House Of The Dragon Allows The Targaryens To Get Bloody In 'Second Of His Name'

Is anybody else experiencing whiplash? In between the first two episodes of "House of the Dragon," we skipped ahead 6 months to explore the aftermath of Queen Aemma's death. Since we know from promos and trailers that the season will eventually get around to aging up Rhaenyra and Alicent, time skips were always a given but I didn't expect them to feel quite so jarring. When we're welcomed back to Westeros with "Second of His Name," three years have elapsed, a baby boy is turning two, and Westeros has reluctantly entered a war in the Stepstones.

Not everything is laid out in great detail, but the story isn't difficult to track. King Viserys (Paddy Considine) has finally gotten the son he always dreamt of, now that he's happily married to Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey). But young Prince Aegon has come at the cost of ruining both of their relationships with Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), who resentfully keeps her distance, awaiting the day when her father will replace her as heir. Over on the Stepstones, the war clearly isn't going great since it's been waging on for three years but at least Daemon (Matt Smith) has the pleasure of raining fire down on his enemies with Caraxes. Unfortunately, thanks to caves and his home-field advantage, the Crabfeeder and his army are basically unkillable. So the war wages on.

Ultimately, the time gap isn't difficult to fill and we quickly get caught up on the broad strokes of life since "The Rogue Prince." Still, I can't help but feel cheated out of extra time with these characters. Part of this is just because I'd love more time with Milly Alcock and Emily Carey but also, wouldn't the events of this episode hold more weight if we'd spent more time watching Daemon fail at war? Or watched Rhaenyra's resentment for Aegon bubble over time? We've been robbed of the awkward family dinners with Rhaenyra and her former bestie! We barely get to explore the minutiae of how Corlys Velaryon leads a fleet into battle! We get by without those details, but that richness is still missed. Alas, there's plenty of discontent to go around in "Second of His Name," and we do get plenty of time to revel in bad Targaryen emotions.

Yup, another crisis of succession

The lords of Westeros don't waste any time: the second they get an option that doesn't involve bending the knee to a woman, they decide to run with it. Aegon still eats porridge with his hands, but the men are already whispering in corners about Viserys naming him heir. Embarrassingly, everyone seems to know this except for the king himself. Rhaenyra is certainly aware — she can sense the tides turning against her and probably has since the day Alicent's first pregnancy was announced.

The problem is that it's not all as nefarious as it sounds; for many of the lords, it's just common sense. If there's a male heir available, why would a woman be allowed to rule? Evidently, second-wave feminism has yet to reach Westeros. Even resident schemer Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) isn't trying to oust Rhaenyra for the sake of fun, but because he knows that placing a crown on her head would make the realm dissolve into chaos. So while the lords and ladies of the court are out on a hunt, celebrating the name day of young Aegon Targaryen, Otto gets to work trying to sway the King in Aegon's direction.

Basically, the men of Westeros believe two things: Aegon Targaryen was born to become king and white stags are magical. Since Viserys is so hesitant to hear them out about the former, everyone starts harping about the white stag that's been spotted in the forest. Killing the rare and regal creature on his birthday would be a surefire sign that the child was meant to rule. This is a pretty solid strategy, especially since we're talking about Viserys here: the man puts a lot of stock in prophecy, so of course, this white stag gets his attention.

Viserys considers his options

Viserys spends pretty much the entire episode in a crisis state. Did he make the right decision in naming Rhaenyra his heir? Or was he too rash? He claims that it wasn't done on a whim, but out of love. In reality, it's more that he was backed into a corner, forced to choose between the possibility of a tyrannical Daemon or his beloved daughter, "the Realm's Delight." But at the time, he had no idea that he'd remarry and have a son. What does this mean for his dream? As he drunkenly confesses to Alicent, Viserys puts more stock in prophecy than dragons. Weird position for the head of the Targaryen family to take, but it's obviously true — he wants to believe that he is a dreamer and really did see a vision of the future. But if that's true and his initial interpretation of the dream is sound, then Rhaenyra shouldn't be his heir.

