'House of the Dragon' season 2 — 7 things you need to know before watching

Matt Smith HBO House of the Dragon Season 2
(Image credit: Theo Whitman/HBO)

After nearly two years away from our screens, "House of the Dragon" season 2 is poised to follow the Dance of the Dragons into full swing this Sunday.

This second season finds Westeros about to enter a bloody civil war. House Targaryen is divided into two factions, both of which believe they have the right to sit on the Iron Throne. Which side's going to take flight when one of the very best Max shows returns?

Given we've had to wait a while for this second chapter, you might well need a refresher on the many, many twists and turns that the "Game of Thrones" prequel has already taken. Be warned, though: There are major spoilers ahead for "House of the Dragon" season 1, so if you're not caught up just yet, get back to binging before the show returns for season on HBO and Max on June 16.

1. One house, two factions

House of the Dragon season 2 poster featuring Olivia Cooke and Emma D'Arcy

Alicent and Rhaenyra in the "House of the Dragon" season 2 key art.  (Image credit: HBO)

With season 2 ready to take the Dance of Dragons into full-scale war, it’s worth remembering who is on which side. House Targaryen is split into two political factions known as the Greens and the Blacks, named after the colors of House Hightower and House Targaryen, respectively. 

The Greens are comprised of people who support the reign of the Seven Kingdoms’ current monarch, Aegon II Targaryen. They include Aegon’s mother, Alicent Hightower (widow of King Viserys Targaryen); her father and Hand of the King, Otto Hightower; Aegon’s sister-wife, Helaena; his younger brother, Aemond; and Ser Criston Cole, the new Commander of the Kingsguard. In addition, they have the support of Larys Strong, Tyland Lannister and, recently, Borros Baratheon.

The Blacks stand in opposition, supporting Rhaenyra Targaryen and her son, Jacaerys’ claim to the Iron Throne. Key members include Rhaenyra, her husband Prince Daemon, the members of House Velaryon, and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen.

2. How it all started

Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra, Paddy Considine as Viserys in House of the Dragon

Viserys proclaims Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) his new heir. (Image credit: HBO Max)

Struggling to remember how all the drama began? Well, the trouble in “House of the Dragon” began when Viserys disinherited his brother, Prince Daemon, and named a new successor to his throne. Several members of the Viserys’ Council never saw Daemon as a good fit for the Iron Throne, but he remained Viserys’ presumptive heir until he and the Queen Consort, Aemma Arryn, had the son he wanted to raise so badly. 

After a number of failed pregnancies, the pair had their son in episode 1. While Aemma was in labor, Viserys opted for an emergency operation that claimed the queen’s life in the hope it would save his heir’s life. Tragically, the baby died just hours later, too. 

Episode 1 culminated with Viserys stripping Daemon of his claim to the throne. The wayward Prince had been overheard mocking Viserys’ new son as “The Heir For a Day”, a nickname that incensed the grieving king. 

Under pressure to name a rightful heir from his advisors, Viserys decided to break with Targaryen tradition and named his daughter, Princess Rhaenyra, as the heir to the Iron Throne instead. However, things only got more complicated from there. 

3. How Aegon II claimed the Iron Throne

Tom Glynn-Carney HBO House of the Dragon Season 2

Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney). (Image credit: Ollie Upton/HBO)

In his final moments before death, King Viserys returned to Aegon the Conquerer’s prophetic dream (a Targaryen must hold the Iron Throne so they can unite the Seven Kingdoms against the forces beyond the wall), believing he was speaking to Rhaenyra. But it was Alicent by his side at that moment, and she assumed he was trying to tell her he wished their son, Aegon, to succeed him. Reusing the same names for generations can create some terrible misunderstandings.

Following the king’s death, Otto Hightower assembled the Small Council to reveal Alicent’s news … which is precisely when Alicent discovered Otto and co. had been scheming to install Aegon II as king. In their eyes, Viserys’ last words are immensely helpful; they only serve to legitimize their plot.   

Before long, the newly formed “Green Council” arranged a coup, forcing the heads of numerous houses to swear an oath to Aegon in the throne room of King’s Landing (executing those who refuse). Plans to eliminate Aegon’s key rivals start being thrown around, and Aegon’s coronation is held. 

Rhaenys (who had been held captive in Kinqg’s Landing) nearly took the chance to kill the usurpers during the ceremony but opted instead to fly to Dragonstone and inform the Blacks of both Viserys’ death and the coup, prompting the faction to crown Rhaenyra their queen and to begin preparations for the war to come.  

4.  Rhaenyra and Alicent could have buried the hatchet

The Greens and Blacks at a banquet table in "House of the Dragon" season 1 episode 8

Rhaenyra and Alicent tried to put their differences aside in Viserys I's final moments. (Image credit: Ollie Upton/HBO)

The two key figures were close to reconciling in the moments leading up to Viserys’ death. At a feast, the ailing king called on Alicent and Rhaenyra’s families to put an end to the growing divisions between them (which, by this point, was a big ask). 

