‘House of the Dragon’ S2, E4 Is a Damn Masterpiece

house of the dragon season 2
‘House of the Dragon’ S2, E4 Is a Damn MasterpieceHBO

If you couldn’t tell from the giant inflatable dragon that hung from the top of the Empire State Building last month, House of the Dragon is dominating television once again. After a prologue-filled first season and three episodes of season 2 spent mulling over an oncoming battle, the series finally made it clear at the end of episode 3 that it’s time to launch some dragons into the sky and make them fight each other. This is House of the DRAGON, after all. Break out the big guns!

Reader, I can promise you that you’re still not ready for episode 4. I wouldn’t feed you some The Bacheloresque bullshit. This isn’t a you won’t want to miss the most dramatic season ever sort of tease. Episode 4 truly returns the franchise to its glory days. This is Game of Thrones magic. Read: killing major characters. But before we get to the first battle of the war, let’s step back and retrace how these important chess pieces found themselves at Rook’s Rest.

house of the dragon season 2
At long last, House of the Dragon broke out the big guns.HBO

Aegon, Daemon, and Alicent’s No Good, Very Bad Day

As Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) conquers minor lords north of King’s Landing and turns them into loyal soldiers for the royal army, his glory on the battlefield is making him look like more of a hero than King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney). The people call him the “Kingmaker,” which is probably his best nickname so far. Never forget that Daemon (Matt Smith) called him “Ser Crispin” last season. Call him what you may, but executioner is a new one. He beheads Lord Gunthar Darklyn (Steven Pacey) following the Battle of Duskendale—a name and place we need not remember, because they’re both headless.

Speaking of beheadings, it’s a particular choppy night. Daemon is currently going insane in Harrenhal. He’s slicing up visions of young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock). When King Aegon II yells at Larys (Matthew Needham) for allowing Daemon to take his castle, the clubfooted weasel reminds Aegon that Harrenhal is “more crippled than I am” and “likely to drive Daemon to madness.” He’s not wrong. One night, Daemon is responsible for one of the silliest images ever shown on House of Dragon so far: He wears Aemond’s (Ewan Mitchell) eyepatch. Rhaenyra’s uncle-husband also drinks some mysterious poison brewed by a witch named Alys Rivers (Gayle Rankin). It forces him to lose even more of his mental and physical faculties. I don’t know why he would ever drink it, but Daemon is beyond lost at this point.

He meets with Lord Tully, which is a name that should ring a few bells for Thrones fans. The Lords of Riverrun, House Tully, eventually produces Catelyn Stark, her brother Edmure, and her crazy sister, Lysa Arryn of the Vale. There’s just one problem: The current head of the family is a young boy. Lord Grover Tully is old and ill, naming his inexperienced grandson Oscar (Archie Barnes) as his heir. Daemon suggests to Oscar that he should “place a pillow over Lord Grover’s head” and speed along his grandfather’s death. “House Tully is a fish without a head,” Daemon spits. Sounds like a common theme this week. Later, Lord Blackwood tells Daemon that they won’t join his side in the war until he helps them defeat the Brackens. Fine. Sounds like a video-game side quest if I’ve ever heard one.

house of the dragon season 2
New haircut, same low self-esteem!HBO

Back in King’s Landing, Aegon is in a wartime meeting, too. As he plays with his big marble, Larys reveals that he controls all his family’s money at Harrenhal, so the castle is essentially penniless. “I need to be informed of these things,” he tells his council. “I must not be made to look a fool.” Aemond—fresh from his brother’s full-frontal humiliation last episode—informs the council that he and Cole are planning the war without anyone else’s approval. Next on the agenda? Cole marches the army to a small castle north of King’s Landing named Rook’s Rest. Lord Staunton of Rook’s Rest allegedly sits on Rhaenyra’s council, and the castle sits directly between Dragonstone and Harrenhal. “We’ll have Dragonstone effectively cut off by land,” he explains. It’s not a bad plan, but it does leave them open to an attack from either side. “Do you have a wiser strategy?” Aemond chides Aegon in ancient Valyrian. The King responds in broken Valyrian of his own. “I can have to…make a…war?” Sad.

Complaining to his mother about the council, Aegon II says that no one cares what he thinks. “And what thoughts do you have?” Alicent (Olivia Cooke) responds. “Do you think simply wearing the crown imbues you with wisdom?” Maybe read a book, Aegon? Touch grass. “It was my hope that you would honor the burden of your new duties, in the hope that you would be half the man your father was,” she continues. “You should humbly be seeking our opinions and council. You have no idea the sacrifices that were made to put you on that throne.” She suggests he do “nothing” and let them rule, but I disagree. He should contribute! Maybe watch a couple YouTube videos titled “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became King."

Alicent also takes one of House of the Dragon’s favorite drinks: abortion tea. It appears that she was pregnant with Ser Criston’s child, but no longer. Later, Larys pays her a visit and snoops around. Go away, you rat! I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone still talks to this guy. She blames her illness on eating too much pie, which is an insanely poor excuse. Has Alicent ever lied before? She’s very bad at it. Either way, she triples down to Larys that the significance of her late husband’s intentions died with him. It’s time for war.

house of the dragon season 2
Episode 4 easily goes down as one of the best TV episodes of the year.HBO

What’s All This, Then?

