Recap: In ‘House of the Dragon’ Season 2, Episode 3, War Is Closer And Sillier Than Ever

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: July 1, 2024 (Last updated: 2 weeks ago)
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House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3 Recap
House of the Dragon | Image via HBO

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS

3.5

Summary

The pointlessness of war and the stubbornness of idiots are of paramount importance in “The Burning Mill”, a slower paced and less eventful but still vital chapter.

A misunderstanding. That’s what it all boils down to in House of the Dragon Season 2, Episode 3 – a devastating civil war is about to break out because a grieving wife misinterpreted her delusional husband’s final words.

We, the audience, have known this for a while. But “The Burning Mill” is when it finally dawns on Alicent Hightower. She’s forced to reckon with the idea of having started this war on false pretenses, dooming an increasing number of innocent people – including several of her own family – because she heard what she wanted to hear. You can see the horror on her face when the realization hits her.

And then she doubles down anyway.

Daemon Takes Harrenhal – Sort Of

House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3 Recap

Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3

More on that business towards the end. In the meantime, let’s check in with Daemon, who stormed off in Episode 2 because Rhaenyra rightly blamed him for sending two idiot assassins to behead a baby in the season premiere. Daemon and his dragon have flown to Harrenhal, which was almost entirely burned down by Larys Strong last season, most of the family left to smolder among the blackened stone.

Daemon wants Harrenhal because it’s the biggest keep in the region, and thus the only place to garrison an especially large force of men that he hopes to secure for Team Black. To be fair, the current caretaker, Simon Strong – Larys’ great-uncle, who has no love for him whatsoever – is happy to hand it over. The place is ruined anyway.

For now, it’s unclear whether the general unpleasantness of Harrenhal or lingering guilt is what is causing Daemon to have quite elaborate dreams and visions in which a young Rhaenyra sews young Jaehaerys’s severed head back on. I’m leaning towards the latter, but you can’t totally discount the former. It really is a mess.

War Is Taking Its Toll Before It Has Even Started

House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3 Recap

Baela and Rhaenyra in House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3

The big theme of “The Burning Mill” is that nobody really wants war. Nobody quite knows who they’re fighting for, and nobody entirely believes in any of the causes. We’re reminded of this at the start of the episode when we see two rival Riverlands houses – the Blackwoods and the Brackens – bickering over something or other, and then cut to the aftermath of a battle in which all of them have been killed.

Simon mentions these two families, and it’s clear that their rivalry was so deeply held that nobody still living could remember how it started. The war was just an excuse for both sides to kill each other for reasons that none of them understood.

Raenys reflects this sentiment to Rhaenyra on Dragonstone. Erryk and Arryk were just the start. More people are willing to fight a war than can remember how it started. Rhaenys can see the devastation that is coming if Rhaenyra doesn’t get things under control, so she implores her to speak with Alicent before bathing half of the Seven Kingdoms in dragon fire.

It’s better that than letting Rhaenyra’s small council run things, although Mysaria might represent a solution to that. In exchange for tipping Rhaenyra off about the assassination attempt, she wants a seat on the council. She’s Team Black since Rhaenyra showed her compassion, which nobody else has thus far, and she has a vested interest in trying to protect King’s Landing’s smallfolk. Rhaenyra is inclined to give her a seat since her current council is a bit of a sausage fest.

Aegon II And Criston Cole Are Getting Restless

House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3 Recap

Aegon II speaks with Larys Strong in House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3

Speaking of King’s Landing, Aegon II continues to be wildly ineffectual in matters of state. He’s only interested in going to war as quickly and as showily as possible, so he’ll take any opportunity to do that, regardless of how shaky the plan is. Enter, again, Ser Criston Cole.

Criston still has egg on his face from the botched Dragonstone assassination, so it’s surprising that he comes up with another dumb plan straight away – to march into the Riverlands and start claiming territory willy-nilly, without a dragon or anything. Aegon wants to go with him but nobody will let him, so he’s accompanied by Alicent’s brother Ser Gwayne Hightower instead, who treats him with obvious derision and mentions his father being usurped as Hand of the King, so there’s trouble in paradise. Alicent doesn’t seem keen on Cole at the moment either.

With nothing else to do, Aegon and the rest of his Kingsguard – who all act like lads on a holiday in Ibiza – go for a night on the town to get one of them laid. In the process, Ulf, the weird guy from last week who here claims to be Daemon’s bastard half-brother, pledges fealty to Aegon, which may or may not matter down the line (he has shown up twice now.) Aegon also stumbles on Aemond cuddled up in bed with his favorite hooker and makes a point of loudly mocking him and embarrassing him for it, which Aemond will not be thrilled about.

It’s Too Late

House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3 Recap

Alicent and Rhaenyra meet secretly in House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 3

And then we get to the bit I mentioned at the top. Having heard Rhaenys’s advice, Rhaenyra gets Mysaria to help her sneak into King’s Landing, almost as a peaceful inversion of Daemon’s assassination plot from the premiere.

The security at the Red Keep remains rather lacking. Rhaenyra is able to get literally face to face with Alicent without much bother, and the two women – childhood friends first, mother-and-daughter-in-law second, now rival rulers third – apologize for their roles in murdering each other’s children.

In trying to justify her actions thus far, Alicent tips Rhaenyra off that Viserys was talking about Aegon the Conqueror and A Song of Ice and Fire, not Aegon II. He never changed his mind about succession. The war is all for naught. Alicent made a mistake.

“There’s been no mistake,” snaps Alicent, having visibly realized her mistake. “It’s too late.”

War it is, then.


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