House of the Dragon is spectacular. The episode We Light the Way (the motto of House Hightower) marks the middle of the first phase of the story and the farewell of the young actresses, Milly Alcock (Rhaenyra) and Emily Carey (Alicent). Together with the audience, they forcibly matured and chose their sides.
So much has happened that we go by characters. By the way… SPOILERS throughout the post!
For those who read the book, the confirmation that Daemon Targaryen is capable of the worst deeds to achieve his goal was interesting. Once again, Matt Smith passed all his emotions without a word.
The murder of a wife he never liked is another step in his game for proximity to power. Without any shame, he immediately returns to King’s Landing, even as uninvited for Rhaenyra’s wedding, a wedding which he involuntarily sped up but failed to achieve as his own. It looks like a daring Daemon makes one last attempt, being interrupted by the zone caused by Sor Joffrey. Rhaenyra refused to run away with Sor Christian Cole but would do it for her uncle in a blink of an eye, shamelessly. That is real Targaryen and burning love.
For the moment, we know that his flirtation with Laena Velaryon will make for a great marriage, so the murder of a former wife was useful after all.
Like Daenerys’ last season in Game of Thrones, Rhaenyra seems to have been acting arrogant since she was made official as an heiress. That she, at first, believed it was enough, we understand but with a half-brother being born and all the warnings she’s received even before, she should at least be more attentive to her surrounding. But she’s gotten so caught up in rebelling and feeling sorry for herself that she’s wasted precious time.
By choice, the princess has isolated herself and believes that rights are untouchable. Viserys may be King, but he’s not a leader, only his daughter is failing to see it. Whatever he wants can be questioned, and her cousin (current mother-in-law) tried to educate her. In vain.
Rhaenyra, like Ned Stark and Jon Snow 200 years later, didn’t realize that “not wanting to play” isn’t enough in the Game of Thrones. You win or you die, there is no middle ground. So she herself is helping her enemies to organize, while she isn’t rallying allies.
The princess and Laenor Veralyon understand each other and the impossibility to go against their fathers, but most of all they get it that while their union is not out of love, they can have a partnership. They strike a deal, but again, it’s the people close to them who mess things up.
It is now clear that if it were for feelings, Rhaenyra’s chosen husband would be her uncle, Daemon. Sor Criston was inconsequential for her. Another mistake. He was, surprisingly, a romantic knight, and he misread the princesses’ feelings, thus exposing himself to feeling used. In that sentiment, he found a companion in Queen Alicent.
Rhaenyra underestimated the subservience of the Kingsguard and even Alicent as impotence to change or interfere in her destiny. She betrayed the two unceremoniously, uniting them in pain and resentment. The worst miscalculation she’s ever made and her stepmother was on her side, more than she imagined, and she lost her forever as well as Ser Criston, now a rejected lover.
Sor Criston and Alicent seemed to be stand-by players but were already players nonetheless. By sheer carelessness, Rhaenyra created her worst enemies.
And yes, for observers, we perceive the growing proximity of Ser Harwin Strong, another miscalculation of the future queen.
After a few years as Queen, we see Alicent Hightower showing more confidence, but her wishing to belong guided her to see only the best in her friend and her husband. Viserys’ and Rhaenyra’s enemies managed to finally change that.
As Otto throws it in her face when she is still crying, the choice to try to be a Targaryen was pointless and dangerous. She might have married one, but she was never in their circle of trust. Otto’s goal is to have Aegon on the throne, something that will be a either constructed or accepted reality, by blood or war. Otto ever the manipulator, sounds reasonable, practical, and worried as if the issue is again the salic culture of avoiding women as regents, but what he wants is his grandson on the throne so the Hightowers rule. He is doing exactly what Corlys Velaryon is doing by marrying his son to Rhaneyra, except that Alicent is ruining their chances because she tried to sympathize with the Targaryens. She is only a push away to change hearts.
That push comes from an unlikely ally, one that should not be helping the Hightowers since his own House benefited from the Hand’s fall, but although book readers already knew, the series already cleared the fact that Larys Strong is NOT a good guy. Through an “innocent conversation” with Larys, the queen discovers that both Viserys and Rhaenyra have lied to her, making her feel like a fool and excluded. It’s too much. After all, without love, there is only fear.
Alicent’s attitude towards her increasingly weak husband is one of indifference and even disgust. Not that anyone can blame her. With Rhaenyra, there is also envy and resentment playing her judgment and now that the lie is clear, anything Otto says she will listen to. Especially what he says about Aegon having a stronger claim, a similar truth that 200 years later made Daenerys insecure about Jon Snow. Otto explains plainly that Aegon’s life itself is a threat to Rhaenyra and that she will be forced to choose between being “secure”, which possibly means killing her siblings. The other way round is also true, but by now Alicent knows how obsessed Rhaenyra is to inherit the Throne, so much so that includes lying about her virtue.
Feeling out of options, Alicent chooses her blood and in her declaration of war – wearing green at the wedding and from this day forth– she is finally powerful.
Sor Lionel Strong is an honorable and serious man, apparently. He has two well-placed children, but neither follows his lead. Sor Harwin is a player and is closer to Rhaenyra. Their affair will be the doom of House Strong. And we see that Larys acts on his own and it was his venom that hit Alicent’s ears the most. Larys manages to be more terrifying than Otto. Pay attention to him.