House of the Dragon Episode 2 review: Game of Thrones prequel revels in vile misogyny for shock value

What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive. House of the Dragon plunged straight into the old Game Of Thrones-ish deception and plotting that we are all uncomfortable with, bringing forth the sweeping realisation that as usual, hardly anyone can be trusted. More importantly, the men in power continue to take terrible decisions.

The new House of the Dragon episode was a step up from the premiere in some ways, because it seemed to lay down more groundwork for the story yet to unfold, and of course, there was far more intrigue, though I’m still not quite fully convinced by Matt Smith’s Daemon yet. While he is posited as the seething antagonist, apart from cold looks and a few biting words, he doesn’t quite seem to have a powerful sway over a scene. Perhaps it’s still too early, but for someone who has already bared himself as treacherous, we could expect a little more?

Nevertheless there are far more pressing problems in the show, one of them being that most of the supporting characters seem gormless and staid. The second episode sees already hints of a brewing romance for Rhaenyra (which you know is going to go south), murmurs of a conspiracy, blazing dragons, and a lot of gruesome deaths at the beginning and at the end of the episode. But that’s textbook Game of Thrones, what new is House of the Dragon really offering?

We pick up six months after the horrifying death of the queen (whose childbirth scene is seared into most of our minds). Rhaenyra is demonstrating her authority and proving that she is far more capable in politics than the men are, even though they smirk at her. Her father Viserys I continues to flounder and mull over the dangers of the ‘weak’ Targaryen bloodline, as Rhaenyra is the only heir to the throne, at the moment. He might have declared her as an heir, but he’s still a man who was so desperate for his newborn son that he allowed an emergency caesarean operation to be performed on his wife, so he’s really not capable of making any sensible decision.

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In the effort to depict the ‘realistic conditions of women and children’ during the middle-ages (a convenient defence), the show has plummeted to some rather dark and murky depths and they’re taking no prisoners. However, the main problem with the series till now is that it’s so intent on portraying vile misogyny that it seems to be revelling in these themes rather than actually creating something worthwhile and significant, like dismantling such systems. So we have to constantly watch men being insufferable, while women exist to suffer, all to create a disturbing spectacle of a soap opera.

For instance, Rhaenyra’s close friend Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) is being propositioned to entice the widowed king. It’s not of her own volition, of course, but on her father’s persistence. There has hardly been much exploration into her character as yet, except for her quiet dialogue exchanges with the king and Rhaenyra that are supposed to mean something, but I really can’t see what it is. At the end of the episode, after reeling over a disturbing offer of marriage that involves a young child, Viserys I makes a more disturbing choice—something that isn’t going to go down well with Rhaenyra.

The show places two archetypes of women before its viewers: The fiery Rhaeynra, and the icy-cold Rhaenys or ‘The Queen Who Never Was’, a woman who has resigned herself to the cruel fates of thrones and will just plot for power, even if it involves selling off her daughter. Her iciness and false benign smiles are chilling and she exudes those little ripples of fear that the show desperately intends. Her acting is impactful, but it’s not enough to gloss over the glaring problems of the show.

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