House of the Dragon vs Fire And Blood: Episode 2x01, "A Son For A Son"

How does the season 2 premiere of House of the Dragon differ from the book Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin? Quite a lot!
Fabien Frankel Ser Criston Cole House of the Dragon season 2
Fabien Frankel Ser Criston Cole House of the Dragon season 2 /

After two years since the show’s debut, season 2 of House of the Dragon is finally here. As in the first season, every week we will analyze the differences between each episode of the show and the source material, the book Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin, who also serves as show co-creator with Ryan Condal. 

Let’s dive in! House of the Dragon Episode 2x01, titled “A Son For A Son,” has certainly shocked some fans for the many differences from the book, some of which are rather significant. While I don’t find this episode to be a very strong season starter, I appreciated how it planted the seeds for everything that is to happen this season.

Cregan Stark and Jacaerys Velaryon in House of the Dragon season 2.
Photograph by Ollie Upton/HBO /

Jace’s journey

The episode opens with Winterfell and the Wall. The first words spoken are a salad of Stark buzzwords, including the holy trinity: “honor,” “duty,” and “sacrifice.” It’s safe to say that this will stir Game of Thrones nostalgia, and that audiences will appreciate this throwback, presented as a Ned Stark and Jon Snow mashup. While lovely, this means that viewers are deprived of Prince Jacaerys Velaryon’s previous stop on his diplomatic mission: the Eyrie, where he meets the fearsome Lady Jeyne Arryn.

Perhaps the writers room thought the show already displayed a fine array of “independent” women (I urge you to detect my sarcasm) and preferred to avoid introducing the formidable Maiden of the Vale, a queer icon, who speaks the words that another character on the show, Alicent Hightower, would so desperately need to hear: “In this world of men, we women must band together.” Jeyne Arryn’s absence from the episode felt incredibly loud especially in the scene where Alicent laments not being supported by her father in her wish to effectively run the kingdom… as her family wages a war to prevent another woman from ruling. (Shocking.) At any rate, we miss all of the pre-Winterfell stops Jace makes in Fire & Blood, including the Three Sisters and White Harbor, the latter of which is extremely significant for next season. In case you missed it, HBO just announced that House of the Dragon has been renewed for season 3.

In Fire & Blood, we read that Jace spend a lot of time at Winterfell and forged a true friendship with Lord Cregan Stark. To seal their alliance, they signed an agreement known as the Pact of Ice and Fire that would culminate with a Targaryen princess marrying Lord Cregan's eldest son. Mushroom, Rhaenyra’s court fool and the most salacious narrator recounting the events of the Dance of Dragons, also wrote that Prince Jacaerys fell in love with a supposed bastard sister of Lord Stark, Sara Snow, although there is no credit to this claim as Jace was rather fond of his fiance, the fierce Lady Baela Targaryen. In the show, although we receive no clear indication of time, it seems that Jace’s visit is rather quick, as it’s cut short by the letter communicating his brother’s Lucerys' death.

Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen in House of the Dragon season 2 /

How it goes with Daemon

This episode tested Daemon by demanding his inaction and continuously placing him at the mercy of women; it’s a challenge, for he hates not being in control, yet he passes all tests. In the first half of the episode, everywhere he turns, Daemon is outpowered by women: his cousin Rhaenys who refuses to follow his command, his wife Rhaenyra who does not yield power, and even his former mistress Mysaria.

We witness a role reversal of what happens in Fire & Blood: during this stretch of the book, Daemon is at Harrenhal rather than on Dragonstone, taking action rather than itching for it. Rhaenyra, who grieves on Dragonstone in the book, flies over the coast on her dragon Syrax in a hopeless search for Lucerys and his remains. That also means we were deprived of the iconic letter than Daemon writes Rhaenyra in the book: “An eye for an eye, a son for a son. Lucerys shall be avenged.” In fact, here on the show, Rhaenyra is the one pushing for vengeance; it’s Aemond, the man behind Luke’s death, that she wants. Daemon was planning on killing Vhagar and Aemond long before Rhaenyra came back, but for strategic reasons. Daemon is incredibly eager to serve Rhaenyra and to accelerate her rise to the Iron Throne. Unable to help her cope with her grief, he decides to give her what she says she wants: Aemond. Never was a job so sweet to him.

As in the book, Daemon hatches a plan with Mysaria to hire a pair of mercenaries known as Blood and Cheese to sneak into the Red Keep and carry out an assassination, but the details are different. In the book, the White Worm is still in King’s Landing and vanishes after the Blood and Cheese ordeal, while in the show she has stowed away from the capital where she is presumed dead after the Hightowers ordered her house burned down.

