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House of the Dragon is back. Here’s what to know before you watch.

The second season of House of the Dragon roars to life on HBO and Max this Sunday, with even more royal Targaryen plots to untangle. With such a large cast of characters and a significant amount of time having passed since season one — which landed back in th…



House of the Dragon is back. Here’s what to know before you watch.
House of the Dragon is back. Here’s what to know before you watch.
The second season of House of the Dragon roars to life on HBO and Max this Sunday, with even more royal Targaryen plots to untangle. With such a large cast of characters and a significant amount of time having passed since season one — which landed back in the fall of 2022 — it’s understandable if you’re heading into the premiere of season two with a bit of trepidation. Just who are all those kids again? Which “side” in the unfolding war for succession is green and which is black? If you want a refresher on the full main cast, check out our introduction to season one, with a full rundown on the main players in our drama. As laid out by George R.R. Martin in the Song of Ice and Fire book series upon which this franchise is based, the first season essentially served as a slow slide into inevitable conflict between two camps: the “Blacks” and the “Greens,” each supporting a different Targaryen heir and their claim to the throne. When we left off in season one, we’d reached a grim turning point: From here on in, it’s war. Season two finds battle lines being drawn and an assortment of ensemble characters all professing their loyalty to one side or the other. Here’s a rundown of what to know going into Sunday night’s opener. The Blacks vs. the Greens In one corner: The Blacks, led by Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy), whose father, Viserys, the late king of Westeros, named her as his successor despite tradition reserving the top spot for male Targaryen heirs only. She’s joined by her husband-slash-uncle (sigh), Viserys’s rowdy brother Daemon (Matt Smith), and her three sons, Jacaerys a.k.a Jace (Harry Collett), Lucerys a.k.a Luke (Elliot Grihault), and Joffrey (Oscar Eskinazi). Rhaenyra’s children are a good bunch, but they’re almost certainly illegitimate, the sons of a non-nobleman we barely met in season one before he was mysteriously dispatched. (More on him in a minute.) As the eldest direct heir, Rhaenyra represents a straightforward path to the throne, and she reflects that through her commitment to the traditional Targaryen colors of red and black. Hence, “the Blacks.” Yet Rhaenyra’s attempts to pass her notably brunette sons off as royal heirs have only undermined her already-weakened claims to the throne. There are many in court who’d prefer to bend the knee to a legitimate direct male heir instead. Enter the Greens, led by Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), Viserys’s second wife. Alicent was Rhaenyra’s childhood friend until fate put them at permanent loggerheads. Feeling trapped due to her vulnerable position as the young wife of a dying king, Alicent took her fate into her own hands in season one and declared her intention to challenge Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne by elevating the claim of her son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) instead. She did this through a strategic fashion choice; hence, Aegon’s supporters are known as “the Greens.” At the end of the first season, Viserys, who’d long been ill, finally passed away while Rhaenyra was away from King’s Landing, giving Alicent a narrow window of opportunity to have Aegon anointed king of Westeros instead. This move left the Greens in control of the city while Rhaenyra and Daemon retained control of the Targaryen family seat at Dragonstone. In waging this war, both women are fighting for their own survival; but remember, the Greens and the Blacks break down along essentially protofeminist and sexist lines that then get complicated and messy. Support for the Greens — for Alicent and her son — represents the widespread traditionalist belief that a woman shouldn’t be able to inherit the crown. Alicent is extremely pious, so her alignment with a more traditional patriarchal view of the government makes sense, but her inherent sympathy with Rhaenyra means she frequently feels at odds with her own party, so to speak. Meanwhile, support for the Blacks, i.e. for Rhaenyra, is a show of support for women’s equality at a basic level. That said, Rhaenyra still continually faces challenges and sexism from the men around her, including from her own husband, Daemon. In pressing her claim to the throne, Rhaenyra initially just wanted autonomy over her own life, but she may have less of it than ever. [Image: Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) and her sons Jace (Harry Collett) and Joffrey (Oscar Eskinazi) in House of the Dragon.] The war that unfolds between the two groups is known as “the Dance of the Dragons.” It’s only just started, but it’s already taken a major toll. In season one, Alicent’s second son, Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), who’s been growing quietly unhinged in the shadow of his very loudly unhinged brother, the king, lost his eye while fighting Rhaenyra’s sons. The incident created a deep thirst for revenge within Aemond. In the grim first-season finale, he satisfied it by utterly destroying the son he deemed responsible — Rhaenyra’s middle child, Lucerys. Astride the mighty dragon Vhagar, he hunted down Lucerys and his tiny dragon Arrax and slaughtered them both, in a moment that marked the point of no return for both sides. When we last left him, Jace was visiting the lords of the land to drum up support for Rhaenyra. The time for posturing is over; the time to choose sides has come. Who’s on whose side again? So far, the most notable adherents to the Blacks are Rhaeynra’s