In Fire and Blood, the Hightowers’ motivation is purely Power. In House of the Dragon, there is greater complexity in the decisions of the Greens, but, even so, more than choosing who “is entitled to the Iron Throne”, the toughest fight behind the scenes is for the position of “who commands the King”, also known as Hand of the King. This change brings a nuance to the story as there are divisions on both sides.
In Episode 9 of Season 1, there aren’t many representatives on Rhaenyra Targaryen‘s side. She’s just left King’s Landing after a tense dinner, with a commitment to go back and talk to Queen Alicent, her stepmother and ex-best friend. The two showed signs that they would finally understand each other again, as Viserys had been asking for 20 years, but precisely the King’s death will revive the animosity between them. Especially since Otto Hightower set aside any pretense of his intentions or actions. He wants his grandson Aegon II as King (deceiving himself that he can rule the boy) and wants Rhaenyra and her allies dead. Alicent never understood that he had always advocated the annihilation of Daemon and Rhaenyra, and now he has returned to oppose his father’s strategy.
For a change, Alicent’s feeling of “doing the right thing” is a burden on both sides. She doesn’t want to usurp the Power, but thanks to Otto having already planted the seed of discord in her children, she ends up being more dangerous when trying to convince Rhaenyra to accept defeat than being simply cruel. This trajectory will be incredible for Olivia Cooke because Alicent Hightower is a woman full of complexes and grudges, she is stronger than she let it seem but indecisive about the role she should assume.
As she made clear in Episode 7, what she fueled against Rhaenyra was envy/grievance/irritation/indignation at the Princess’ behavior which is opposite to her resignation. Seeing that her obedience prevents her from knowing the good things in life is a constant pain in Rhaenyra’s presence, but it’s also what she admired in her friend. Alicent’s biggest mistake is not being blind to her father’s diabolical nature, but still thinking she can turn Rhaenyra into a version of herself. Rhaenyra is pure fire, chaotic and inconsequential, though proximity to her ascension has finally transformed her into a more attentive and peaceful woman. As I mentioned, it’s too late as Otto is always ahead of everyone in his moves. Even if Alicent tries to convince her stepdaughter that Aegon II should be king, the hatred between uncles, nephews, and brothers is irreversible.
In the series, Otto Hightower seems to underestimate Alicent who was quick in the race to “take possession” of Aegon II. Her concern is to try to show everyone that tradition (men ahead of women) doesn’t have to include war. It reminds me of her still young telling Rhaenyra that “things don’t have to be this way”. As we know, Aemond and Aegon II hate their half-sister, their children, and their uncle, they don’t need much to agree with their grandfather and they will accelerate the start of the civil war in episode 10. The Greens are not 100% united yet, but this will change after Blood and Cheese pay a “visit” to Haelena and her kids…
On the Internet – and on Brazilian social networks – Alicent’s “chastity” has already become a joke and a source of memes, and she is very complicated. It is not wrong to consider that in obeying her father, “consoling” Viserys, Alicent has prostituted herself for Power. She always wants to force a narrative of compliance, but it’s more complex than that. Sexual relations with her husband were part of her “obligation”, there was no affection or pleasure. Her bond with Ser Criston Cole is “chaste” but intense and passionate. And with Ser Larys Strong it’s a perverted sexual relationship, without physical contact but with the same submission, she had to her husband. With the two of them (Platonic lovers?), Alicent maintains an important network of information and strength, which balances the strategic disadvantage she has in relation to her father.
It was interesting to see that not even her children, especially Aegon, are under any illusions that Alicent truly loves them. While Rhaenyra is pure affection and love with her own, Alicent treats Aegon with slaps, Haelena with an almost undisguised impatience, and with Aemond is also cold. Which weakens her tremendously in the game of thrones. Standing before her son among the dragon Meleys was Alicent’s first genuinely maternal gesture all season.
Alicent’s “innocence” is difficult to achieve in this game, as Otto himself confronted her when he was expelled years ago, but she insists. As we now know, Otto was going to act regardless of her decision to understand her dying husband’s muttering as a choice to change the succession. Aegon also mocks her, doubting what she has heard as on the eve of death Viserys crept to the throne once more to defend Rhaenyra as Queen. Crazy talk!
But now the crown is publicly on Aegon’s head, who quickly liked what he felt when he became King. It didn’t take two seconds, by the way!
I’ll discuss Rhaenys quickly. The most wronged of all, the neutral in every dispute, was completely defined by seeing that a woman was taking from another woman what was rightfully hers. Alicent was almost cruel in playing Ser Corlys’ 6-year absence – in the war defending the Crown – as a rejection of women. It was low. It’s stupid. What he offered Rhaenys – “keep Driftmark” – is less than what she would already have had if there hadn’t been the coup. Her granddaughter would be Queen of Westeros when Lucaerys followed Rhaenyra and Driftmark was already the other granddaughter who was going to marry Lucaerys. By rescuing Meleys in order to escape from King’s Landing, Rhaenys had the opportunity to remove the main articulators of the conflict – Otto, Aegon, Aemond, Criston Cole, to name a few, but she took pity on Alicent’s maternal gesture. A fatal mistake – for her – which we will, unfortunately, see in Season 2.