House of the Dragon – Season 2 Episode 3 “The Burning Mill” Recap & Review

The Burning Mill

Episode 3 of House of the Dragon starts with a border dispute between the Brackens and the Blackwoods. This, of course, is a direct consequence of the battlelines being drawn over Aegon and Rhaenyra’s dispute.

This mini-conquest is a fascinating way to open the episode as we cut to a much larger battlefield, bathed in blood and eerie silence. The windmill turns in the distance, a smouldering ruin of what it once was. As the camera pans up, we see the sheer amount of devastation here, with thousands upon thousands of corpses lining the ground. And all of this came about because of a tiny dispute over land.

Speaking of corpses, Erryk and Arryk are both buried while Rhaenys believes there’s “hotter blood” at work here rather than Otto Hightower. She muses over where this war started and the idea that violence begets violence. She believes there may be another way rather than a massive war. And that stems from Alicent Hightower.

Rhaenyra tries to talk her way out of this, claiming that Aegon sits on her throne and there’s nothing else to be said… despite a raven from Alicent having arrived and going unanswered.

Criston Cole continues to fail upwards as the new Hand to the King. He shows up at the council meeting and sits alongside Alicent. They discuss Arryk’s failed mission and the massacre between the Brackens and Blackwoods. Unfortunately things descend pretty quickly into squabbling and ideas bounced on either side. Alicent is frustrated.

It’s Criston Cole who speaks up though, pointing out that the Riverlands are the key to the war and Harrenhal can control all of that. He wants to try and change all those who declared for Rhaenyra and take it by force. It’s incredibly bold and Alicent has huge doubts over whether this will work. It’s barely a debate though as Aemon is all for it.

White Worm is still at Dragonstone and Rhaenyra approaches her outside. She wants to be rewarded for the warning and in particular, wants a place at her court. Given she showed grace, White Worm admits that she’s surprised by Rhaenyra. White Worm knows the movements of the Red Keep and what goes on there, so she leverages herself to be someone who knows she can be of use.

White Worm wants to punish the Hightowers and knows through Rhaenyra’s actions that she’s more merciful than the Hightowers. Given we know what happens with the “Mad King”, calling the Targaryens merciful is rather ironic.

Knowing that war is coming, she sends her own boys and Rhaena away as far as Pentos to try and keep them safe. Baela needs to stay though, given she has a dragon, and that will be used for leverage to build up their army.

Daemon shows up at Harrenhal and decides to claim it for himself. He shows up and Simon Strong, the Castellan of Harrenhal and connected to Larys Strong of course, immediately pledges fealty and invites him to supper.

Daemon is weary over the potential of poison but there’s no love lost in the Strong family. Simon doesn’t like Larys, calling him Clubfoot and denouncing him as a Lord. They struggle to call Daemon “Your Grace”, given Rhaenyra is the Queen. He wants to basically muster up enough strength in the Riverlands to then march on King’s Landing and take the throne.

Meanwhile, Criston Cole sports a new haircut and Alicent introduces him to her brother, Ser Gwayne Hightower. Given Otto was unseated, he’s not particularly happy about Cole filling his boots, but he’s also going to accompany Cole into battle. It’s clear that this is Alicent’s way of keeping an eye on him. Reluctantly it seems, Alicent gives him her “blessing” and off they march.

While Aegon makes his first move, Rhaenyra’s council convene and discuss the strategy they’ll take. They haven’t seen Aegon make his move and believe they’ll be going first. Rhaenyra believes they need to give Daemon time. While the council contemplate what to do, Rhaenys and Lord Corlys talk about Rhaena and Joffrey, including the war and part their ways. A lot of this falls on Rhaena’s shoulders to remind Lady Jeyne of her pledge to Rhaenyra. Two small dragons, Stormcloud and Tyraxes, are given to help.

As war is upon us, we cut back to Alicent and Queen Halaena who discuss Jaehaerys death. She tells Alicent she forgives her, which takes Alicent aback. Larys is also taken aback when he learns that the war is about to begin, including diverse rumours in King’s Landing. While some have seen Aegon’s actions as courageous and flying out to meet Criston Cole to aid in battle, others suggest he has been persuaded by Ser Criston, given his sudden ascension to become the King’s hand. He tasks Larys to “tend” to these weeds and brings him on as his Master of Whisperers officially.

