House of the Dragon season 2 episode 2 triumphs where the premiere failed

Photograph by Theo Whitman/HBO
Photograph by Theo Whitman/HBO /

House of the Dragon season 2 episode 2, “Rhaenyra the Cruel,” has pretty much the same structure as the premiere, “A Son for a Son.” Except this time it is the Greens who must struggle through the first days of grief after an unconscionable act is committed. 

Personally, I found that the anticipated “Blood and Cheese” moment did not live up to what one would expect from a scene where a child is beheaded. But the sequences of the aftermath of such news traveling were solid in this episode. From there, Otto Hightower attempts to sway the populace and the surrounding kingdoms to their side by depicting Rhaenyra as a ruthless pretender to the throne who is low enough to go after an innocent. And it works, for a brief moment, and then Aegon impulsively kills all the rat catchers that work in the castle since he is unable to narrow down which one was responsible for the murder of his son.

The bodies hang in King’s Landing lined up side-by-side as a supposed show of his might and as a warning to those who dare strike at him and his family. But whatever sympathy he may have garnered from the small folk who attended the procession of the young prince’s body and looked upon the grieving Helaena and Alicent, has been squandered which threw Otto into a fit of rage. Spiteful and yet truthful in his assessment of Aegon’s folly and his being unfit for the throne, Otto managed to talk himself out of his position as Hand to the king much to his ire.

Criston Cole is now Aegon’s appointed advisor in his stead which is one of the poorer decisions Aegon has made. But he liked that Criston sent Arryk on what could only truly be described as a suicide mission to go assassinate Rhaenyra in her own castle. To Aegon, at least someone was willing to do something and that’s a trait he prizes no matter how foolhardy the plan seems.

The most compelling scene in “Rhaenyra the Cruel,” besides Otto’s glorious rant before his grandson and Rhaenyra and Daemon getting into it about the latter “wounding” the former’s position and the true nature of their relationship, was the episode ending, fatal sword fight between the twins, Erryk and Arryk.

Last episode, the issue I had with “Blood and Cheese” was that it was missing emotional intensity. For a scene in which a child was murdered, it fell completely flat despite how horrific said action was. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case for the fight between the two brothers who had both sworn their fealty to differing sides of this war.

I think, in a small way, this is because we know the twins a bit and we got to see the mechanization of how this was all going to go down. Mysaria spotted Arryk just as she was leaving, having been freed by Rhaenyra. Because of the moment the two women shared over Daemon and his lack of follow through and Mysaria admitting she no longer wanted to be of consequence because of how quickly all she’d accomplished for herself was taken, we pretty much knew someone would be warned in time.

But we still got to see Arryk pass as his brother to get into the castle and avoid him in order not to get caught. And when he finally did enter the room to attempt to assassinate Rhaenyra, and Erryk showed up moments later, there was pay off to their clash. The tension was high, there was a lot of momentum and it became difficult to tell which twin was which. Seemingly this was the point as it’s not clear whether Erryk did kill his brother to protect Rhaenyra and then killed himself because he couldn’t handle his actions. Or if Arryk killed his twin and could no longer carry out his mission due to grief over the lengths he went for King Aegon and therefore killed himself.

Either way, the moment is tragic. We feel the same gut punch of shock and devastation that Rhaenyra does as the surviving brother moves far too quickly to be stopped before he, too, is gone. Discord, tragedy, pain, and death. That is what this war has brought and will continue to produce as it goes on. Erryk and Arryk’s fatal fight underscored this well and set us up for episode 3 where war is knocking at the door.