A decade has somehow passed between the events of last week’s House of the Dragon and this week’s, and yet, for at least one character, almost nothing has changed. That character is Ser Criston Cole, who has inexplicably remained just as bitter about being semi-rejected by Princess Rhaenyra (recall that this woman literally gave him a job!), 10 years later. All of this would almost be funny, if the stakes weren’t life or death.
As a refresher, last week’s episode marked just the latest example of why I would simply decline every wedding invite I received if I were a Westerosi noblewoman, this time, because of Criston’s actions. Unable to process his outrage about Rhaenyra declining to run away with him—and especially outraged by her counter-proposal for him to be something akin to her male mistress after she marries Laenor Velaryon—Criston loses his shit at her wedding when Laenor’s lover, Joffrey, discreetly approaches him about their ~situation~. Within minutes, Joffrey is on the ground, beaten to death. It was the epitome of fragile, toxic masculinity taken to an extreme.
After this, I expressed concern that the show would try to rehabilitate Criston, but thankfully, at least this week, that couldn’t be further from what happens. (Daemon Targaryen quite literally killed his wife last week, and he is somehow framed as more likable than Criston.) Shortly after this week’s episode opens with Rhaenyra birthing her third son, all of whom are not-so-secretly her children with hunky lover Harwin Strong, Criston and Queen Alicent Hightower partake in one of their apparently regular gossip seshes. Alicent is scandalized by what is clearly Rhaenyra’s third bastard by Harwin and King Viserys’ delusional refusal to see this—and Criston, for whatever reason that surely has nothing to do with bitterness, is, too! So scandalized, in fact, that he calls Rhaenyra not just “a spider who stings and sucks her prey dry,” but “a spoiled cunt”—his words, not mine!
The juxtaposition of Criston just last week begging Rhaenyra to marry him and this week, calling her the c-word, has since gone viral on Twitter, with Criston being dubbed the first medieval incel (something I’d humbly like to take credit for calling him last week!!). And, while the word “incel” gets thrown around a lot, I’d have to agree—here is a man who was rejected by a woman one (1) single time, and is now determined to ruin her life as a result.
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Inceldom is defined by entitlement—to women’s love, sex, attention, and adoration—and obsession with punishing women who emasculate them via rejection. Sound familiar??
The episode reaches its breaking point when Alicent’s much older sons by the king and Rhaenyra and
Harwin’s Laenor’s sons are training in the yard under the supervision of Harwin and Criston, Rhaenyra’s current and former lovers, respectively. Criston clearly has it out for Rhaenyra’s sons, who are literal babies, which surely, again, has nothing to do with bitterness. After he encourages Alicent’s sons to beat Rhaenyra’s down, Harwin, being an adult, intervenes—and when Criston all but accuses him of being their father, Harwin gloriously beats the shit out of him.
The scene is briefly cathartic and Criston deserved nothing less, but it winds up being Harwin’s demise: His outrage at Criston’s comments is taken as confirmation that the children are his, and he’s sent away to his family’s seat at Harrenhal. There, he meets his grisly end when his little brother, the Alicent-aligned Larys Strong, has him and their father killed in a classic Game of Thrones arson.
But anyway, circling briefly back to the scene in the training yard, what kind of adult man, let alone a knight, bullies children like that? Someone has approximately zero maidens, and it’s starting to show.
All of this would, again, be quite comical if it weren’t clear that this petty family conflict is about to explode into a devastating civil war pitting Rhaenyra against her half-siblings. Her enemies—ex-bestie Alicent, spurned ex-lover Criston, and this series’ de-yassified Littlefinger, Larys—are circling, and clearly aren’t going to stop until Alicent’s firstborn son is on the throne and Rhaenyra is ruined.
I can ever-so-slightly understand Alicent’s tiff with Rhaenyra—the princess is an existential threat to Alicent’s sons’ lives. And as a woman who’s spent her entire life honoring her duty at the expense of having any fun, she’s naturally resentful of Rhaenyra for openly getting dick from the hottest men in Westeros. As for Criston’s motives, the man is simply unable to get over Rhaenyra rejecting his half-assed marriage proposal a full decade later, and it’s just embarrassing!