At Driftmark, Rhaenys (Eve Best) meets Coryls’ (Steve Toussaint) new side character Alyn (Abubakar Salim) and caresses his face. She seems to know something about Alyn, but House of the Dragon is beating around the bush. “He was the sailor who plucked you from your watery grave?” she asks her husband. “I know who he is, Corlys. Alyn’s past is no fault of his. He should be raised up and honored. Not hidden beneath the tides.” Is Corlys harboring a bastard son?

Back at Dragonstone, Baela (Bethany Antonia) reports the first piece of useful news Rhaenyra’s council of random lords has provided so far. She spotted Cole’s army on the march to Rook’s Rest. “You should have burned them when you had the chance,” says Ser Alfred (Jamie Kenna)—a man with no dragon that I have yet to even see stand up from his chair. Another guy who can barely slur enough words together to form a sentence compares the fighting in the Riverlands to an orgy. Seriously, who the heck are these guys?! Then, Ser Alfred stands up! Wow, and I was just mocking him for that exact same thing. It’s like when Grandpa Joe finally gets up in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. But instead of singing and dancing, he challenges Rhaenys' authority. Weird choice! You’re just some guy and you even called her the “Princess” in your argument. The authority is imbued into your titles already, Alfred. But whatever! Sit back down, fool.

house of the dragon season 2
Daemon is back on his shenanigans. HBO

Corlys walks in with his powerful aura and declares himself top dog when Rhaenyra is away. Luckily, she’s not too far behind. Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy) returns from King’s Landing after her failed meeting with Alicent. Her son, Jace (Harry Collett), feels abandoned—even though he’s itching to fly into battle and probably get himself killed. “I inherited 80 years of peace from my father,” she proclaims. “Before I was to end it, I needed to know there was no other path. Now I do. Only one choice remains to me. Either I win my claim, or I die.”

Rhaenyra’s council asks what they should do about Rook’s Rest. “Why Rook’s Rest?” she asks. “It’s but a small coastal keep.” As viewers will soon learn, it’s because House of the Dragon needs a big castle to just level with dragon fire. It's like the Avengers going to some fake European country or barren planet just because they need to decimate a large area to smithereens. Today, that place is Rook’s Rest.

Rook’s Rest, Population: 0

Inebriated and reckless, King Aegon II hops on Sunfyre and flies out to join the royal army’s assault. Rhaenyra almost takes the trip herself as well, until Jace reminds her, “If you die, all is lost!” Exactly. Aegon II made the same proclamation last week before his council similarly warned him how stupid he sounded. Still, he’s off. So is Rhaenys. You must send me, your Grace,” she declares. “Melys is your largest dragon and no stranger to battle. I will meet Cole.”

When the two dragons lock in and fight over Rook’s Rest, Cole is left stunned on the ground below. Me too! Honestly, pinch me. Am I witnessing a dragon battle right now?! This is everything we’ve ever wanted from this series. You can only promise a dragon war for so long. Episode 4 delivers. Not only that, but Aemond arrives on Vhagar. As King Aegon’s dragon bleeds all over his army from above, Cole tries to save the mood with a rousing war speech. Um… yeah, that doesn’t look good up there, but our king is fighting and so should you! It works well enough, even as their 15,000-ish men are picked off by archers.

When Rhaenys’ dragon grabs Sunfrye by his neck, Aemond makes a pivotal decision for the entire series moving forward. Vhagar blasts Rhaenys with dragon fire, even though Aegon may take the brunt of the attack. Aemond gives the command anyway. It’s possible that he simply took the chance to kill his own brother in the confusion of battle—or he knew full well that if Aegon died, he may ascend the throne himself. Aegon and Sunfyre plummet to the ground?!?!?!?!?

house of the dragon season 2
What happened to our boy?!HBO

Rhaenys turns around to take on Vhagar mano a mano. The two dragons hold each other as they spit fire and spin in the air. It’s quite literally a “Dance of the Dragons.” As Vhagar spins into the ground, the giant dragon crushes the army below. Cole falls off his horse and loses consciousness. When he finally wakes up, the battle is over. In one of House of the Dragon’s only real jump scares, Vhagar surprises Rhaenys and bites Melys’ neck so hard that the dragon dies while airborne. She looks back upon Rhaenys with her final breath. Collapsing to the ground, there’s no way that Rhaenys survived.

Neither does Aegon, it seems. Briefly shown beside Sunfyre, the King looks burnt to a crisp. Near the body, Cole spies Aemond with his sword and calls to him. It’s unclear what action Aemond is taking here. His sword was either out in preparation for a mercy kill, or he simply had his weapon drawn because, you know, there’s a war going on. Either way, he sheathes the blade once Cole enters the picture. The knight falls to his knees. Next to his dragon, the king lies mummy-style as hot steam rises. It's not looking good.

What a cliffhanger, folks! Potentially, we just saw two major deaths. You never know with Thrones. Fans are quick to forget that Melisandre once birthed a murderous shadow. Anything is possible—and no one is safe.

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