Matt Smith and Emma D’Arcy in season 2 of HBO's...

 Matt Smith and Emma D’Arcy in season 2 of HBO's "House of the Dragon." Credit: HBO/Ollie Upton

SERIES “House of the Dragon”

WHERE|WHEN Season 2 premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO; also streaming on Max

WHAT IT'S ABOUT In the first-season finale, the Targaryen civil war (“dance of the dragons”) approaches after the death of King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine), then of his grandson Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) in that aerial dragonfight with Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) and his powerful dragon Vhagar.

The “Blacks” — who include her truculent uncle (later husband) Daemon (Matt Smith) — have come to the side of would-be queen Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy) while the “Greens” have rallied around Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) who has crowned her firstborn son Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) king.

 The second season of this “Game of Thrones” prequel based on George R.R. Martin's intricate history of House Targaryen, “Fire & Blood,” is eight episodes.

MY SAY I didn't much like the early part of “Dragon's” first season in 2022, and to go into the reasons why now seems like exhuming old bones. But since you asked, here's one old bone: Those early episodes were so tepid, full of yakking and plotting, with the occasional dragon fly-by to liven things up. It all felt like dense history (Martin's “Fire & Blood”) brought to sullen, sodden life on the screen.

Yet first impressions were proved wrong. “House of the Dragon” turned into a brilliant series and the equal of “Game of Thrones.” Based on four episodes for review, the second might actually be even better than the first.

How all this happened seems obvious in hindsight: Martin took back control of his own creation. This was his vision, to an extent his reevaluation too. Because the end of “Game of Thrones”' satisfied no one, “House of the Dragon” needed to remind everyone why “GoT" was such a phenomenal achievement in the first place. It managed that by turning the clock back to a point where magic didn't control human affairs but humans did, where “evil” wasn't some malevolent force lurking “beyond the Wall,” but the outcome of human missteps and fallibility. And by making this a human history, “Dragon” brought us a little bit closer to our own — absent those lovely dragons, of course.

This second season is told from two points of view, both largely female — Alicent's from King's Landing and Rhaenyra's, from Dragonstone. Someone must take the Iron throne, to help fulfill Aegon the Conqueror's prophecy — that the prince-who-was-promised will one day become savior of all Westeros (the events of “GoT”).

But who? Rhaenyra thinks she's got a clear title to the throne, while Alicent believes her firstborn son, Aegon, does. Nonetheless, “the significance of Viserys' intentions died with him,'' Alicent pragmatically observes. She's right, and as a result, events hurtle blindly forward.

Following Lucerys' death, the cycle of vengeance thus begins. Mistakes are made (just as “Luke's” death was a mistake), which are compounded by more mistakes. Targaryen history unfolds, but serendipity plays the lead role, and — just as in Hollywood — nobody knows anything, in either Dragonstone or King's Landing.

This impending war isn't propelled by right or wrong, or good versus evil. Both sides have legitimate claims, or at least reasonable ones. Instead, by pivoting on Rhaenyra and Alicent, “Dragon” offers a deeper exploration of what it means to have power, and who should wield it. There's no mad rush to arms here, no bloodlust. Both leaders are thoughtful, even meditative. (They also happen to make a real-world case for why women should be in charge.)

But events are now beyond their control. Fire and blood are coming. They — and you — won't have long to wait for either. 

BOTTOM LINE Superb second season, if the early episodes are any indication.


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