‘House of the Dragon’ Season 2, Episode 3 Recap: The Hatfields & McCoys

The Hatfield and McCoy feud is a storied one in American history—a tale of two families in 19th-century Appalachia with a rivalry so strong it ended in numerous deaths on both sides. Many invoke the names of the families when describing disputes between two opposing factions, but how many know how that fight truly started? Some point to a murder that took place during the Civil War, others an argument over the rightful owner of a pig, but does it really matter?

Rhaenys would say it does not. As episode three of House of the Dragon opens, she’s in Rhaenyra’s ear as they bury Erryk and Aaryk in a joint grave following the events that led to the twins’s deaths in episode two. Rhaenys rightly assumes that Otto Hightower has lost his influence among Team Green in favor of “hotter blood” like Ser Criston. “The young men have taken the bit in their teeth. They wish to punish, to avenge,” she says. “Soon they will not even remember what it was that began the war in the first place.”

Rhaenyra butts in, reminding Rhaenys that it was the Greens’s usurpation of the throne that started things off. But was it? Perhaps it was when Jaehaerys was beheaded, or when Aemond killed Luke, or Luke took Aemond’s eye? “We teeter now at the point when none of it will matter and the desire to kill and burn takes hold and reason is forgotten.” History will remember the Targaryen Civil War like they remember the Hatfields and McCoys—as a violent rivalry for violent rivalry’s sake. George R.R. Martin wrote Fire and Blood as an array of conflicting historical accounts, as proof that while often the nuanced gets lost to time, and stories begin to conflict with one another, the constants of death, power, and violence always prevail.

The Queen Who Never Was uses this reasoning to persuade Rhaenyra to seek out other alternatives to war, namely talking to Alicent, who has shown signs of a desire to avoid the violence that will undoubtedly come from a fight between dragons. Both Rhaenyra and Alicent have been influenced by the blood and power-hungry men around them, but if they can shake off those egos and have a conversation, perhaps an alternative solution could emerge.

Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

It may just be too late, though. The war and rivalry have already spread across the realm, infecting all the Hatfield and McCoy-esque feuds everywhere from the Reach to the Riverlands. House Bracken, who are Aegon supporters, and House Blackwood, who support Rhaenyra, came to blows over the royal dispute—or more likely, the current civil war gave the two rival houses an excuse to murder each other—with both sides taking heavy losses as a result. It is seen as the first act of this now-unavoidable war, and the men of Aegon’s council debate next steps, ignoring Alicent other than to apologize for any crude comments. The new hand, meanwhile, makes the final decision. He will gather a small army and ride to the Riverlands to turn the houses that have declared for Rhaenyra and eventually take Harrenhal, the largest castle in the Seven Kingdom and therefore a key to winning the war. It’s Criston’s chance to prove himself, to show that he didn’t just fail upwards to his current role thanks to his good looks and impressive ass-kissing abilities.

Criston’s plan prevails, which is unsurprising due to the lack of checks and balances within Aegon’s council. The hand must, however, contend with a new member of his team—Ser Gwayne Hightower, youngest son to Otto and brother to Alicent. Gwayne just arrived from Oldtown and is unhappy to find his father unseated as hand. It’s hard to imagine disliking anyone as much as Criston, but Gwayne does give the hand a run for his money, thanks to a few snide, xenophobic remarks. Alas, the two must find a way to get along, as Gwayne is joining Criston’s company.

Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

As Criston and Gwayne ride off to glory, it is Aegon who is left behind. He defies the advice of his council and readies to fly off to join Criston’s company on the back of his dragon, Sunfyre. Larys, however, does not want to risk Aegon’s death—he has managed to manipulate the king quite well as of late, and his current successor, Aemond, would not be quite as malleable. So, Larys convinces Aegon to remain in the castle, where it is safe, while simultaneously sowing dissent between Aegon and his family. He fills Aegon in on some rumors circulating in the city. “One such is that…his grace was outwitted by his counselors and persuaded to fly to war with Ser Criston, so the Queen Alicent may reign in his absence with Prince Aemond at her side.” Is it true? Perhaps, but at this point, we’ve learned the truth hardly matters. Larys successfully gets Aegon to stand down, but he also receives an unexpected reward (or maybe Larys expected this; you never know what he’s scheming). He is named the Master of Whispers on Aegon’s small council, bringing the Clubfoot even closer into the fold.

Instead of flying off to war, Aegon engages in an activity much more suited to his character—a night of drinking at a brothel alongside his Kingsquard. As Aegon terrorizes the brothel, searching for a woman to take one of his knight’s virginity, he happens upon Aemond, once again in the arms of the sex worker we saw comforting him last episode. It is here, through Aegon’s jeers, that we learn more of the backstory between Aemond and this woman, who was his first as well as his only. Not willing to give into his brother’s mocking, Aemond removes himself from the situation, giving the audience an eyeful in the process.

