House of the Dragon owes the relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent more

House of the Dragon owes the relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent more

In just nine episodes, Game of Thrones precursor House of the Dragon has covered a ton of soil and covered it for decades. Some characters have aged multiple times, half a dozen children have been born, and heir to the throne Rhaenyra has married, faked widow and remarried, all in a few hours of TV. To depict such large epochs and quickly lay the groundwork for the impending Targaryen succession battle, the showrunners made strategic choices about when to focus on character and relationship development.

As a result, Alicent and Rhaenyra — arguably the show’s central relationship — have few scenes together after the first episode, making the reasons for their falling civil war sometimes maddeningly unclear: used to be Alicent’s deal with Rhaenyra? Why was she? So angry about her former boyfriend’s sexual exploits? Why didn’t Rhaenyra Alicent tell the truth about sleeping with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel)? Are they in love? House of the Dragon manages to bring George RR Martin’s history to the fore Fire & Blood to life, but it fails to work out the motives of the two women at the center of the conflict.

The importance of this relationship and the intimacy between the young women is made clear in the first 10 minutes of the show. We see Rhaenyra dismount from her dragon and walk to a carriage where Alicent is waiting to join her. Later, they casually stroll arm in arm through the Red Keep, and Rhaenyra fantasizes about flying together on Dragonback as she lies on Alicent’s lap under a weirwood tree. We are clearly coming to understand this relationship as more than a just duty between maidservant and princess. But as the season progresses and the next battle for the crown begins, things get mixed up.

In Fire & BloodAlicent and Rhaenyra’s relationship sours over politics. They both compete for the Iron Throne and therefore become enemies – easy. There is probably more to the story, beyond the reach of the narrators in the book who can only observe so much. But at its core, the rift is simple and about might. In House of the Dragon, showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal elaborate on that source material by imagining what the couple’s intimate relationship was like, adding a series of personal clashes into the story. The first blow to the friendship is Alicent’s marriage to Rhaenyra’s father, King Viserys. At the urging of her own father and Hand of the King, Otto Hightower, Alicent comforts the king as he mourns his wife’s death and wins his favor. But at the same time she acts as Rhaenyra’s main confidante, while the latter worries about challenges to her claim to the throne. (Looks like a conflict of interest!) Rhaenyra is caught off guard by the engagement and, understandably, hurt.

Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

In the next few episodes, their relationship clearly changes, warmth and closeness being replaced by icy coldness and distance. But because of the time jumps, we don’t see how. Additionally, after the first three episodes aired, Greg Yaitanes, director of “The Rogue Prince” and “Second of His Name,” revealed that a few key moments between Alicent and Rhaenyra had been omitted. The cut scenes include: an eruption fight between the two after Viserys announces his intention to marry Alicent, and Rhaenyra helps her former boyfriend get dressed for her wedding. This seems like some pretty crucial content to bite into: We don’t know how Rhaenyra feels after her father’s marriage declaration or what feelings she shared with Alicent. We don’t know what conditions they were on during the wedding. We also don’t know how Alicent reacted to Rhaenyra’s confrontation and how she felt about her own engagement. The story can certainly continue without them. But these gaps diminish our understanding of the couple’s dynamics as it evolves.

In Episode 4, Rhaenyra and Alicent almost make up by telling each other how they missed each other, but it’s just a blip (one of many). The next nail in the coffin for their relationship is Rhaenyra’s night of sexual escapades, first in a brothel with her uncle, and later sleeping with Ser Criston. When Alicent gets wind of the rumor, she’s furious… for reasons never fully disclosed to the public. And when she later finds out that Rhaenyra didn’t sleep with Daemon (Matt Smith), but Ser Criston, Alicent seems devastated.

Part of her anger can be explained by her father Otto’s (Rhys Ifans) resignation as Hand as a result of bringing the rumors to the king. However, her anger is directed at Rhaenyra, not her husband, and seems to be more about her boyfriend’s actions than their consequences. By the fifth episode, viewers understand that Alicent is devout, dutiful, and stuck in a marriage where: sex is an obligation, not a pleasure – which alternates starkly with Rhaenyra’s brothel antics. But without additional context about Alicent’s values ​​and joint screen time to develop the woman’s relationship as it shifts and crumbles, the Green Queen’s level of outrage doesn’t come: Alicent really does go to war because her boyfriend had sex?