The interactions between Daemon and the spymaster Mysaria have such a good rhythm, with Mysaria always being one step ahead and anticipating his next accusation, ready to respond in kind. She may be the only person in the Seven Kingdoms outside of his family to know the Prince well enough to snap back at him and live. He, in turn, knows which cords to strike with her and understands her freedom, and consequent safety, is the only currency that truly matter to Mysaria.

House of the Dragon season 2 /

Alicent & Criston sitting in a tree… 

This episode reveals that Queen Alicent and her former sworn sword, now Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, have been engaging in sexual intercourse. This does not happen in the book… or it is never recounted to us, at the very least. While this is of no consequence to the plot of the episode, season, or show, I do find it a peculiar choice on the writers’ part.

This relationship goes against the very principles of the characters that were introduced in season 1: both Alicent Hightower and Criston Cole turn bitter towards Rhaenyra because she has an extramarital affair and condemn her at every turn, clinging to a moral sense of decency that seems rather hypocritical as they engage in the same act. “Honor and decency will prevail,” were Alicent’s words to Criston words last season, as they harshly criticized Rhaenyra’s sexual freedom. “Spoiled cunt,” was his reply to describe the then-Princess. Whatever happened there?

I have no issue with Alicent and Criston’s relationship per se, just with the (lack of) reason behind this writing choice. Are there no more interesting things for these two characters to be saying or doing onscreen, rather than each other?

House of the Dragon season 2 /

Introducing some dragonseeds

The first episode of season 2 subtly introduced to a couple of characters, and both seem to be different from their book counterparts. First, on Driftmark, we see Alyn of Hull, who is approached by Lord Corlys Velaryon. It’s not clear whether Corlys is aware of Alyn’s true identity, but we learn that on the show, Alyn (and perhaps his brother Addam) fought at the Stepstones under Corlys’ command, and that Alyn was the very one who saved the lord from certain death by fishing him out of the sea after he was severely injured.

Regardless of what Corlys knows about Alyn, it’s clear he feels indebted to him. A stealthy line about Prince Lucerys, Corlys’ grandson and former heir, is inserted into the scene, foreshadowing things to come. BOOK SPOILERS: In Fire And Blood, Alyn and Addam are (probably) Corlys Velaryon's bastard sons, and once Addam claims a dragon, Corlys has their taint of bastardry stricken and gives them the name Velaryon name, and makes the elder brother his heir.

In King’s Landing, Hugh, a smith, petitions the newly crowned King Aegon for money as the Crown calls for more and more weapons to be forged. Based on the circumstances of this introduction, it is safe to assume that Hugh is based in King’s Landing, or at the very least pretending to be. While his appearance very much matches the book’s description of this character, Hugh is written in Fire & Blood as a dragonseed from Dragonstone, probably descended from a bastard sired by a Targaryen royal in a previous generation. We shall see whether this difference shifts Hugh’s loyalties. Or perhaps King Aegon will reverse his decision to give Hugh and the other smiths the money Hugh asked for and the blacksmith to look for patronage from Rhaenyra on Dragonstone.

A side of Blood & Cheese

In the book, there is an aura of mystery surrounding the characters of Blood and Cheese and their misdeeds. We know that Mysaria orchestrates this secret assassination at Daemon’s behest; we know little and less about them, not even their names. Seeing the sequence onscreen made it much more… mundane. They’re two lazy, lucky bastards, rather than a spy and an assassin.

In the book, the two criminals concoct a plan based on the royals’ habitual movements. They lay in wait for Dowager Queen Alicent and then Queen Helaena, dispose of all their guards, and play a cruel trick on Helaena, asking her to pick one of her two sons and then killing the one she had wanted to spare instead. On the show, they look for Aemond (as they were told to do by Daemon) then happen upon the unguarded nursery where Helaena is with her kids and decide to waste no time quietly getting the job done by killing another son rather than their original target.

Final, random considerations:

  • “Would that you were king!” wins best line in the episode. Thank you, Princess Rhaenys, for putting your little cousin in his place. 
  • Cregan Stark mentions that Lord Alaric Stark, who welcomed King Jahaerys and Queen Alysanne, was his father; this is inconsistent with Fire & Blood, where Alaric is Cregan’s great-great-grandfather. It changes very little, but the timeline seems to be all over the place.
  • Rhaenyra’s thirdborn son Joffrey is supposed to be 12 years old at this point in the book; when told of his brother Luke’s death, the youngest Velaryon threatened to fly to King’s Landing and kill Aemond himself, and has to be stopped by his grandparents Corlys and Rhaenys. In the show he looks much younger, although I can’t say I hate the change altogether, when it allowed for Jace to lift his brother in his arms and comfort him at the funeral.

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and Twitter account, sign up for our exclusive newsletter and check out our YouTube channel.