‘House of the Dragon’ Season 2, Episode 4 Recap: Egos Aplenty

The Dance of the Dragons hasn’t even officially begun yet, and already, many of the main players are spiraling. Alicent just learned she started a war over a miscommunication, Rhaenyra now knows she has no options but to fight if she wants to one day sit upon the Iron Throne, Aegon is slowly learning he is considered as much of a bumbling fool as his Kingsguard, and Daemon is trapped inside a crumbling castle, forced to face both his past and dim future every time he closes his eyes.

We enter episode four of this season of House of the Dragon in another one of Daemon’s dreams. Once again, he is met with a young Rhaenyra (played by returnee Milly Alcock) in a scene that could have been plucked from the first half of the show’s pilot season. Before Rhaenyra can make much of a point, however, Daemon beheads her in what is becoming his signature. He then awakens and is immediately met with another nightmare, a real one. Simon Strong informs Daemon of Ser Criston Cole’s recent successes, of the houses that have fallen and raised banners for Aegon, joining Cole’s host as a result—and tripling the hand’s strength. While Daemon attempts to wheel and deal within Harrenhal, he quickly learns the Tullys have no real influence over the Riverlands, and if he wants to exact any actual change, he will have to be more strategic.

Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

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Rhaenys, meanwhile, visits Coryls in Driftmark, where he continues to ready his ships for battle. It is there she meets Alyn, the man who saved Corlys during the battle in the Stepstones. She has an oddly intimate moment with Alyn, and then chastises her husband for not mentioning Alyn’s specific role in Coryls’s rescue. “I know who he is, Coryls,” she says. But we still don’t! Though, of course, one can assume Alyn is Alyn Waters, a bastard and likely the son of Corlys himself.

In King’s Landing, Alicent is taking precautions to avoid Corly’s fate, requesting special tea from the grand maester. It seems the trope of making embarrassing requests in the name of “a friend” was alive and well in 100 AC, and Alicent puts on airs that this special tea is not for her, no! Of course, it doesn’t seem that anyone is buying her ruse. It has been a rough few days for Alicent, who not only finds herself pregnant with, assumedly, Cole’s child, but also recently learned she started a war over the misinterpreted ramblings of a dying man. She has taken to asking those around Viserys if they believe the late king wanted Aegon to succeed him, though she already knows the answer. She drinks the tea, likely hoping it will not only unburden her of a child, but also this guilt that is surely filling her every pore.

Of course, Cole knows nothing of Alicent’s decision and will likely never learn of it. He is too busy slowly taking control of the Riverlands, using the tree cover and nightfall to shield his actions from Team Black’s dragons. We meet back up with him as he is addressing House Darklyn, which previously pledged loyalty to Rhaenyra. Those who bend the knee to Aegon and fight in his name against “The Whore of Dragonstone” will be spared. Those who refuse will die like their Lord Darklyn, who is beheaded with his honor intact and a few jabs at Cole still floating through the air along with his spit. Following his latest victory, Cole leads his army northeast, toward Rook’s Rest, ignoring their assumed target of Harrenhal, which sits to the west.

Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

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We soon learn this was a plan devised by Criston and Aemond, who have been secretly scheming behind Aegon’s back. The king isn’t happy about Criston’s decision to head to Rook’s Rest instead of Harrenhal, but he is quickly put into place by the newest member of his council, Larys, who informs the king that Harrenhal “is more crippled than I am.” Larys breaks down the situation simply for Aegon: Daemon is broke, Rhaenyra is trapped, and Cole is succeeding, having gained the moniker “The Kingmaker,” which doesn’t seem to be sitting too well with the king. Then, Aemond steps in, clearly recovered from his humiliation from last episode and ready to exact revenge on his brother. If his war planning with Criston wasn’t bad enough, Aemond hits at Aegon’s ego again when he scolds his older brother in High Valyrian, a language for which the king does not have a strong grasp. Thus the decision is made: Rook’s Rest is the target, and Aegon is simply a lame puppy who must be put in his cage so the real influences can get things done.

Absent from the meeting is Alicent, who is in her chamber recovering from her tea and distracting herself by reading histories, likely trying to understand the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ and the story that filled Viserys’s last waking thoughts. Larys, who visits the queen dowager to see about her lack of attendance at the council can sense a change in Alicent, and questions her conviction regarding Viserys’s alleged change of heart. Her response: “The significance of Viserys’s intentions died with him.” What the late king wanted, whether it was his son or daughter to succeed his throne, doesn’t matter. As Rhaenys said last episode, history will erase the why, but the bloodshed, violence, and the resulting victor are what will stand the test of time.

What will very likely also not be remembered are Aegon’s everyday bumbles—like his incompetent Kingsguard or his lack of actual influence on his own council. It’s the latter of which, at the moment, that’s really getting to the king, who feels useless as Cole gains glory on his own while he sits in a castle. But his mother is there to talk to Aegon and remind him that he’s right, actually. He is completely unnecessary, apart from the birthright for which they’re busy fighting. Being king doesn’t make him wiser—it just makes him king. Of course, Alicent’s “hope” that Aegon would be a temperate king who listens to the more learned minds around him falls flat when you remember that she raised the feckless man we now see in front of us. For her to now tell him to “do nothing” is inviting a volatile man like Aegon to do something absolutely reckless in direct opposition. But perhaps that was Alicent’s plan all along—to goad her son into action. She must have known how he would react to such a chat, right?

Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

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Daemon, meanwhile, is struggling to sleep, considering every time he closes his eyes, he’s faced with hyperrealistic reminders of his worst moments. So, he goes stalking through Harrenhal, where he runs into Alys Rivers (Gayle Rankin), the woman who informed him of his impending death just last episode. Alys is very aware of Daemon’s circumstances, both his current issues with sleep and his more abstract struggles with his claim to the throne. She offers Daemon a drink, something to help him sleep, and for some reason he takes it without question, maybe because he feels he has nothing to lose at this point. Suddenly, he is meeting with Willem Blackwood, who offers his army in exchange for justice upon the Brackens, though Daemon isn’t listening, too distracted with the cupbearer who seems to be his his late wife, Laena Velaryon.

Justice for the Brackens will have to wait for a minute, however, as focus is currently on Rook’s Rest, where Cole and his troops are readying a strike. While Cole has always been an arrogant character, previously there was no justification for such pomposity. Now that he has had a string of successes in the Riverlands, however, the conceit has reached unprecedented heights. Cole is planning something for the attack on Rook’s Rest, but he’s keeping it close to his chest, much to the chagrin of Ser Gwayne. The young Hightower is nervous about the high chance of a dragon attack, considering they are right across the bay from Dragonstone. And he’s right to be scared, because following her absence from much of the episode, Rhaenyra has finally returned home, having failed to stop the war before its inception. The queen’s conversation with Alicent has lit a new fire under Rhaenyra, who is now ready to take action, and just in time. It is decided that a dragon must be dispatched to Rook’s Rest, and Rhaenys and Meleys are the obvious choice.

Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

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Of course, sending a dragon into battle is no subtle act. Rhaenyra was previously hesitant to start a war between dragons, knowing it would lead to the demise of all. Her decision to send out Rhaenys and Meleys, while likely necessary, is both an act of war and all but a guarantee of great destruction and death. Rhaenyra, though, convinces herself it’s for the greater good, for Aegon I’s prophecy, for the ‘Song of Ice and Fire.’ If Rhaenyra hadn’t made the first move with a dragon, though, Aegon would have, with much less honorable intentions. After holding back last episode, he is finally ready to mount his beast, Sunfyre, and find some glory of his own. This time not even Larys—nor anyone else—can stop him.

Thus begins the first true dance of the dragons of House of the Dragon. It becomes clear quickly that Cole’s plan was to set a trap for any dragons Rhaenyra might send into battle. He knew she would have no choice but to dispatch at least one, and he was prepared, having Aemond lie in wait in the forest along with Vhagar. Unfortunately, a hitch in the plan comes from Aegon’s appearance on the battlefield. Of course, Aemond doesn’t hold his older brother too dear, and seems not to mind if the king ends up as collateral damage. So, he enters the fight, lights up the king in dragon fire, and plummets to the ground. Rhaenys takes the infighting as an opportunity to escape from Vhagar, but at the last minute, she commands Meleys to turn back. It’s an honorable but stressful decision. Rhaenys has been such a great character in the Dragon universe, and one of the only people Rhaneyra has to look up to and confide in following Viserys’s death. Rhaenys went to Rook’s Rest because Team Black couldn’t risk losing Rhaenyra, but one could argue Rhaenys is almost as indispensable.

Photograph by Theo Whiteman/HBO

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But Rhaenys cannot help herself, and with Aegon out of the picture, it’s time for the two largest dragons in the Dragon universe to face off. Of course, Aemond has the upper hand, considering Vhagar is much larger than Meleys, and he also seems to lack any inhibitions or compassion—important traits for a high-functioning human being, less important for a great warrior.

The resulting struggle between dragons is fun, and the daytime battle makes for improved lighting following last season’s black hole. Quickly, though, it gets a bit dizzying, and one may yearn for the more traditional fights of Game of Thrones, which felt more rooted, likely because they literally took place on the ground. The dragons tumble through the sky, clawing at each other as those below try to avoid any fallout. Unfortunately, the beasts quickly become unavoidable, and Cole gets knocked off his horse and misses the terminus of the dragon battle. Rhaenys once again gains an opportunity to get away after it becomes clear she will not defeat Vhagar today. But again, she (and seemingly Meleys) just can’t help themselves, and with a collective NOOOOO from the audience, she goes back for more. At this point, her fate is all but written in the stars. She had two chances to get away, she will not get a third, and it seems like she knows that as well. Immediately, Vhagar grabs Meleys by the neck, clamps down, and lets go, thus unceremoniously ending the life of the Queen Who Never Was (and the many who died in Meleys explosive crash into the castle).

With two of the three dragons dead or incapacitated, Team Green continues on to breach the castle, but Cole has other priorities—checking on his king, who is lying unmoving in the frame of Sunfyre. Cole drops to his knees in despair, while Aemond seems less concerned. Could he have just won a battle and the crown in one fell swoop? Or will Aegon prove stronger than anticipated and rise from the dragon fire like a true Targaryen?

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