Later, and with added urging from her power-hungry father, placing her son on the Iron Throne becomes Alicent’s driving force. But on the face of it, her anger seems more like a response to Rhaenyra’s exploration of her sexuality, which ultimately amounts to a slut-shameful pearl clamp. Compared to the princess’s reaction when Alicent marries her father – arguably a bigger, more pointed disdain than premarital sex – Alicent’s degree of distress feels disproportionate to the complaint, court politics or not.

Milly Alcock as Young Rhaenyra and Emily Carey as Young Alicent in a still from Game of Thrones: House of the Dragon

Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Alicent and Rhaenyra are standing and looking at each other intently

Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

In multiple interviews, Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, who play Rhaenyra and Alicent in the first five episodes of the season, have confirmed that they played their characters as a romantic bond, not just a tight, platonic bond. In conversation with The New York TimesCarey said, “As a queer person, I read an undertone in the script that I knew could be played.”

Alicent and Rhaenyra in love? That would explain a lot, especially Alicent’s anger. The problem is that this was a choice made by the actors and a theory fueled by fans, not an underpinning the writers and creators deliberately provided. As Carey clarified in the interview, “I don’t think Ryan Condal was sitting there writing a Sapphic drama.” Maybe he should have! The performers and viewers come up with the context that the show should have contained to understand and amplify the foundations of House of the Dragonthe core conflict. Without this backstory, Alicent’s motives feel inadequate and her anger sounds hollow.

Injecting Martin’s record of Targaryen ancestry with a deeper humanity – relationships, disputes, untold secrets – the showrunners have created interesting characters from one-dimensional historical figures. However, the struggle for canonical succession and these new interpersonal dynamics do not always go hand in hand. And time and again, it’s Alicent who bears the brunt of such imperfect changes. In the context of a larger battle over who will rule Westeros, Alicent seems to cut off a childhood friend for sleeping with someone petty and vengeful, and the story leaves no room for further exploration.

As the characters age in Episode 6, viewers must once again fill in the gaps for themselves to understand how the relationship between Alicent and Rhaenyra has changed. And it seems clear from the writing of Alicent’s early scenes that their division’s wound has at least partially calcified as she still has a problem with Rhaenyra’s sex life. Speaking to the club’s co-chairman, “I hate Rhaenyra because she fucks,” Ser Criston says, Alicent says, “I have to believe that honor and decency will prevail in the end,” referring to her former boyfriend’s extramarital affairs and the consequences of that. ensuing children with Harwin Strong.

An episode later, Alicent’s anger comes to a head when she meets Rhaenyra with the infamous Catspaw Dagger after a fight between their sons, one of them loses an eye. “What have I done other than what was expected of me?” Alien screams. “Forever upholding the kingdom, the family, the law, while ignoring everything to do what you want. Where is the duty? Where is sacrifice? It has been trampled under your beautiful foot again.” With these lines, the writers finally give the viewer a glimpse into Alicent’s feelings: jealousy, nostalgia, bitterness. But it comes too late.

After another jump in episode 8, Alicent and Rhaenyra are again about to reconcile (it’s enough to give you whiplash), but the brief truce undermines Alicent all the more. She comes across as fickle, her beliefs can change on a whim. It reinforces the insubstantial nature of her anger and the extra development it took to make Alicent’s motives less weak.

It’s episode 9, “The Green Council”, where House of the Dragon really takes the time to shed light on Alicent’s wounded nature. A mother, wife, queen and, yes, even a (one time) friend, Alicent has gone through the ringer and come out the other side isolated and jaded. While Rhaenyra isn’t in the episode at all, the absence of their relationship is felt more deeply than at almost every point in the series before it.

The relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent is the most captivating part of House of the Dragon – and the most annoying. As matriarchs of their respective branches of the Targaryen family, they set the stage for the great conflict to come. The series relies on these two women, but also ignores them. The showrunners plowed through the first season at warp speed to set up a war that, from Episode 9, is just getting underway, as they deepen a new backstory. But in doing so, they sidelined the heart of the show and built the season’s central conflict on shaky ground.

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