House of the Dragon’s King Aegon is much more than just Joffrey 2.0

The Game of Thrones TV universe has had its fair share of childish, petulant, blonde kings. And at first, House of the Dragon season 2‘s addition to that lineup, Aegon II Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney), seemed like he could be a slightly less evil iteration of Joffrey, like the series takes its foot off the gas and plays the hits. But in the first two episodes of the season, Aegon has already proven that there is enough to separate him from Game of Thrones‘biggest bad guy.

(Ed. remark: This post contains spoilers for House of the Dragon season 2. It also contains spoilers for Game of Thronesif you are concerned about that in any way.)

Joffrey is, by necessity, a fairly simple character. In season 2 of Game of ThronesWhen he first truly comes to power, the show introduces half a dozen new factions and twice as many characters. Joffrey is immature, cruel, violent, impulsive, and generally thoughtless in most of his actions. That’s not to say his character is bad, because it’s simple, just that he fills a very necessary role. The season is a maelstrom of morally gray characters with Joffrey at the center to give the audience an anchor, as a measuring point to judge the relative evil of each other king; when everyone else is morally complex, it helps to have a villain to orient ourselves to.

But like most characters in House of the DragonAegon is much more nuanced than its neighbor Game of Thrones counterpart.

Image: HBO

In its earliest moments this season, Aegon will have a similar setup. We see him at a small council meeting, acting like a brash child, pushing for war at a moment’s notice, furious that anyone would question his claim to the throne. But it doesn’t take long for his humanity to emerge. As he attends to the concerns of his lowborn subjects, it becomes clear that Aegon wants to be a good king. He tries to relax the cattle tax for farmers, but is told that this would cripple his dragons, and he clearly wants to give the blacksmiths the money they ask for. Neither, as Otto notes, are particularly good decisions. But they are still empathetic and understandable, in a way that Joffrey could never be.

In this way, Aegon is more affected by the tragedy than Joffrey ever was. In the second episode of the season, after the death of his son and heir, Aegon is broken in a more nuanced way than Game of Thrones characters have ever been, at least on screen. We see him impulsively calling for war and Rhaenyra’s head; we see him kill the former Goldcloak who was caught trying to transport his son’s head out of King’s Landing; and we see him crying alone in his room in one of the saddest television scenes in recent memory, made more poignant by the fact that Alicent simply walks out of the room when she sees this, herself too sad to even confront her son.

King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) stands before a crowd of cheering Westeros audience members and triumphantly holds his sword aloft

Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

It’s all the boisterous restlessness we saw in Aegon during the small council meetings of the first episode, but manifested through sadness rather than boredom. Aegon’s pampered life keeps him at a distance from tragedy, but does not make him immune to it. So when it happens to him too, he has no idea what to do with those feelings. It’s deeply, inescapably, and devastatingly human, all in ways Joffrey never had to be. And that’s exactly what House of the Dragon needs, with its complicated web of family conflicts, misunderstandings and underhanded power grabs.

Unsurprisingly, the best summary of the type of king Aegon II Targaryen is, and how different he is from Joffrey, comes from Game of Thrones yourself. In the second season of the original series, Tyrion tells Joffrey that Westeros has had cruel kings and idiot kings, but Joffrey might be the first cruel idiot king. In Tyrion’s parlance, Aegon is an idiotic king. Not the insulting kind of idiot Tyrion meant, but a tragic kind of idiot. In another time, Aegon could have had a good government, and that fact alone creates a huge rift between him and Joffrey, and makes Aegon an even sadder character in the process.