Skip to main content

House of the Dragon season 2 review: an explosive, uneven follow-up

Rhaenyra Targaryen stands alone in House of the Dragon season 2.
House of the Dragon: Season 2
“HBO's House of the Dragon returns from a two-year break with a second season that is more violent, brutal, and frustrating than its first.”
  • Several spell-binding, deeply felt lead performances
  • Sharper and more legible direction throughout
  • A few memorably tense, jaw-dropping sequences and set pieces
  • Uneven pacing throughout
  • Inconsistent character development
  • Multiple jarring, unearned narrative and tonal left turns

The first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, offered a literal change of pace from its smash-hit predecessor. Across its eight seasons, Game of Thrones delivered jaw-dropping deaths, battles, and betrayals at a steady rate that was as impressive as it was addicting. It came as a bit of a shock then that HBO chose to follow up Thrones with not only a prequel set nearly 200 years before the events of that game-changing TV show, but one that operated more like a slow-burn slice of palace intrigue than a blood-soaked, straightforward medieval fantasy epic.

Littered with time jumps and dramatic shifts in allegiance, House of the Dragon‘s 10-episode first season turned out to be — for all intents and purposes — an extended prologue to the show’s real story: a Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons.

Watching the season was like watching a lit fuse slowly snake its way toward a full keg of black powder. The endgame was always clear, but House of the Dragon‘s debut season, nonetheless, ended not with the bang that viewers had been waiting for all along, but the moment seemingly just before the explosion. Now, nearly two years later, House of the Dragon has returned with a second season that is meaner, bigger, and all-around more spectacular than its first. While they mostly make good on that season’s bloody promises, though, House of the Dragon‘s new episodes can’t escape the show’s ongoing struggles to balance the needs of its characters and the sometimes needlessly convoluted mechanics of its plot.

Alicent Hightower lights prayer candles in House of the Dragon Season 2.
Ollie Upton / HBO

House of the Dragon returns where it left off — with Rhaenyra Targaryen (a still-magnificent Emma D’Arcy) reeling from the murder of her young son, Luke, at the hands of his childhood rival and cousin, Aemond (a perpetually sneering Ewan Mitchell). As Rhaenyra tries to pull herself back to her feet, her allies — namely, her husband Daemon (an underserved Matt Smith), aunt Rhaenys (Eve Best), and uncle Corlys (Steve Toussaint) — try their best to anticipate and respond to their enemies’ moves in King’s Landing. The capitol city in question, meanwhile, becomes the site of inevitable clashes between its rulers: the immature Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney), his petty younger brother, Aemond, an increasingly selfish Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), and Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), two cunning schemers who find their well-considered plans frequently ignored.

Everyone in House of the Dragon‘s second season seems to have different ideas about how to address the war that was unofficially started when the show wrapped up its first season in the fall of 2022. These strategic disagreements pave the way for some of House of the Dragon‘s funniest and darkest moments to date, as well as some of its most thrillingly staged and performed set pieces and one-on-one confrontations. There is, however, an unwieldy nature to the season’s first four episodes, which were the only installments provided early to critics. The season’s premiere is a measured, mournful hour of television driven by an uneasy emotional restlessness that eventually erupts in memorably horrifying, gothic fashion. The episode provides a sleepier start to the season than some viewers may expect, but it captures a gloominess that is necessary if House of the Dragon wants to tell its story of pointless, self-destructive war correctly.

The installments that follow are less wholly effective. There are instances of stunning spectacle and a few well-executed twists scattered across all three episodes, but House of the Dragon season 2 has difficulty managing its many characters and subplots. The season’s second chapter skips over so many important moments of emotional reflection that several characters, including Ifans’ Otto, Cooke’s Alicent, and Frankel’s Criston, are rendered one-dimensional. That’s an issue that has plagued both of House of the Dragon‘s first two seasons, and it results in emotionally jarring decisions that ultimately come across as both mechanical and empty. The season’s third and fourth episodes are, conversely, packed with filler scenes and illogical choices that don’t feel as if they’re done in service to House of the Dragon‘s characters but in order to stall until it makes sense for another major battle or twist of fate to unfold.

