Alicent Hightower: antagonist in House of the Dragon?

Posted on February 13, 2022 Click here for daily updated content on House of the Dragon.

The shooting of House of the Dragon has not finished yet and it is almost certain that the tradition of releasing any content from Game of Thrones in April could be discarded, even though the premiere is confirmed for 2022.

For fans, the intricate details of a saga without the good guys are the franchise’s allure. After the conclusion of the HBO series, which reversed roles and still generates controversy for having transformed Daenerys Targaryen into a bloodthirsty and vengeful Queen, there is great anxiety for the next female rivalries in House of the Dragon, as well as preparing to meet the new characters.

So I will try to highlight some details of the books that will influence the series. Starting with Alicent Hightower.

In perspective: cultural change has impacted Game of Thrones

Before embarking on the journey of House of the Dragon, it is worth remembering what happened with Game of Thrones. The books by George R.R.Martin are from before the turn of the millennium, almost two decades before the #metoo movement. The series, which was on air during the cultural change in which feminism began to break paradigms and preach sorority, suffered directly from the new standards. While the author highlighted the absurdity of violence against women, in the books and in the series, they did not always understand each other. However, gradually, from supporting actors and passives, they gained prominence, impacting the development of the arc of characters such as Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, traditional “good guys” who, from being intelligent and noble, became cowards and unprepared. Sansa and Arya Stark benefited from the new moment, representing, in the end, the feminist ideal of mutual support and leadership.

In House of the Dragon, the two most prominent female characters are again from opposite sides, reflecting what was lived by Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen. At first (after all, this is Game of Thrones), it will be Alicent Hightower and Rhaenerys Targaryen that will demand our attention. Oh, if you haven’t read the books, sorry. It’s a post with a lot of spoilers.

Alicent: Centerpiece in the Power Game

Played by Olivia Cooke and Emilia Carey (when young), Alicent will be “our new Cersei”, apparently. The parallels are obvious: daughter of Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), Hand of two kings, the young woman was brought to Court at the age of 15, gaining the trust of King Jaehaerys I, befriending Rhaenerys Targaryen and later becoming the wife of Viserys I. Seemingly just a part of her father’s power and influence game, Alicent will lead the heart of the bloody war that will shake the Targaryens’ trajectory.

The first difference between Cersei and Alicent is, that despite being close to their siblings, there is nothing compromising with the latter. Incest has never been a problem in Westeros, as Targaryens prefer to marry each other. Hence the estrangement that Viserys I, a widower, refused to join his niece to marry someone outside the House of Targaryen, in this case, Alicent.

Otto’s daughter was already very close to King Jaehaerys I, so much so that she was by his side when he died. The relationship raised doubts that the 15-year-old girl could have been the King’s lover, but it is generally accepted that the relationship was that of father and daughter.

What is worth paying attention to is the version that puts Alicent in the bed of Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), before marrying his brother, Viserys I (Paddy Considine). So it is. In the books, just gossip, but it seems to have some basis, as it was around this time that Alicent’s father, Otto, began to openly antagonize the prince. Daemon, by the way, will live up to his name (Demonio) and will be the great conqueror of women in House of the Dragon. Be that as it may, whether there was romance, seduction, or rape, after marriage Alicent becomes her brother-in-law’s enemy, especially after having Viserys’ three children, including two boys, practically destroying Daemon’s chance of one day inheriting the Iron Throne.

Coup d’etat or respect for salic law?

If even the Alicent marriage was just one commanded by her father, she starts to have direct political involvement after becoming a mother. When Viserys I was widowed and lost his only son, Otto Hightower was among those who convinced the King to name his daughter, Rhaenerys, as heir, breaking the tradition that women lost their place in the line to men. He did this so that Daemon Targaryen didn’t get what he wanted, but it backfired, as we’ll see later.

From the moment Alicent provided a male heir, Viserys I was expected to back down, but he remained adamant and supportive of Rhaenerys as Queen, planting the schism between daughter and stepmother. Remembering that in theory both were conquered by Daemon, the love triangle may have secretly provided another element in the rivalry between the two. Rhanerys will have a separate post, here it is mentioned to emphasize that the relationship of the two childhood friends puts them disputing the same love and the same goal, creating an irreversible antagonism. Daemon wasn’t in love with either of them in particular, but he seems to contribute to a bad atmosphere between the women.

Another man who was in the midst of Alicent and Rhaenerys is Viserys I. According to historians, the Queen did not conform to the preference and closeness between father and daughter, and the mutual anger was passed on to her children.

If gold and gold were strong in Cersei’s wardrobe, Alicent prefers the color green. It’s something to learn right away: Westeros is divided into colors. Who supports the Queen, wears green. The faithful to Rhaenryra, demonstrate using black. This is made clear in the tournament that appears in the series trailer.

Series may be about Targaryens, but the game is still about the throne

Although House of the Dragon is not called Game of Thrones, it is still the same game. Everyone’s goal is to be on the Iron Throne. Alliances and marriages only have this same goal and no character has any other motivation. That said, Alicent begins to show her own thirst by leading the lives of her children. Unable to change the order of succession, she campaigned for her stepdaughter to marry her firstborn, even if she was more than 10 years older. Joining Rhaenyra to Aegon II, in the Targaryen tradition of marrying siblings, would effectively put Alicent’s son as the ruler of Westeros, not Rhaenyra. It’s no surprise that it was during this same period that Daemon’s gossip with his niece surfaced, as the prince had always wanted to be King. But Alicent’s strategy was so obvious that even Viserys I didn’t accept it, especially since he knew that Rhenerys and Aegon II loathed each other.

