Last week, House of the Dragon went down a new and exciting path from Game of Thrones, diverging from its predecessor with an episode about its young protagonist exploring her sexuality and finding pleasure with Criston Cole, the handsome young knight sworn to protect her. It was all, of course, something of a set-up: This week, after agreeing to marry her gay cousin Laenor Velaryon, Princess Rhaenyra incurs Criston’s fury by refusing to run away with him; on the eve of her wedding, Criston violently kills Laenor’s lover, Joffrey Lonmouth, moments after Joffrey not-so-discreetly approached Criston about how both of them could remain lovers to the respective almost-newlyweds.
Laenor and Joffrey are the show’s first queer characters, and one of them quite literally doesn’t make it through the episode. It’s the epitome of the famous “bury your gays” trope, which sees LGBTQ characters often written in solely to meet some typically violent, tragic death. The deaths of gay characters, especially in ostensibly ~historical~ shows like House of the Dragon, tend to be commentary on the enduring struggles against intolerance and anti-LGBTQ oppression in society. But in the same way constant sexual violence is exhausting in a fantasy series, I’m tired of all the anti-LGBTQ tragedy in this wholly fictional world. I’d just like to see queer characters thrive for once—or, really, anything instead of the literal gay-bashing we were all subjected to this week.
The impetus for Joffrey’s death is just as frustrating as his actual death scene. While it’s not clear yet the extent, if any, to which the show will set Criston on a redemption arc, it’s clear we’re supposed to sympathize with or at least understand his actions. Criston supposedly beats Joffrey to death because he’s insulted that Rhaenyra wants to relegate him, a man, to her “whore” (Criston’s words!)—a role traditionally reserved for the lovers of powerful men. We’re also to believe that Criston killing Joffrey was a manifestation of his guilt over breaking his vows of celibacy as a knight of the Kingsguard, but, of course, he was ready to forsake all of those vows moments ago in proposing to run away with Rhaenyra. Later, when he perceived Joffrey as taunting him about his sexual relationship with Rhaenyra, that was apparently the final straw to brutally kill a gay man, whose bleeding-out, mutilated corpse we’re then treated to. Not cool!!
It’s the epitome of toxic masculinity taken to a violent, homophobic extreme. In the final moments of the episode, Criston is seen nearly taking his life in the godswood, apparently very guilty about everything—though I’m convinced he’s more ashamed that a woman solicited him to be her mistress than the fact that he just killed a man. The queen, Alicent Hightower, finds Criston and intervenes, opening the door for a friendship that will surely make Rhaenyra’s life hell. Earlier in the episode,
gossiping bitch Larys Strong, son of the new Hand of the King, connivingly tells Alicent that Rhaenyra did, indeed, lose her virginity a few nights ago—a fact Rhaenyra very easily lied to Alicent about. Criston later confirms this to Alicent, conveniently moments after being scorned by Rhaenyra.
If it wasn’t clear at first where HotD is headed, it is now! Rhaenyra and Alicent—who is, again, Rhaenyra’s childhood best friend, now-stepmother, and mother of the infant prince who could replace Rhaenyra as heir—are on the brink of a Gossip Girl-esque, classic Serena vs. Blair showdown. And if Alicent is our proxy-Blair, teaming up with a violent man who’s clearly willing to do anything to ruin Rhaenyra’s life, I am scared for the princess! Though, of course, Rhaenyra has some dangerous allies of her own—namely her uncle, Daemon, who last week seduced her in a brothel, and this week, bludgeoned his own wife to death (off-screen) within the first minutes of the episode and showed up unannounced to Rhaenyra’s wedding to solicit his late wife’s inheritance from her family members. Quite an ally to have!
Whatever HotD has in store down the line, I’m disappointed by the grotesque violence it felt compelled to inflict on one of the show’s first gay characters, all because some straight man was particularly insecure about his masculinity one night. It’s an almost irredeemably bleak plotline on its own, and I hope the show won’t worsen this by eventually trying to make us feel sorry for Criston—who might be the closest thing we’ll get to a medieval incel.