Much like its predecessor, Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon has a penchant for showing the worst of people. Whether that be through stubbornness, pride, or jealousy, the Targaryens tend to split apart rather than come together.
The events of the third episode, "Second of His Name," continues this trend and explores how three different members of the Targaryens—Viserys, Rhaenyra, and Daemon—struggle to maneuver themselves through the minefield that is their family.
Spoilers for House of the Dragon ahead.
Let's Go for a Hunt, Shall We?
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Three years have passed since episode two of House of the Dragon, and the war in the Stepstones is not going well. The Crabfeeder and his Triarchy forces are regularly beating Daemon and Corlys' forces, depleting their supplies, and destroying morale.
The episode opens with Daemon riding his Dragon, forcing the Crabfeeder, whose real name is Prince Drahar, to flee into the caves. A barrage of arrows forces Daemon to retreat, returning to where his army is headquartered.
We cut over to the name day (birthday) celebrations for Prince Aegon, Viserys' firstborn son with Alicent. Alicent is also pregnant with another child, leaving Rhaenyra questioning her place in this new order of the Targaryen family.
Otto and his brother Hobert, the Head of House Hightower, discuss what they both think the King will do next, given his new child. Hobert seems confident that Aegon will be the next King, but Otto is not so sure.
Tyland Lannister, the King's new Master of Ships now that Corlys is fighting in the Stepstones, tries to inform Viserys that things are going terribly there. With the Crabfeeder and his soldiers hiding in caves, the Dragon's strength has been nullified, and their foot soldiers, primarily mercenaries, are leaving. They see it as a losing effort, even if Corlys and Daemon do not. Otto argues that if the Royal army sent soldiers and ships to aid them, it would make the Crown appear weak.
Rhaenyra reads her books next to a Weirwood tree, listening to music, as any teenager would when they're mad at their parents and stepmom. I mean, wouldn't you be just a little annoyed if your father was now married and having children with your best friend?
Alicent wants to heal the rift between her and Rhaenyra, but she's hearing none of it. Rhaenyra doesn't want to attend the Royal hunt in honor of Prince Aegon, but upon hearing that the King has ordered it comes along reluctantly. Viserys offers to take Rhaenyra out on the hunt, but she passes on the idea, saying she doesn't care to hear the animals suffer.
Forced into a supporting role amongst the various gossiping ladies of the court, Rhaenyra is asked to give her thoughts on the war, given that she is Daemon's niece. Lady Ceira Lannister snidely remarks that Rhaenyra "supplanted" Daemon as the heir. Alicent defends Rhaenyra, saying that Daemon made his choices and that she is much more suited to the role of ruler. Rhaenyra shoots down another one of the royals, Lady Redwyne, when she suggests that despite what Viserys may think, the Crown is at war.
Jason Lannister, the head of their House, approaches Rhaenyra with a marriage proposal, telling her about Casterly Rock and how great it is. She naturally turns him down and confronts Viserys as she knows he's been receiving requests for her hand in marriage.
They argue, and Viserys says it's time for her, but Rhaenyra tells him she doesn't want to marry. No one exists above tradition, even them, and despite what Rhaenyra wants, it's no longer up to her. She gets on her horse and leaves the hunt in anger, with her bodyguard, Ser Criston Cole, giving chase.
A White Hart
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Walking with Criston, Rhaenyra questions why she was named heir to the Iron Throne. Now that it's been a few years, she has to contend with the idea that if she were ever married, how much power would she actually have in a realm ruled by men. Rhaenyra and Cole have grown close since he joined the Kingsguard, and he reassures her that, despite what she might think, Rhaenyra has more power than she knows.
The Royal hunt continues, and they are on the trail of a White Hart, a traditional mark of royalty in the Seven Kingdoms and, as Otto says, a sign from the Gods that they favor Aegon. Jason presents Viserys with a golden spear forged in honor of Aegon, and he hopes that the King will use it to kill the White Hart.
