Rhaenyra and Rhaenys Targaryen, played by Emma D'Arcy and Eve Best, have a discussion in the second season of House of the Dragon

‘House of the Dragon’ Refusing To Glorify War Is So Right Actually

Sure we all want to see dragons fighting but let’s also have some common sense!

The third episode of the second season of House of the Dragon, “The Burning Mill,” understandably left the fandom in absolute disarray—not that it’s an unusual occurrence in a fandom as polarized as the HoTD one, let’s be honest. 

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Still, as someone who watches the episode and then spends roughly five hours pinging around various social media to see how the fandom discourse is going, I have picked up some discussions that I think are worth analyzing. And that’s how House of the Dragon has chosen to deal with war.

The cost of (nuclear dragon) war

Spoilers for season 2, episode 3 of House of the Dragon, “The Burning Mill”. Be warned!

While extradiegetically—meaning outside the story, on our side of the screen—it makes sense that we’re all pretty much waiting for the moment House of the Dragon is going to give some good dragon battles and lets us see them absolutely whacking each other in the sky, I think it’s also important to remember that it’s not the same intradiegetically.

It’s not actually bad writing to have the main players be so reluctant about unleashing a full-out war, and a dragon war at that. This episode made a very clear point of likening dragons to nuclear weapons, a parallel that the fandom has drawn for quite some time, by having Rhaenyra say that the fear of dragons is enough to still keep the fighting at bay—so wouldn’t it make sense for people in power to try and find a solution that doesn’t include razing the realm to the ground and keeping the fire and blood as a last resource?

That’s actually part of why Rhaenyra goes to see Alicent and also a big takeaway in terms of storytelling from that specific scene. She has to exhaust all possible options for peace before allowing herself to turn to her side’s dragons. She has to understand that there’s no possible other way to go forward. Sure, she could relinquish her claim—something that she shouldn’t do, let’s be clear—but not even that might be enough now, not with both sides having already lost children.

What I don’t understand is how a part of the fandom says that this Rhaenyra is a step down from the character described in Fire & Blood. If anything, the incredible amount of restraint she’s showing is a testament to what a good ruler she could be as far as monarchs in Westeros go—someone who waits until the last possible moment before ordering the torching of her own lands and her own people. That’s setting the bar a little low, but considering the other people who have sat on the Iron Throne still makes her pretty much ascend to sainthood.

Why would we want Rhaenyra to be as she was in Fire & Blood? Let’s all remember that book is supposed to be an in-universe chronicle written more than a century after the actual events of the Dance by a man who was also kind of making the point that forbidding women from ruling in their own right was the best choice for the realm. 

Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen standing and reading a book in House of the Dragon season 2
Besides, Fire & Blood generally focuses on events rather than emotions so the writers were going to have to expand on that anyway to create actual well-rounded characters (HBO)

That Rhaenyra is cruel and vindictive, a caricature rather than an actual person—and it’s not like this Rhaenyra is not holding on firmly to her power. Is she talking about abandoning her claim? No, she’s still very much strong in her right to sit on the Iron Throne. She goes about exerting her power in a different way, and a more realistic one at that.

The endless cycle of violence

And that’s because violence will only generate more violence, and once there’s enough of that, it’s impossible to stop. That’s always been one of the main points of A Song of Ice and Fire as a whole—because I’m sure we can all agree that if there’s one thing George R.R. Martin is not trying to do in his works is glorify war or feudal monarchy.

It was all exemplified so perfectly in this episode—and indeed, so much in “The Burning Mill” revolves around this concept—right from the opening scene. A squabble between young boys, based on a feud so ancient that no one really remembers how it started, which turns into an argument about who has more right to sit the throne which turns into a killing field full of corpses and for what? War is senseless and useless and ultimately benefits no one, and that’s something that House of the Dragon is desperately trying to drive home.

The aftermath of the bloody Battle of the Burning Mill in House of the Dragon, season two
I know the HotD writers’ room has an altar to A Feast for Crows somewhere, I just know it (HBO)

Princess Rhaenys—whose lines more often than not seem like a way for the showrunners to convey their message to the audience—echoes the same sentiment during her dialogue with Rhaenyra which prompts her to travel to King’s Landing. Once the avalanche of violence has begun it doesn’t really matter what started it and who was in the right, there’s just corpses and death. 

And no, of course she’s not literally saying that Luke was to blame for stabbing Aemond’s eye. That’s an example of once again how you could trade the blame back and forth endlessly just to abandon yourself to violence and how once that violence has been people will never agree on what started it exactly, only seeing the actual destruction that violence left in its wake.

It’s not lost on me that it’s the women of the show who are restraining themselves from plunging into war while most of the main male players are eager to get down to it. It makes perfect sense given how everyone has been raised—men in Westeros are taught from pretty much the day they’re born that violence is their right. In turn, women are more often than not subjected to that violence so of course they would want to try and stop it from happening on a realm-wide war scale. 

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Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.