House of the Dragon – Season 2 Episode 4 “A Dance of Dragons” Recap & Review

A Dance of Dragons

Episode 4 of House of the Dragon Season 2 picks up with Daemon at Harrenhal. High Valyrian echoes off the empty walls as the Prince sees a young Rhaenyra on the throne before him. Daemon beheads her when she taunts him, as the sins of his past and the guilt hanging over him regarding Rhaenyra continues to cloud his thoughts.

Awoken with a start, Daemon learns a raven has arrived for him. Aegon’s army has departed Kings Landing a fortnight ago and already two castles have fallen. Both houses have joined Ser Criston, whose host is starting to grow in strength. Ser Simon worries that Cole will be turning his attention to Harrenhal next and they don’t have the numbers to hold them back.

Daemon listens to all this before turning his attention to Oscar Tully, heir of the Riverrun. He suggests the young child kill his grandfather to speed up the process of turning the crown and allowing the men to follow his (and by extension Daemon’s) lead, but the kid refuses. Daemon is not impressed, likening him to a fish without a head given his lack of action. Instead, he overlooks Oscar and decides the Blackwoods should arrive instead. He needs men of action.

Alicent receives a gift (ie. poison) from the Grand Maester, who drops it off in her chamber. She’s still troubled over Rhaenyra’s confession regarding A Song Of Ice and Fire, but the Grand Maester speaks plainly, pointing out Viserys never mentioned the succession of the throne with him. The concoction dropped off, coupled with Alicent clutching he stomach, hints that she’s pregnant with Cole’s child and this is her way of getting rid of the child so nobody finds out.

Meanwhile, in Dragonstone Baela mentions the movements of Criston Cole and the others. There’s been no word received from Daemon and with a vast army (that’s growing bigger by the day) everyone is angsty in the council. Without Rhaenyra here (given she’s at King’s Landing) they feel rudderless and end up squabbling amongst themselves. One of them even fires pot-shots at Rhaenys too.

Thankfully, Lord Corlys shows up and berates them. They need to trust that Rhaenyra has faith in the council to do the right thing. And that comes from ending this conflict, one way or another.

With the Targaryens in disarray, Criston Cole and his kin are growing in strength every day. There are still dissenting voices in the ranks, but Cole does his best to weed them out. In fact, after a raven arrives he makes a big decision and decides to ride northeast away from Harrenhal rather than toward it. We later find out, this was a message from Aemond. He’s marching on Rook’s Rest, a weak castle but in taking this, it means Dragonstone will be completely cut off by land.

This is all part of the bigger plan, something that Aemond has seen in all his wisdom and Aegon the Magnanimous… has not. The council are uncomfortable knowing that Aemond and Criston Cole have worked this together in secret, but as Aemond speaks in High Valyrian, it becomes clear that there’s more at work here. He undermines the King’s integrity, clearly a way to get back at him for taking the piss at the brothel. Aemond is not a man to be trifled with and he stares a hole through his brother, who struggles to speak in Valyrian back. The balance of power is clearly shifting.

Larys shows up to see Alicent after, and our new Master of Whisperers looks over her chamber, noticing the empty bottle and testing her resolve over Criston Cole and her sudden interests surrounding the history of the realm. It’s clear that Alicent is looking into Aegon the Conqueror and the validity of Viserys’ claims. What’s particularly interesting though is how Larys dives into this, trying to goad Alicent into making a mistake as she navigates this verbal minefield.

The most pressing statement comes at the end of this back and forth skirmish, as Alicent points out that “The significance of Viserys’ intentions died with him” and that a fight for the throne is upon us.

While Daemon continues to be haunted by the past, engaging in a rather interesting chat with Alys Rivers, she seems to have a scheme up her sleeve. She tells him that Harrenhal is haunted and after a bit of back and forth, concocts a drink for him… and Daemon immediately awakens to find himself in the meeting chamber with the Blackwoods representative. This bit of time loss seems to hint that Alys’ drink was spiked, but we’ll have to wait and see on that front. The Blackwoods pledge their allegiance… but only after Daemon destroys the Brackens completely.

Alicent’s crusade continues, and whilst looking for Viserys’ old books, learns that Aegon had them removed. It’s ironic that this kid would get rid of any semblance of wisdom and knowledge from the chambers, given his Kingsguard has absolutely none of it. There’s a great scene here where the Kingsguard leave the chamber but they march the wrong way and bump into each other. It’s not even mentioned in dialogue but it’s a great way of reinforcing Aegon’s joke of a reign.

Alicent is at her wits end regarding her son and berates him when he comes storming into the chamber like a petulant teenager. Aegon whines, claiming his opinions are going unheard and this narcissist gets a rude wake-up call when Alicent calls him out for his pettiness. She’s livid over the sacrifices she made to put him on the throne, and encourages him to do one thing that’s incredibly difficult for our boy King to do. Nothing.

There’s not a lot he can do from King’s Landing though given the wheels are already in motion. While Cole readies himself to ride on and take Rook’s Rest by day, Rhaenyra returns to her council. Jacaerys challenges her over where she’s been and after getting them up to speed on her meeting with Alicent, learns the dire times they’re in.

