Game of Thrones' House of the Dragon Season 2 War Explained

Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen in <i>House of the Dragon</i> Season 2. Credit - Theo Whitman—HBO

Even for dedicated Game of Thrones viewers, the first season of House of the Dragon had a lot to keep straight.

After several traumatic birth scenes, countless acts of betrayal, and a number of (somewhat confusing) time jumps, the show culminated with the straw that broke the proverbial dragon's back and set the Targaryen Civil War in motion: the murder of Lucerys Velaryon and his dragon, Arrax, by Aemond Targaryen and his dragon, Vhagar. Now, with Season 2 set to premiere June 16—nearly two years after the first season—it's time to take a look back at the roots of this in-family fighting.

Nearly 170 years before the events of Game of Thrones took place in Westeros, the Targaryen Civil War, known colloquially as the Dance of the Dragons, was a war of succession that broke out between two rival factions of House Targaryen over who would ascend the Iron Throne and rule the Seven Kingdoms following the death of King Viserys I Targaryen (played in House of the Dragon by Paddy Considine). Those who supported Viserys' eldest daughter, Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy), as the rightful heir were known as the Blacks, while those who backed her younger half-brother, Aegon II Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney), were the Greens.

In Season 1 of House of the Dragon, Viserys upended the Seven Kingdoms' custom of male primogeniture by naming Rhaenyra his heir after his first wife, Aemma (Sian Brooke), died while giving birth to their son, Baelon. The baby then also died a day later.

(L-R): Harry Collett as Jacaerys Velaryon, Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen, and Oscar Eskinazi as Joffrey Velaryon in <i>House of the Dragon</i> Season 2.<span class="copyright">Theo Whiteman—HBO</span>
(L-R): Harry Collett as Jacaerys Velaryon, Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen, and Oscar Eskinazi as Joffrey Velaryon in House of the Dragon Season 2.Theo Whiteman—HBO

At the time Rhaenyra was named heir, she was not only Viserys' lone child, but was also picked over her uncle, Viserys' volatile younger brother, Daemon (Matt Smith), who most considered an unsuitable prospect to become king. However, after Viserys took Rhaenyra's childhood best friend, Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), as his second wife, Alicent gave birth to two sons, Aegon II and Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), who presented an inherent challenge to Rhaenyra's claim to the throne.

As the years passed, the animosity between the two sides grew, with shifting allegiances, brutal displays of violence, and deadly webs of lies complicating matters even further. Despite all this, an ailing Viserys remained steadfast in his choice of Rhaenyra as heir up until the moment of his death. Unfortunately, Alicent's confusion over Viserys' final words and the determination of her father—Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), the right-hand man of the king—to seat his own bloodline on the throne then led to a power scramble that resulted in the death of Rhaenyra's son Lucerys (Elliot Grihault). And so it was war.

Here's what to remember about the conflict between the Greens and the Blacks ahead of House of the Dragon Season 2.

What caused the rift between Rhaenyra and Alicent?

Beyond the whole Alicent-marrying-Rhaenyra's-dad thing, there were a few other defining events that irreconcilably fractured the pair's once sister-like bond.

In episode 4, Daemon took his young niece Rhaenyra out in King's Landing for a night of debauchery that ended with her returning to the castle and taking her sworn Kingsguard protector Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) to bed. After Otto reported the rumors about Rhaenyra and Daemon to Viserys, Rhaenyra then swore to Alicent on the memory of her mother that Daemon never touched her and that her virtue was intact. Her lies prompted Alicent to defend Rhaenyra to Viserys and Viserys to dismiss Otto as Hand of the King. However, when Alicent later learned the truth from Ser Criston about what happened that night, she turned against Rhaenyra.

That episode established the root of all the issues between them: Alicent believed she had been forced into a marriage where she had to sacrifice what she wanted in order to uphold the kingdom and the law while Rhaenyra flouted duty and did as she pleased. Rhaenyra, on the other hand, saw Alicent as a hypocrite who was hiding her jealous and bitter nature.

Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower in <i>House of the Dragon</i> Season 2.<span class="copyright">Theo Whiteman—HBO</span>
Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower in House of the Dragon Season 2.Theo Whiteman—HBO

Years later, after Rhaenyra married Laenor Velaryon (John MacMillan)—whom Rhaenyra knew was secretly gay—and had three sons whose appearance made it clear they were fathered by her lover, Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), instead of Laenor, Alicent and her sons made it their mission to frequently and not-so-discreetly call their paternity into question. This came to a head when the entirety of the Targaryen clan gathered at Castle Driftmark for the funeral of Laenor's sister, and Daemon's second wife, Laena (Nanna Blondell).

After Aemond covertly claimed Laena's former dragon Vhagar as his own, a brawl broke out that pitted Aemond against Rhaenyra's sons Jacaerys (Harry Collett) and Lucerys and Daemon's daughters Baela (Bethany Antonia) and Rhaena (Phoebe Campbell), and resulted in Lucerys slashing out Aemond's eye. Alicent demanded one of Lucerys' own eyes as retribution, and when the sickly King Viserys denied her, she attacked Rhaenyra with a dagger and sliced her arm open. Rhaenyra and Daemon then put a plan in motion to fake Laenor's death so they could finally marry and shore up Rhaenyra's claim to the throne.

Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen and Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen in <i>House of the Dragon</i> Season 2.<span class="copyright">Ollie Upton—HBO</span>
Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen and Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of the Dragon Season 2.Ollie Upton—HBO

Following Viserys' death, Alicent and Otto basically stole the throne out from under Rhaenyra by moving to coronate Aegon as quickly as possible in order to legitimize him as king. However, Rhaenyra had come around to the idea that her duty was to stabilize and bring peace to the realm rather than plunge it into war, and was considering accepting the peace terms that Otto delivered to Dragonstone. That is, until the moment she learned about her son Lucerys' death.

Who's on whose side?

As things stand now, the Blacks have five dragonriders of riding age—Rhaenyra, Daemon, Jace, Baela, and Viserys' cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best)—as well as access to the unclaimed dragons who reside on Dragonstone, giving them the edge when it comes to the all-important advantage of dragon power. Rhaenyra also has the support of Rhaenys' husband, Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint)—whose fleet of ships controls the seas—and a few loyal members of the Kingsguard.

However, thanks to Aemond, the Greens have Vhagar—the largest and arguably most powerful dragon—in addition to the dragons bonded to Aegon and his sister/wife Helaena (Phia Sagan), Sunfyre and Dreamfyre. They also have the inherent advantage of currently being in control of the throne, the small council, and the Ser Criston-led Kingsguard.

<i>House of the Dragon</i> Season 2.<span class="copyright">HBO</span>
House of the Dragon Season 2.HBO

Alliances with a number of the Great Houses of Westeros are still up in the air, but at the end of Season 1, House Lannister, House Baratheon, and House Strong—led by Alicent's unofficial Master of Whisperers Larys Strong (Matthew Needham)—had sided with the Greens. Meanwhile, the Blacks were banking on the support of House Arryn and House Stark, with Rhaenyra having sent Jace as an envoy to both their strongholds, the Eyrie and Winterfell.

What's next?

Since House of the Dragon is based on George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire companion novel Fire & Blood, many of the details about how the war plays out are already out there. We'll avoid spoilers here, but suffice it to say that a violent reckoning is on the way for both sides.

"Paradise lost, I think, is the best way to describe what's unfolding here in House of the Dragon," showrunner Ryan Condal told Entertainment Tonight at the show's Season 2 premiere. "We're adapting Fire & Blood. We're being true to the story that's written in the book."

The coming season will also feature two of the biggest battle sequences the series has ever done, according to Condal. "The battles are episodes unto themselves," he told Collider. "Both of them outstrip anything that we did in Season 1. They are episodes within episodes."

Write to Megan McCluskey at