Criston Cole and Aemond Targaryen sit together in House of the Dragon season 2.
Ollie Upton / HBO

Much like it did throughout its first season, the Game of Thrones prequel fails to establish a steady pace across its new episodes, many of which alternate between periods of rushed plotting and the narrative equivalent of thumb-twiddling. At times, House of the Dragon‘s inconsistency makes staying engaged with it on a moment-to-moment basis more difficult than it should be. The series never hits the point of no return, though, and it remains adept at knowing when to hit viewers with big moments that shock your system and force you to lean forward. House of the Dragon‘s second season specifically delivers a handful of set pieces that are so visually bright and crisp that they emerge as much-needed corrections to the complaints many viewers had about some of the poorly lit scenes and muddy backgrounds of its first.

The fantasy series is, once again, consistently elevated by the work of its cast and directors. D’Arcy, in particular, remains the most commanding of the show’s performers, while Cooke is given the chance to go to even thornier psychological places this season. Her portrayal of Alicent’s slow internal decay is so nuanced and compelling that it almost single-handedly makes up for some of the early mistakes House of the Dragon season 2 makes involving her character. Although they’re repeatedly sidelined by the show’s scripts, Eve Best and Steve Toussaint continue to make the most out of every scene they’re given as well. Together, former Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor and returning House of the Dragon directors Clare Kilner and Geeta Patel also manage to refine the series’ visual palette — replacing the hazy, soft lighting of its first season with starkly lit interior and exterior scenes and injecting moments of close-up, natural beauty that help give the show a more textured, tangible aesthetic.

Daemon Targaryen sits in a field alone in House of the Dragon season 2.
Theo Whitman / HBO

Those who go into House of the Dragon season 2 wanting more action sequences and Thrones-esque twists won’t be disappointed. The show has returned from its two-year break with a batch of episodes that feel designed, in many ways, to blow it completely open, and they do just that. Its latest chapters don’t just expose the full, devastating potential of its blockbuster-sized story, though, but also the problems that have been a part of the show from the very beginning, and which House of the Dragon still seems uninterested in fixing. In its second season, the Game of Thrones spinoff roars louder than it did at any point in its first, but you don’t always feel the heat of its dragonfire or the cutting sharpness of its steel. It’s a mighty beast of a show that, despite its size, still can’t quite figure out how to fully sink its claws into you.

New episodes of House of the Dragon season 2 premiere Sundays on HBO and Max. Digital Trends was given early access to the season’s first four episodes.

Alex Welch
Alex is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
7 most underrated Game of Thrones episodes ever
A woman stands across from a man in Game of Thrones.

Can you believe it's been four years since Game of Thrones concluded its legendary run? While we won't speak about the final season, Game of Thrones remains one of television's most successful shows, with a record 59 Primetime Emmy Awards. Game of Thrones was a "can't-miss" television show, meaning the audience had to tune into the live airing of an episode or risk seeing spoilers on the internet. In the social media age of television, it's rare for a show to have as much power and influence on pop culture as it did.

A select group is unequivocally regarded as the best episodes of Game of Thrones, including Blackwater, Hardhome, The Rains of Castamere (more commonly known as The Red Wedding episode), and The Winds of Winter. For this list, however, we selected the seven most underrated Game of Thrones episodes ever.
Lord Snow

Read more
And Just Like That… season 2, episode 3 release date, time, channel, and plot
Carrie listens to a broadcast in And Just Like That.

After six successful seasons and two terrible movies, the Sex and the City universe expanded with the addition of And Just Like That..., which serves as a sequel and series revival. Premiering in 2021, And Just Like That... reintroduced the world to Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), and Charlotte York (Kristin Davis), three of the leading women in Sex and the City. The original series focused on the friendship, sex lives, and social issues of these then-thirtysomethings living in New York City.

And Just Like That... , however, picks up 11 years after Sex and the City 2, with Carrie, Miranda, and Charlotte all in their 50s. Despite the fact that they're older, the same friendship, fashion, and relationship drama are still as present as ever. And Just Like That... became Max's most-watched series debut at the time of its December 2021 premiere. Originally conceived as a miniseries, the overwhelming popularity led to a season 2 renewal. What time does episode 3 stream? Find out below!
When does episode 3 of And Just Like That... season 2 release?

Read more
All the new series heading to Max, including Penguin and Harry Potter
Colin Farrell in Max's Penguin spinoff.

HBO Max, as a brand, is no more. In its place, Warner Bros. Discovery is unveiling Max, the long-promised combination of HBO Max and Discovery+. And while the new Discovery shows don't exactly thrill us, the powers that be at WBD have dropped a lot of new information about Max original series that should help it hang on to the HBO crowd. And perhaps the biggest arrival is The Penguin, the upcoming spinoff from The Batman.

The Penguin | In-Production Teaser | Max

Read more