’s ‘House of the Dragon’ returns for Season 2 premiere with Team Black vs. Team Green

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews the Season 2 premiere of 'House of the Dragon' (Part 1)

In 2019, “Game of Thrones” wrapped its phenomenal eight-season run on HBO, winning 59 Emmys, including the top prize of Best TV Drama four times. The final season left many of us disappointed, but the series finale was still watched by 19.3 million viewers, a personal record for the epic fantasy series.

Olivia Cooke and Ewan Mitchell in Season 2 of "House of the Dragon." (Theo Whitman/HBO)

Winter came and went, but a franchise that was left for dead found fresh fire on the backs of new dragons with the much-anticipated prequel “House of the Dragon” (2022), set 172 years before the events of “Game of Thrones,” during House Targaryen’s war of succession.

Nearly 10 million viewers watched the premiere and 9.3 million viewers tuned in across all platforms to watch the Season 1 finale, which beat the drums of impending war.

Now, “House of the Dragon” is finally back, having aired its Season 2 premiere on Sunday night on HBO/Max. If your excitement was met by confusion, you’re not alone — two years is a long time to wait in between seasons. No doubt it was due to last year’s Writers and Actors’ strikes.

But while we can forgive the creators for this unforeseen delay, it doesn’t make it any easier for viewers desperately trying to remember who everyone is.

In case you didn’t read George R.R. Martin’s 2018 novel “Fire & Blood” and you need more of a refresher than HBO’s “Previously On” introduction, below is my attempt to remind you where we left off, as well as my initial thoughts on the Season 2 premiere that we all just watched before going to bed with nightmares.

Team Black vs. Team Green

The main key to knowing what’s going on this season is that there are two warring factions, which fans are calling Team Black vs. Team Green. They are led by a pair of former childhood best friends, who once laid heads on each other’s laps, only for one to marry the other’s father.

This led to future betrayals, as jarring time jumps showed them all grown up (played by new adult actresses) becoming rival queens with competing claims to the crown.

Team Black (outcast at Dragonstone) is led by the blonde-haired Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy), daughter of the late King Viserys, who publicly named her his heir only to have it stolen from her. She’s now plotting a comeback with her uncle turned lover, Prince Daemon (Matt Smith).

While incest was common in medieval times, such a sin is best reserved for villains (i.e. Bran Stark catching Jaime and Cersei Lannister in the act). Sick fans were actually rooting for Rhaenyra and Daemon to get together last season — you realize that’s like Simba sleeping with Scar, right?

Team Green (based at King’s Landing) is conversely led by the brunette Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), who claimed that her dying husband, King Viesrys, changed his mind on his deathbed and no longer wanted Rhaenyra Targaryen to be his heir. Instead, he “changed” it to their son, King Aegon, a blonde immature doofus who makes Joffrey look well behaved.

Season 2 shows him on the Iron Throne way in over his head, having to be told by Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) that he can’t give farmers their sheep back because the dragons need food.

“A Son for a Son”

The other key to understanding what’s going on is the Season 2 premiere’s telling title: “A Son for a Son.” It refers to Rhaenyra Targaryen grieving the death of her son, Lucerys, along with his dragon, Arrax. Both were killed last season by King Aegon’s younger brother, Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) riding his dragon, Vhagar.

This deadly combo is now “the single greatest power in the realm,” says Otto Hightower in Season 2.

Aemond now wears an eye patch, which is helpful for us to distinguish his character from the rest, but it also serves a story purpose. Remember, he lost his eye during a childhood fight with Lucerys, causing him to strike back with outsized revenge. You take my eye? I’ll kill you. And your dragon.

So much for “an eye for an eye.”

Hence, the meaning of the Season 2 premiere title “A Son for a Son.”

In Sunday night’s episode, Rhaenyra Targaryen masochistically visits the landing site where her son’s body fell from the sky, collecting his remains along with a piece of his dead dragon’s wing washed up on a beach. After this, she returns to Dragonstone to not only nestle with Daemon but also tell her war council: “I want Aemond Targaryen,” as in I want him dead.

I won’t spoil whether she gets Aemond or not, but let’s just say there’s a chilling climax where Team Black sends a pair of torch-carrying goons into the castle to give Queen Alicent Hightower a little payback. This ending might be triggering for some viewers, especially if you’ve ever loved a dog (it didn’t need to be kicked!) or lost a child (Happy Father’s Day, everyone!).

Hey, HBO, it’s kind of B.S. to drop that ending on this particular holiday.

Alas, “Game of Thrones” fans love their television twisted, so writer Ryan Condal and director Alan Taylor needed to end on a controversial note. If you want blood, you got it. At least it’s off screen. Bloodthirsty fans will be left craving more violence, bored by such a slow-burning opener, but not me; I actually prefer the castle politics.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see this season open with the Night’s Watch, a refreshing setting compared to the dark corridors of the castles that mostly made up last season.

The duty of the men on The Wall is always admirable, but the line about a 700-foot ice wall “keeping out Death” lacks stakes because we all know how the Night King battle ends (although we couldn’t see much of it with that dimly-lit cinematography at the end of “G.O.T.”).

OK, now I’m rehashing old complaints. Clearly, I’m still not over Daenerys Targaryen’s abrupt heel turn in 2019, but let’s instead be grateful. Overall, this franchise has brought us countless moments of joy, shock and awe with memorable characters and theme music for the ages.

It’s hard to believe that we are now in Westeros for our tenth season — and an 11th is on the way as HBO renewed “House of Dragon” for a third season before the second season even aired. If you play the “Game of Thrones,” you never quite die.

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews the Season 2 premiere of 'House of the Dragon' (Part 2)

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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