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What to Remember Before Premiere

What to Remember Before Premiere

As a warrior queen once screamed, “Where are my dragons?”

It’s the question that’s lingered for Game of Thrones franchise fans for almost two years now, as the audience eagerly awaits for the second season of prequel series House of the Dragon to drop. Well, good news, friends: It’s almost here! June 16 is the big date, with the war between Team Black and Team Green finally kicking into overdrive, and plenty of those ferocious winged beasts fueling the fight along.

Of course, now comes the next question: “Great, so, uh, remind me what happened?”

The first season finale released in October 2022. Two years is a long time in TV land. Heck, two days is a long time in TV land, with whole seasons binge-dropping in their entirety left and right — let alone trying to identify the next water-cooler show. At the very least, Westeros is nothing if not an enormous water cooler for all of us to gather around. For anyone who needs a refresher on where things stand heading into season two of showrunner Ryan Condal’s House of the Dragon, grab a cup and fill up. 

In the Beginning…

House of the Dragon opened up with a prologue set years before the main events of the series, which is a bit of a misleading statement because the main events of season one itself spanned several decades. The show initially followed the trials and tribulations of Viserys Targaryen, played by Paddy Considine, a man who was named king despite seemingly not wanting much to do with the job; but better a man than a well-qualified woman, according to the Seven Kingdoms voters, as Viserys was crowned in favor of his cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best), who had a better claim and a better handle on the responsibilities (if not for that pesky patriarchy problem).

Viserys’ ascent to the throne proved quite problematic, despite the fact that his actual reign was relatively peaceful throughout the realm. Viserys inherited the Iron Throne from a king who ruled peacefully over the course of several decades, and perhaps that helps explain why so many different folks, large and small, spent the years plotting and scheming their way to the power center of Westeros.

Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen in House of the Dragon.

Courtesy of Ollie Upton/HBO

The King is Dead! Long Live…?

Season one explored the entirety of Viserys’ reign, primarily through the points of view of two young women: Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy/Milly Alcock) and Alicent (Olivia Cooke/Emily Carey), the king’s daughter and her best friend, respectively. Rhaenyra is named heir to the throne after a horrible family tragedy and, in due time, Alicent is named Viserys’ wife, much to her childhood friend’s chagrin. The rift between Rhaenyra and Alicent only widens over the years through a tragedy of errors, whether it’s as simple as miscommunicated sentiments or as horrific as one of their children stabbing the other one’s kid in the eye. (Even with a new name, Game of Thrones is gonna Game of Thrones.)

It gets worse. Eventually, Viserys dies as a decrepit old man, still with Rhaenyra as his named successor. However, on his death bed, he recites “A Song of Ice and Fire,” an ancient Targaryen prophecy (and the name of author George R.R. Martin’s book series on which Game of Thrones is based) that foretells of the White Walker threat that this audience is now very familiar with. In hearing this, Alicent believes Viserys actually wants their son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney/Ty Tennant) on the Iron Throne, misunderstanding that her dying husband is actually referring to the original Aegon the Conqueror, and has not at all changed his mind about Rhaenyra.

So, a messy situation gets even messier when Alicent decides to honor what she truly believes to be her husband’s dying wishes, by setting the crown on her son Aegon’s head. And when the news of his coronation reaches Rhaenyra’s ears… oh, it’s not good at all, folks.

War Comes to Westeros

Who is in charge of the realm now? Is it Rhaenyra, who long ago was named successor, and has trained her entire life to protect the Seven Kingdoms both in law and in action, with an eye toward the ominous threat lurking north of the Wall? Is it Aegon, Viserys’ eldest son, who sits upon the literal throne in King’s Landing, with a conqueror’s name and a gender supporting his argument? And, who is going to get incinerated the moment they insert themselves into the argument?

At this point, you’re now caught up with the stakes heading into season two, as those are the exact questions on the show’s mind. Gone are the days of copious time jumps where you have to track which new actor is playing which old character. We’re locked into the war zone now, with House of the Dragon expected to follow a pace much closer to the Game of Thrones of old. The circumstances are not unlike the transition between Thrones’ first two seasons, when King Robert died, leaving a power gap filled by the War of the Five Kings. This time, there are only two folks vying for the throne, but they’re related by blood, and everyone in their family has a different opinion. It’s not unlike the animosity found at Thanksgiving tables all across the American realm these days, except your crazy MAGA uncle doesn’t have a dragon at his disposal. (Probably.)

Anyway… war! And there are already casualties heading into season two, the big one being Rhaenyra’s son, Luke (Elliot Grihault/Harvey Sadler), the aforementioned boy who stabbed his cousin in the eye once upon a while. Klingons like their revenge served cold; Targaryens prefer it hot, but they’ll take what they can get, as evidenced by Luke’s cousin Aemond Ewan/Mitchell Leo Ashton) high-flying the largest dragon in the realm, Vhagar, directly into Luke’s path, eating and killing the little prince. Alicent’s child has now killed Rhaenyra’s child, during the only reasonable time for peace to settle between the two sides, promising an awful and violent start to the new season.

Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) in House of the Dragon.

Courtesy of Ollie Upton/HBO

Which Side Are You On?

And so, House of the Dragon season two is the Civil War of Westeros, and it’s time to pick a side. Are you Team Black, supportive of Rhaenyra’s claim, honoring her father’s dying wish for his daughter to become the first Queen of the Seven Kingdoms? Are you Team Green, supportive of Aegon’s claim, backing a dude who is ill-fit for the job and was absolutely not his father’s chosen successor and is in fact sitting on a completely stolen seat that rightly belongs to Rhaenyra?

Clearly, I’ve picked my side. And now, you must decide where you stand as the dragons rev back online, booting up for hellfire and brimstone.

The powers that be behind the House of the Dragon marketing really want you to choose between Team Black and Team Green, though in truth, the answer is probably more subtle than that, isn’t it? At its best, House of the Dragon illustrates the communication breakdown that often leads to such violent conflict, with folks who once loved each other and considered themselves friends, if not much more, eventually coming for each other’s heads. There’s a lesson to be learned in all of this, if you look between the copious bloodshed leveled by Rhaenyra and Alicent’s respective champions Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) and Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel).

The lesson continues on June 16 when season two begins its eight-episode reign over the summer.

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