House of the Dragon S2, episode 3 recap: Ghosts of Harrenhal

By Gen Terblanche1 July 2024

House of the Dragon S2, episode 3 recap: Ghosts of Harrenhal

In House of the Dragon Season 2, episode 3, a petty border dispute in the Riverlands turns into all-out war with the Blackwoods supporting Queen Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) and the Brackens supporting King Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney). Daemon (Matt Smith) lands at the ruined Harrenhal castle, where Ser Simon Strong (Russell Beale) surrenders to him, and Daemon claims that he’s taking the castle not as Rhaenyra’s consort, but a Targaryen Prince. Meanwhile, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) set off to secure Harrenhal with a small team of knights. And despite the Black Council pulling at the leash to go to war, Rhaenyra tries every strategy to avoid conflict, including consulting with Rhaenys (Eve Best) and Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno), before slipping in to King’s Landing to speak with Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) face to face.

What happened in House of the Dragon Season 2, episode 2

The Greens fanned the flames of hatred against Rhaenyra as a baby killer by parading the corpse of little Prince Jaehaerys through the streets of King’s Landing. Ser Criston sent Ser Arryk Cargyll (Luke Tittensor) to pose as his twin, Ser Erryk Cargyll (Elliott Tittensor) to assassinate Rhaenyra, but Mysaria uncovered the plot and the twin knights duelled until Ser Erryk killed his brother then fell on his sword. Daemon, in disgrace with Rhaenyra, flew off in a huff to Harrenhal. And King Aegon fired Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) as Hand of the King.

Need a refresher? Read the full House of the Dragons Season 2 episode 1 recap, House of the Dragon Season 2 episode 2 recap, House of the Dragon Season 1 recap and a House of the Dragon Season 2 Who’s Who

Stream House of the Dragon Season 1-2 on Showmax now. New episodes Mondays, express from the US.

The Battle of the Burning Mill

In the Riverlands, the centuries-long feud between the Blackwoods and Brackens – both subject to Lord of the Riverlands, Grover Tully and his great grandson Ser Oscar Tully (Archie Barnes), who’ll be the next ruler – erupts in bloodshed. It’s not helped by the fact that Willem Blackwood (Alfie Todd) defeated Jerrel Bracken (Gabriel Scott) in a duel fought over Rhaenyra in Season 1. Their petty fight escalates to all-out war off screen, but we see the impact of a landscape strewn with corpses littering the mud and water in the Red Fork river.

Aryk and Erryk

Rhaenyra honours Ser Arryk Cargyll and Ser Erryk Cargyll by burying them side-by-side at Dragonstone (a contrast to the bodies that lie where they fell at Red Fork). And Rhaenys advises Rhaenyra that Otto was probably not behind the plot to send an assassin, telling her, “The men have taken the bit in their teeth. They wish to punish, to avenge. She insists that Alicent doesn’t want war and that if they talk to her, queen to queen, they could still avert a war that will be “savage beyond compare”. Rhaenys warns Rhaenyra, “There is no war so hateful to the gods as a war between kin, and no war so bloody as a war between dragons.”

The Green Council

Without Otto’s cool-headed guidance, the Green Council is in disarray as Ser Criston takes his seat as Hand of the King for the first time. Lord Jasper “Ironrod” Wylde is full of snide comments about Criston’s decisions. And Criston has lost a massive amount of respect within the Kingsguard following the failed assassination attempt and Ser Arryk’s death, while Aegon has sworn in his cronies – including Ser Martyn Reyne (Barney Fishwick), Ser Leon Estermont (Ralph Davis), Eddard “Red Ned” Waters (Tok Stephen), and Ser Rickard Thorne (Vincent Regan) – as White Cloaks.

When Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) opens discussion on the war in the Riverlands, Lord Jasper urges Aegon to let the Hightowers and Daeron Targaryen and his dragon Tessarion “suppress the Riverlands”, while Criston tries to sway them to position themselves at the key to the Riverlands: Harrenhal (now Larys Strong’s castle), and Aegon clamours to join the battle himself on dragon back, leaving Aemond and Vhagar to protect the city.

Ser Criston prevails and, complete with the hideous new haircut that he deserves, he sets off to march on the Riverlands, reluctantly taking Alicent’s brother Ser Gwayne Hightower (Freddie Fox) with him. On the road Criston tries to rein in Gwayne unsuccessfully until Baela (Bethany Antonia) spots them during a patrol and chases them into the woods on her dragon Moondancer, making Ser Gwayne soil his armour (probably) and drop the attitude.

The Black Council

At Dragonstone, Mysaria asks for a place at Rhaenyra’s court to be the voice of the common people in exchange for saving Rhaenyra’s life, telling her, “They will be ruled by you, or by the usurper. And only one of you has shown yourself to be merciful.” As they talk, they watch Seasmoke, Rhaenyra’s late husband Laenor’s dragon, and Mysaria suggests that it’s acting up because it’s lonely, hinting at Rhaenyra missing Daemon.

Rhaenyra prepares her defences, assigning Daemon’s daughter Rhaena (Phoebe Campbell) to take Rhaenyra’s son Joffrey (Oscar Eskinazi) to go be a ward at Lady Jeyne Arryn (Amanda Collin) at the Eyrie with his dragon Tyraxes, along with her two infant sons with Daemon, Viserys and Aegon (and Aegon’s dragon, Stormcloud), and four unhatched dragon eggs.

