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House of the Dragon: season two, episode four recap – dragons rain hell in a truly terrific hour of TV
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House of the Dragon: season two, episode four recap – dragons rain hell in a truly terrific hour of TV

Spoiler alert: this recap is for people watching House of the Dragon. Do not read on unless you have watched season two, episode four.

‘I inherited 80 years of peace from my father. Before I was to end it, I needed to know there was no other path’

Now you’re talking. After one scene-setting season and three pressure-cooker episodes (not to mention eight seasons of Game of Thrones), we come to it at last: full-bore, teeth-snapping, wing-flapping, blood-spattering, fire-breathing, army-immolating, King-slaying dragon-on-dragon action. Yes, we witnessed Lucerys’s death at the hands and claws of Aemond and Vhagar in season one, but that was as much horrible accident as intentional slaying. There’s nothing inadvertent about this midair dogfight: finally, we get to see the dragons as weapons of war, fully armoured combat machines brought to life by the best special effects HBO’s budget can buy. And it’s absolutely magnificent.

Before we can get there, though, there’s lots to attend to. Daemon (Matt Smith) remains at Harrenhal, trying his best to raise an army. Sadly, the only people who seem to have one to hand are either too old or too young to make the necessary decisions, or, like Lord Blackwood, they demand the brutal massacre of their family’s enemies first. Daemon is still having visions – of young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), of the Iron Throne, of himself in the guise of Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell). At least we now have a pretty good idea who’s responsible: the bastard enchantress and part-time Maester of Harrenhal, Alys Rivers (Gayle Rankin), a woman willing to speak more frankly to the King Consort than anyone other than his wife. Has she actually bewitched Daemon, though, or did that cup contain something more potent than a sleeping draught?

‘Do you think simply wearing the crown imbues you with wisdom?’

Putting his brother to shame … Ewan Mitchell as Aemond Targaryen.View image in fullscreen

Meanwhile, on Driftmark, the significance of the Hull brothers Alyn (Abubakar Salim) and Addam (Clinton Liberty) becomes clearer, as we learn via Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best) that they are the bastard children of her husband the Sea Snake, Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint). After the revelation last week that loudmouthed wino Ulf (Tom Bennett) also has royal blood in his veins, there’s clearly a theme emerging. Anyway, the Velaryons don’t stay long in their ancestral home before heading back to Dragonstone to deal with Rhaenyra’s court, all of whom, including the young heir Prince Jacaerys (Harry Collett), are dying to prove their worth as war chiefs in the Queen’s absence.

Back at the Red Keep, King Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) has much the same ambition. Frustrated by his small council’s reluctance to let him steer the course of the conflict – and by their willingness to let his younger brother Aemond do just that – Aegon acts out, raging at Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) for allowing Daemon to take Harrenhal and accusing Aemond of plotting to usurp his authority. Aemond’s response – using his fluency in High Valyrian to put Aegon to shame – was just perfect, an act of pure brotherly brutality with horribly unforeseen consequences.

‘This war will not be won with dragons alone, but with dragons flying behind armies of men’

Matthew Needham as Lord Larys Strong.View image in fullscreen

As expected, the realisation that King Viserys never changed his mind about Rhaenyra’s accession has begun to gnaw at the Dowager Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke). It must be said, however, that expressing her doubts to a slippery eel such as Ser Larys might not have been the best policy. He’s bound to find a way to use it against her, as he surely will the knowledge that she’s been drinking moon tea – the Westeros equivalent of the morning-after pill – to deal with the potential arrival of yet another royal bastard, whose father, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), is now rampaging through the Crownlands with an army at his back.

It’s made clear this week that although Ser Criston may be strategically incompetent in matters of the heart, his skill at executing warfare is actually pretty impressive. With three castles conquered and a fourth – the seemingly insignificant Rook’s Rest – on the block, Cole appears to be waging the entire war single-handed, albeit with the advice of Prince Aemond, and the less welcome interference of his posh and prattling companion Gwayne Hightower (Freddie Fox). But it’s only when battle is joined, and Ser Criston’s forces begin their daylight march on Rook’s Rest, that the truly fiendish nature of his and Aemond’s plan reveals itself.

‘Attack, Meleys’

Eve Best as Princess Rhaenys Targaryen and Steve Toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon.View image in fullscreen

Thank the gods, then, that Rhaenyra didn’t follow through on her initial desire to go into battle herself – though it might have been fun to see Queen take on King, her fate would surely have been the same as the one that awaited Rhaenys and her dragon Meleys. There’s not a whole lot to say about the climactic dragon fight itself – it was glorious, tense and thrilling, superbly designed and punchily cut together, as flawless an action sequence as we’ve seen in 10 seasons.

Aemond’s brutal decision to hold back and let his brother face Meleys alone was a magnificent tension-raiser, though exactly why Rhaenys chose to remain in the fight against Vhagar rather than cutting and running back to Dragonstone was perplexing. Maybe she was regretting her earlier choice not to burn Aegon’s entire family when she had the chance, or perhaps she is just such a tough cookie she couldn’t stomach the idea of backing down. Either way, the outcome of all this remains unclear: will Aemond now claim the throne in his brother’s place? What vengeance will Corlys demand for his wife? For the first time this season, I’m absolutely clawing my eyes out to know.

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Additional notes

Tom Glynn-Carney as King Aegon.View image in fullscreen

Before you say it, yes, I’ve read Fire and Blood. But I can’t for the life of me recall the specifics of this particular turn in the story – I remembered that Aegon died unexpectedly, but not when, or how, or exactly what happens afterwards.

Speaking of Aegon, the late King’s decision to turn his drinking buddies into Kingsguard knights continues to pay dividends: that brief shot of them bumping into one another like Keystone Cops was priceless.

There really ought to be some kind of law against being drunk in charge of a dragon. Still, whatever the penalty, Aegon paid it and then some.

In the first season, the whole Song of Ice and Fire prophecy felt rather extraneous, a clumsy way of linking House of the Dragon to its progenitor. But I’m impressed with the way the writers have made the prophecy central to events here, using it to bolster not just Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne but her entire justification for engaging in this seemingly pointless war.

Nudity count

Not a solitary sausage.

Violence count

Oh, yes. Not just the climactic conflagration, but two beheadings – firstly of dream-Rhaenyra, then of the Lord of Duskendale – plus a whole heap of bloody corpses left by Ser Criston on his long march.

Random Brit of the week

Gayle Rankin as Alys Rivers.View image in fullscreen

Viewers of GLOW will be more than familiar with Rankin, who plays Alys Rivers here and who appeared for three seasons as the notorious Sheila the She-Wolf (she also played Queen Victoria in The Greatest Showman, weirdly enough). Exactly how a bastard girl from the Riverlands has managed to acquire a broad Paisley accent is unclear, but as always in Westeros, it’s best not to ask.

Source: theguardian.com