House of the Dragon season 2 review: The Dance of Dragons truly begins in fiery triumph

The series premieres on Sky on Monday, 17 June

Emma D'Arcy as Princess / Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of the Dragon S2. (Sky/HBO)
Emma D'Arcy as Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of the Dragon Season 2, which returns on 17 June. (Sky/HBO)

There was a time when House of the Dragon had a question hanging over it, could it redeem Game of Thrones? And could it possibly hope to surpass it? Season 2 certainly suggests it will.

Taking place almost immediately after the events of the first season's shocking finale, the show throws its characters from the frying pan and into the dragon fire. With her son Lucerys dead and the Iron Throne still out of reach, Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy) is baying for blood, and is determined to find a way to regain her birthright.

Westeros is split between the Blacks and the Greens, those loyal to Rhaenyra and those who stand with her half-brother, and current ruler, Aegon Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney). Each side have their supporters — Rhaenyra has her children, Daemon (Matt Smith), Rhaenys (Eve Best) and of course their dragons, while Aegon has his mother Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), his blood-thirsty brother Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), and his grandfather Otto (Rhys Ifans) as his hand.

Olivia Cooke as Queen / Dowager Queen Alicent Hightower in House of the Dragon S2. (Sky/HBO)
Olivia Cooke as Dowager Queen Alicent Hightower, she and Emma D'Arcy are phenomenal leads in season 2. (Sky/HBO)

Season 1 may have set the stage but season 2 is where the real Dance of Dragons begins, the Targaryen civil war so bloody and brutal it became enshrined in legend by the time of Game of Thrones. Rhaenyra and Aegon's camps are preparing for war, with individuals on both sides ready to shed blood in their rulers name — and, boy, does the show deliver on this promise.

Read more: June is the battle of the streamers, but who will win?

Every episode is a triumph, with each actor delivering exceptional performances no matter the scene. D'Arcy and Cooke lead the cast impressively as Rhaenyra and Alicent, they draw viewers in and hold that power with their emotional, thought-provoking takes of their respective characters.

Smith matches this high bar well as Daemon, particularly when he steps into his own cerebral tale away from Rhaenyra which allows him to pull at his character's flaws and vulnerabilities.

Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon S2. (Sky/HBO)
Matt Smith as Prince Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon Season 2, in which he delivers a thought-provoking performance. (Sky/HBO)

Glynn-Carney and Mitchell are also given room to thrive in Season 2 after being late additions into the story last season because of the show's time-skip formula.

Glynn-Carney depicts Aegon like a petulant child, someone desperate to be taken seriously and who is quick to anger when this doesn't come to pass. His performance is reminiscent of Jack Gleeson's Joffrey Baratheon, which is meant as a compliment of course.

Mitchell too is fascinating as Aemond, a character who is as cruel as he is cunning. The actor amps up the villainy of his character without making him a caricature, a look or change of expression can sometimes be enough to terrify and he is a formidable player in this ensemble.

Ewan Mitchell as Prince Aemond Targaryen in House of the Dragon S1. (HBO/Sky)
House of the Dragon is like Game of Thrones at its peak, full of stunning set pieces and costumes, with slick script and awe-inspiring action. (HBO/Sky)

House of the Dragon is still full of all the things viewers have come to love, the court intrigue and the deception, but most importantly the action. In the four episodes given to press, war is simmering under the surface but the violence that is used is done so to great effect — especially when the dragons come out to fight.

What other critics thought:

The Telegraph: A soaring, roaring blockbuster to rival anything in the cinema (3-min read)

The Wrap: War Makes the ‘Game of Thrones’ Prequel Even Better (5-min read)

Evening Standard: A roaring, blazing return to the world of Game of Thrones (3-min read)

The show's fourth episode is particularly breathtaking because of its action, which will leave viewers in awe when it reaches its shocking conclusion. It is everything that fans would want from the franchise, brutal, dramatic and heartbreaking. The war that is waged in the episode even matches the heights of Battle of the Bastards, one of the flagship show's best episodes, with its action and emotion.

House of the Dragon's second season is what Game of Thrones was at its peak, full of stunning set pieces and costumes, with a slick script and awe-inspiring action. From what has been seen of season 2 so far, there's little question that the show has the potential to completely eclipse its predecessor if it keeps up this momentum.

  • 📺 Where to watch House of the Dragon: Sky Atlantic and NOW from Monday, 17 June

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 5/5

  • 🍿 Watch it if you liked: Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time, The Lord of the Rings

  • 🎭 Who's in it?: Emma D'Arcy, Olivia Cooke, Matt Smith, Ewan Mitchell, Tom Glynn-Carney, Eve Best, Steve Toussaint, Fabien Frankel, Rhys Ifans.

  • How long is it? 8 x 60 minute episodes

  • 📖 What’s it about? Following the shocking events of season one, Westeros is split between the Blacks and the Greens with Rhaenyra Targaryen determined to regain her throne after Alicent Hightower took it for her son Aegon.