House of the Dragon Season 2 is the Reigning Champ of Prestige TV

HBO’s prestige fantasy returns with fire and bloody vengeance.

Inverse Reviews

House of the Dragon is, for lack of a better phrase, a tragic farce. Where Game of Thrones itself felt like an all-encompassing riff on Shakespeare’s history plays — complete with The Bard’s crude humor and plenty of smug narrative twists — its prequel series could be classified more as a comedy of errors. Sure, it leans smarter than the medieval fantasy that kick-started our collective obsession with dragons, betrayal, and a good platinum wig. But its central conflict, and the characters caught within it, are actually... kinda stupid. That stupidity often makes for great television, though, especially as the blindsiding events of Season 1 give way to all-out dragon war in Season 2.

With an action-packed return, House of the Dragon doubles down on everything that worked in its inaugural season. The meticulous melodrama finally gives way to the harrowing dread of a vicious civil war — and though it’s still slow to unleash the bloody battles fans have been waiting for, a game cast and transfixing tension allows this season to burn much hotter than its predecessor.

With Season 1’s many time jumps finally out of the way, House of the Dragon settles into a perfect groove.


While House of the Dragon’s Season 1 cliffhanger set the stage for an explosive conflict, its follow-up takes a page from its central characters and resists the pull of all-out war. The late King Viserys (Paddy Considine) fought tooth and nail to legitimize his daughter Rhaenyra’s (Emma D’Arcy) claim to the Iron Throne. But all that work went out the window when his queen, Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), misinterpreted his final wish and put their son Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) on the throne instead. The seven kingdoms quickly splintered, torn between their sworn oath to Rhaenyra and the threat posed by the Hightowers. Both sides did what they could to win more supporters to their cause... but even that incited bloodshed between Rhaenyra’s son and Alicent’s.

One small decision, one minute misunderstanding, can sire catastrophic consequences. Only Rhaenyra and Alicent seem to truly understand this going into Season 2: Despite what each have lost, they’re both determined to prevent the conflict later known as the Dance of Dragons. The men that surround them don’t agree in the slightest, of course, reupping the first season’s refreshing proto-feminist theme. Rhaenyra and Alicent may be vying for the Iron Throne, but they’re both still tethered to a common enemy: the patriarchy.

The world of Thrones is more or less ruled by men, but House of the Dragon remains refreshingly self-aware.


The Crown alum Matt Smith slips back into a familiar posture as Daemon, Rhaenyra’s husband-slash-uncle. Like many in the realm, he’s not entirely comfortable with the idea of a woman on the Iron Throne — especially when he was once Viserys’ heir. He hid his resentment well enough in House of the Dragon’s first season, but as war looms, reining him in will be Rhaenyra’s biggest challenge. She’s already got her hands full with a restless court at Dragonstone: save for Princess Rhaenys (an always-compelling Eve Best) and her husband Corlys (Steve Toussaint, a bit underused), her small council meetings are chock full of mansplaining and condescension. (Too many men!)

Alicent isn’t faring much better in King’s Landing. With her failson Aegon on the throne, Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) slipping further into his Joker era, and the slimy Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) angling for even more power, the Dowager Queen has effectively lost what little influence she once held. Still, Cooke makes the most out of a largely internal role. She’s not quite as steely as Thrones’ Cersei Lannister, as the male-driven machinations of court keep her consistently on the back foot — but this season does see Alicent raging a bit against the machine, and it’s nothing if not cathartic.

Olivia Cooke remains a consistent highlight in Season 2.


House of the Dragon is always at its best when it gives its heroines time to shine, and Cooke and D’Arcy — alongside Best and Sonoya Mizuno, relishing her role as the White Worm — never drop the ball. The same has to be said for their male co-stars: there’s not a weak link in the whole ensemble, and each quiet confrontation or explosive tantrum carries as much thrill as those long-awaited battles.

All the table-setting of Season 1 is finally paying off. The scope of the series also expands beyond King’s Landing and Dragonstone, taking in potentially-haunted castles and even the ominous wall beyond Winterfell. The Dance of the Dragons still takes its sweet time to truly unfurl, at least in the four episodes provided to press. But that doesn’t mean Team Black and Team Green are idle in the least: each side works overtime to get the upper hand over their enemies. Blood for blood, an eye for an eye, on and on until the war is effectively (if unofficially) underway. Season 2 is not without its shocking moments, though there’s a sense that the true spectacle is yet to come.

The series hasn’t totally eschewed the pacing issues that addled its first season. House of the Dragon is much slower than its predecessor or even its contemporaries, but it commands our attention all the same. Quiet character drama proves just as riveting as a bloody betrayal — and it’s hard not to be amused by all the endless floundering, especially from the characters desperate to prove their worth. We finally get the chance to spend time with a fully realized cast, and House of the Dragon settles into a satisfying, compelling groove. War, like winter, is obviously inevitable. We can’t fault Rhaenyra, Alicent, or the creative team behind the scenes for savoring the calm before the storm.

House of the Dragon Season 2 premieres June 16 on HBO and Max.

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