House of the Dragon Season 2 review: Pacing issues derail visually stunning sophomore run

Matt Smith on House of the Dragon.
House of the Dragon Season 2 doesn’t land as well as expected. Pic credit: Ollie Upton/HBO

House of the Dragon is back after a lengthy hiatus, and Season 2 is another decent effort for the Game of Thrones prequel. The sophomore run has many good aspects, but the execution could be much better.

Instead of diving straight into the action and intrigue, the series continues setting up the conflicts to come, which is surprising considering House of the Dragon Season 1 presented a tipping point for both the Blacks and the Greens.

As a result, the first three episodes are considerably more subdued than expected, with the series focusing more on peeling back the layers on the characters to establish their wants and needs in this great big game of chess.

While it’s necessary to get to the root of the characters, a bit too much exposition negatively impacts the pace, making some plot points feel undeserved when they happen.

The good news is that the acting remains top-tier, with Emma D’arcy leading the cast as Rhaenyra Targaryen.

Given her devastating loss at the end of House of the Dragon Season 1 and that chilling final scene, Rhaenyra is in a reflective mood when her storyline kicks off again in the premiere.

Rhaenyra’s storyline is tragic

We see her in the depths of grief in the opening episodes as she tries to comprehend the cruel nature of her son’s death and its implications on her quest for the throne.

While there’s plenty of unrest in Dragonstone in the aftermath of Prince Lucerys’ death, things in King’s Landing are pretty different, thanks to King Aegon II’s reign.

He brings an element of unpredictability to the council meetings because thinking things through is not in his skillset. Tom Glynn-Carney gets a lot to work with here and gets to show off his comedic side.

King’s Landing feels almost tranquil at the beginning of House of the Dragon Season 2, but things quickly change, reiterating to all of the key players that war is brewing.

My biggest gripe with the opening episodes is how some actors are criminally underused despite their characters serving a great purpose in the story. Eve Best was such a scene-stealer in Season 1.

Sadly, the material she’s given in Season 2 is shaky and does little to develop the character, giving the sense that her arc was an afterthought because the creatives were laser-focused on moving the puzzle pieces to prepare for some significant events.

Watching the two sides plot their next moves is interesting because the council meetings allow viewers to feel like they’re part of the setup of these plans, which will have far-reaching ramifications.

Politics are a strong point of House of the Dragon Season 2

If Game of Thrones proved anything, it’s that different factions like to politic, but there are so many variables in the battle of the Blacks and the Greens that there’s no telling where things will go.

Despite the slower-than-expected pace, the initial episodes’ surprises break the mold of Game of Thrones, allowing the creatives to play with expectations and include some big surprises.

The beauty of House of the Dragon is that besides the nuts and bolts of the story, the source material isn’t written in the first person, giving the creatives the freedom to switch things up to shock viewers.

Those moments are fantastic and mostly land well, but the double-edged sword is that some of the deviations may or may not land well with viewers.

The early seasons of Game of Thrones had some notable differences from the novels, but fans of the Targaryens who read Fire and Blood will be surprised by the number of book changes this time.

The added information enhanced the Targaryen history in House of the Dragon Season 1. Still, the show played the transition to screen very safe in an attempt to appease the fans left scorned after Game of Thrones Season 8.

The first season was very well constructed, with everything on-screen crucial to the plot. However, the early episodes of House of the Dragon Season 2 rely on too many conveniences to tell the story, reducing the believability factor of many conflicts.

It’s easy to let that slide once, but it happens on countless occasions throughout the first four episodes, promising to tarnish the final episodes of the season.

House of the Dragon season 2 is a spectacle

Plot and pacing issues aside, House of the Dragon Season 2 is a feast for the eyes. The cinematography and CGI are much better than the first season, giving the sense that HBO has given the show a limitless budget because it’s been so successful.

While better cinematography is evident from the first scene of House of the Dragon Season 2, it will most be noticed in House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 4, which features many franchise firsts.

Ultimately, House of the Dragon Season 2 is a solid follow-up to the first season, but everyone expecting it to reach the dizzying heights of Game of Thrones will be disappointed.

Unless there are big swings and better execution in the final four episodes, it won’t even hold a candle to House of the Dragon Season 1.

House of the Dragon Season 2 premieres Sunday, July 16 at 9 p.m. on HBO and Max. You can Stream Season 1 on Max.

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