One of the biggest challenges for House of the Dragon has always been one of the many messy aspects of its wildly successful predecessor: sometimes, especially in the earlier seasons, Game of Thrones was a show for perverts. (This is not a joke, but something that happens often) thrones director Neil Marshall told Empire magazine in reference to an executive producer who encouraged him to record more nudity for “the perverted side of the public”). The series enjoyed what came to be known as “sexposition,” a term coined to discuss the many cases in which thrones and premium TV dramas like this one that delivered heaps of exposure in titillating scenes – Littlefinger, like Tony Soprano, didn’t to have to settle in a brothel or Bada Bing, but they did. Sex sells.
In its first season, House of the Dragon‘s approach to sex is intentionally much more muted. It’s still there, but not front and center, and mostly as a dramatic plot turning point. However, in “The Green Council”, the penultimate episode of the season, there is a bit of a sexual curveball: after the death of King Viserys and in the midst of a dramatic plan to install Prince Aegon as king over the Crown Princess Rhaenyra, the schemer Larys Strong meets Queen Alicent in her chambers to discuss the rapidly changing balance of power.
As Larys speaks, Alicent sits across from him and takes off her shoes—a strangely normal and recognizable moment in a drama-filled show. The woman has been up all day! She is tired. Then things get strangely familiar as Alicent takes off her stockings and lifts her bare feet up for Larys to see, as she slowly turns away as his gaze turns voluptuous and he reaches under his robe to touch himself.
Depending on your sensitivities, the scene can play out in a huge number of ways. It could be a horror movie, an outrageous bit of prudishness, an incredible moment of discordant comedy, or a wildly insensitive character beat (the way the camera cuts conspicuously at Larys’ disabled leg suggests a link between his disability and sexual deviance, a shocking implication. in a scene so layered).
The moment feels out of place in an episode full of big dramatic moments that arise from subplots that simmer for viewers all season long, and actually decades for the characters. This is part of the inconvenience. It’s staged as a lecherous reveal, yes, but, like the rest of the episode, what makes it truly remarkable is what it lacks: contrast. Or, in other words, Rhaenyra.
Alicent won in ‘The Green Council’. Still, the episode never feels like a win to her. Her little counsel is behind her back to plot to call Aegon king without involving her. Her attempts to wave and then force relatives like Rhaenys (Eve Best) to her without violence literally explode in her face. Spies and sitters abound, and the only way she can get the upper hand is by giving the neatest man she knows the Westerosi version of foot shots. In patriarchal Westeros, Alicent can never really win by playing by the rules, because playing by the rules requires a woman’s dignity as a buy-in. She’s been playing for years now and the weight of everything she’s traded is catching up with her.
Rhaenyra and her relatives do not appear in ‘The Green Council’. The action takes place entirely around King’s Landing’s ticking time bomb, and she and Daemon are far away. Yet Rhaenyra casts a great shadow: she is the missing target of a coup, the person not to follow an already disgruntled public, and the keeper of enough dragons to fight whatever the newly installed government does. She has no power, but she is powerful – and she didn’t have to show anyone her feet to get it.