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Ravens, Rats, and Revenge: my thoughts on House of the Dragon, Season Two, Episode One, "A Son for a Son".

Ever since that vengeful look from Rhaenyra at the end of Season 1, I’ve been counting the days before the next instalment of House of the Dragon. After one year, seven months, twenty-six days, and twenty-two hours, Finally, it’s here, and it did not disappoint.

Final scenes from HotD S1

We have new opening credits with an amazing animation of a tapestry – grim and beautiful, just like the show itself. The muted colours – red dominating, like blood spilling everywhere – reflect the grim darkness of the cinematography, in which you always feel as though another few hundred lights wouldn’t go astray. Even so, I love that gritty style.

The Targaryen Tapestry

Like all the franchise’s openings, it’s an impressive piece of art that tells the tale of war – Targaryen style. It calls to mind the Bayeux Tapestry, and may even be a nod to it?

The Bayeux Tapestry

Next, we see a raven gliding over a misty landscape – a shot we’ve seen many times in Game of Thrones, and I immediately thought of that eerie opening in Season 1, Episode 4 when Bran dreams of the three-eyed raven. Sure enough, the raven heralds the north, and we get a look at Winterfell and then the Wall where Rhaenyra’s son Jacaerys begs Cregan Stark to support his mother’s claim to the throne. The Wall looks just as grim as ever, dare I say more so, and I wonder if it will have more than a passing role to play in this saga.

In the south, the Velaryons have blockaded the straits, cutting off King’s Landing from supply. So acts of war are already simmering. Daemon simmers too. He wants to act – not unlike his nephews and enemies, Aemond and Aegon. I was struck, once again, in this episode by the parallels between Aemond and Daemon – both brooding, silver-haired soldiers who need to act. To fight. But Rhaenys, ever prudent, denies Daemon’s “command” to fly with him to attack Aemond immediately, reminding Daemon he is not king.

Mostly, this episode is a flowing tale, with each scene connecting with the next, but there are a couple of standout scenes that cut away from the main narrative. Like when Corlys Velaryon questions a shipbuilder called Alyn who has a very bald head – and I wonder if it is bald for a very particular reason.

If there’s one thing this franchise does well, it’s foreshadowing, and this episode may be filled with more of it than we presently know. One piece of foreshadowing unfolds in full in this episode. At the start, Helaena declares in her enigmatic way that she is afraid, not of enemy dragons, but of rats. The reason why turns out to be pinpoint accurate and more deadly than we could have guessed.

But before I get to the grisly end, let’s talk about a few more characters, starting with Aegon. The young king has changed. So much so, I was beginning to think him a completely new character, and my scepticism wasn’t sitting well. He wants to return to the shepherd his tithe of goats (sheep). He wants to pay the smiths handsomely – all causing friction with his grandfather, Hand of the King, Otto Hightower (how many royal grandfathers played Hand of the King during Westeros’s history, I wonder?). All this to say, I almost found Aegon’s new magnanimity unconvincing until we learn from his mother, the dowager queen Alicent Hightower, that Aegon’s new behaviour is a "novelty of rule" act – which does seem credible.

And what of Queen Rhaenyra? After finding the remains of her son, Lucerys and his dragon Arrax, Rhaenyra can finally grieve him. Her grief is strong and prevents her from taking part meaningfully in the small (war) council. Though one thing is apparent with the single line of dialogue that comes from Rhaenyra this episode – she wants revenge. It struck me how human that emotion is, but as we soon see, how diabolical it can be if met. Rhaenyra has always been a very hands-on and warm mother, and I wondered if this could ultimately prove an impediment to being queen. She cannot put her grief to one side to lead the realm, and this may turn out to be a very consequential thing indeed.

Episode One reminds us this is a story about friendship turned sour. The two friends at the centre of the tale, now enemies, are both mothers who love their sons. As Rhaenyra and her family cremate what remains of Lucerys, Alicent lights a candle for him. It is a small touch showing she still holds a flame of affection, however small, for her childhood friend.

Daemon, as always, demonstrates his passions through action and he wants to give the woman he loves what she wants – a son for a son. So Helaena’s rats come to bear meaning when he employs the rat catchers (called Blood and Cheese in the books) to grant Rhaenyra’s much-desired vengeance.

In a fantastic tracking shot, we follow the rat catchers through the sewers and secret tunnels so reminiscent of King’s Landing in GoT, which ends in a gruesome scene that is difficult to view even when offscreen. Those murderous sound effects, Helaena’s terror, and the tense music culminate into yet another dire episode ending – the murder of the king's son.

Other thoughts:

  • Best line – Daemon’s instruction to the rat catchers to find Aemond and kill him – “He has silver hair and one eye. Should be easy enough to find.”
  • Presumably Alicent’s faith is the main reason she wants to never again do what she does with Criston Cole. Clearly, when they appear naked in bed together, such faith wasn’t strong enough to make her words stick. Will the fact her daughter now knows of their affair stop her?
  • That agent of patricide and fratricide, Larys Strong, is still lingering in the shadows, giving us the creeps. He has his eye on Otto’s job. How far will he go to get it?
  • Dragons! Some fantastic long shots of the fiery beasts in this one. Syrax's mournful cry for Arrax was sad.

More ponderings next week :) If you'd like to get early access to my review for Episode 2, consider joining my epic fantasy membership. Do you have some thoughts on Episode 1? Feel free to post them below.