Editor note: Sean is taking over the reviewing of House of the Dragon.
I shared a lot of similar thoughts Seb wrote down in his review of the premiere of House of the Dragon last week. I thought the story and acting overall were quite good, but the characters themselves didn’t pull me in the same way the Game of Thrones characters did in that show’s pilot. So I wasn’t wowed, but was curious to see where the show was going, as the political machinations were the most interesting element on display.
This week’s episode, The Rogue Prince, doubled down on the politics while also offering some characterization and empathy towards the characters, allowing me to get behind the players far more than last week’s debut.
The crutch of episode 2’s plotline had to deal with King Viserys’ heirs. With his wife now dead six months, the small council begins to suggest he find a new wife to secure his line through heirs. Lord Corlys Velaryon and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen suggest to the King that he should marry their 12-year-old daughter (ew!) to unite their two houses and forge a strong heir. But Viserys isn’t too keen to remarry and Otto Hightower, Hand of the King isn’t too thrilled about Velaryon making moves on the throne…not when he’s in the middle of essentially pimping out his fifteen-year-old daughter (ew again!) to secure their family’s place in the monarchy. Otto is the character whose playing the Game of Thrones the most so far and he manipulates the King so gracefully, dissuading him from marrying Velaryon’s daughter but ensuring his own daughter, Alicent, secures the King’s affections. Otto is definitely a very sleazy character and one not to be trusted, but he’s also one of the most interesting characters on the show. His personal smile when Viserys announces the union is great, as he’s so proud that his little manipulation was a success.
She ultimately does by the end, as Viserys announces their engagement in the small council chamber, infuriating Velaryon and alienating Rhaenyra, who over the last six months, grew from resistant to the idea of ruling to eager to change the status quo of the realm. Rhaernyra was one of the weaker aspects of last week’s episode for me, as I found her to be bland, but her transition from uninterested to eager and even resentful in this episode offered much more nuance to her character. Her interruption of Otto’s standoff with Prince Daemon at Dragonstone was great. She was able to take back the stolen dragon egg from her uncle without shedding blood, something that seemed inevitable at that point. Otto may be great at manipulating the courts, but he’s not the greatest diplomat either. Rhaernyra proved that she can win conflicts by tact and negotiation, rather than brute force and threats. Time will tell if her actions grant her more respect at the small council, as they’ve often omitted her from meetings or relegated her still to the cupbearer, despite being the heir. It’ll be interesting to see where her character goes in the Dance of Dragons (for the record, I have not read Fire and Blood yet so I don’t know the outcome of the Civil War that’s to come).
Also worth mentioning is the cinematography in this sequence, set against a striking sunset. As a criticism though, I’ve noticed the CGI backgrounds on this show pales in comparison to Game of Thrones. Too often I find the CGI noticeable, especially when it comes to the shots of King’s Landing. Unlike Game of Thrones, which was filmed in Dubrovnik and used CG to enhance the practical shots, King’s Landing and other landscape shots are entirely digital this time and it shows. The same can be said for this week’s scene at Dragonstone, which used to film in Spain but is very apparently a studio now. Apart from the noticeable backgrounds, the studio lighting just seems that much more obvious this time around. House of the Dragon definitely feels cheaper in comparison to the original series and it’s a shame there’s not more practical photography.
Elsewhere in the episode, we learn of a threat from the east, as a Pirate known as the Crab Feeder (he feeds people to crabs) is pillaging Westeros and Viserys has yet to take action against him or against his brother, showcasing a much more passive and inactive King and that’s something people are starting to notice. Both the Crab Feeder and Viscerys’ lack of action is being framed as bigger plot points down the line and are something that Velarion will use to his advantage now that he’s seemingly allied with the titular rogue prince, Daemon. After Viserys rejects the union between their families, Velaryon seeks out a new ally in Daemon. I wonder how this arc will play out and if the Crab Feeder is just a sinister pirate dude or if there’s going to be something more to him.
I found episode 2, The Rogue Prince, to be a much talkier episode than the debut, but one that gave us more character nuance and pushed the story forwards. I felt more invested and am eager for next week’s episode now. Oh-and it was nice to have the classic theme song play at the front of the episode, even if the title sequence itself didn’t pull me in the way Game of Thrones’ map did.
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