When Rhaena pouts about being sent away as a glorified nursemaid, Rhaenyra points out that it’ll be up to Rhaena to rebuild if everyone at Dragonstone gets wiped out during the war and she tells Rhaena, “I need you to be the mother to them that I cannot. Teach them, train them, guard them as a dragon guards her eggs.”

Rhaenys and Rhaenyra between them have a far firmer control on the Black Council than the chaos at the Green Council. But Rhaenyra still has to push back when they start suggesting using their dragons as a nuclear bomb equivalent. Several counsellors have come down with what might be a fatal case of disrespecting women, with Gormon Massey (James Dreyfus) claiming that Rhaenyra is vulnerable without big, strong Daemon to protect her, and Bartimos Celtigar (Nicholas Jones) suggesting that she go into hiding and let the men run the war, which Rhaenyra warns him is treason.

Rhaenys backs her up, telling them that the Targaryen whose reign lasted the longest, King Jaehaerys the Conciliator, was the one who was the most prudent. Later, even when Baela reports back about Ser Criston’s movements, and the Black Council determines that he’s headed for Harrenhal, Rhaenyra notices that Rhaenys doesn’t support the decision to burn everyone to a crisp and takes her lead.

The ghosts of Harrenhal

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In the most atmospheric and thrilling scenes of the episode, terrified guards run screaming as Daemon lands Caraxes on the burned towers of Harrenhal. And why do they run? The same reason the castle is a ruin. The last time a dragon landed at Harrenhal, its rider, Aegon the Conqueror, used his dragon Balerion the Black Dread to burn the castle, melting the stonework and turning half of it into a ruin.

The castle is almost empty, filled with strange echoes as Daemon walks through its massive abandoned halls until he flings open a door and proclaims, “I am claiming Harrenhal”. He gets no argument. The only man still seated, Harrenhal’s castellan Ser Simon Strong (Russell Beale, playing SImon as easily the most entertaining character in the episode, and giving Lord Jasper fierce competition as the snidest nobleman in Westeros), calmly says “Apparently so,” then kneels and swears loyalty to Rhaenyra before reciting the dinner menu for Daemon and noting that the Strongs consider Larys to be a kinslayer, pointing out, “Do you not think it strange that his father, my nephew, Lord Lionel, perished by fire and his son too, here, in this damp place? It was the first fire here since Balerion ended the reign of Harren the Black.” With nothing to fight, Daemon quibbles about Simon calling him My Prince and demands to be addressed as Your Grace like a king instead of a king consort.

Later, Daemon is preparing for a soggy night’s rest when he has a ghostly encounter with the young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), who’s sewing the head back on little Jaehaerys as she complains to him saying that he comes and goes as he pleases, “and I have to clean up afterwards.” Daemon, clearly rattled, finds himself in Harrenhal’s graveyard moments later where Alys Rivers (Gayle Rankin) warns him, “You will die in this place”.

A night out with the King of King’s Landing

Aegon preens in Aegon the Conqueror’s armour, preparing to go to Ser Criston, until Larys suggests that he has allowed his council to manipulate him into going to war where he will be vulnerable, while Alicent and Aemond rule in his place. Given pause at the idea, Aegon appoints Larys his Master of Whisperers and decides to stay put in King’s Landing and twiddle his thumbs. Instead, his knights invite him out to see one of their squires lose his virginity.

At a tavern in King’s Landing, Ulf the White (Tom Bennett), is bragging about being a Dragonseed as the illegitimate son of Baelon the Brave, making him half-brother to Daemon and Viserys. He makes a near fatal error when he proclaims Rhaenyra to be the one true queen, and her son Jacerys to be rightful heir to the throne just seconds before Aegon makes a swaggering entrance. Later, Aegon drunkenly staggers off to Madam Sylvi’s (Michelle Bonnard) brothel where he and his White Cloaks play what’s behind the curtain until they stumble across Aemond snuggled up to Sylvi, and Aegon starts taunting him.

Two queens light a candle

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At Dragonstone, while Rhaenyra is putting away her children’s toys and crying, she finally reads the message that Alicent sent her after Aemond killed Lucerys, and asks Mysaria to advise her on how she could meet Alicent alone. Based on Rhaenys’ belief that Alicent doesn’t want war, and Mysaria’s anti-war stance, Rhaenyra sneaks into King’s Landing disguised as a septa of the Faith of the Seven with Steffon Darklyn, Lord commander of the Queensguard (Anthony Flanagan).

Rhaenyra infiltrates the Sept of Baelor as Alicent arrives to pray. Sitting alone beside Alicent, Rhaenyra claims to have had no part in the butchering of Jaehaerys, And she asks Alicent why she usurped Rhaenyra’s throne, only to find out that Alicent made a sincere mistake when Alicent calls her son Aegon “the prince that was promised.” Rhaenyra points out that Viserys was really talking about a Targaryen family prophecy and Aegon the Conqueror, not her son Aegon … or even Rhaenyra’s son Aegon! But when Rhaenyra tells Alicent that she can prevent the war, Alicent tells her, “There has been no mistake. My father is gone from court. Cole is on the march; Aemond, you know what Aemond is. It’s too late, Rhaenyra.”

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