We Need to Talk About Aegon on ‘House of the Dragon’

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/HBO
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/HBO

In Season 1 of House of the Dragon, the show went to great lengths to demonstrate how unfit Aegon Targaryen is to sit the Iron Throne and rule Westeros. We see him as a drunkard, an abuser, lacking the martial skills of his brother and the political nous of his fellow Green Council members, and even lacking the legitimacy of his half-sister’s claim. Our first real interaction with him—albeit a younger version of the Aegon we have come to know—saw him beating one out perched on a ledge before being interrupted by his mother… hardly the stuff kings are made of.

But Season 2 has chartered a slightly different course for the now crowned Aegon II, giving the character more complexity than Season 1 provided, and even softening the figure we read about in George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood. From the offset, we see the newly-crowned monarch, played by Tom Glynn-Carney, struggle under both the weight of the crown and the scheming of his various advisors on the Green Council: Otto Hightower’s machinations, Larys Strong’s hidden agenda, Aemond and Criston Cole’s personal desire for war to name but a few. But peeking through are flashes of decency in Aegon, glimpses that Season 1 never offered us.

“The Red Dragon and the Gold” may have hinted at a tragic fate for the character, though those of us who have read the book are skeptical. But more importantly, it was a showcase for why Aegon—and particularly Glynn-Carney’s performance—is one of the backbones to this season of House of the Dragon. And that’s a remarkable feat, given how explosive this week’s episode was. Still, you have to look at the whole series to appreciate why this character works so well.

In Episode 1 of the Season 2, titled “A Son for a Son”, we see Aegon seated on the Iron Throne, holding court with a group of farmers, blacksmiths and smallfolk, and his usual reticence and disdain for anything that doesn’t revolve around himself is replaced by a genuine desire to be a good king, or at least one with a streak of benevolence. As we saw, this was immediately put down by Otto, and Aegon retreated back into a shell. But it provides us with the extra dimension we needed to firmly buy into the central premise of Season 2’s build, urging the realm, as well as us as viewers, to “choose a side.” Using a tagline like that is pointless if there’s no real reason to root for the Greens over the Blacks, but the complexity of Aegon in Season 2 along with a few other developments, has set the Dance of the Dragons on more equal footing.

Tom Glynn-Carney on House of the Dragon.

Tom Glynn-Carney


It’s a credit to the Manchester-born Glynn-Carney that we can even have this discussion about Aegon, and whether he deserves some semblance of sympathy.

A character who could easily be demoted to a placeholder villain, or a paint-by-numbers antagonist to be easily swept off the board when compared to the other, more threatening members of the Green Council, has instead been elevated to one of House of the Dragon’s most interesting figures. Glynn-Carney’s ability to embody Aegon so fully, and so clearly demonstrate the attempts (and failings) to live up to those he so desperately wants to emulate. We see his insecurities over his own fearsomeness when compared to his more martial brother, Aemond. We see his desire to demonstrate the benevolence of his father, Viserys. And as with so many Targaryen’s, we see his desire to play a key role in the ruling of the realm, just as his namesake Aegon the Conqueror did.

But we also see the worst of him, and indeed, the worst of Targaryens who have come before and will come after… and beyond that, the worst of men in a world that allows them absolute power, with no consequences for their actions. There’s an interesting comparison to draw between Aegon and the other young king we became familiar with during Game of Thrones: Joffrey Baratheon (*cough* Lannister *cough*).

After Season 1, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there was little difference between the two monarchs; both possess a character that immediately makes you dislike them, both sit the Iron Throne with a dubious claim to it, and both are acted so brilliantly that you find yourself loving to hate them. Jack Gleeson’s performance was an accurate depiction of the novel’s characterization. The A Song of Ice and Fire novels make it crystal clear that Joffrey is every inch the monster we see on the show. But the unreliable narrators of Fire and Blood depict Aegon’s unsuitability to the throne while allowing for leeway, giving Ryan Condal and the rest of the writers working on House of the Dragon maneuverability when developing his character on screen.

This Shocking ‘House of the Dragon’ Death Changed the Show Completely

The events of the most recent episode, “The Red Dragon and the Gold,” represent Aegon at his best and his worst, and also give viewers ample evidence as to why he could never truly succeed, as well as the sadness behind that. No one is excusing the actions of his character; that isn’t the aim of this piece. But it’s fascinating to highlight the ways that even just this one episode shows Aegon being shamed deeper into his own insecurities and inadequacies: Aemond’s taking control of the Green Council and their one-sided conversation in High Valyrian; Alicent’s confrontation of her son, effectively labeling him as nothing more than a pawn in a grander game of power and control. His fateful decision to mount Sunfyre and ride to war, effectively seizing control of his own destiny, maybe for the very first time, was as poignant as it was tragic.

For those who have read Fire and Blood, we know this isn’t the last of Aegon II. Princess Rhaenys is the only royal death at the Battle of Rook’s Rest, but that isn’t to say her and Meleys deaths are the only moment of major consequence. Aegon’s fall and subsequent injuries will have a dramatic effect on not just his visage, but on how he approaches the rest of his reign. If you’re anything like us, you can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

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