‘House Of The Dragon’ Season 2, Episode 2 Recap And Review: ‘I Love You Brother’

Following the formula set up in last week’s Season 2 premiere of House Of The Dragon, the series gives us another episode of mostly politicking and setup punctuated at the very end with extreme violence. This scene, however, was a lot more fun than last week’s traumatizing child-murder. That’s not to say the scene was pleasant, but I’d rather watch two knights fighting than that grisly Blood and Cheese scene any day.

Spoilers follow.

We’ll start at the end this week, since it’s certainly the moment everyone will be talking about after the episode airs on HBO and Max. Arryk (Luke Tittensor) and Erryk (Elliot Tittensor) Cargyll’s fight to the death worked shockingly well, largely thanks to the excellent—nay, perfect—casting of these two knights, twins in real life and on the show.

The Cargyll’s were each sworn Kingsguard knights to the previous ruler, King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) but when the Hightowers pulled their little coup at the end of last season, the two brothers each chose different queens to support. Erryk, disillusioned with Aegon’s (Tom Glynn-Carney) frequent trips to brothels and illicit fights where impoverished children fight for the amusement of others, tries to convince his brother, Arryk, to support Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) but he’s unyielding. He swore an oath and is unwilling to break it, no matter the prince’s “proclivities.”

(Quick note: I would be annoyed with Mom and Dad Cargyll for naming their sons in the most confusing fashion imaginable, but I’m going to just pin this one on George R.R. Martin who had a lot of fun with names in his book Fire and Blood, including a whole lineage of Tullys with names like Grover, Oscar and Elmo).

Disenchanted with Aegon, Erryk fled King’s Landing and traveled to Dragonstone, pledging his allegiance to Rhaenyra and becoming one of her Queensguard. Arryk remained behind, though in tonight’s episode he probably should have realized that whether or not he can support Aegon, remaining under the iron fist of the petty Lord Commander, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) is a bad idea. Cole, angry that the young prince Jaehaerys was murdered under his watch, seeks someone to blame and when he notices that Arryk’s white cloak is muddy—he was guarding the Queen Dowager, Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Queen Helaena (Phia Saban) on their grief parade through the city—he decides that Arryk will bear the brunt of his ire.

Not only does Cole order the knight to go tend to his cloak before eating, he devises a mission for him on the spot: He’s to make his way to Dragonstone, infiltrating the fortress by pretending to be his twin brother, and there slaughter Rhaenyra. Arryk balks at this—he is a knight, not an assassin—but Cole won’t bend, and sends him on the suicide mission without consulting Aegon or the Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans).

When Arryk arrives, he’s almost called out by the White Worm, Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) as she passes, having just been in the castle with his brother and the Queen. I kept waiting for her to sound the alarm, but she never does, unless we’re meant to understand that she does offscreen, which is why help shows up in time.

Arryk makes his way to Rhaenyra’s bedchambers, where he relieves the knight on duty and then enters her room, drawing his sword as he approaches. Just then, Erryk bursts into the room as well and the two fight in one of the best combat scenes this show has offered up yet. What makes it so great is the fact that pretty quickly the two men, who look almost identical, are almost impossible to tell apart. Those of us watching certainly can’t tell, but neither can the onlookers who rush to the fray in order to help Rhaenyra. The heat of battle, the armor, the ferocity of the fight, all make their similarities—which perhaps we could see past in a moment of calm—impossible to distinguish.

“I can’t tell which is which!” one of Rhaenyra’s Queensguard exclaims. Neither can I! It adds another level of tension to the fight. If one kills the other, is Erryk protecting Rhaenyra, or Arryk here to kill her? In the end, they kill one another, though the last man standing turns to Rhaenyra and asks her forgiveness before throwing himself on his blade. Was it Erryk begging forgiveness for ending his life, thus robbing her of one of her protectors? Or was it Arryk, in shock and grief at the death of his brother finally realizing that it wasn’t worth it. “We are one soul split into two bodies,” Arryk told Cole earlier (I’m paraphrasing). These silly oaths. As though Criston Cole would ever uphold his own.

Elsewhere in the episode we get the parade of grief I mentioned earlier. Otto Hightower thought it would drum up the sympathy of the smallfolk to publicly display the prince’s body in a procession that almost goes very badly. And not just sympathy, but anger at Rhaenyra for the assassination, which Otto has made very public, sending ravens far and wide to denounce the act. It’s a plan that almost works, until Aegon has all the ratcatchers hung outside the Red Keep, despite most of them being innocent (though Cheese was also hung; we see his poor dog there, whining while it looks at his dangling corpse).

Otto is furious but he takes it too far, berating the young king until Aegon has had enough. “You were my father’s Hand, not mine,” he says. Larys Strong, the Clubfoot, is about to become even more powerful it seems. Otto leaves for Hightower, dismayed at his grandson’s (completely unsurprising) rashness. This is the bed that Otto himself made; he has only himself to blame.

In Dragonstone, Rhaenyra is furious with her uncle-husband, Daemon (Matt Smith) over the role he played in the prince’s death, though he denies telling Blood and Cheese that any son will do. Daemon is a liar, however, so we don’t know what he actually said. They argue and he leaves for Harrenhal to raise armies and prepare for war.

Outside of the courts of power, we get several scenes with Alyn of Hull (Abubakar Salim) and his brother Adamm (Clinton Liberty). We also see the dire straits that the blacksmith Hugh Hammer (Kieran Bew) finds himself in, with no money and a sickly daughter.

At this point, we’re just getting to know these characters. The reason we’re getting to know them isn’t clear (and while I know it, having read the book, I’m not going to spoil it here. They are important characters! You’ll find out why soon enough!)

All told, this was another somewhat slow episode but that doesn’t really bother me. I’ve accepted that House of the Dragon is simply a very different beast than Game Of Thrones. We’re still in the lead-up to war, and I suspect that once we get there, and all the battles on sky and on the land break out, things will get a lot bloodier and crazier.

I think the one complaint that I share with some viewers is that I have a hard time caring much about the characters. There are very few that really make you want to root for them, like the Stark kids did, or Brienne or later-Jaime Lannister, or Tyrion or Jon Snow or Daenerys (mostly) or the Hound and so forth.. Thrones is filled with rich characters that Martin fleshed out and gave shape to in his books.

Fire & Blood’s characters are just people in a history book, and the HBO adaptation—while it does certainly give them a lot more to do and a lot more depth—doesn’t really make us fall in love with any of them. Rhaenyra and her sone Jace (Harry Collett) perhaps, and Daemon’s girls. We root for Daemon because he’s attractive and dangerous, but he’s a bad man at his core. Viserys was a good king, but a weak one. Alicent is relatable but not really likable. There isn’t much comic relief, that’s for sure! Nobody spouts bangers like “I drink and I know things.”

Still, it’s a brilliant show that I find completely absorbs me. It’s a great story even if the characters are a lot less sympathetic than the heroes were in Thrones. That was still heroic fantasy. This is more Shakespearean tragedy.

What did you think of this episode? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook.

First appeared on www.forbes.com

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