“House of the Dragon” Season 2 Review: Get Ready for War in Westeros

HBO's sprawling 'Game of Thrones' prequel can be too talky, but it's at its best when it launches into action

<p>Theo Whitman/HBO</p> Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) seeks to regain power for her family, including sons Jacaerys (Harry Collett, left) and Joffrey (Oscar Eskinazi).

Theo Whitman/HBO

Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) seeks to regain power for her family, including sons Jacaerys (Harry Collett, left) and Joffrey (Oscar Eskinazi).

It’s been more than a year and a half since the first season of House of the Dragon, HBO's epic Game of Thrones prequel series, so many viewers may find themselves doing some intense catch-up googling as the first episode unspools. Who are all these squabbling nobles again? Who exactly is whose heir, uncle and/or lover? What’s with all the uncomfortable-looking blond wigs?

But power through, and the compelling plot coalesces: The drumbeats of an impending war are sounding stronger in Westeros as rivals who both believe they’re the rightful heirs to the Iron Throne scheme in their strongholds. In King’s Landing, callow young King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) experiments with his new power, while his mother, Dowager Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), and her father, Ser Otto (Rhys Ifans), would vastly prefer to make cooler-headed decisions themselves. Over in Dragonstone, Queen Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy) wants the crown back, and her ruthless uncle (who's also her husband) Daemon (Matt Smith) will do anything to get it for her or, more likely, for himself.

<p>Ollie Upton/HBO</p> Tom Glynn-Carney as King Aegon II

Ollie Upton/HBO

Tom Glynn-Carney as King Aegon II

Related: Inside HBO's House of the Dragon NYC Premiere, from Dragon-Inspired Cocktails to an Iron Throne: All the Details

Largely the women hold on to a shred of humanity amid their ambition, hoping to avoid massive bloodshed, while the men are drawn toward glory, gore and questionable choices. ("Soon they will never remember what began the war in the first place," notes Eve Best as Rhaenyra’s seasoned ally Princess Rhaenys.) And yes, there are dragons — a fire-breathing metaphor for the nuclear option as the war councils debate how to deploy them.

<p>Theo Whitman/HBO</p> Matt Smith as Daemon

Theo Whitman/HBO

Matt Smith as Daemon

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Indeed, there are still too many scenes of people squabbling in the medieval equivalent of conference rooms. Without characters as memorable as those on Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon is at its best when it launches into action — from sneaky assassinations to spectacular battles to the occasional ticked-off dragon. Bring on the war.

House of the Dragon season 2 premieres on HBO at 9 p.m. on Sunday, June 16 and will be available to stream on Max.

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