‘House of the Dragon’ Episode 1 recap: That ‘indefensible’ Blood and Cheese murder

Take heed! We're discussing specifics from the Season 2 premiere of "House of the Dragon."

In last season's finale, the flying dragon death of Prince Lucerys sent HBO's "House of the Dragon" into an immediate emotional death spiral, as sure as young Luke was fatally plummeting to the ground.

This spiral hastens in the Season 2 "Dragon" premiere (now streaming on Max) with an even more catastrophic loss — a toddler's murder.

At the brink of an all-out war between the feuding Greens and the Blacks, mourning Blacks Queen Rhaenyra (Emma D'Arcy) demands revenge for her beloved son Luke's death — specifically against Prince Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), whose out-of-control dragon committed the foul crime.

Assassinating the psychopath Aemond might be fair game. However, the plan's botched execution leads instead to the brutal death of toddler Prince Jaehaerys in front of his horrified mother, Queen Helaena Targaryen (Phia Saban). The tragedy of the innocents goes to the next level, even by "Game of Thrones" universe standards.

"It's awful," says "Dragon" executive producer Ryan Condal. "As terrible as Aemond killing Luke was, this murder is indefensible. But it speaks to the deep and bitter entrenchment that we're seeing on these different sides."

Let's break down what in Westeros is going on:

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Queen Helaena Targaryen (Phia Saban) deals with the ultimate horror in "House of the Dragon."
Queen Helaena Targaryen (Phia Saban) deals with the ultimate horror in "House of the Dragon."

Helaena has a prescient fear of rats, no one is listening

There's a key early scene where Greens King Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) drops in on his wife Helaena and toddler Princess Jaehaera, looking for the boy-twin Prince Jaehaerys. The twin babies are exact lookalikes, clear from even Aegon's pause to figure out which baby he's looking at. But Prince Jaehaerys is the heir to the throne and the apple of Aegon's eye.

As her husband leaves, Helaena suddenly blurts out that she's afraid, and more than just of a likely castle attack. "Not the dragons," she says. "The rats."

In these emotionally treacherous times, the rats are literally crawling in the castle walls like never before. But Helaena is also seeing the rat-themed doom approaching. Certain Targaryens, like Helaena, have the power of "dragon dreams," a blurry window to future events.

"We've suggested in Season 1, and now 2, that Helaena has this gift," says Condal. "Unfortunately, the people around Helaena regard her as off-kilter. They dismiss her when they should be listening."

The whole scene is brilliantly executed and worth re-watching, even for the expressions on the servants' faces as they glance about for rats. Aegon ignores her and walks out the door, announcing, "The queen is an enduring mystery, is she not?"

Daemon (Matt Smith) heads to King's Landing in disguise on fateful mission in the Season 2 premiere of "House of the Dragon."
Daemon (Matt Smith) heads to King's Landing in disguise on fateful mission in the Season 2 premiere of "House of the Dragon."

Daemon hatches the plan, but did he greenlight the murder?

The audacious Kill Aemond plan is secretly hatched by Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) without his grieving niece/wife/queen Rhaenyra's knowledge, and there's twisted logic to it.

"Aemond makes sense as a target as vengeance for the betrayal and murder of Luke," says Condal. "But it's also strategic. If successful, it would take the rider of the world's largest dragon off the board and make Rhaenyra's path to victory pretty clear."

Daemon sneaks into King's Landing to hire two lowlifes for the dirty deed — disgruntled City Watch guard Blood (Sam C. Wilson) and a gambling-debt-ridden rat catcher, Cheese (Mark Stobbart), who is deeply familiar with the castle tunnels. Daemon makes clear: Find and kill the easily identifiable blonde guy Aemond with the eye patch and expect a fight.

"Alright, what if we can't find him?" Cheese asks. Daemon is silent before the scene cuts away.

"We don't ultimately know what Daemon's final order is, we left that intentionally ambiguous," says Condal.

But it is clear that Daemon gave the order to kill any son in revenge, even if it came off camera. The episode is titled "A Son for a Son." Daemon had already urged Rhaenyra to take "a son for a son" in revenge. Later, Blood repeats the exact phrase to Cheese, stating the "son for a son" order was from Daemon. That's a sure guilty conviction in any court (but Daemon, no doubt, would have really good lawyers).

Rat catcher Cheese (Mark Stobbart) – and his thug cohort (Sam C. Wilson) go on a heinous mission in "House of the Dragon."
Rat catcher Cheese (Mark Stobbart) – and his thug cohort (Sam C. Wilson) go on a heinous mission in "House of the Dragon."

What happened in the end of 'House of the Dragon,' Episode 1?

The Kill Aemond plan naturally falls apart. Cheese desperately holds Helaena at knife-point and demands she point out which of the two sleeping toddlers is the heir. In a tragically helpless position, the mother points to Prince Jaehaerys.

"They've told her if you don't tell us the truth, we're going to kill all of you. She takes that at face value," says Condal. "She's just trying to survive and get out of there with one of her children. They've put Helaena into this horrible unwinnable position that's going to haunt her for the rest of her days."

Blood thinks Helaena is lying. But Cheese knows she's telling the truth with the trembling finger point. "He's a gambler who knows how to read people, and Helaena is a person whose expressions are very readable," says Condal.

We see the unprocessable horror on Helaena's face as the two thugs brutally murder her son (thankfully offscreen, but with sound effects you can't unhear). She grabs her daughter and flees.

This dark disaster will directly impact the powerful rulers on both sides, like the already wildly unstable Aegon who is already gunning for war. On the other side, Queen Rhaenyra will wrongly take the blowback for the plot she knew nothing about.

"Both Rhaenyra and Daemon are going to have to reckon for this, especially Rhaenyra," says Condal. "Because it's going to be her face on the poster as the news spreads around Westeros about what's happened."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House of Dragon Season 2 premiere recap: Explaining that Blood murder