aunt-slash-cousin Rhaenys and her husband Corlys Velaryon, the mighty “sea snake” known for protecting Westeros’s southern border. Corlys nearly died in battle last season but recovered, barely. He and Rhaenys have strong ties to Rhaenyra through Daemon, who married their late daughter, but neither of them suffers fools easily, and Rhaenys isn’t one to wage other people’s battles for no reason. Meanwhile, their grandchildren, Daemon’s daughters Baela and Rhaena, have been largely background characters in the lead-up to season two; but if the show continues to follow the trajectory of the books, they’ll have much bigger parts to play in the years to come. Rhaenyra isn’t without true loyalists. Because Daemon was formerly the commander of the king’s watch, he still has loyal troops embedded among the soldiers at King’s Landing. Then there’s Erryk Cargyll (Elliott Tittensor), twin to his brother Arryk (Luke Tittensor). In season one, the brothers were loyal members of the Kingsguard, but after spending time around Aegon and seeing what a horrible king he’d be, Erryk rebels, swears loyalty to Rhaenyra, and bounces to Dragonstone to join the Queensguard. He leaves his twin Arryk fighting on the opposite side in the Red Keep — setting the stage for a tragic divide that would be mythologized and passed down through Game of Thrones-era Westeros. The most notable adherent to Alicent’s cause is her own father, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), a man whose cold ambition to secure the throne for his family is probably the main reason we’re all here. He’s back in his familiar role of the king’s hand — this time serving his grandson, Aegon. It’s unclear if this development has sated his ambition, but it seems unlikely. He’s joined by Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Finkel), who’s had a journey recovering from his youthful love of Rhaenyra, only to be recruited in his most vulnerable moment into becoming Alicent’s faithful ally and the new commander of the Kingsguard. Ser Criston isn’t the only odd paramour of Alicent to join the Greens at least in part because of his fascination with the queen mother. Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) is the creepy brother of Rhaenyra’s late former lover (and father to her sons) Harwin Strong. He basically offered himself on a grimy platter to Alicent last season, and then proved his devotion by, uh, burning Harwin and their father alive. Yikes. As a one-man spy network, Larys may be motivated by favors from Alicent, who’s repulsed by him, but he’s clearly playing a long game known only to himself — at least for now. Larys isn’t the only player who’s something of a wild card: We also have Mysaria, a.k.a the White Worm. In the guise of a brothel owner, she controls a powerful spy ring in King’s Landing, making her one of its most powerful yet overlooked citizens. She was previously loyal to Daemon, with whom she once had an affair. But that was a long time ago. We’ve seen her selling secrets to Otto Hightower and providing Alicent’s maid with a special mysterious potion, but Alicent repays the favor by having Mysaria’s brothel house torched at the end of season one, in an apparent effort to kill Mysaria and, as she puts it, “cut the head off the snake.” Clearly she believes Mysaria is a threat, and her move to try to destroy Mysaria signals that she and her father might not be as aligned as they appear. But it’s not going to be that easy to get rid of Mysaria. Helaena’s prophecies Desperate to bolster his legitimacy and the legitimacy of his heirs, Alicent married Aegon to his own sister, Helaena (sigh). Married to a lascivious sadist and tied up in raising their children, Helaena (Phia Saban) understandably has plenty of emotional and mental issues, but she also appears to be a seer, dropping prophecies that no one seems to understand or pay much attention to. But you, the viewer, definitely should. We’ve heard her utter at least four so far, usually while playing with invertebrates. At different points in season one, she seemed to predict the loss of her brother Aemond’s eye, the coming of the Dance of the Dragons, and the ending of the entire Game of Thrones cycle of succession. Her most ominous season one prophecy, however, has yet to come to fruition. In episode eight, she mutters, “Beware the beast beneath the boards.” It’s unclear what this means, but it most likely refers to the coming of two ominous characters we’ll meet soon, known only as “Blood” and “Cheese.” Suffice it to say it’s a prophecy that doesn’t bode well for either her or Aegon. “The prince that was promised” Helaena’s aren’t the only prophecies afoot. This phrase appears in a secret, centuries-old prophecy inscribed on a dagger that’s been quietly passed down through the line of Targaryen rulers. It’s known as (trumpets please) the Song of Ice and Fire. As Game of Thrones viewers, we know that this promised prince was likely Jon Snow, a.k.a the seventh Aegon Targaryen on the family tree — but this era of Westeros takes place a few centuries earlier, and no one has any idea who this fabled prince could be. Viserys believed Rhaenyra would be the one who could fulfill the prophecy via her progeny — he presented her with the dagger before her death — but Alicent misunderstood his dying gasps and believed he was talking about her son, Aegon II. The problem with this, of course, is that Alicent’s Aegon is a nightmare. In terms of sadism, he makes Game of Thrones’s Prince Joffrey look positively angelic. (We learned in season one that Aegon sires untold numbers of illegitimate kids in order to use them as fodder for barbaric human dogfights, and that’s just a casual aside.) Meanwhile, his temperament of entitled recklessness makes him completely unfit to rule, and Alicent is already starting to regret all of her life choices by the end of season one. What other contenders for the promised prince might there be? Perhaps we’ll see.