Aegon is desperate to be accepted and he shows up at a local tavern and decides there should be drinks for all. After, he shows up at the brothel where he finds none other than Aemond, who’s obviously with his mistress. Aemond walks out the room with his head held high though, writing her off as nothing more than “a whore”.

That night, Rhaenyra decides to read the raven that’s come from Alicent. As she does, we cut over to Criston Cole, who finds Ser Gwayne challenging his rule. They find themselves exposed out in the open though as a dragon happens to be high in the sky. It’s Baela. She spies Cole and his men and decides to meet them across the plains. They just about make it into the trees without being caught but they’re incredibly lucky.

Baela flies back and feeds this back to Rhaenyra about Criston Cole and the half-dozen knights in his company. This is confirmed by others in attendance at the council chamber. They do worry that this could be a prelude to a much bigger army, and all eyes now turn toward Harrenhal. Rhaenyra decides to consider all options before acting rashly, reluctant to burn the woods or turn this into a huge bloodshed.

As for Daemon, despite being the largest castle, Harrenhal is in a state of disrepair. It’s actually quite ironic and fitting that he be there, given Harrenhal being the largest castle but unbefitting for its job of being a stronghold is similar to how Daemon views the crown and his claim. He’s not next in line and pretends that he is,  and everyone struggles to actually call him “Your Grace”.

That night, Daemon ends up having a bad dream. He creeps down by the fire and finds none other than a young Rhaenyra humming and stitching up Jaehaerys’s head to his body. It’s a dream, of course, and paves way for an ominous message from a hooded woman. “You will die here.”

Rhaenyra meanwhile, calls on White Worm’s intelligence that night. She quizzes her over Alicent and decides she doesn’t want to kill her. She wants to try and avert war. She believes Alicent feels the same way, given she has remorse. White Worm suggests making the same journey Daemon did across in fishing boats and finding Alicent in the one place she happens to be alone outside the castle walls.

Dressed in simple robes and with hoods up, Rhaenyra sneaks into King’s Landing and heads for the Sept of Baelor. The man she goes in with waits outside while she heads in, but he has a knife tucked under his sleeve just in case things go awry.

Inside the Sept, Rhaenyra gets her chance and sits alongside Alicent. She also has a knife too, for assurance, and realizes this whole plan may yet go wrong. Once she composes herself, she tries to question whether they can avoid battle, coming to some sort of agreement of peace together. Unfortunately, after killing Jaehaerys, that seems impossible. She brings up Aegon’s death and how, before he died, he reaffirmed Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne. Alicent though, believes that he did change his mind at the last second, refusing to entertain anything else.

The acting here is exquisite, as Rhaenyra looks into Alicent’s eyes and sees no lie. She truly does believe what King Viserys said and interpreted it as meaning her Aegon. Rhaenyra cracks a little and wants to know what he said right at the end.

When she mentions the “Prince that was promised to the realm”, Rhaenyra is shocked as she brings up Aegon the Conqueror. Alicent realizes that all of this is a mistake but refuses to entertain that now. She’s too far and without Otto in the council, and both Aegon and Cole on the march, she believes it’s too late. She does, however, tell Rhaenyra to leave.

The Episode Review

After being subjected to the horrors of Doctor Who and The Acolyte, which are easily two of the worst shows to be released this year, it’s refreshing to finally find a show that’s actually well written and nuanced. House of the Dragon channels those early seasons of Game of Thrones, before it descended into farcical spectacle, with a lot of political power plays and excellent characterisation.

Sometimes a conversation between two people can say very little but yet hold an incredible amount of weight. Seeing both Alicent and Rhaenyra at the end, finally talking about Viserys’ death with distinct pockets of silence as they look at one another, is testament to the quality of the acting. It’s clear that Alicent believes what she’s saying and seeing the penny drop when she realizes Viserys mentioned Aegon the Conqueror and not Prince Aegon is a great moment.

This also harks back to the earlier chat that Rhaenys mentioned here, that violence begets violence and sometimes those at war forget the real reason they’re doing so. It’s clear that the catalyst for all of this actually started with Viserys death, and everything since has extrapolated out.

We are now very much in the position of war and there seems to be no way out. All of this poses a very interesting dilemma for the episodes ahead as we look set to descend into all out war.

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