If it wasn’t enough that they were disputing the throne, the affection of the King, having shared a lover in Daemon, Alicent and Rhaenerys also fall out with another man, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel). Being Criston was Rhaenerys’ obsession and passion, but something happens between them and they break up badly, with the King’s Guard Commander adopting the color green and being Alicent’s right-hand man. Doubly striking at the heart of the spiteful Rhenerys.

The Crown Princess marries her cousin, Ser Laenor Velaryon, who was known to love more men than women. As Rhaenerys’ children’s hairs are dark, the general belief is that the real father is Ser Harwin Strong, but Viserys I ignores any suspicion and trusts his daughter. Later, when Laenor dies and Rhaenerys marries Daemon, Alicent is offended when their son is also named Aegon. It’s the second reason to be even angrier with the stepdaughter.

To assuage the increasingly bellicose mood, after grandchildren and sons fight, with one of them losing his eye, Viserys I isolates Rhaenerys in Dragonstone. An unfortunate decision that will later give Alicent room to act. The fights between them continue, eventually costing the life of one of the children of the increasingly vengeful heir to the Throne.

Death of the King, who ascends the throne?

The king died in his sleep, apparently of natural causes although the suspicion of poisoning rested on the queen’s shoulders. With the help of Ser Criston, Alicent hides the news for a full week to get her son crowned before Rhaenyra is informed of her father’s death. When the princess is informed of both things, that Viserys I has died and that Aegon II, her brother, has usurped the Crown, she becomes ill and miscarries a daughter. From that moment on, regaining the Throne merges with annihilating the greens, starting The Dance of Dragons, with unimaginable violence.

When all this happens, Aegon II, Alicent’s firstborn and Rhaenyra’s rival for power, is already married to his sister, Helaena, with 3 children included. In a surprise action, men from the black faction manage to capture Alicent, when she is with Helaena and her grandchildren. They force the new Queen to choose which of her children to sacrifice. Helaena chooses the youngest, but the men kill the eldest and the women are forced to watch the murder. Halaena never regains her sanity. At this point, there is no more hope for Alicent and Rhaenyra to get back together.

The war continues with casualties on both sides, but with Daemon – superior in strategies – achieving important victories for blacks. When Aegon II “loses” King’s Landing, by making the wrong choice of attack, Alicent is taken prisoner by her stepdaughter and Daemon, who spared her life. Still, Alicent is informed that her father and brother were executed and that her only daughter, Halaena, is killed (or killed herself, no one really knows which). To make matters even worse, Alicent’s second son, Daeron (the one-eyed one, remember?) is killed in a battle, although he also kills Daemon Targaryen in the same fight. Meanwhile, Aegon II hides in Dragonstone waiting to make a counterattack, holding his nephew as a hostage.

Lots of blood, revenge, and twists

Alicent’s fate is aided by the total psychological imbalance of a paranoid and bloodthirsty Rhaenerys, who cannot maintain control of King’s Landing, especially without Daemon and Lord Corlys Velaryon. Her former father-in-law left her for the Greens after Rhaeenerys sacrificed one of her bastard children on suspicion—unfounded—of treason. To make matters worse, the population revolts and attacks Dragonpit, killing several of the dragons. Rhaenyra flies to Dragonstone, unaware she is heading straight to a trap. She is taken by surprise by her brother Aegon II, who, without even waiting for a trial, orders his dragon to devour his sister, in front of everyone, including her own son.

The victory of the greens is brief. Alicent disagrees with the council’s decision that her granddaughter should marry Rhaenyra’s son, Aegon III, who is still traumatized by his mother’s violent death. Deviously, however, because she gave in she ensured that her lineage remained on the throne. After all, almost immediately after it, Aegon II was poisoned and rightly succeeded by his nephew. Alicent still tried to convince her granddaughter, Jaehaera, to kill her husband in the name of the greens, but in vain. In the end, it is the son of Rhaenyra who will become the new King of Westeros.

Without accepting “defeat”, Alicent is condemned to isolation far from the Court, where she spent her days crying and praying, talking to herself, and starting to hate the color green. She died during a fever pandemic a few years later. Her last words were that she missed her children, whom she wanted to see again, especially her daughter, Helaena. She also mentioned King Jaehaerys I, saying that she would read to him, as she did when she was young, and he praised her voice.

With similar names and intersecting interests, it’s really hard to understand the complexity at first. In summary, Alicent Hightower and Rhaenyra Targaryen enter the Game of Thrones as pieces of strategy for the men around them. Daemon Targaryen, who we’ll talk about on another occasion, is the “Littlefinger” of the moment, manipulating everyone and everyone to try to get to the throne. Alicent and Rhaenyra vie for the King’s love, and power and defend their families, but they all lose. Ironically, it is the union of their heirs that guarantees the future of the Targaryens, through the marriage of Aegon III and Jaehaera. Sadly after one of the biggest bloodsheds in the history of Westeros.

Will you cheer for the green ones or the black ones?

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