The following includes spoilers for House of the Dragon Episode 2 “The Rogue Prince”, which was broadcast on HBO on Sunday, August 28.
House of the Dragon Episode 2 “The Rogue Prince” delves more deeply into the character of Daemon and, more significantly, what part he will ultimately play in this narrative. Even in an episode named for the man who would be heir (or King), it’s Rhaenyra—still portrayed by Milly Alcock—who steals the show, along with the dragon egg. Matt Smith plays a Daemon Targaryen that is frustratingly difficult to like and, at the same time, impossible to despise. Even though there will inevitably be similarities to future Targaryens, they are not necessary for her to flourish.
The second episode has a lot less action than the first, but the plot still advances at a respectable clip. Six months have passed after the passing of Queen Emma, and while both King Viserys and Princess Rhaenyra are mourning, they are having a very difficult time uniting in their sorrow. Otto, in the meantime, keeps trying to arrange his chess pieces in a way that will make his daughter Alicent the new Queen. However, Corlys Velaryon has the exact same idea, therefore he is not alone. In the meantime, Rhaenyra is using every opportunity to establish her viability as the sole heir, even if that means challenging her uncle Daemon to attempt the blow that would do so.
Of course, Daemon rejects the offer. It’s difficult to tell if this is because he is wise enough to refrain or because he is presently so enamored with his niece. In “Heirs of the Dragon,” Daemon already looked to have a soft place for Rhaenyra, but in “The Rogue Prince,” it almost seems as though he respects Rhaenyra more for her display of might. Daemon has always looked down on his brother Viserys and believes that he is the finest candidate to be king since he admires strength. The argument is intense and captivating in a nearly uncomfortable way. Rhaenyra doesn’t exert more pressure, and neither does Daemon. Their verbal communication demonstrates a certain degree of respect and even affection. Even if they are currently at odds, something about the two of them makes each sees the other as a kindred soul. It’s not even close to being the end of their story, so it’s obvious.
Despite all that Rhaenyra accomplishes in “The Rogue Prince” to win the respect of her father and the kingdom, one gets the impression that she will never really succeed in reaching her goals, at least not with anyone other than Daemon. Rhaenys Velaryon, who has been in the same situation as Rhaenyra and has learned what it takes to be who she is, makes this very plain. Not that the young princess is prepared mentally to take the advice. Everyone around Rhaenys has their own motive, even her. Nobody can be trusted by Rhaenyra Targaryen, which is probably for the best.
It’s difficult to avoid the comparisons to Daenerys Targaryen, and House of the Dragon really invites them. However, this is a different story than Daenerys’, so even while readers of the novels already know how the main characters will end up, that doesn’t mean the television program won’t have any surprises to offer. One of which—possibly the first and most significant—is how simple it is to relate to characters whose outcomes most people already know or can easily learn from the source material.
The credit belongs to a fantastic cast that captivates you completely. As relatable as Viserys, played by Paddy Considine, has a Targaryen King ever been? Nothing about him resembles the Viserys from Game of Thrones that fans will be familiar with. The name now belongs to a king fans can see fighting to do the right thing in a world where the proper decision is immensely more complicated than it seems, unlike Viserys, who was just someone viewers liked to despise. While Emily Carey, Rhys Ifans, Steve Toussaint, and Eve Best put up their best efforts to make the most of every opportunity to be on screen, Matt Smith and Milly Alcock stand out more than the other actors.
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How can audiences become invested in a tale that has already been written? Not just House of the Dragon, but the upcoming Andor will try to entice viewers to do the same when it debuts next month. House of the Dragon must do what the first two episodes did in order to succeed: develop complicated, compelling characters, place them in ethically troubling circumstances, and then allow the talent of the casting to guide the story. When the time comes, fans will worry about the conclusion.
For the time being, all that counts is that the show entertains viewers while hopefully avoiding the level of violence against women that Game of Thrones was infamous for, and that it leads these characters, who the audience has already grown to care about, on a worthwhile path.
On Sunday, August 28, HBO aired the second installment of House of the Dragon. Only HBO Max is currently offering streaming access to the first two episodes.