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House of the Dragon’s Darkest Scene Was Way Worse In the Book

An eye for an eye.

House of the Dragon

House of the Dragon’s Season 2 premiere is largely a meditative, table-setting episode. It follows characters like Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy) and Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) as they feel the gravity of Lucerys Velaryon's (Elliot Grihault) death at the end of House of the Dragon Season 1, and emotionally prepare themselves for the horrors to come. But the terrible grief that hovers over most of the episode, fittingly titled "A Son for a Son," then spills over into House of the Dragon's darkest sequence to date.

Warning! Spoilers ahead for House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 1.

Blood and Cheese, Explained

The premiere's final minutes follow Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) as he sneaks into King's Landing and hires Blood (Sam C. Wilson), a still-loyal member of the City Watch he formed, and Cheese (Mark Stobbart), one of the Red Keep's ratcatchers, to exact vengeance for Lucerys' death. While Daemon's intended target for the hit is Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) himself, he tells Blood and Cheese that, if they can't find the Targaryen prince, to make sure they kill "a son for a son."

Daemon's instructions result in Blood and Cheese cornering Aegon Targaryen's (Tom Glynn-Carney) sister-wife, Helaena (Phia Saban), and forcing her to tell them which of her two sleeping children is her son. After she does, Helaena leaves the room while Blood and Cheese mercilessly kill and behead her young son, Jaehaerys. The scene is upsetting, and reminiscent of the Gold Cloaks' massacre of Robert Baratheon's bastard sons at the end of the Game of Thrones Season 2 premiere.

And yet, in typical Thrones fashion, the House of the Dragon scene actually could have been a whole lot worse.

Blood and Cheese Book Differences: Who Is Maelor?

Daemon’s assassination plot takes a darker turn than anyone (except George R. R. Martin) could have imagined.

HBO

House of the Dragon is based on Fire & Blood, Martin’s history of the Targaryen dynasty. In it, the incident involving Blood and Cheese is described in great detail, and it's even more sickening. Blood and Cheese don't find Helaena but her mother, Alicent. They strangle her bedmaid, bind and gag Alicent, then kill Helaena's guardsman once she arrives in the Tower of the Hand with her children in tow.

Cheese then asks Helaena which of her two sons, Maelor and Jaehaerys, she'd prefer they kill. After Helaena reluctantly chooses her youngest, Maelor, Blood decapitates Jaehaerys instead before fleeing the Red Keep with the boy's head. It’s a disturbing sequence, even by George R. R. Martin's standards. But Maelor has been excluded from House of the Dragon so far, so Helaena's choice is inevitably left out of the HBO adaptation. The series also spares Alicent from witnessing Jaehaerys' murder. Instead, Helaena flees to Alicent's chamber, where she’s revealed to have been romantically entangled with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) while everything else was happening.

Odds are, no viewers will be writing any letters to HBO complaining about the changes the show makes to Blood and Cheese's infamous act. That said, i’s worth noting this isn't the first time House of the Dragon has taken a dark moment from Fire & Blood and dulled its edges a bit. Lucerys' death was turned into Aemond’s tragic mistake rather than the vengeful prince’s active decision, while the show's decision to have Alicent misinterpret Viserys' final words as a change of heart was designed to take some of the bite from her and the Green Council's plan to usurp the Iron Throne from Rhaenyra.

Alicent will need more than prayers.

HBO

Despite these changes, House of the Dragon's take on Prince Jaehaerys' death is still impactful. The sequence is brimming with nervous, dread-inducing energy that builds to a grisly climax. It is, however, the latest example of House of the Dragon taking a moment of horrifying violence from its source material and lightening the intensity. That's a trend the series will need to manage carefully if it wants to avoid removing the full ferocity of Fire & Blood and the Thrones brand.

Game of Thrones, throughout its eight-season run, tended to do the opposite. It frequently took shocking moments from Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books and found ways to make them even more cutting. At times, that hurt Thrones, but it also made watching it an edge-of-your-seat experience unlike anything viewers had experienced on TV. So far, House of the Dragon hasn't quite reached the same heights as Thrones, but its Season 2 premiere proves the potential is there.

New episodes of House of the Dragon Season 2 premiere Sunday nights on HBO and Max.

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