Jason brings his marriage proposal to Rhaenyra again, promising the Crown strength and stability. Viserys questions whether he thinks that's what the Targaryens need, with Jason reassuring him that Rhaenyra would find herself well compensated for her loss in station. Annoyed by this, Viserys angrily asks Jason if there have been discussions amongst the lords that Aegon would be named the new heir, replacing Rhaenyra. He tells him that Rhaenyra was not named heir on a whim and that she will succeed him. Viserys has no plans to change the line of succession and that even though he could order her into a marriage, he doesn't want to and that all he wants is for his daughter to be happy.
Otto asks him if he is considering the proposal but is told no. He also suggests to Viserys that there is another choice: Prince Aegon (they do love incest on House of the Dragon!) Naturally, Viserys refuses, and he wants to hunt, not discuss politics. He continues to drink, getting drunker as the night progresses, and Lyonel Strong approaches him. Strong suggests that Rhaenyra be matched with Corlys' son, Laenor, as it would bring Corlys back into the fold. Viserys leaves rather than give an answer.
In the woods, Rhaenyra and Criston discuss her father and her claim to the Throne around a campfire, and she confides in him that she remains unsure whether the realm will accept her. "They will have no choice but to," Criston tells her.
Suddenly they hear a rustling in the woods, and as Criston investigates, a boar appears out of nowhere, knocks him down, and attacks Rhaenyra. He gets up and stabs the boar, with Rhaenyra angrily finishing it off. She takes all her anger and frustration out on the animal, stabbing it numerous times as it squeals.
At a bonfire, Viserys and Alicent talk about Rhaenyra and how he confesses that he named Rhaenyra out of love but also because he thought he'd never have a son. He tells her about his dream of a son being born with a crown on his head. He longed for a son, hoping so much for him to be born. He believes that he was partially responsible for his wife's death and thought Rhaenyra would help pull him out of his depression, and naming her heir would help fix things. He never imagined he would remarry and have a son, but now things are more complicated than he ever imagined.
The Royal Hunters have found a large Hart in the woods and captured him, but it is not the white Hart they were looking for. Viserys approaches it, stabbing it twice as it struggles against its constraints, and it slowly, painfully dies.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra and Criston come across the White Hart in the woods. However, she lets it go rather than kill it. The animal has discovered her, perhaps a sign from the Gods that she is indeed their choice to become the ruler.
Please Don't Bother Viserys, He's Fairly Hungover
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She and Criston return to camp with the boar in tow, and everyone present cannot help but look as the Princess heads to her tent, covered in the boar's blood.
In King's Landing, Alicent and Otto talk about Rhaenyra and the succession. He believes Aegon should be King and tries to manipulate her by relying on her motherly instincts. He argues that if Rhaenyra is made Queen, the realm will collapse into anarchy as the Lords dispute her claim. Alicent tries to stick by Rhaenyra, but Otto tells her she must try and convince Viserys to name Aegon the heir.
Viserys, somewhat hungover, sits by the fire as Alicent joins him. They discuss Rhaenyra, and Viserys stands by his opinion that she must marry, and Alicent agrees. Alicent tells him that Rhaenyra must believe it's her choice to marry and not just an order from him.
The King has received a letter from Vaemond Velaryon, the brother of Corlys, who has given him an update on the war. Telling Viserys that things are going poorly, he requests aid from the Crown. Alicent asks why Viserys wouldn't help his brother when Daemon needs it. He argues that Daemon and Corlys started this war on their own and are responsible for what happens. To help them now would make him and the Crown look weak in the eyes of the rest of the realm.
Alicent asks Viserys his actual opinion on the matter, not just what the King's should be. He laments that by making one decision to help someone, he will inevitably anger another.
"Then I will pose a simpler question: Is it better for the realm if the Crabfeeder thrives or is vanquished?" Alicent says, to which Viserys has no response.
Rhaenyra joins Viserys in the small council chambers, where he tells her that he will be sending forces to help Daemon in the Stepstones. He asks if she approves, but she believes her opinion doesn't matter, so why bother asking?