Rhaenyra was the first to extend an olive branch. She offered a toast to Alicent, thanking her for standing by Viserys and supporting him throughout his reign. In exchange, Alicent offered a toast to Rhaenyra and her house, shocking everyone by proclaiming she would "make a fine queen." This prompted several more members of both factions to at least try and act civil.

Aemond shattered any semblance of good feeling with his infamous toast, wherein he paid "tribute" to his nephews by making an insulting nod to their true parentage, calling them “Strong boys”. (They were fathered by Ser Harwin Strong, while Rhaenyra was married to Ser Laenor Velaryon). A fight broke out between Alicent and Rhaenyra’s sons and prompted Rhaenyra and co. to return to Dragonstone.

Rhaenyra did pledge to return to King’s Landing after seeing her family home … but then the whole coup happened. And given how season 1 ended (more on that in just a second), there’s little chance we’ll see the two reconciled ever again. 

5. First blood has been drawn

Lucerys Velaryon (Elliot Grihault) in Storm's End in "House of the Dragon" season 1

Rhaenyra's son, Lucerys.  (Image credit: Ollie Upton/HBO)

The first season concluded with what will no doubt be a pivotal moment in the Dance of the Dragons: the death of Lucerys Velaryon.

Rhaenyra’s second son had been dispatched to Storm’s End to seek an alliance with the Baratheons. When he arrived, Lucerys found his rival and uncle, Aemond, had already successfully gained their favor by pledging to marry one of Borros Baratheon’s daughters. 

While there, Aemond demands one of Lucerys’ eyes (in exchange for the one he maimed during a fight when they were much younger). Borros intervened and Lucerys fled on his dragon, Arrax ... but Aemond gave chase on Vhagar.

Panicked, Lucerys’ dragon spat flames at Vhagar. Aemond was unable to wrest control of his colossal mount, and it retaliated by comping down on Arrax and Lucerys mid-flight, killing them both in one fell swoop. 

Rhaenyra had previously considered abandoning her claim to avoid war altogether…but once she learned of her son’s death in the final moments of the previous season, it certainly looked like she had abandoned all her fears and was finally ready to fight back. 

6. There are still allies up for grabs

Harry Collett and Tom Taylor in costume as Jacaerys Velaryon Cregan Stark in "House of the Dragon" season 2

Jacaerys with Cregan Stark in season 2. (Image credit: Ollie Upton/HBO)

While it has been made very clear that everyone must be prepared to choose a side in the Dance of the Dragons, there are some unclaimed allies yet to pledge to one side or the other. 

In the season 1 finale, the Blacks hoped they could rely on three major Houses: Baratheon, Arryn and Stark, and the latter two are very much still in play. Rhaenyra’s mother was Aemma Arryn, and she hopes that the current leader, Jeyne Arryn, will side with her. 

What of House Stark? Well, the former leader, Rickon Stark, swore an oath of fealty to the young Rhaenyra, and the Black Council very much believes that the current leader, Cregan Stark, will keep that promise. (“The North remembers”, after all). Here's a list of all the new characters we're going to meet in "House of the Dragon" season 2, so you can prepare for the other new faces set to appear in Westeros.

Jacaerys Velaryon was dispatched to speak to Arryn and Stark just as Lucerys was sent to Storm’s End. Hopefully, he was a more successful emissary than his younger brother. But even if he isn’t, Rhaenyra’s got other options. Which brings us to one last thing ….

7. Dragons are about to become an even bigger deal

Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) stands next to Caraxes in "House of the Dragon" season 2

Daemon with his dragon, Caraxes. (Image credit: HBO)

The Greens might have more powerful friends at present, but the Blacks have them outmatched in another department: They’ve got way more dragons.

While Aemond and Vhagar represent a formidable threat and the Greens have two other fully-grown dragons at their behest, Rhaenyra’s group possesses both more riders and more dragons, even after Lucerys’ death. And as we already know, those dragons pose a far more powerful force on the battlefield. 

"House of the Dragon" season 2 is due to feature even more dragons than the first. This makes sense, given Daemon made it abundantly clear to Rhaenyra that he wished to wield the power of the unclaimed and wild dragons that are still out there. In the season 1 finale, he approached Vermithor in the Dragonmont. If brought into the fold, Vermithor could certainly be a worthy foe to Vhagar in the battles that will no doubt come. 

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Staff Writer, Streaming

Martin is a Streaming Writer at Tom’s Guide, covering all things movies and TV. If it’s in the theaters or available to stream somewhere, he’s probably watched it… especially if it has a dragon in it. Before joining the team, he was a Staff Writer at What To Watch where he wrote about a broad range of shows that stretched from "Doctor Who" and "The Witcher" to "Bridgerton" and "Love Island". When he’s not watching the next must-see movie or show, he’s probably still in front of a screen playing massive RPGs, reading, spending a fortune on TCGs, or watching the NFL.