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House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 4 Review: The magisterial, disorienting Dance of Dragons is finally here

Hubris of men and power leads to a heart-stopping, shattering three-way precursor battle

House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 4 Review: The magisterial, disorienting Dance of Dragons is finally here

Last Updated: 01.02 PM, Jul 08, 2024


If there is a recurring gripe viewers have been lobbing at House of the Dragon for a while now , it’s the show’s purposeful eschewal or refraining from out-and-out action/warfare sequences. To issue such impatient complaints is, however, to lose the entire point of the game. At its best, Ryan Condal’s immaculately controlled, artfully poised show is a politically shrewd, layered study in restraint in those at the helm of things, particularly when they have the most formidable weapons as dragons in their arsenal. The consequences of war would easily out-tally any euphoria of victory. It’s what is inscribed in Targaryen history. Jaehaerys instilled the virtue of peace and the dangers of ceding restraint in Viserys, who dutifully passed on the message of A Song of Ice and Fire to Rhaenyra. Therefore, her caution with deploying dragons to cement her claim on the throne also stems from a sharp awareness of the grand, larger design behind their purpose and use.


In the fourth episode, Rhaenyra ( Emma D’Arcy ) reveals to her son, Jace (Harry Collett) what Viserys had urged her to always keep in mind regarding the dragons. The dragons might just be the only recourse for the Targaryens to unite and secure the realm against a “common foe”, the nature of which is to be unravelled in due time. Probably, the only other person in Rhaenyra’s council who understands why she keeps her powers in check is Rhaenys ( Eve Best). While the others are busy baying for blood and exhorting Rhaenyra to retaliate at the earliest, Rhaenys has been a grounding force throughout. But Rhaenyra might have just as well reached a point when she can no longer afford to not act at being incited. The last fig leaf was her undercover mission to negotiate some sort of peace talk with Alicent(Olivia Cooke) which ultimately fortifies her resolve and settles all doubts she had with her claim. Rhaenyra makes it clear to her fidgety council that she too doesn’t want her affinity to caution be seen as a weakness. She maintains that she had to ensure there is no other way but war to get what she seeks. All around her, the stakes branching from the competing claims have grown so high and venomous utter, unremitting devastation might simply be what will emerge in the wake of feckless strategies and ill-advised tactical approaches.

Viserys’ desire for peace stands to be completely lost. In this episode, we encounter Alicent as palpably, visibly being on the edge. She is nervous in her attempts to abort Ser Criston Cole’s ( Fabien Frankel) child. While she has discovered she might have made a colossal mistake in comprehending Viserys’ last words regarding his succession, she is insistent as she confides in Lord Larys ( Matthew Needham) that “the significance of Viserys’ intentions died with him”. The hint of tragic, helpless resignation in Alicent’s undertone is unmistakable. She also has to assuage Aegon ( Tom Glynn-Carney), who is constantly sullen at feeling inconsequential and being sorely out of touch with any new development in his own council. Whilst council members drone on about possible schemes and manoeuvres, a disgruntled Aegon wearily quips at them, “ you bore me”, and stomps out.


One of the episode’s most delicious scenes is shared between the brothers, Aegon and Aemond ( Ewan Mitchell) at the council deliberations. While Aemond has always been mocked and denigrated by Aegon, he returns the humiliation in kind as he alludes that Aegon has almost no wit or intelligence to navigate a way forward in the war and he is the one in cool, assured control. As Aemond directly challenges his brother, triumphantly switching to High Valyrian, Aegon is flustered to say the least, scrambling to even cobble a coherent sentence together while Aemond’s cunning daring reigns at the table. To Aegon’s desperate restlessness of not being consulted at all and request for advice, Alicent has just a lone appeal: “do nothing”.


Elsewhere, in Harrenhal, Daemon’s ( Matt Smith) mind-bending, guilt-stricken hallucinations persist. Criston Cole initially seems to have been determined to seal Aegon’s grip on Harrenhal, the largest castle in Westeros, and set on a murderous rampage to swivel House Darkling to Aegon’s cause. But it turns out Aemond and Criston have planned to let go of Harrenhal, hatch a trap and progress on Rook’s Rest. It all culminates in a fiery battle, with unexpected added players. Vexed at being overlooked, Aegon too pops in, capping off in a three-way standoff between Aegon and his dragon Sunfyre, Aemond and the mightiest Vhagar, and Rhaenys and Meleys. The choreography of the nearly fifteen-minute-long sequence is staggering, that will genuinely leave you gasping for breath. 


While it may not be entirely unpredictable to grasp the fate of the dragon-riders, director Alan Taylor pulls off a battle for the ages. Notice the attention to small moments, as when Vhagar near-broodingly stoops her head down on the ground after Aemond instructs her they must wait a little longer. The dread in Criston’s face as he gauges a sudden spike in the battle’s stakes with Aegon’s rash entry is lingered on. Even from a distance, when we witness Vhagar and Meleys raring to plunge at each other, the sheer disparity in the size abundantly indicates what we can anticipate. Then, there is the absolute sense of ear-ringing, overwhelming bewilderment and all-encompassing immediate shock once the hail of fire and befuddled, directionless chaos concludes. As death and loss engulf all senses, House of the Dragon lays out just a grotesque inkling of the enormity of the horrors to come.



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