House of the Dragon

Why King Aegon Targaryen will be the best character in House of the Dragon season 2

Aegon Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney) came off as a loathsome layabout in the first season of House of the Dragon. And he’ll still suck in season 2, but he’ll suck in some really fascinating ways.

The first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon introduced us to some memorable characters. There was Rhaenyra Targaryen, the would-be queen of Westeros who now finds her rule contested. There was her mercurial husband/uncle Daemon and her best frenemy Alicent Hightower, who intends to block Rhaenyra’s ascent to the Iron Throne even as she fondly recalls their childhood friendship. These characters were vivid, complicated, and now that war has broken out between these rival branches of the Targaryen, in great danger heading into season 2.

Rhaenyra, Daemon and Alicent will all return, joined by a litany of newcomers as well as supporting cast members who will get more screentime going forward. That includes Rhaenyra’s son Jacaerys, her stepdaughters Baela and Rhaena, and Alicent’s children by Rhaenyra’s father King Viserys: the one-eyed Aemond Targaryen, the gentle Helaena Targaryen, and her brother-husband King Aegon II Targaryen, the guy who’s actually sitting on the Iron Throne.

House of the Dragon tells the story of an internecine civil war called the Dance of the Dragons. In George R.R. Martin’s book Fire & Blood, the two factions are led on one side by Queen Rhaenyra and on the other by King Aegon. On the show, Rhaenyra has emerged as a strong leader, but Aegon arrived late to the party, and up to this point has mostly come off as the pawn of his mother Alicent and grandfather Otto Hightower, rather than a force to be reckoned with in his own right.

That’s more or less in keeping with how things go in Fire & Blood. But Aegon grows and changes as the tale goes on. Watching the trailer for House of the Dragon season 2, I was struck by how often Aegon popped up and by how thoroughly he commanded the screen. I think he stole the trailer, and now I find myself looking forward to seeing what he does most of all.

If the show adapts Fire & Blood well, King II Targaryen could end up being the breakout character of House of the Dragon season 2. Here’s why:

1. Aegon is a smarmy jerk and you want to slap that smug smile right off his face

We first meet Aegon in the third episode of season 1, “Second of His Name,” when he’s just an infant. Even though Rhaenyra is much older and was already named the heir to the Iron Throne by her father King Viserys, Aegon is a male, so some people already assume that he’ll supplant Rhaenyra in the line of succession. Even at the start, there’s tension between these two half-siblings.

The first season of House of the Dragon is marked by frequent, cavernous time jumps. In Episode 6, Aegon is a sullen teenager played by Ty Tennant (son of David Tennant, FYI). He doesn’t seem to have any interest in the Iron Throne but his mother Alicent pushes him to fight for it anyway. In Episode 8, we jump forward in time again. Aegon is now played by Tom Glynn-Carney. He’s still sullen, still lazy, and in his adulthod has taken to forcing himself on serving girls in the Red Keep. He’s a loathsome figure, but you also sense that he’s very unhappy being used as a chess piece in a game being played between his mother and his half-sister. He eventually takes the Iron Throne, but only after he’s dragged there literally kicking and screaming. He has two young children with his sister-wife Helaena, but you get the idea he doesn’t spend much time with any of them. He drinks. He blows off steam by visiting fighting pits. Aegon sucks.

And now he has a throne. In the Green trailer, we see that he’s very much stlll a prick. There’s a moment where Otto talks about how many people are going to die in the coming war. Aegon, all smiles, merrily says, “Good. To war, then!” It’s like he thinks this is a fun game rather than a deadly conflict.

There’s an element of Joffrey Baratheon to Aegon II Targaryen; he’s a brat king who isn’t the second, third, or eighth most worthy person to sit the Iron Throne, and yet he has the power. But like it or not, Joffrey was one of the reasons Game of Thrones became such a success. We want people we can root for, yes, but also horrible villains we want to see fall. Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon both blur the line between hero and villain, but don’t underestimate the value of a rancid jagwagon to get people excited. King Aegon could be that jagwagon, and I mean that as a compliment.

2. Aegon is a man in pain and you feel for him despite yourself

Al that said, Aegon isn’t quite as unquestionably detestable as Joffrey. Game of Thrones had a habit of taking characters we think we didn’t like — Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister, Theon Greyjoy — and then putting them through horrible trials — hand gets off, naked walk of shame, tortured by Ramsey Bolton — until we sort of came around. Maybe they’re not great people, but we’re still in their corner to some extent, some of the time. Joffrey never got that treatment. He was a dipshit at the start of the show and he died a dipshit in season 4, to the cheers of audiences everywhere.

Aegon travels a more complicated path. We’ve already talked about how much he doesn’t want to play the role his mother and grandfather have cast him in. Season 2 will test him in ways that will test the audience’s antipathy towards him. Beware SPOILERS AHEAD!

