With the ninth episode of House of the Dragon, the famed Dance of the Dragons pitting greens against blacks has begun, albeit at a slower pace than I expected. The king is dead, a development that Alicent and Otto Hightower have ensured few know about, and believing (or perhaps convincing herself) that Viserys’ dying words about the Song of Ice and Fire prophecy were a plea for Prince Aegon to be his heir instead of Princess Rhaenyra, Alicent and her father have concocted a scheme to put Aegon on the throne before Rhaenyra even knows the king is dead.
Between the Hightowers’ power struggles, there’s enough time for a heated exchange between Alicent and Princess Rhaenys, who’s essentially kept prisoner in the Red Keep as schemes unfold. (There was also, apparently, enough time to subject us to that scene outing Larys as a foot fetishist—which seems far too on the nose. And yet there wasn’t enough time for us to get even a glimpse of a Harwin and Rhaenyra tryst? I will remain very mad about this until further notice.)
When Alicent visits Rhaenys in her rooms, she asks the princess—Viserys’ cousin, and arguably the stronger claimant to the Iron Throne—to support Aegon’s claim over Rhaenyra’s, and specifically tries to appeal to Rhaenys by telling her she should have been queen. “We do not rule,” Alicent says, speaking about women in Westeros, “but we may guide the men that do.” That—influencing men, but never taking or reclaiming their power—is enough for Alicent. It’s not for Rhaenys.
“And yet, you toil still in service to men. Your father, your husband, your son. You desire not to be free but to make a window in the wall of your prison,” Rhaenys responds, before leaning in close and whispering, “Have you never imagined yourself on the Iron Throne?”
Rhaenys’ words strike at the heart of why the authority that Alicent has slowly but surely accumulated over the years—particularly at the height of Viserys’ illness—is a sham, or, at the very least, not in the least way empowering. Rhaenys is speaking to Alicent onscreen, but her cutting delivery applies to all women who settle for the comforts and benefits of a life that doesn’t challenge patriarchy and instead rely on male approval. Ironically, of course, Alicent spends the duration of the episode challenging the authority of her father—but she does so to advantage her son, determined to keep Rhaenyra from being Westeros’ first queen. Alicent’s spat with Otto is a blip rather than an act of feminist rebellion: This is the same woman who paid off her son’s rape victim just last week, and is staking her life on upholding male-only succession. Her character wasn’t based on “women for Trump” for no reason.
Rhaenys ultimately steals the show this week when she secretly escapes and disrupts Aegon’s coronation by bursting into the temple on her dragon—but I still found her dialogue with Alicent more memorable. As women on TikTok glamorize being a “tradwife” and lead harassment campaigns against Amber Heard, all while our rights are being stripped away at an alarming pace, it’s uniquely disturbing to see plenty of women apparently gleefully tapping into the perceived benefits of capitulating to patriarchal norms and oppression. Rhaenys’ response to Alicent feels pointed at all women, who—whether through stealing the throne for your son or sharing a viral TikTok about how life was better when our husbands didn’t let us leave the house—have opted to “make a window in the wall of your prison” rather than pursue real, tangible power and agency for yourself.
Rhaenys is indisputably the hero of this week’s HotD, but it was also the most humanizing episode for Alicent in a while. Despite all her actions to the contrary, I don’t doubt that in her own twisted way, Alicent thinks she’s helping Rhaenyra by trying to avert war and prevent Otto from killing her and her sons. Rhaenys’ words also clearly affect her; later in the episode, after successfully retrieving Aegon before Otto, she confronts her father, who insists that they remain loyal to each other and that their “hearts remain as one.”
“Our hearts were never one. I see that now. Rather I was a piece that you moved about the board,” Alicent says. When Otto reminds Alicent that he made her queen, a role he insists that she otherwise wouldn’t have wanted, she responds, “How could I know? I wanted whatever you impressed upon me to want.” Even now, when Alicent holds all the power by holding Aegon, Otto can’t help but ooze casual misogyny, calling Alicent “squeemish” for not wanting Rhaenyra and her sons killed.
“Reluctance to murder is not a weakness. I have Aegon. We’ll proceed now as I see fit,” she responds. Alicent had my respect in that moment—I only wish she were challenging her father in a more meaningful way.
In the vein of inverted power dynamics, this episode, which began with Alicent visiting an imprisoned Rhaenys, ends with Rhaenys on her dragon holding all the power to wipe out the greens with a single word. Instead she flies away, and I have a feeling we’ll look back on this moment and wonder about all that could have been spared if she’d only said “dracarys.”