House of the Dragon season 2 gets off to a middling start and falls flat with "Blood and Cheese"

House of the Dragon
House of the Dragon /

The fanfare around House of the Dragon's return is well-deserved. When the Game of Thrones prequel launched in 2022, many wondered (myself included) whether or not it'd catch the same successful wave as its predecessor. Obviously, it has. The fervor around the show is a testament to the writing and the performances, particularly Milly Alcock's as young Rhaenyra and Emma D'Arcy's as her adult counterpart.

It was on the strength of the show's freshman finale that anticipation hung. Rhaenyra's son Lucerys had been killed in an ill-advised antagonistic bout with his cousin mid-air that resulted in Aemond's dragon Vhagar viciously attacking Lucerys and Arrax. That action ushered us closer to the Dance of Dragons once Rhaenyra learned of what transpired but the season 2 premiere, "A Son for a Son," pulled the ripcord.

We hovered in grief during the episode which did lead to powerful scenes like Rhaenys' moment with Daemon where she explained Rhaenyra's need to find tangible proof that her child had been taken from this world. Thankfully, we got to see that payoff rather than it being a bit of exposition. Rhaenyra finally coming across one of Arrax's wings and Luke's clothes, which had gotten tangled in a fishing net, was a needed moment.

The weight of her loss was felt immensely. As was Jacaerys' when he broke down in Rhaenyra's presence and Corlys' reaction to seeing the dagger he'd had commissioned for Luke. That's, however, where the impact stopped.

Yes, Alicent lights a candle for Luke and there is a simmering anger she holds for Aemond over what he'd done even as she tries to sweep it under the rug and let her father, Otto, placate her need to remove blame from her son. But very little tension is held for this inciting action in the premiere even though, for Team Black, it is what sets everything into motion. In other words, the episode lacked "propulsion," to use a term from Dan Selcke, Editor of our sister site Winter is Coming and co-host of Take the Black podcast.

In "A Son for a Son," we wind up mired in a setting of the board with all of us waiting at the ready, some certainly chomping at the bit like Daemon and Aemond, to get started. By the time we get to "Blood and Cheese," a harrowing moment in Fire & Blood, it's clear that the season 2 premiere is now putting together the event that will change the situation dramatically for Team Green.

And, yes, the murder of Jaeherys (Aegon and Helaena's son) certainly was an inciting event all its own. But, and I say this as someone who went in unaware of what was about to happen and hadn't read the pages on the event, it fell flat. I remember the horror I felt watching Luke's death, the gasp I let out, the way my eyes had gotten big as it played out, how I'd rewound trying to see if maybe I was wrong and he could somehow survive. I was in denial and then my immediate thought was of Rhaenyra and how she would demand retribution and her throne, seizing it by whatever means necessary.

"Blood and Cheese" gave me none of those feelings and much of it has to do with the scene structure. We move very fast through the build of what's being asked of Helaena, to choose between her children. Then she flees, her daughter in her arms, as she runs to Alicent who is in the middle of having sex with Criston Cole. So those two are clutching sheets as Helaena, in shock, reveals what happened. That's it, that's our catalyst for the Greens' ire and devastation.

But here's the thing. We don't know Jaeherys. We barely know Helaena. The parental bond she and Aegon have with their children is surface level at best. As horrible as it is, there's no emotional weight to the little one's death. While that will likely change in the coming episodes, it doesn't fix the lack of that necessary element in the season 2 premiere.

In an interview with TVLine, House of the Dragon showrunner Ryan Condal explained why they'd removed the ambiguity over whether Daemon meant "a son for a son" as carte blanche to murder Aegon's heir if Blood and Cheese couldn't find Aemond.

"Look, I love the scene in the book. It was deeply affecting the first time I read it. But it does speak to a different Daemon, I think, than the one that we’ve dramatized on screen. Look, he’s capable of some pretty bad stuff, but the moment in the book is so nakedly cruel."

But for me, that's not the book change that caused the scene to suffer. It was the emotional distance from what was depicted. "Blood and Cheese" is nakedly cruel that is the point. Stepping back from that reality gave us a scene where the characters acted and reacted with very little emotion and when a child is being murdered in their bed that's quite the writing choice to make.

A surprising one, to be honest, because that should be nothing but pure emotion, unsettling, horrifying, gut-wrenching emotion and it comes off as one note. As if to say, "Well, that happened," fade to black, see you next week! And that's not the way a viewer should feel after a scene like that.

Now that the pieces have been set on the board, I expect episode 2 of the season is when we'll really start moving since Jaeherys' death is now the catalyst for the blood that's about to be spilled. I just wish how we got there had the impact it should have.

Stay tuned to Hidden Remote for more news and coverage. New episodes of House of the Dragon air Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and stream on Max.

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