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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…

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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. https://platform.vox.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2024/06/harry-collett-emma-d-arcy-oscar-eskinazi.jpg?quality=90&strip=all] 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.
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The truth about Hunter Biden’s conviction

Hunter Biden’s trial may be over, but the political spin war over it is nowhere near ending. On Tuesday, the president’s son was convicted on three counts related to his purchase of a gun in 2018. During the purchase, Hunter filled out a form stating he was n…

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Hunter Biden’s trial may be over, but the political spin war over it is nowhere near ending. On Tuesday, the president’s son was convicted on three counts related to his purchase of a gun in 2018. During the purchase, Hunter filled out a form stating he was not a user of illegal drugs, but his addiction struggles around that time have been well-documented. So prosecutors accused him of violating three different laws — two false statements laws, and one law banning firearm possession by a drug user — and a Delaware jury agreed. A prison sentence for Hunter is possible, but generally believed to be unlikely, given that it was a nonviolent offense and it is his first criminal conviction. As I wrote recently, the backstory to this trial is messy: It’s been a years-long, sprawling federal probe beset by accusations of political bias from both directions. But the trial itself was fairly straightforward. Some jurors told CNN that they questioned the importance of the case — after all, no one was hurt with the gun, and Hunter has apparently been clean since 2019 — but they felt the evidence was clear that Hunter broke the law. So what does this tell us about the rule of law and politics under President Joe Biden’s administration? Let’s evaluate three common claims that commentators have been making since the verdict dropped. 1) The Democratic take: This proves Joe Biden respects the rule of law. Many Democrats have argued that the outcome debunks Republican claims that Biden has corrupted the justice system to persecute Donald Trump. After all, if the president’s son got convicted, clearly he’s not putting his thumb on the scale. This seems largely correct. When Biden took office, he chose to leave US Attorney David Weiss, a Trump appointee overseeing the probe, in place. His attorney general, Merrick Garland, promised Weiss would have independence to conduct the investigation. And that’s what happened. Despite disagreements among investigators about how aggressively to pursue the case, there’s been no indication that Biden or Garland themselves obstructed Weiss in any way. They let him have a free hand. 2) The MAGA Republican take: Prosecutors brought a weak case to cover up for the real crimes. Trump’s allies have been obsessed with Hunter Biden for years, asserting (without evidence) that his business and foreign lobbying activities were connected to some larger Biden family corruption scheme. With those expectations, the eventual charges against Hunter were underwhelming: the gun case in Delaware, and a tax case in California that is scheduled for trial in September. So, disappointed that such a scheme was never charged, some Republicans are now claiming that Weiss must be in on the cover-up. Of course, the idea that charging and convicting the president’s son of crimes is a scheme to help the president is absurd on its face — rambling conspiracy theory nonsense. Far more likely is that Weiss simply did not find any basis for corruption charges. 3) Another take: This conviction only happened because prosecutors were shamed — or pressured — into doing it. The complication in any straightforward narrative of the DOJ being above politics is that prosecutors’ behavior in this case abruptly changed last year. Though Weiss’s team conducted an extensive investigation into Hunter’s business affairs, by late 2022, Weiss had reportedly concluded that the case was not strong enough to justify an indictment. So he hoped to strike a plea deal with Hunter’s team. But in May 2023, two IRS officials who had been involved in the probe went to Congress as whistleblowers, arguing that prosecutors had been too cautious and risk-averse — that they were going soft on the president’s son. A torrent of Republican criticism ensued. A plea deal came together anyway the following month. But when it went before Judge Maryellen Noreika, she refused to accept it, telling both sides to clarify it since Hunter’s team and prosecutors did not appear to be on the same page about what it entailed. After that, prosecutors apparently took the deal’s initial promise of sweeping immunity to Hunter off the table, and Hunter refused to accept a reworked deal lacking that provision. So prosecutors indicted him in Delaware and California. It does indeed seem to be the case that Hunter would have gotten the plea deal he preferred if not for criticism from the whistleblowers, Judge Noreika, and the GOP. But that can be interpreted in two ways. One could argue that prosecutors wanted to give Hunter Biden a lenient “sweetheart deal” until the whistleblowers and the judge called them out. Or one could argue that prosecutors belatedly went overly hard on Hunter due to politicized criticism from the whistleblowers and Republicans. We haven’t yet heard an explanation from Weiss and his team on why they changed course — on why he belatedly decided the earlier plea deal was insufficient. But that’s the key to understanding what really happened here, and the role politics played. This story originally appeared in Today, Explained, Vox’s flagship daily newsletter. Sign up here for future editions.
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Megan Thee Stallion and the growing scourge of sexually explicit deepfakes