Poor Viserys. All of this is way too much to handle. In an ideal world, he could just enjoy his son's birthday, go on a nice little hunt, enjoy a feast and return home with his pregnant child bride to build more models. But unfortunately, everyone spends the episode throwing politics in his face. Noting that frustration, Otto comes up with a solution that he imagines will appease everyone: Rhaenyra and her two-year-old brother should get engaged. That way, she would still be queen but more importantly, he would be king (even though we all know she would be thought of as the king's wife and nothing more). Thankfully, Viserys completely laughs this off because Otto, dude, that's an infant. Totally unrelated, but I wonder how old Alicent was when Viserys was Rhaenyra's age?

This also addresses the other issue of the episode — it's time for Rhaenyra to get married. She's 17 and if she waits much longer, she'll be the Westerosi version of an old maid! Also, royal marriages are political and Viserys is drowning in letters from lords with accomplished sons. Speaking of which, has anybody noticed the lack of blonde narcissists in this show? Well, worry no longer, because twins Jason and Tyland Lannister (Jefferson Hall) are here to save the day. Presumably, Jason has a chat with Viserys about wooing the Princess but he botches it so bad (by bragging about his money) that Rhaenyra starts a very public argument with her father, then storms off into the woods. What a charmer.

The plight of the dragon princess

Rhaenyra, who has lost her confidant in Alicent, spends an evening in the forest with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), her very attentive Kinsguard knight aka the only one who notices her fleeing the camp and manages to chase after her on horseback. Beyond his companionship, Rhaenyra has become very isolated. While the lords continue to ignore her, she doesn't seem especially liked by the ladies of the court. They respond much more kindly to Alicent, who speaks softly and listens to their gossip while Rhaenyra bristles and bites back at their jabs against her father. She rightfully fears that she'll never be accepted as queen and later, releases some of her pent-up anger by stabbing the hell out of a boar.

The dual hunting scenes put Viserys' passivity in direct contrast to Rhaenyra's entire personality: he struggles to kill a stag being held down by three other men. He needs guidance on where and how many times to stab the defenseless animal as it cries out for its life. Meanwhile, Rhaenyra is attacked by a wild boar actively trying to kill her. Ser Criston might be the one to deliver the first blow, but Rhaenyra doesn't hesitate in grabbing a dagger and gutting the creature until she's entirely covered in blood.

It gives a lot of weight to Ser Cole's words: when she asks him if the realm will ever accept her as queen, he doesn't offer a passionate speech about her abilities or speak of politics. He very simply says, "They'll have no choice but to." He might have a point. Rhaenyra has a killer instinct that her father lacks. Her reign is something that she is willing to defend. But that's not to say that she's brutal just for the sake of it — in the end, she's the one to discover the regal white stag and chooses to let it go free. Maybe it is a divine sign, after all. It certainly helps that, upon returning home, she has another heart-to-heart with her father where he promises not to supplant her as heir and tells her to pick a husband of her choosing. That being said, the last time they had a heart-to-heart, he immediately followed it up by betraying her ...

Daemon earns his glory

Speaking of people covered in blood, Daemon finally gets the crowning moment he's been begging for.

Craghas Crabfeeder is like a boogeyman. A demon. A thing of myth that has reached the ears of the Westerosi. Though he is no imminent threat, still a sea away from the capital, they are at war with him and it seems that everyone is willing to admit as much ... except for King Viserys. Is anyone else noticing a trend of denial with this guy? After three years of pretending the war has little to do with him, Viserys can ignore it no longer when he receives a letter from Corlys Velaryon's brother asking for aid. Alicent of all people is the one who convinces him to get involved. But in doing so, Viserys gets under his brother's skin.

Fighting in the Stepstone was always about winning glory, which is something Daemon can't claim if he only wins with Viserys' help. Promising to send a fleet to save him is an insult. Daemon doesn't want to be bailed out — he would rather die. Or so we can presume when he abandons his massive, threatening dragon, rows up to the Crabfeeders' stronghold, and waves a white flag. It's not a real surrender but it may as well be. No dragons and no army? That makes him an easy target. Daemon even hands away his sword. But once the pirates emerge from their caves, he gets back on his feet to cut them down.

It's a quick, gruesome fight, and the cavalry comes in with support, but Daemon is the one to root out the Crabfeeder himself, bringing forth the remnants of a man cut in half. If blood-soaked hair is a sign of victory, then Daemon and Rhaenyra are both standing tall.

