In the second episode of HBO’s Game Of Thrones prequel House Of The Dragon, Princess Rhaenyra’s friendship with Alicent Hightower suffers a devastating blow.
Warning: this article contains spoilers for Game Of Thrones and the second episode of House Of The Dragon.
If you’ve been glued to the first episodes of House Of The Dragon, HBO’s epic Game Of Thrones prequel, you’ll know the show is all about a brutal civil war that divides House Targaryen. While the inevitable bloodshed has yet to begin, the stirrings of conflict are already in the air as the young Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) has found herself poised to become the first queen of the Seven Kingdoms – and you can bet the patriarchal lords of Westeros aren’t happy about it.
While there are various characters in House Of The Dragon who have designs on the Iron Throne, the destructive divide that eventually splits the kingdom originates from Rhaenyra’s best friend, Lady Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey).
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Fans of George RR Martin’s book Fire And Blood will know, of course, that following the bloody, futile death (or rather, murder) of his wife, Queen Aemma, the crucial plot point concerns King Viserys I Targaryen’s (Paddy Considine) second marriage, which produces a male heir, Aegon II.
As we find out in the first episode of House of The Dragon, the King’s confidantes are adamant that he must remarry to secure the future of the Targaryen dynasty, even though he has already named his firstborn daughter as heir to the throne. In the midst of his grief, he begins to entertain the prospect of taking a new wife. But despite Lord Corlys Velaryon offering up his daughter as a potential bride, the King has other ideas.
After laying the groundwork for the family feud in the first episode of the series, The Rogue Prince reveals that it is Princess Rhaenyra’s best friend, Lady Alicent Hightower, who is set to marry her father and spark the conflict over succession.
Quite aside from the horrifying prospect of a best friend marrying a parent, the souring of the sweet relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent will undoubtedly prove be one of the most heart-wrenching points of the series. Thus far, we’ve seen the best friends confide and console each other as they grapple with the trappings of convention in Westeros. Although polar opposites in terms of their personalities – Rhaenyra free-spirited and rebellious to Alicent’s cautious reserve – their bond shows deep understanding and emotional vulnerability.
Which is why Alicent’s betrayal in the second episode of House of The Dragon is so acutely upsetting. Up until this point, her deepening relationship with the King has been in the service of her father Otto Hightower, aka the Hand Of The King. In the wake of Queen Aemma’s death, we saw how Otto insisted that Alicent visit the King’s chambers with haste. It would have been a touching move to offer the King solace in his hour of grief, were it not for the fact Otto requested that Alicent wear her late mother’s dress in an effort to seduce him.
Although Otto repeatedly enquires as to whether his daughter is keeping up her private visits to the King in the second episode of the series, we also see how Alicent becomes increasingly duplicitous as she conceals her relationship from her best friend.
In one particularly moving scene, Alicent helps Rhaenyra grieve the loss of her mother in the Sept Of Baelor. As Rhaenyra makes a vulnerable admission that she wishes her father could view her as more than a little girl, and complains about how the small council is already trying to marry him off, Alicent replies: “Would it be such a bad thing if he remarried?” Not only does she withhold information from her best friend, but she even reassures Viserys that she hasn’t told Rhaenyra about the cosy tête-à-têtes they’ve been having over the stone model of Old Valyria.
This doesn’t mean that Alicent isn’t in a tricky position. In the world of Westeros, women are continually ensnared in impossible situations on account of obligations to their families and the state. That being said, it’s not a reach to consider that Rhaenyra would have been understanding about Alicent’s predicament had she been forthright and honest. After all, she showed a remarkable understanding of her father’s plight when he informed her that he had a duty to remarry. On top of that, their friendship – at least in Rhaenyra’s eyes – is the main beacon of light in a world that is unrelentingly harsh to women and girls.
So when Rhaenyra is blindsided by the devastating information that her father’s soon-to-be child bride is her best friend, we feel the full force of that betrayal. And it’s here that we get a clear-sighted look at Alicent’s true nature. For unlike Rhaenyra, who acts as her heart tells her to, Alicent is capable of machinations that are just as dangerous as those who fight for power on the battlefield.
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