House of the Dragon crossed a line and episode 2 goes even further

Even for the work of George RR Martin, the tragedy du jour that plays out in season 2 House of the Dragon in motion is a bracingly terrible moment. The casual beheading of Jaehaerys Targaryen – currently off-screen and grimly remembered this week via stitches on a corpse – is portrayed as a bridge too far, even for the unforgiving world of Westeros. The people dedicated to preserving the empire’s standards are losing their grip as the bloody eye-for-an-eye game has led to this race to the bottom.

It’s still early in the game, but House of the Dragon season 2 seems dedicated to mapping out how a war begins in great detail. It’s the Kübler-Ross model, but for armed conflict instead of grief. If “A Son for a Son” is denial, this week’s episode is anger. Or rather, anger – if anything, power is a force multiplier. As Mrs. Sylvi (Michelle Bonnard) tells Aemond when he curls up in her arms to express his regret over Jace’s murder, “When princes lose their temper, it is often others who suffer.”

This is doubly true for kings: Aegon’s anger over his son’s death has rendered him virtually inert in his position, but that doesn’t mean his small council isn’t ready to use it as fuel for the coming conflict. Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) turns his grandchild’s death into powerful propaganda, sending the baby’s corpse in a funeral procession through King’s Landing to further turn the public against Rhaenyra, who stooped so low as to murder a child in their bed. “Jaehaerys will now do more for us than a thousand knights in battle,” Otto says of his grim spectacle.

However, this is the last piece of clever politics within the Red Keep. Rage soon rebuilds the power structure in his image. Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney), in a decision that is sure to backfire, orders the killing of all the Pied Pipers in King’s Landing and removes Otto from his position of Hand, installing Ser Criston Cole – who has sent Ser Arryk to capture Rhaenyra. kill – instead of. It’s a petty act by a boy king who demands gratification and is frustrated by the limitations of the crown. However, Otto sees something worse than the loss of his position: for Otto, what the throne represents is at stake.

Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Although Otto Hightower is certainly no less self-interested than any other member of the court, he is one of the few present with strong principles and a sincere belief in them. Aegon was always a poor candidate for the Iron Throne, a candidate who wanted to be more of a figurehead who would allow the major stakeholders in Viserys’ court to keep their small fiefs – and, more importantly for Otto, the Hightowers in King’s Landing to secure. Unfortunately for that crowd, the silent coup that put him on the throne led to a series of circumstances that Aegon is uniquely ill-equipped to deal with.

Otto knows that he has endangered those principles and the crown by conspiring to install Aegon, and operates under the assumption that the preserving power of norms will cover up Aegon’s fraudulent rule and the damage to the integrity of the throne. He was clearly mistaken: we are in the phase of sending murderers, killing babies and hanging innocent exterminators; norms are as dead as Jaehaerys.

Men of principle fall one by one to make way for men who cry for war. House of the Dragon underlines this with a final small tragedy, as twins Arryk and Erryk (Elliott Tittensor and Luke Tittensor) confront each other with Rhaenyra’s life at stake. The split between the brothers along ideological lines was one of the quieter disagreements of the show’s first season, made no less devastating by their idealism and belief in the nobility of their position in the Kingsguard.

Director Clare Kilner stages the twins’ sad, desperate struggle so that it is ultimately impossible to tell them apart. Its terrible conclusion, in which one brother emerges victorious only to impale himself on his sword, can be read in several ways – as one brother who cannot live without the other, or as Erryk realizing that he will never fully understand the truth. will have Rhaenyra’s trust and therefore will not be able to live. can fulfill his duty, or as a combination of both. So death is better than a life full of mistrust or compromise. There is a metaphor here.

It’s a terrible thing to put one life above another, and yet that’s what the power structure of King’s Landing – on which every power structure, really – depends. Jaehaerys’ funeral procession is a powerful message, but it is also based on a fiction: that every other dead child killed in their bed matters just as much. That is patently untrue. So many more children will die now, to avenge the deaths of two.