Half the council know that this play on Rooks Rest is to get the dragons out of hiding and encourage those on Dragonstone to leap into action, and Jacaerys is desperate to get his dragon involved. Rhaenyra smirks and knows she doesn’t want to lose another son to this war. Rhaenys jumps into action and decides to go and meet Cole head-on.

Alone, Rhaenyra speaks to Jacaerys about a secret she’s been keeping, having passed from King to Heir since Aegon the Conqueror’s time. She wasn’t sure she believed it herself but the fable says that the Targaryen who takes the Iron Throne is ordained to lead the Seven Kingdoms and unite them against a common foe. Viserys chose Rhaenyra to be this Protector but she refuses to jump into war without having a just cause and passion to back her up. Rhaenyra tells him about Aegon the Conqueror’s dream while the war looks set to consume everything.

Rhaenys isn’t the only one riding with a dragon to war. In fact, Aegon has enough of sitting around and decides to get involved with his dragon, Sunfyre. When Rhaenys shows up on her dragon, Criston Cole is not worried and signals the sky with two flaming arrows. Aemond with his massive dragon Vhagar happens to be in the woods and he’s been waiting for this opportunity to strike.

Aegon’s arrival rallies the men, as Criston Cole gives a big speech that this was all ordained and that the King has joined them in this fight. While Rhaenys actually comes out on top, hurting Aegon’s dragon and spewing blood, when Vhagar shows, the whole dynamic of the battle changes. Aemond shouts Dracarys and Aegon is felled, consumed in a fireball alongside Rhaenys and her dragon. Rhaenys comes out alive and while flying over the shoreline makes her choice… and decides to fight back. The look she gives her dragon here seems to hint that she knows this could well be her last.

Vhagar is knocked down, and in the process so too is Criston Cole who rides for Aegon and his dragon. When Vhagar takes to the skies again, they sneak up on Rhaenys (somehow, despite the size of this dragon) and both the dragon and Rhaenys drop to the ground, dead.

Criston Cole staggers through the woods and finds Aemond, who arrives in the smouldering ruins of Aegon and his dragon. He throws down the knife Aegon was carrying and walks away. Aegon’s condition however, is unknown as Cirston Cole drops to his knees.

The Episode Review

Was Aegon just collateral damage or did Aemond decide to take his opportunity to dispatch two players off the field? It’s clear by the end that this is Aemond’s master plan to play a game of chess that the King, and perhaps even Criston Cole, couldn’t foresee. It’s also a great testament to why you don’t poke the bear because Aegon laughing at Aemond in the brothel was bad news and arguably the catalyst for him deciding to get some revenge.

There are so many interesting and note-worthy moments in this episode, whether it be Alicent grappling with her own morality and validifying Viserys’ last wishes, or Rhaenys accepting what’s happened and going gracefully into battle, each character in this show is written so well and with believable motivations.

And it’s perhaps ironic that you can drawn parallels between Rhaenys and Aegon as two polar opposites in this conflict. On one side you have a talented tactician and a respected advisor in the council room. Rhaenys is strong, fierce and has earned her respect.

By comparison, Aegon cares for his dragon and Sunfyre him, but nobody takes Aegon seriously and they certainly don’t respect him. The guy is screaming out for attention and to be loved but even Alicent, his own mum, doesn’t respect him. It’s poetic that her actions – blaming him for everything and shrugging him off – is what sets off his dragon war in all its fury. She’s partly to blame here for not preparing him and thinking she could just muscle Aegon out the way when the time came and took the throne for herself and her father. Aegon’s story is tragic, so perhaps if he dies here, it’s a fitting end for him.

The second half of this chapter in particular is full-on with its action and its interesting that the show takes the route that it does, allowing the siege to play out for a while before the dragons dwarf all the action. This is clearly a deliberate move to show how terrible and awful dragon fighting can be. It was also pretty obvious that there would be some sort of ambush here because storming a castle in the day in the middle of a field right off Dragonstone almost screams “Dracarys me”. But then Rhaenyra doesn’t really have a choice. If the castle is taken, they have their only route to the mainland cut off.

The show has a great ebb and flow to it and the council meetings are a great opportunity to allow the characters to show their true intentions. The chilling back and forth in High Valyrian between Aemond and Aegon is probably the best moment in the whole episode outside the dragon conflict, saying so much with so few words.

Aegon slowly comprehending that he’s worthless and surrounded himself with imbeciles to big him up is a great reveal. Aemond has always been the more intelligent brother and him knowing more Valyrian and paying more attention harks back to Alicent’s retorts in the episode about Aegon not listening and being foolhardy. But then this also poses a very intriguing question regarding the knife Aegon has. Since it has Valyrian markings on it, are we led to believe now that he’s also read the prophecy and knows about Aegon the Conqueror?

House of the Dragon has been a great watch this year and the ending hints that next week’s fallout is going to be absolutely insane. Is Aegon still alive? We’ll have to wait and see.

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