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House of the Dragon


The stakes are raised in the hugely anticipated second season of this Game of Thrones prequel

Viewers may have patiently waited for the return of dragons for nearly a year-and-a-half, but in Westeros it has only been a few days since Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) experienced that heartbreaking loss that will fuel the future of a nation. At the end of season one, Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), the third child of King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) and Queen Alicent Hightower (Oliva Cooke), slaughtered Prince Lucerys “Luke” Velarios (Elliott Grihault), son of Rhaenyra and Ser Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan), with the help of his dragon, Vhagar. If there was ever an ember of hope that reconciliation between Houses Black and Green was possible, the dragon duel that closed the first season stomped that out.

House of the Dragon on HBO Canada. Pictured: Emma D’Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen.

For showrunner and co-creator Ryan J. Condal, the tremendous tragedy cemented the direction of the show. “That was the proper moment that catalyzed everything else that follows,” he says. “We felt like if that moment would land with the impact that I think it did, we’d be off to the races.” Condal calls the second season the point of no return. “Vhagar killing Luke was a big sea change. What’s the counterpunch?” he says. “You have two sides that share a lot of common history and the hatred only gets worse as the tragedies pile up.”

House of the Dragon on HBO Canada. Pictured: Ewan Mitchell as Aemond Targaryen.

In King’s Landing, trouble is brewing despite apparent victory. Having reached her goals, Alicent feels she might not have done herself any favours. “At the top of season two she’s the most powerful she’s ever been. Her son sits on the Iron Throne. Now, it’s navigating her two full-grown sons who are beginning to dismiss her more and more,” says Cooke, for whom finding nuance in pain has been the greatest challenge of the season. “Alicent gets put through the wringer this year and is really forced to reckon with the fact that the thing that she was groomed to do since she was 14, by her father — which is to lift up the greatness of her own house — she’s done that. In doing so, she has diminished her own power,” explains Condal. “She’s no longer the queen of the Seven Kingdoms. She’s now the queen that used to be. This season, so much of what Alicent experiences is reckoning with what that means.”

House of the Dragon on HBO Canada. Pictured: Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower, former queen of Westeros.

Fighting a different kind of power struggle is Rhaenyra, who was recognized as the successor of her father by her allies. For D’Arcy, this has meant an uncomfortable evolution for her character. “I wanted to bring imposter syndrome into fantasy, I suppose,” says the actor. “She doesn’t start series one expecting to be heir. She gets quite a lot of freedom because she’s not expected to take on responsibility. I wanted to see what it was like to watch a person try to put on power and also witness how that’s received by people around her, to varying degrees of success.” Soon, as Rhaenyra finds her footing, her leadership style also evolves. “She is tired of the softer approach, that endless desire to do something and having to choose a path of manipulation or careful persuasion,” says D’Arcy. “That’s starting to run thin.”

House of the Dragon on HBO Canada. Pictured (left to right): Emma D’Arcy (Rhaenyra Targaryen), Eve Best (Rhaenys Targaryen) and Jamie Kenna (Ser Alfred Broome).

Although there is no reconciliation to be had between the former best friends, Condal has found ways to bring the storylines of Alicent and Rhaenyra closer together. “Something I’m particularly proud of this season is what we found in the postproduction process,” he says. “As everybody knows, Alicent and Rhaenyra are literally on different islands and they don’t interact with each other. But in the editing, we found ways to connect those characters. If you see Alicent going through something particularly deep and emotional and you cut to Rhaenyra, there is a filmmaking connection there.”

House of the Dragon on HBO Canada. Pictured: Tom Glynn-Carney (Aegon Targaryen).

Another duo that could use a bit of external pull is Rhaenyra and her husband Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), whose individual expressions of grief seem to be tearing them apart. “The fact that they can’t communicate really proves an obstacle in the series,” says D’Arcy. “It’s the working of grief. I don’t know that either of them is able to find solace with each other.” Smith feels that it was Viserys’ death that drove the first wedge in the relationship. “They can’t unburden their selves from this shadow,” he says. “I personally believe that there is a very deep sense of love between the two of them, but it’s tested because he feels unaccepted by [Rhaenyra]. And he reacts as Daemon reacts.”

House of the Dragon on HBO Canada. Pictured (left to right): Matt Smith (Daemon Targaryen) and Emma D’Arcy (Rhaenyra Targaryen).

The much-anticipated season promises to have no shortage of action, drama or new dragons, which the cast hopes viewers will welcome with the same open arms as they did the first season. “It was so well received that it is a difficult second album, isn’t it?” says Matthew Needham, who portrays manipulative Lord Larys Strong. “We don’t want to disappoint anybody. Everybody in every department is working as hard as they could to make it as good as they could, because we don’t want to let anyone down. We’re really excited for you all to have a look at it.”

House of the Dragon airs on Sunday, June 30 on HBO Canada

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