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‘House of the Dragon’ is back Sunday. Here’s who to know and what to watch for

 Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen.
Theo Whitman
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HBO
Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen.

When last we left the vast lands of Westeros, battle lines were irrevocably drawn, two very different royal butts vied to park themselves upon the Iron Throne, and one dragon chomped another neatly in twain like it was the ribbon at the grand opening of a King’s Landing laundromat.

Here’s a handy-dandy scorecard, of the can’t-tell-the-players-without-one variety. We’re dealing with two sides that each claim they are the rightful heirs to the Iron Throne: Team Green in King’s Landing, and Team Black on the island of Dragonstone.

Team Green: Aegon with the wind

These are the folks who, as season 2 opens, reside in and around the Red Keep, in King’s Landing. They seized power when the old king Viserys (Paddy Considine) died, even though he’d named his daughter Rhaenyra (see below) his heir, years before. They consist of:

Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke): Talks a big game about faith and decorum and the importance of peace, but is perfectly happy to benefit from the dirty deeds wrought by her underlings, if it means her son (King Aegon II, below) can rule. Misunderstood her late husband’s dying words, and set in motion a chain of events that are about to cause lots of folks to get immolated by dragon halitosis.

 Olivia Cooke as Queen Alicent in <em>House of the Dragon.</em>
Ollie Upton / HBO
/
HBO
Olivia Cooke as Queen Alicent in House of the Dragon.

Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans): Was Hand of the King, chief advisor to the late King Viserys. Has retained that role with the new king, for now. Positions himself as wise and forbearing, but is just as hungry for power as the rest of ‘em. Frequently warns his daughter Alicent that she is underestimating the ruthlessness of Team Black. Pot, kettle.

Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel): Ser Criston is a member of the Kingsguard – the personal bodyguards of the royal family. He’s that one hot guy who’s always wearing a white cloak, except on those occasions it’s hanging on Queen Alicent’s bedpost, if you catch my drift. Fiercely loyal to his Queen, and not because he’s bitter over getting dumped by her rival last season or anything. Well. Not just because.

 Ewan Mitchell and Tom Glynn-Carney in Episode 9 of Season 1 of <em>House of the Dragon</em>.
Ollie Upton / HBO
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HBO
Ewan Mitchell and Tom Glynn-Carney in Episode 9 of Season 1 of House of the Dragon.

King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney): Alicent’s oldest son, the newly appointed King Aegon II is the kind of royal jerkface that George R. R. Martin loves to write about – petulant, cowardly, cruel. A kind of ur-Joffrey, if that helps. His dragon is Sunfyre. In keeping with longstanding but no less creepy Targaryen tradition, he’s married to his sister …

Queen Helaena (Phia Saban): Helaena is moony and distracted; her hobbies include embroidery, gazing into the middle distance and burbling out maddeningly vague prophecies that inevitably come to pass. Her dragon is Dreamfyre. She and Aegon have a pair of young twins: Jaehaera and Jaehaerys. This will become important very early in Season 2.

 Phia Saban as Queen Helaena in Season 1.
Ollie Upton / HBO
/
HBO
Phia Saban as Queen Helaena in Season 1.

Aemond (Ewan Mitchell): Aemond is King Aegon’s younger brother; he’s a nasty piece of work, quieter and more cunning than his loud, dull-witted sibling. He sports an eyepatch which conceals a sapphire wedged into an empty eye socket. Said socket is empty following a youthful fracas with his cousin Lucerys, upon whom Aemond enacted disproportionate revenge in the season one finale. (Read: His dragon Vhagar chomped up Lucerys real good, officially starting the civil war known as The Dance of the Dragons, which is why we’re all of us here.) As revenge goes, it wasn’t so much an eye for an eye as much as an eye for an ay-yai-yai.

Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham): Eminently creepy and ambitious, runs the Green’s spy network. Tortures, maims, kills – the basic GRRM trifecta. Has a thing for Queen Alicent; if Westeros had a wikiFeet, he’d be a diamond-level contributor.

Lots and Lots of Rats: These vermin are swarming all over the Red Keep; several characters complained about them in season one. Like Aegon and Helaena’s kids, they will become important early in season two. For … related reasons.

Team Black: Rhaenyra rising

When the Greens rushed to crown Aegon king back at the end of season one, Team Black was taken aback. They quickly set up their own royal court on the island of Dragonstone, ancestral seat of House Targaryen, and took to gathering allies to fight for the rightful heir to King Viserys, namely …

Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy): Old king Viserys named Rhaenyra his heir, back in the day. She didn’t expect her onetime best friend Alicent to usurp the Iron Throne on behalf of her monstrous son, but here we are. Her dragon is Syrax. And as season 2 opens, she’s reeling from the death of her son Lucerys (see below).

 Elliot Grihault as Lucerys Velaryon<strong> </strong>and Emma D'Arcy as his mother, Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen, in Season 1.
Ollie Upton / HBO
/
HBO
Elliot Grihault as Lucerys Velaryon and Emma D'Arcy as his mother, Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen, in Season 1.

Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith): Daemon is now married to Rhaenyra, his niece. They’ve got a complicated history, which allows her to look past Daemon’s volatile, sneering and murderous personality. He is a brilliant strategist, though, and that’s about to come in very handy. His dragon is Caraxes.

Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best): Rhaenys, Rhaenyra’s aunt, was almost named Queen, years before – but even fantasy worlds have patriarchies, and she was denied the throne. Her hobbies include being awesome and being right about absolutely everything always. Her dragon is Meleys, and she is married to:

Steve Toussaint as Corlys Velaryon in Season 2 of <em>House of the Dragon.    </em>
Ollie Upton / HBO
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HBO
Steve Toussaint as Corlys Velaryon in Season 2 of House of the Dragon.

Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint): Corlys is Lord of the island of Driftmark. He commands a vast naval fleet flying Rhaenyra’s banners.

Jacaerys Velaryon (Harry Collett): Rhaenyra’s son, ostensibly sired by her previous husband, but actually fathered by Harwin Strong, who last season was killed by his brother Larys Strong (see above) because no you know what never mind that’s season one stuff and we’re moving on. Let it go! The past is in the past! When last we saw him, Jacaerys took off on his dragon Vermax to rally support for his mother’s claim to the Iron Throne. So did his doomed brother ….

Lucerys Velaryon (Elliot Grihault): Like his brother, Lucerys was a quiet, sensitive kid whose actual dad was Harwin Strong. His attempt to secure the support of the Baratheons of Storm’s End was cut short by his cousin Aemond Targaryen, who’d gotten there first. Following a clash over Shipbreaker Bay, Lucerys and his dragon Arrax were killed by Aemond and Vhagar.

 Luke and Elliott Tittensor in Season 1 of <em>House of the Dragon. </em>
Ollie Upton / HBO
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HBO
Luke and Elliott Tittensor in Season 1 of House of the Dragon.

That’s pretty much where all the players stand going into season 2 – except for the twin knights Arryk (Luke Tittensor) and Erryk Cargyll (Elliott Tittensor). The important thing to know about these beardy bros is that they’ve parted ways. Arryk has taken up with the Greens, but Erryk has cast his lot with the Blacks. Remember it this way: Arryk supports Aegon the Aess. Erryk, meanwhile, supports … eRhaenyra.

I’m, um, still workshopping it.

The other thing to keep in mind going into season two is that the show hasn’t really attempted to hide its sympathies. There’s two sides to this civil war, but the show spent the first season placing its thumb, palm and both forearms on the scale for the Blacks, repeatedly showing us a Rhaenyra who wished to prevent violence, and her soft, sensitive sons. Sure, Daemon was a wilful and murderous wild card, but the show repeatedly cast Rhaenyra as the wronged party.

By contrast, Alicent was frequently shown wringing her hands performatively over the latest bit of blood-soaked skullduggery that Larys or Criston or Otto might have gotten up to, even as she and her brood benefited from it. Plus there’s the fact that her sons are really just the worst.

Four other things to watch out for in Season 2

Daemon’s dragon-recruiting drive

Last season we saw Daemon attempting to further build up the Black’s already considerable dragon advantage over the Greens by attempting to entice an old dragon (Vermithor, the dragon belonging to the king who preceded poor dead Viserys) out of retirement, and mentioning the many other dragons on Dragonstone that were still riderless. This is officially A Thing.

Another Targaryen enters the chat?

In the books, Queen Alicent and King Viserys had a third son named Daeron. He wasn’t mentioned in season one, but he does have a significant role to play in the story. Will he show up, or at least be mentioned, this season?

A tale of two Aegons

OK, so there’s Aegon II, the jerk who’s now on the throne. But last season we met another Aegon — the first kid Rhaenrya had with Daemon. That kid also has a role to play. You read that right — we’re dealing with an Aegon who’s on Team Green, and an Aegon on Team Black. The books call them Aegon the Elder and Aegon the Younger, respectively. But if the little one shows up to any degree this season, we’ll keep them straight by referring to King Aegon II as Aegon the Aess, and the young kid Aegon as Aegon the Baeby.

Readers, don’t get complacent

George R. R. Martin’s book Fire and Blood, upon which the series is based, isn’t a novel, strictly speaking, it’s a faux-history in which a fictional scholar attempts to synthesize various conflicting historical accounts. As a result, it often simply lists conflicts and events without dramatizing them. As season one of House of the Dragon progressed, it became clear that the showrunners were intent on adding nuance and roundedness to the comparatively flat characters of the book. They even went so far as to change certain characters’ motivations and even their ultimate fates (case in point: The very much not dead Laenor Velaryon and Qarl, whom I like to think have probably opened up a queer bed and breakfast together in the Summer Isles by now). All of which is to say: If you’ve read the book and think you know what will happen, you’re probably right. But that doesn’t mean you know how it happens or, most crucially, why.

There, now. You’re up to speed. I’ll be recapping season two, so check back here on Sunday nights at 10:01 p.m. Eastern Time as we unpack this season of fire and blood together.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.