House of the Dragon Season 2 TV Review

More action, more dragons, and more intrigue help the second season of the Game of Thrones prequel improve in quality.

PLOT: Westeros is on the brink of a bloody civil war with the Green and Black Councils fighting for King Aegon and Queen Rhaenyra, respectively.

REVIEW: It was always going to be an uphill climb for House of the Dragon to live up to the peak of Game of Thrones. With an uneven first season but still better than the ending of the series that inspired it, House of the Dragon concluded its first season with the beginning of a civil war between Targaryens vying for the Iron Throne. Despite solid performances from Paddy Considine, Matt Smith, Emma D’Arcy, and Olivia Cooke, House of the Dragon‘s sprawling time jumps and reliance on dragons rather than intriguing characters worth investing in made it hard to care about what happened until the war began. Even though it is two episodes shorter than the previous season, House of the Dragon begins with energy and does not let up. With momentum on its side, this new season is an improvement over the first but is still not quite on par with Game of Thrones.

The marketing for season two of House of the Dragon has been heavily focused on taking sides. The split between the Greens and the Blacks refers to those who align with King Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Queen Dowager Alicent (Olivia Cooke) versus Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) and Daemon (Matt Smith). While you may think this is more of the same from where the first season left off, the updated opening titles provide an early indication that House of the Dragon has undergone a soft reset. Gone is the image of blood flowing through a scale model of King’s Landing, replaced by a tapestry woven as it connects the threads of the families warring for control of Westeros. It is a fitting symbol of this season’s more tightly-knit narrative, which also opens with a visit to The Wall, where a Stark regales the importance of protecting the North from Wildlings and reminding us that Winter is coming. While Winter is still a ways away, the sentiment of how this series shows events that will set the board for Game of Thrones is fitting.

Having seen the first four episodes of the eight-episode second season, I am confident in the improved pacing and structure of House of the Dragon. By having everything set in one time period, we have more time to invest in the characters, all more ingrained than last season. The premiere episode also boasts one of the most shocking moments to date and something that has repercussions throughout the first half of the season. I have seen each of the four episodes feature tense sequences that are superior to anything in the first season. I won’t divulge any spoilers here, but neither sequence involves characters with substantial screen time in season one. Focusing on more supporting players while still giving the main ensemble ample time helps the viewer invest more in the proceedings of this story. I found myself thankful for more for Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), Ser Cristen Cole (Fabien Frankel), Lord Jason Lannister and Ser Tyland Lannister (both played by Jefferson Hall), and a collection of new characters introduced this season. By broadening the cast, we have more diversity in storylines but also more candidates to be slain by the season’s end.

House of the Dragon season 2 review

That is not to say the main cast is underutilized. Matt Smith and Ewan Mitchell continue to play two of the most dastardly characters in this universe. Smith is once again masterfully conniving as Daemon Targaryen, while Mitchell’s Prince Aemond is still a creepy-as-hell villain. As King Aegon II, Tom Glynn-Carney does his best to undermine the legacy of his father and the machinations of Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) and his mother. Each episode I have seen, which clocks in at one hour or longer, is intriguing and packed with development for everyone. Last season, each episode glossed over weeks, months, and sometimes years, whereas this season’s condensed and focused structure is noticeable. Each episode connects to the previous directly and gives us a deeper look at what repercussions every decision has in store for the Blacks and the Greens. To see I was impressed by the improvements would be an understatement. Yet, it still feels like something is missing that will take this series to the next level.

The first season benefited from veteran Game of Thrones helmer Miguel Sapochnik directing three episodes. His departure for season two opened the door for fellow Thrones director Alan Taylor to come aboard. Taylor helms the premiere and the four episodes, with House of the Dragon season one helmer Clare Kilner and Geeta Patel directing episodes two and three, along with another episode each this season. Andrij Parekh and Loni Peristere direct the remaining episodes. Showrunner Ryan Condal returns to write the opening episode along with Sara Hess, bridging the experience within the Game of Thrones mythology. Condal and Hess have upped the tension and palace intrigue along with the action and battles for this season, but there is still something lacking. The music, the cinematography, and the visual effects are all better this season than in season one, but House of the Dragon still cannot help but feel indebted to the endgame it is heading toward. With seasons three and four already being developed, there are certainly plenty of stories to tell, and with this season keeping the plot focused on the early days of the war, it means there is a lot to come. Still, the jarring shift from ten episodes spanning decades to eight episodes spanning months is noticeable.

Had this season of House of the Dragon been the introduction to this Game of Thrones prequel rather than the first, I would imagine there would have been a far warmer reception for the series. The early renewal for this season shows that HBO and audiences are invested in exploring Westeros. This season is easily better than the first and sets a far more consistent pacing that makes for a more enjoyable run of fantasy storytelling. This season is sexier, bloodier, and more interesting, but it still has a way to go before it can be as good as the first seasons of Game of Thrones. The improvements in House of the Dragon are immediate from the beginning of the season premiere, and I am confident they will last through the finale. But, until this series can give us something that Game of Thrones did not, House of the Dragon is just another chapter in a long history rather than the unique destination viewing that the first series gave us.

Season two of House of the Dragon premieres on June 16th on HBO.

Originally published at