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Game of Thrones (tv series)

Spoilers: How deaths gave 'House of the Dragon' big 'Game of Thrones' energy

Spoiler alert! The following contains details from Season 2, Episode 4 of HBO's "House of the Dragon."

That's more like it, kids.

We're a season and a half into HBO's much-ballyhooed "Game of Thrones" spinoff, "House of the Dragon," and for the first time the expensive, platinum-haired prequel series is exciting, shocking and engrossing. Dare I say it, it finally feels like I'm watching something akin to "Thrones" itself.

The fourth episode brings us halfway into the eight-episode season, which has focused on the burgeoning war between Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy), who claims to be the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and her younger half brother Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney), who actually sits on the Iron Throne but never had his kingly father's support as heir.

Interview'House of the Dragon: Aemond actor Ewan Mitchell on that killer moment

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A dragon roars in "House of the Dragon."

After a lot of blustering, plot holes, and a death that verged into the territory of indecency, Aegon's "Green" forces and Rhaenyra's "Black" ones meet at the small, oceanside keep of Rook's Rest. Rhaenyra sends her cousin Rhaenys (Eve Best) on her dragon, Meleys, to prop up her paltry battalions. Rhaenys might have gotten Rhaenyra a victory, except that out of the distance flies Aegon on his small mount Sunfyre. The young king came to the battle after his ego was bruised by his brother Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) and mother Alicent (Olivia Cooke).

It's all fair in love and dragon war: The somewhat equally matched Meleys and Sunfyre fight in the air until the blood-hungry Aemond rides in on Vhagar, the largest and most ancient dragon in the Targaryen brood, and quickly takes down his brother and Sunfyre before slaying Meleys and Rhaenys.

At the end of the battle both sides are down a dragon, one side is down a king, and the Greens have a pyrrhic victory to celebrate. Oh, and the cruel and vindictive Aemond might just be king now, since his brother's only son was killed in the season premiere.

It was a genuinely thrilling, tense battle sequence, and the deaths and twists had all the hallmarks of the best classic "Thrones" episodes. Brother kills brother. The "good guys" fall. Pointless bloodshed abounds. It was cruel and surprising and well paced and brightly lit. And the biggest bonus was that the battle finally, finally, signified that the producers of "Dragon" know what to do with their beasts.

Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy) meet secretly in "House of the Dragon" Episode 3.

The dragons are weapons of mass destruction 鈥 that much has been established throughout the series 鈥 but they've also felt rather pointless, as each side weighed whether to put them in the field of battle. That's part plot device and partly due to the fact that the computer-generated mythical creatures aren't cheap. But when they're deployed correctly, they can light up the screen with more than just their fire.

Even the animation quality of the dragons has stepped up, as they looked more dynamic and visceral than ever before. When you see something as powerful as a dragon brought down, you know the stakes are high. (Although there was that whole thing in "Thrones" where Daenerys couldn't be burned and she was all "fire cannot kill a dragon," so I question Vhagar's ability to kill other dragons with his own fire, but maybe I'm just nitpicking.)

Ewan Mitchell as Aemond Targaryen in "House of Dragon."

The dragons end up being the perfect metaphor for the larger themes of both "Thrones" and its first spinoff, in which the macro wars of kings and queens do nothing but hurt the "smallfolk" below them who are just trying to live their lives. As the dragons battle in the air, even the blood from their wounds presented a danger to the soldiers on the ground, who are pelted by it from above.

By the time period of "Thrones," dragons have all but died out, save for the three eggs Dany is able to hatch in her quest for the Iron Throne. "Thrones" never quite explains why, but considering the death rate of the beasts so far this season, it's safe to say that making dragon fight dragon wasn't a good call for the endangered species.

"Dragon" the show still has many flaws, but it's exciting to see it take risks and reap rewards after so much thumb-twiddling for its first 13 episodes.

If you've got it, flaunt it. If you have fire breathing dragons, breath some darn fire.

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