Megan Thee Stallion is the latest celebrity to be targeted by a sexually explicit deepfake that was made without her consent — highlighting how pervasive this form of abuse is becoming.  Deepfakes are videos that often use AI to effectively superimpose someon…

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Megan Thee Stallion is the latest celebrity to be targeted by a sexually explicit deepfake that was made without her consent — highlighting how pervasive this form of abuse is becoming. Deepfakes are videos that often use AI to effectively superimpose someone’s face onto a different body — real or invented — making it appear like they’re doing the actions of the person in the clip. They can include everything from clips that make it seem like a politician is giving an interview they never did to nonconsensual sexually explicit videos that swap in people’s faces. The latter has become an increasingly common type of sexual abuse, with new apps emerging that enable people to create clips of others they know. As Cleo Abram noted in a Vox video back in 2020, “The most urgent threat of deepfakes isn’t politics. It’s porn.” [Media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHHCrf2-x6w] In the last week, a deepfake of Megan Thee Stallion featuring sexually explicit images has circulated on X. According to NBC News, the video has garnered tens of thousands of views and been posted by multiple accounts. A spokesperson from X also told the outlet it’s now “proactively removing this content,” since its rules “prohibit the sharing of non-consensual intimate media.” “It’s really sick how yall go out of the way to hurt me when you see me winning,” Megan Thee Stallion wrote in a statement on X on Saturday. “Yall going too far, Fake ass shit.” [Media: https://twitter.com/theestallion/status/1799509250726633664?] Deepfakes are incredibly violating to those targeted by them and difficult to remedy since the damage is already done even if they’re taken down. Following the X post on Saturday, Megan Thee Stallion was seen getting emotional at a concert and crying while singing “Cobra,” a song that touches on issues related to mental health. (She did not acknowledge the subject at the show.) Megan Thee Stallion is among a growing list of prominent women who’ve been subject to an offense like this —and who are speaking out against it. Her experience emphasizes the scope of the problem, and the potential it has to harm even more people as the tools that enable it become more available. Deepfakes are a growing form of abuse Megan Thee Stallion’s experience points to how deepfakes have been weaponized in the last few years, including against other celebrities such as Taylor Swift, as well as private individuals. As cybersecurity firm DeepTrace found in 2019, 96 percent of deepfake videos on the internet were pornographic and pretty much 100 percent of these were of women. “Deepfake sex videos say to individuals that their bodies are not their own and can make it difficult to stay online, get or keep a job, and feel safe,” Danielle Citron, a Boston University law professor, said in the DeepTrace report. These videos are not only traumatic when they emerge, but the impacts can follow women around and affect their reputation and mental health for years. Such abuse, much like so-called revenge porn — a form of abuse that includes posting nude images of women without their consent — is degrading and aimed at taking away their power. “Deepfake sexual abuse is commonly about trying to silence women who speak out,” Clare McGlynn, a law professor at Durham University in the UK, told Glamour. Before this, Megan Thee Stallion had already condemned the actions of rapper Tory Lanez, who was convicted of shooting her in the foot. She’s also borne the brunt of numerous attacks from men questioning her story and undermining her experiences in the years since. As Vox’s Anna North has reported, the prevalence of such deepfakes is only expected to grow as AI technology has become more common and easy to use. In some cases, mobile apps have even allowed high school students to make nonconsensual sexually explicit deepfake images of their classmates. Creators online also now offer custom deepfakes for people looking to create these videos and images of either famous stars or individuals they know. A concerning aspect of these acts is the limited recourse people have to combat them. In Megan Thee Stallion’s case, X has been active in taking videos down, though that hasn’t always been its approach even with other prominent figures, NBC News reports. Additionally, North writes, federal efforts to pass a law barring such deepfakes are still in progress, and more accountability of tech companies is much needed to truly combat this problem.
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