House of the Dragon’s twin battle perfects the “Which one should I shoot?!” scene

House of the Dragon season 1 surprises Game of Thrones fans who were not well versed in George RR Martin’s Fire & Blood with the introduction of the two most confusing characters yet: Ser Arryk Cargyll and Ser Erryk Cargyll.

In an effort to recreate history and maintain a sense of reality, Martin has gleefully named key figures in Westeros with similar names or variants based on family. But Arryk and Erryk, twin members of the Kingsguard with almost the same name, were a next-level troll. Luckily, actors Luke and Elliott Tittensor – yes, they’re real twins, no CG required – gave them vivid personalities that made their division between the Greens and the Blacks all the more heartbreaking. Then season 2 upped the ante.

(Ed. remark: This story contains major spoilers for the end of House of the Dragon season 2 episode 2.)

In season 1, Arryk and Erryk were brothers and allies whose previous missions included locating the twerp Aegon in episode 9. But when Queen Alicent and her father, Ser Otto Hightower, pulled the strings to bring Aegon to power and oust Princess Rhaenyra from her position as heir to the throne, Arryk and Erryk drifted apart. They both seemed to agree that Ser Criston Cole is a nimrod – an objective fact? – but after arguing over loyalty, Erryk helped Rhaenys escape from King’s Landing, while Arryk stayed to serve Aegon. In season 2, they find themselves on opposite sides of the looming conflict, and Arryk makes one of the worst decisions ever: when Criston guilt trips him over little Jaehaerys’ death, the twin soldier sets out to kill Rhaenyra and inevitably to confront his brother.

Mistakes were made, but Arryk’s fateful fuck-up results in one of my favorite fight scenes from either Game of Thrones series. The scene kicks into high gear as Arryk, with the confidence of an undercover twin brother, walks up to the guard protecting Rhaenyra’s room. Arryk assumes Erryk’s identity and tells the man on duty to take a break. Note to self: don’t trust a twin who wants you to walk away from your job! Luckily, thanks to his twin brother (and perhaps the White Worm), Erryk shows up just as Arryk prepares to strike Rhaenyra down in her bed. The brawl starts and it’s pure chaos. A few moments later, another of Rhaenyra’s men literally exclaims, as he must, “Which one is Erryk?!”

Image: Max

There are just a few circumstances that can lead to a classic “Which one do I shoot?!” imposter moment, and even fewer that evoke the deep-seated confusion of what House of the Dragon director Clare Kilner achieves it in episode 2. When there’s a shapeshifter involved, we usually get at least a burst of hero-on-fake-hero action: Mystique’s fight with Wolverine in the 2000s X Men being one of the best, although it ends with her transforming back into her blue self, and then into Storm as a way to escape the brawl. Really “Which one do I photograph?!” scenes are quite cold, so the villain doesn’t show his hand. T-1000 pretending to be Sarah Connor Terminator 2: Judgment Day is high tension but low-key, as Fake Sarah Connor begs for John’s help, just as Real Sarah Connor walks around the corner and shoots him from behind. (Terminator Genisys has a similar scene with Kyle Reese, which forces young Sarah Connor to actually decide which one she wants to film, but maybe watch Terminator 2 if you need a molten metal doppelgänger fix.)

Although I appreciate Buzz putting out his own Evil Buzz Toy story 2must be the pinnacle of lookalike-on-lookalike action in James Wong’s film The one, who put the multiverse to good use by turning an evil Jet Li against himself. For 2001, all of the sequences in which Li battles himself – through body doubles, face replacement, digital compositing, and a number of other tennis ball hitting techniques – are exceptional, showcasing various martial arts techniques augmented with multiversal superpowers. Even the behind-the-scenes documentaries on how they made it rock:

But there’s a distinct advantage to having two physical warriors on set who can duke it out, and Kilner takes full advantage of that. When Arryk and Erryk start beating the hell out of each other, the camera drifts away from the fight to catch the fear on Rhaenyra’s face, leading to some deliberately convoluted action geography. A scene intended for a pure adrenaline rush can show the sword swings and defensive kicks to ensure that the players, even if wearing similar armor, are recognizable. There are a few clues in the fight that viewers could try to latch on to – Erryk gets a cut on his leg early on, and it could be a clue if a shot is held long enough. But Kilner amplifies the disorienting effect of two twins fighting by breaking the 180-degree rule and bouncing between angles that don’t go together for the brain. It’s the medieval action equivalent of a ball-and-cup trick.

The brawl leaves the audience with no idea who won, a beat that left me gasping. Even right after watching it, I wasn’t entirely sure that Arryk had the upper hand over Erryk… but that didn’t matter in the end. One twin dying meant that both twins had to go, for honor. The battle ends in Targaryen suicide, another tragedy on top of tragedy. While I’m sad to see the twins disappear from the series, it also feels like history – I’m not sure the stars will align for such a compelling “Which one do I shoot?!” ever a scene again.