I mentioned before that Aegon has two young children with his sister-wife Helaena; their names are Jaehaerys and Jaehaera, a boy and a girl. (In Fire & Blood they also have an infant son named Maelor, but it’s unclear if he’ll appears on the show.) Although I won’t go into details, at some point in season 2 — probably early on — one of Aegon’s young children will be brutally murdered in front of their mother. Aegon isn’t there personally, and he may not be the best father, but it’s still a heavy loss that sends him into a numb drunken hole. In the shot above, it looks like Aegon is beating the person that committed the act, and we can see the pain on his face.

In Fire & Blood, I don’t think Aegon ever has a “redemption arc” in the way that characters like Jaime Lannister or Theon Greyjoy did on Game of Thrones. But he still suffers some horrible catastrophes that will, at minimum, complicate the way audiences see him.

3. Aegon isn’t brave by nature, but he’s still willing to fly into battle

Aegon is the eldest of Alicent Hightower’s children with King Viserys Targaryen, but when it comes to the best fighter in the family, he definitely trails behind his younger brother Aemond. In the last couple episodes of season 1, it’s clear that Aemond sees himself as more worthy of kingship, and given how much more disciplined and dedicated he is than Aegon, it’s hard to disagree. Sure, Aemond is a bit of a violent psychopath, but that’s another problem.

In short, Aegon has spent his life in the shadow of his younger brother. In the trailer, we hear him trying to talk himself up. “I’m as fearsome as any of them,” he says. And to his credit, he does at least try to put his money where his mouth is. Earlier we compared Aegon to Joffrey from Game of Thrones. But as big a game as Joffrey talked, when things actually got dangerous, like they did at the Battle of the Blackwater in season 2, he skedaddled away to hide under his mother’s skirts. But Aegon will participate in a major battle in House of the Dragon season 2, something the team spent a lot of time filming.

So Aegon at least tries to be a warrior, despite the fact that he would rather be at home drinking. Is he successful at it? I’ll leave that for you to discover, but I’m glad to see the show will be diving into his conflicted impulses. He doesn’t want the responsibility of being king, but he also wants to live up to the title. He’s not a great fighter, but he wants to do his part in the war effort, especially after his child becomes a victim. Again, if season 2 adapts Fire & Blood well, Aegon will emerge as a complicated antagonist rather than a purely repellent villain.

Granted, battle doesn’t have quite the same stakes it does for a foot soldier when Aegon gets to ride in as his dragon Sunfyre, said to be the most beautiful dragon in the Seven Kingdoms at this time. But in a war where both sides have dragons, it takes courage to mount one and engage with the enemy in the air…or it takes booze. For Aegon, probably a bit of both.

4. Aegon doesn’t want to sit the Iron Throne, but he learns

Mostly what I’m looking forward to seeing next season is Aegon’s growth. He doesn’t want the Iron Throne and he never fully grows comfortable with it, at least not in the pages of Fire & Blood. But looking at the long arc of the story, he does adapt. He does start taking his responsibilities more seriously. He does become more than just a puppet for his mother and his grandfather, increasingly questioning their decision-making as the show goes on. He makes plans himself, sometimes executing on them at great personal risk. He suffers and he changes.

He fails quite a bit, and he never stops being an abrasive personality. What’s exciting about watching Aegon in the trailers, I think, is that we’re looking at a character in transition, at someone turning from a listless deviant into…what, exactly? I’m not sure even he knows, and that’s compelling. If the material is worthy of Aegon’s arc, it should give actor Tom-Glynn Carney plenty to play. If Aegon is a standout, he could be too.

5. Aegon isn’t a likable character, but he could be a great one

As mentioned, Aegon isn’t like Jaime Lannister, Theon Greyjoy or the Hound from Game of Thrones, characters who start out dispicable, have redemptive moments and end the series as something approaching heroes or antiheroes. Nor is he like Cersei Lannister, who’s a villain through and through whom we have sympathy for anyway because of everything she’s suffered. Nor is he Joffrey Baratheon or Ramsay Bolton, who are irredeemable villains from start to finish.

House of the Dragon may be a prequel to Game of Thrones, but its characters have explored new horizons of moral ambiguity. Think of Daemon Targaryen, a character who does no shortage of awful things — grooming his niece, murdering his wife — yet who has emerged as a fan favorite character, because the subtle writing and charismatic performance from actor Matt Smith are combustible in just the right way.

Aegon is that either, but he’s playing with the same chemistry set. He’s the kind of character I like best: challenging, full of contradictions, complicated, and in flux. I hope he gets the spotlight the trailers imply he has. I hope the writers and directors let actor Tom Glynn-Carney rise to the occasion. We’ll see if my hopes are borne our when House of the Dragon returns for its second season on Sunday, June 17.


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