House of the Dragon Episode 3 Review

House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3 “The Burning Mill” aired on 30 June 2024 on The HBO.

“We read fantasy to find the colours again, I think,” George R.R. Martin wrote in his brief 1996 essay “On Fantasy.” “To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang.” By that metric, this week’s episode of “House of the Dragon,” a series based on Martin’s novel “Fire and Blood,” is hot fantasy.

I’m not simply talking about sex and nudity, though what there was of both blew my hair back on my head. For Martin, fantasy is more than just ribaldry. He describes it as a genre of “silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli,” and goes on to write about how its inherent vastness, the unlimited breadth of its imagination, “speaks to something deep within us.” This episode certainly spoke to a deep part of this reviewer.

This week’s maximalist storytelling felt both over-the-top and vital, with crumbling gothic castles and gruesome charnel-house battlefields, murder dreams and frantic pleas for peace, fast dragon chases and everything was a massive misunderstanding. (Indeed, it’s difficult to have terrific TV without at least a hint of the bizarre.) From a plot standpoint, the episode’s most significant moment occurred near the end. The developing struggle between the Blacks and the Greens for the Iron Throne boils down to the wishes of one deceased man, King Viserys. For years, he declared his daughter, Rhaenyra, as his successor to all and sundry. But on the night that mattered most, the night of his death, he assured his wife, Queen Alicent, that his eldest son, Aegon, would be the one to unite the country — “The Prince That Was Promised,” as Viserys dubbed the callow child.

Or so it appeared to Alicent. We in the audience knew that when he uttered the name Aegon, he was alluding to his prophetic ancestor, Aegon the Conqueror, as well as Aegon’s vision of an apocalyptic fight against the darkness, as seen in the last season of “Game of Thrones.”

Did Alicent honestly believe Viserys was speaking about their son? Or was that just what she wanted to believe? (More importantly, should a drama’s primary tension be based on a verbal mix-up more appropriate to a sitcom? Answering that, at this advanced level, may be beyond the scope of this recap.

Rhaenyra’s brave stealth expedition, in which she sneaks back into King’s Landing (with Mysaria’s assistance) to force a one-on-one meeting with her frenemy of frenemies, clears everything up. Alicent truly believes Viserys desired Aegon. Rhaenyra, for her part, believes Alicent is serious. When the dowager queen recounts the Conqueror’s “Song of Ice and Fire,” Rhaenyra offers a clarification, which Alicent ignores while knowing it to be true.

So, there you have it: the conflict will continue because Team Green’s captain cannot take the reality. Alicent’s refusal to shift direction undoes not only Rhaenyra’s and Princess Rhaenys’ previous peacekeeping efforts, but also her own. According to some definitions of “fun,” the fan debate about this should be entertaining.

The scene’s real worth, however, is in reuniting stars Olivia Cooke and Emma D’Arcy. Their chemistry is as natural and captivating as that of any two actors on television. Their characters’ energies feel as entwined as the duelling dragons in the show’s Season 2 logo; witnessing them tear and tug at one other produces equally fiery repercussions. Consider Rhaenyra’s rashness in seeking an unprotected audience with the Queen in King’s Landing. However, including this sequence that was not in the book improved the show.

While Rhaenyra and Alicent seek to maintain peace, the men around them fight for the opposite. Rhaenyra’s Black Council, which is mostly made up of small lords afraid of losing their meagre authority, calls for an immediate attack. Her estranged spouse, Daemon, flies straight towards the decaying remains of Harrenhal, which is critical to the crucial Riverlands area. He is greeted by a pragmatic castellan, Sir Simon Strong (Simon Russell Beale), who hands over the castle without a struggle, and a strange servant, Alys Rivers (Gayle Rankin), who informs him that Harrenhal is where he will die. You win some and lose some, I suppose.

The Riverlands come to the attention of both Blacks and Greens as a result of a local quarrel between Houses Blackwood and Bracken, Westeros’ Hatfields and McCoys, who used the Targaryen issue as a pretext to escalate a minor border dispute into a Lost Generation blood bath. King Aegon, whose advisers properly regard him as a thickheaded lightweight, is prepared to enter the fray himself until being intimidated by his younger brother Aemond.

The one-eyed prince reacts to his brother and liege’s taunts at a bustling brothel by rising up naked and going by as if unconcerned. The young man appears to vibrate at a different frequency than his family; like an evil Jane Eyre, he exudes an uncanny quality, which actor Ewan Mitchell expertly conveys. As Aegon, Tom Glynn-Carney effectively counters Mitchell’s swagger with forced jokes and flop perspiration. Their dynamic is equally intriguing and volatile as Rhaenyra and Alicent’s.

Will a comparable rivalry develop between Ser Criston Cole, the king’s more assertive hand and commander of Aegon’s army, and Ser Gwayne Hightower (Freddie Fox), the brother Alicent sends to babysit her lord commander? It’s difficult to say. Initially, it appears that Gwayne correctly considers Criston as a volatile meat head, while Criston correctly regards Gwayne as a spoilt summer knight. However, Cole’s rescue of the Hightower Lordling and his men from a fiery death at the hands of Baela Targaryen and her dragon, Moondancer, may have turned matters in his favour.

Green or black, as Princess Rhaenys states early in the episode, the impulsive males appear to have stolen the reins from the two queens. Corlys, her lord husband, leaves her stammering alone in the shipyard after a skillfully staged chat with the couple divided by a crossbeam. Aegon, unable to speak to his heartbroken sister-wife Helaena in the aftermath of their son’s murder, abandons her to grieve in her own odd way with their mother, Alicent.

Daemon abandons Rhaenyra for Harrenhal, remaining incommunicado even while he dreams of her as a girl (a joyful homecoming for Milly Alcock), and stitches Helaena and Aegon’s son’s head back onto his body. It is encouraging to see that, at least in his nightmares, Daemon is appalled by the crime he committed. However, as Alicent and Rhaenyra’s fatal conversation comes to a close, any hopes for repentance and reconciliation appear to be destroyed.


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