The House of the Dragon makes a promising return with ''A Son for a Son''

The first chapter of the second season shows the consequences of the last finale

Image Credit: HBO

“The text below contains spoilers for ‘A Son for a Son’, the first episode of the second season of House of the Dragon.”

The first season of House of the Dragon had its merits, but after watching “A Son for a Son,” the second-year premiere of the Game of Thrones prequel, it's hard not to give credence to the feeling that the first 10 episodes of the series were a great prologue. In addition to immediately establishing a more welcome pace, there is confidence in the narrative; as if Ryan Condal, now the sole showrunner, was anxiously waiting to join Dance of Dragons because that's the real story that interested him. The moment has finally arrived.

Dragons, by the way, don't dance in this first episode, but if the side of Game of Thrones that interests you most is the political maneuvers, motivated both by military advantages and by the characters' uncontrolled passions, there is plenty to appreciate in “A Son for a Son .” It's still too early to say whether this series will ever stop feeling so iterative — the scene of Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) listening to the commoners' petition will quickly bring to mind other young men unqualified for the Iron Throne — but, at least for this week’s minutes, this is a good version of an album comprised of “Greatest Hits.”

The first track is our trip to the North and the Wall — and with a flashback, Winterfell. They are all newcomers to this derivative, as is Cregan Stark (Tom Taylor), who opens the second season by telling Jace Targaryen (Harry Collett) the purpose of the barrier that guards the kingdom from winter and, in his words, death. It's a scene designed for every viewer familiar with Game of Thrones to reproduce that Leonardo DiCaprio meme, recognizing every inch of the prophetic texture of Cregan's speech, which pledges some older soldiers to Jace's mother's cause right before Jace receives a raven. with bad news: your brother has died.

Image Credit: HBO

This is, after all, the death that ends the first season and that will animate the confrontation between the Blacks and Greens, the groups respectively led by Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) and Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), the latter at least spiritually. In practice, Alicent's dominance is challenged from all sides. Her father Otto (Rhys Ifans) doesn't seem to trust her judgement. Her son, King Aegon, is more interested in her impulses. To complete the mess, figures like Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) devise their own plans. The good old Game of Thrones yields some successful moments for the series, more due to the acting of the residents of King’s Landing than the text, never as sharp as it should be. There are figures like Glynn–Carney, competent in his remix of Joffrey, and Needham, in his remix of Littlefinger, compliments that reflect the best and worst aspects of this series: it cannot escape its legacy.

It's a curse worthy of these characters, so trapped by the expectations that both fiction and audience impose on them, but what Condal and his gang find at the beginning of the season is the space to have fun within it. Far from long episodes focused on, say, Fatten Crab and other supporting characters underdeveloped by the script, we jump headfirst into the back and forth that will take the Targaryens from conquerors to exiles, a bloodbath led by the two most bloodthirsty characters in the series: Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) and Daemon (Matt Smith). Perhaps due to the unpredictable nature inherent to their roles, the two are the actors freest from the constraints of destiny, acting free from better-known reflexes and magnetic forces. His scenes are, by far, the most interesting, and his actions the most consequential.

If Aemond was the one who took the last step towards war by using Vhagar to kill Luke at the end of last season, it is Daemon who prepares the first blow, with valuable assistance from Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), returning to the presence of her former lover, for now, just to exchange favors. When Rhaenyra, little used in the episode, returns from her period of mourning, her first demand is Aemond's head, and Daemon is more than happy to help his beloved.

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He does so by hiring two spies in King’s Landing — one of them seen at the beginning of the episode — to transform “A Son for a Son” into something beyond the title. The pair do not find Aemond, but end up encountering Helaena Targaryen (Phia Saban, remarkable in her short time as hers), Aegon's sister and wife, and mother of two twins; a boy and a girl. It's a moment that gives new meaning to the young woman's fear of “rats” in the capital, a statement that initially seemed to point only to the deterioration of her mental state, but which turns, like almost everything in Game of Thrones, into a prophecy.

The twist, of course, is that the son sacrificed in exchange for Luke is the little Jaehaerys, heir of Aegon and Helaena, and grandson of Alicent. Throughout this episode, Alicent is reluctant to embrace complete violence, even trying to justify Aemond's mistake in killing Luke and curbing his father's desire for war. It's hard to imagine her continuing like this after seeing her grandson dead, especially since no one in King's Landing will care to know that the killers didn't initially target the boy.

In other words, it shouldn't take long for violence to move from the halls of palaces to aerial battles. Or, at least, I hope so. If House of the Dragon is going to be a big collection of the most popular parts of Game of Thrones, that's fine. It's better than living in an identity crisis. The start of this season is familiar and safe, but it also offers a clear direction for the future. It was about time.