Some stray thoughts

  • The ability to choose your own husband is not a privilege that most women of Westeros are afforded. So unless her father changes his mind, Rhaenyra is very lucky. Let's summarize her current suitors: 1) Corlys' son, Laenor Velaryon, the dragon rider who swoops in to save Daemon. 2) Jason Lannister, ("That man's pride has pride"). 3) Aegon, the infant. 4) Ser Cole, but only in her dreams. 5) Hear me out — Daemon Targaryen. The tension between these two has always been weird and marrying Rhaenyra would get Daemon his crown so, why the hell not?

  • If only Ser Criston Cole wasn't a member of the Kingsguard, he might be able to keep the upward mobility trend going and marry the Princess. Look at the facts: she has a crush on him, he's a dedicated knight, and she gets to choose her husband now. Vows have been broken for worse reasons ...

  • The mini succession crisis is all based on the absolutely inane idea that Aegon is old enough to become heir, now that he's out of his infancy — which is a hilarious way to talk about a two-year-old. You're telling me that if King Viserys dropped dead right now, they'd let the infant rule instead of Rhaenyra? I've seen Westerosi sexism at work, so I believe it but damn.

  • Speaking of King Viserys dropping dead, we don't actually check in with his wounds but the man seems perpetually exhausted. I'm sure that's fine, though.

  • What is it with Westerosi boars and attempting to kill royalty? Good thing Rhaenyra hasn't been drinking any Lannister-supplied wine!

  • The Strong family is something to keep an eye on. Lyonel Strong sits on the small council and has been giving Viserys some good, honest advice. He also wasn't thrilled by the idea of making Rhaenyra heir to the throne. In this episode, we meet one of his sons — though you may have missed it because Larys Strong takes care to quietly observe the gossiping ladies from the background without saying a word. As for his brother, Viserys calls him the strongest knight in the seven kingdoms, Harwin "Breakbones" Strong. Fun nickname for a friendly guy, I bet.

  • Yikes, King Viserys really hates politicking. He might be on the wrong show. Any chance he can burn his HBO contract and transfer over to LEGO masters instead? Let Viserys build his scale models in peace!

  • At this point, I'm starting to think that "House of the Dragon" is going out of its way to gross us out. While this episode doesn't go quite as far as the puss-filled wound or the bowl full of maggots, watching Viserys take off his gloves to feel stag s*** drove me crazy. That man spent a solid minute playing with dung and even sniffed it. Why?!? I am absolutely terrified of what gross-out moment the next episode will contain.

Who is winning the Game of Thrones?

The world of Westeros may be continuing under a different title, but we are still playing a game of thrones. Let's take a moment to reflect on the episode's most prominent players:

WINNER: Daemon Targaryen - He finally won his little war in the Stepstones! That's accomplishment enough, but Daemon managed to do it without his dragon or his brother's army. He gets the high honor of ending the war he started and being effective when his brother was not.

WINNER: Alicent Hightower (& Otto Hightower, by proxy) - Alicent is slowly but surely usurping her father as King Viserys' most trusted advisor. She remains very hard to read but she's good at guiding him and seems to realize how much sway she holds. Plus, she has a very weighty interaction with her King husband by the fire, where he mentions some details of his potentially prophetic dream and also wonders aloud whether or not he was right to make Rhaenyra his heir. Alicent is privy to worries he refused to voice elsewhere and also has a direct line to his decision-making. If that's not power then what is?

WINNER: Aegon Targaryen - This child is two-years-old and men are already scheming in his honor.

LOSER: Viserys Targaryen - Viserys' weakness is the worst-kept secret in the realm. He gets to show some strength by making a Lannister uncomfortable, but he also gets s*** talked by the ladies of the court, is looked down upon by seemingly everyone around him, and spends the episode absolutely miserable.

STILL IN THE GAME: Rhaenyra Targaryen - Rhaenyra is difficult to place. In the eyes of the viewer, the princess feels like a winner this week: once again, she succeeds where her father can not. She's the one who slayed a boar AND found the white stag (a potential symbol of her right to rule). And she gets a promise from her father that no matter what, he won't replace her as heir. She also gets to choose her own husband, which is nice and obviously not a privilege that women in the world of Westeros are often granted. But here's the problem — does any of that matter? If the lords of Westeros continue to look right past her and fixate on her brother, then does Viserys' promise hold any weight?