‘House of the Dragon’ returns with season 2

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House of the Dragon has embraced a new level of ruthlessness in its new season.

As the first Game of Thrones spinoff, House of the Dragon arrived on HBO in 2022 under the crushing weight of expectations.

The prequel, focusing on the warring factions of the powerful Targaryen clan, needed to retain viewers with more of what made them fall in love with the original, while expanding to new narrative heights.

To win over those fans over a decade ago, Game of Thrones acquired a taste for ruthlessness that was very defining for its era. Ned Stark's beheading, Khal Drogo's brutal murder of Viserys, the Red Wedding massacre, Theon Greyjoy's castration, and Oberyn Martell's gruesome end were all moments that enhanced the show's popularity in its earlier seasons. They were sick moments, but they prominently defined the viciousness of the Seven Kingdoms.

House of the Dragon had little room to explore these kinds of moments in its pilot season. But after watching the first two episodes of its upcoming second season, the show is ready to emerge from its shell.

The opening scene of the season returns to a familiar Game of Thrones haunting ground that's nostalgic for fans of the Seven Kingdoms, and its sickening final act would fit perfectly in the world of the original.

But House of the Dragon isn't just rolling back the hits of its predecessor. The prequel's new season picks up on how the divided Targaryen family, Blacks and Greens, are dealing with last season's horrific murder of Prince Jacaerys.

Rhaenyra finds herself trapped as the grieving mother and duty-bound queen, a whirlwind of emotions Emma D'Arcy delivers with the graceful handling it deserves.

In King's Landing, Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) grows ever-impatient with Rhaenyra's challenge to the throne that his mother, Alicent (Olivia Cooke), stole on his behalf. He wants a more immediate end to her challenge, largely restrained by his cautious Hand, and grandfather, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), and perhaps the show's fans who need five more seasons of this civil war that promises spectacular dragon action.

Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) still hates Rhaenyra with a burning passion and creates more… intimate alliances with her enemies, Daemon (Matt Smith) is still a bloodthirsty hound with zero boundaries, and Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) is still quite the scheming puppet master.

The Targaryen civil war that was promised edges ever closer in the opening episodes of the new season: the characters are meaner, the schemes are deadlier and House of the Dragon is more alive than its first season.

But perhaps, a drawback of the show that may take seasons to repair is the investment viewers have in these characters. The bond-building development that would have endeared viewers to a larger spectrum of characters outside the main cast was disrupted by the first season's time jumps, in the rush to set up the civil war. And considering the new season is starting 18 months after last season's finale, fans may need a quick recap to even remember some of these other fringe players and why they matter.

It's why characters of the stature of Littlefinger and Varys from Game of Thrones don't evoke the same reverence here, or it's simply too early to have such expectations.

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