He just wants to know why she must fight him at every turn as Daemon does, and she asks if he's referring to his attempt to have her marry Jason Lannister. Viserys apologizes for that and that he just wanted to help her but needs to know why she argues with him constantly. Rhaenyra believes that Viserys means to replace her as heir by marrying her off and that she is just another piece to be traded.
Viserys explains why she needs to marry and reminds her that even though his marriage to her mother was arranged, he loved her more than Rhaenyra knows. He has no plans to replace as the heir, even with a new son. Rhaenyra argues that if this were all for politics and securing their power, he would have wed Laena Velayron (despite her age.) He agrees but reiterates that she must marry if only to secure her claim and strengthen her own family.
He tells her that she should pick her husband and let consequences be damned. Viserys confesses that he did consider replacing her at one point but promises that he will not do so now. As she leaves, the camera focuses on Viserys, still contemplating and looking unsure.
Daemon Targaryen aka The Crab Killer
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Corlys, his brother Vaemond, and his son Laenor discuss their next moves against the Crabfeeder, with Corlys stressing that they need to press the attack with the dragons. Laenor explains that it's pointless because their soldiers can continue to retreat into the caves every time the dragons are sent. To properly attack them, they must lure the Crabfeeder's forces out of the caves, but the soldiers that would lead that attack would likely be killed.
Laenor argues with his uncle that Daemon should do so, but Vaemond says that Daemon is the reason they are losing this war. Corlys threatens Vaemond and says that even though he is his brother, he will not have Vaemond stoke mutiny amongst their forces.
Daemon returns on his dragon and joins the Velaryons at their table. He looks out amongst the soldiers in camp just as a messenger from the King arrives. After reading it, he angrily beats the messenger to the ground and leaves. Viserys had informed Daemon that he was sending him reinforcements and that he had no desire to see him fail. He hopes this aid will help him win, and he prays for Daemon's safe return.
Daemon walks amongst the dead on the beach and waves a white flag. After Daemon gets his attention, The Crabfeeder sends his soldiers to meet Daemon and his archers to target him from above. As a soldier approaches Daemon, he takes out his blade and kills the Crabfeeder's men.
He runs towards the Crabfeeder himself, dodging arrows and killing numerous soldiers along the way. More and more men are sent to attack Daemon, but he cuts them all down before finally being hit by three arrows. As they continue raining down upon him, he takes cover in the wreck of a ship. The Crabfeeder's forces surround Daemon, but as they move in for the kill, a dragon ridden by Laenor attacks the Crabfeeder's soldiers and destroys them.
The rest of the Velaryon soldiers arrive to finish off the rest of the Crabfeeder's men, and Daemon heads into the caves to find him. As the Crabfeeder's soldiers are killed, Daemon reemerges from the cave with half of his enemy in tow and covered in the remains of his fallen adversary.
Image credit: HBO
"Second of His Name" delicately balanced the political intrigue with the gory, bloody violence we've come to expect from House of the Dragon. By walking this tightrope, as Game of Thrones often did, the show has successfully captured the pop culture consensus and made House of the Dragon appointment television. No one wishes to be left out of the conversation or, even worse, get spoiled, so the need to watch it as it airs is paramount. Thankfully, House of the Dragon has made that task enjoyable rather than a chore.
Going into the series, I had thought that the time jumps would be much more jarring, but the writers have managed to make things flow rather well and leave little room for confusion. It's a testament to their talents that they manage to make that feel effortless and not confound the audience too much.
The cast's performances remain as stellar as ever. Despite only appearing in the back half of the episode (except for the intro,) Matt Smith dominated this episode, even with speaking little to no lines. His ability to convey anger, disappointment, fury, and so much more is unparalleled, and he deserves all the praise that comes his way.
House of the Dragon has provided what was needed to calm the nerves of all who were trepidatious about entering the Game of Thrones world once more. As long as they continue on this path, there shouldn't be any doubt that we're in for a great first season.