Meanwhile, on Dragonstone, Rhaenyra confronts Mysaria and thanks her for the warning about Arryk last episode. As a reward, Mysaria asks for a place in Rhaenyra’s court. She now has respect for the queen, who showed Mysaria mercy, something she has never experienced from those in power. Of course, Mysaria can prove useful to Rhaenyra—her knowledge and influence within the Red Keep has been helpful in the past. The idea of Rhaenyra and Mysaria teaming up is a fun one. Women have long been pitted against each other in the Thrones universe, but of course, Dragon pushes harder on themes of gender and misogyny than its predecessor, and this relationship—as well as the continuation of whatever may come from a reunion between Alicent and Rhaenyra—is a very welcomed development.

Photograph by Theo Whitman/HBO

Rhaenyra’s day of meetings continues. Next, she sees her niece/step-daughter Rhaena, asking the girl to accompany Rhaenyra’s young sons to safety in Pentos. The Greens have proven to be aggressive and violent, and even Dragonstone is no longer safe. Unlike her sister, Baela, Rhaena never claimed a dragon, and therefore is little help to Team Black’s cause. Any strength built upon the female-driven narratives in Dragon is dissipated when Rhaena is reduced to being a caregiver sent to live out her days as a surrogate mother in a foreign land.

But Rhaena is not the only member of Team Black venturing off Dragonstone. We finally reunite with Daemon after he fled Dragonstone in episode two. Once again seemingly acting on his own accord, the king consort has landed in the ruins of Harrenhal to claim it for Rhaenrya (perhaps an “I’m sorry for ordering the murder of a young child in your name” gift). While he is apparently prepared to fight an entire army on his own, he is met with no resistance, with Simon Strong immediately bending the knee, unbothered by the loyalties of Harrenhal’s true lord, Layrs, who has proven his place in Aegon’s pocket. “He is a scourge on this castle and this family,” Simon says of Larys. Strong updates Daemon on the status of the Riverlands, which was previously the largest undeclared host in the realm. These days, though, Harrenhal has lost influence over the houses surrounding it, and many have already declared for their respective sides.

Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO

Clearly, Rhaenyra’s council feels its hold on Westeros slipping. The dispute between the Brackens and Blackwoods—now titled the Battle of the Burning Mill—has left the Riverlands in disrepair. Plus, Daemon—who we know to be in Harrenhal—has not sent word and is therefore, for all intents and purposes, missing in action, an embarrassing reality for Rhaenyra, no doubt. The council pushes for action, for dragon fire. Thanks to Baela and her dragon Moondancer, they now have proof that Ser Criston is leading a force in the Riverlands. Still, that little birdie, Rhaenys, continues to flutter in Rhaenyra’s ear. She knows a fight between dragons means mutually assured destruction for both the Blacks and Greens. Her council of men is not eager to proceed with such caution and they suggest Rhaenyra goes somewhere safe while they conduct war business on their own, a patronizing (and treasonous) idea that is unsurprisingly shot down immediately.

Later, while mourning the departure of her children, Rhaenyra happens upon the note Alicent sent her following the initial usurpation of the throne. With Rhaenys’s words coming to mind once again, Rhaenrya is finally ready to see what her old friend has to say. Alicent’s note is clearly effective as it prompts Rhaenyra to go meet with the queen dowager herself. Rhaenyra enlists the help of her new ally, Mysaria, who arranges travel plans to King’s Landing. Once there, dressed as a silent sister, Rhaenyra approaches Alicent while praying at the Grand Sept, mirroring a scene from the first season’s second episode when the two, then young girls, pray together at the same altar before the rivalry takes hold.

It is fun to see a reunion between Alicent and Rhaenyra, and nice to see Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke share the screen again, as the two have so much chemistry. But this meeting is far more important than a discussion of one’s favorite cocktail. Rhaenyra is there to try to prevent war, though that already seems to be a lost cause. Sons have died, thrones have been usurped, and neither party is willing to give in. Instead, they recount the evening of Viserys’s death when he, according to Alicent, changed his mind regarding his heir. Alicent recalls her final conversation with Viserys, which makes Rhaenyra realize it was all a miscommunication. Visersys wasn’t naming Aegon the Prince That Was Promised, he was simply rehashing his favorite tale of Aegon the Conquerer and the Song of Ice and Fire. Alicent realizes her blunder and the problem with listening to the ramblings of a man on the verge of death, but she declares it too late. As with the Hatfields and McCoys and so many feuds in history, the reasons behind the inception are irrelevant when violence and hatred take over.

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