In this article:
- House of the Dragon is shaping up to be one of the hottest shows of 2022, drawing millions of viewers to choose between the Hightower Team Green and Rhaenyra’s Team Black.
- Rhaenyra’s badass characterization has gained her tons of fans, all of whom are now rooting for her to be queen.
- But House of the Dragon isn’t meant to just be Rhaenyra’s feminist story about becoming queen. Underneath HOTD’s fire and blood are themes of womanhood that tie even the most opposite characters.
Warning: Spoilers ahead. While it’s been kept to a minimal amount, there’s a crucial plot point that just can’t be left unspoiled. Seriously, stop scrolling now if you don’t want to know the ending.
Everybody in the Seven Kingdoms is talking about House of the Dragon and if you’re not, which rock have you been hiding under? Kidding aside, the series is clearly set to become one of HBO’s most successful shows, thanks to both George R.R. Martin’s solid narrative base and the stellar performances of the main cast, especially Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra Targaryen.
It looks like Rhaenyra is going to give fans the satisfaction we never got with watching Daenerys’ ascent to power. And why wouldn’t we think that? Rhaenyra certainly thinks she’ll be the first queen if her rudeness to Rhaenys in Episode 2 of Season 1 is to go by.
Unfortunately for her and us Rhaenyra apologists, House of the Dragon isn’t a feminist story in two ways: Rhaenyra won’t be queen for long we’re kind of wrong to pit Alicent and Rhaenyra against each other anyway.
The Realm’s Delight: Why Everybody Loves Rhaenyra
Rhaenyra Targaryen reminds us of Arya Stark. She’s free-spirited and determined to prove herself in a world that treats women as little more than wives and mothers. Even if you’re not the most pro-women’s rights person, it’s hard not to root for an underdog fighting against the biggest challenge a woman can face in House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones: being a woman.
The charm of the underdog and, frankly, a general love of badass characters is what draws fans to Arya and Rhaenyra. They’re strong-willed and traditionally masculine ways of being heroes. Even Rhaenyra, who we don’t see train as a swordswoman like Arya does, is more than willing to strut into a battlefield on the back of Syrax.
This easily sets them apart as more ‘heroic’ and ‘brave’ compared to characters who have to resort to more covert ways of influence. Characters like Larys, Alicent, Littlefinger, and Cersei all feel ‘slimier’ to us even if, in a lot of ways, they’re products of a world that taught them this is how they need to be like to survive. Larys relies on manipulation because he’s disabled. Alicent relies on her influence on Viserys because she has no other political ties.
And yes, there’s no denying they do some really morally dubious stuff, but we rarely level the same criticisms against the characters we love for their loud and proud way of living like they really don’t care what anyone else thinks. It just comes across as more honest.
So it’s no surprise that fans start to think of Alicent as whiny and conniving while seeing Rhaenyra as courageous and cool. When you get to that point, it’s not hard to choose one woman over the other and see how their catfight plays out.
But this strong woman vs. manipulative woman dichotomy has been played out already in Game of Thrones.
George R.R. Martin Is Setting Us Up Again
While Rhaenyra reminds people of Arya, Sansa is getting compared to Alicent Hightower. Both women use their wardrobes to make statements about their political leanings, conveying what they really think without them having to say it. Alicent wears green like it’s a war banner, Sansa mirrors Cersei’s outfits as a form of camouflage and armor.
Neither of them are fighters in the traditional sense. Both HOTD and GOT make it very clear that Sansa and Alicent are trapped and friendless at court. They have no real political influence of their own, what little protection they can give themselves is completely reliant on the mercy of the men around them. For Alicent, that’s Otto, Viserys, and Larys. For Sansa, it was Joffrey, Sandor, Littlefinger, and Tyrion.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra is the daughter of a king and a dragon rider. Arya? Far from court and capable of fighting with a sword.
Clearly, Alicent vs. Rhaenyra isn’t the first time George R.R. Martin has presented us with characters that come in pairs but are seemingly opposites of each other. Think of Sansa and Arya, Alicent and Rhaenyra, Sam and Jon, Brienne and Caitlyn. What ties these opposites together are the ways fight to survive in their own way. Or, as Brienne figures out early on when she swears to serve Caitlyn:
“You have courage. Not battle courage, perhaps, but, I don’t know… a woman’s kind of courage.”
As House of the Dragon progresses, we’re going to see more of the parallels between Rhaenyra and Alicent because, in their own way, both of these women are certified badasses just trying to do what they think is right, all while protecting their families.
What Rhaenyra’s Story in House of the Dragon Means for Daenerys
Of course, we can’t talk about Rhaenyra’s future as queen without being reminded of another Targaryen queen we were introduced to a few years ago. While Daenerys Targaryen’s story inspired thousands of fans to name their daughters Daenerys (or worse, Khaleesi), her back-to-back victories turned out to be short-lived as the final season quickly wrote her away as a madwoman with little to no foreshadowing or ramp up.
If you’re hoping that Rhaenyra doesn’t become another Daenerys, you’re in for a world of disappointment. There’s a reason Rhaenyra is later called King Maegor with Teats, a reference to the infamous King Maegor the Cruel.
And yes, it sucks, but this new disappointment is an opportunity for House of the Dragon’s show makers to address the way that the Citadel’s maesters portray powerful historic women as crazy or sinister, like they did with Rhaenyra and Visenya, the sister-wife of Aegon the Conqueror.
That hasn’t stopped fans from hoping that HOTD’s show writers will rewrite the ending for Rhaenyra. However, we’ll just have to keep dreaming since one of the reasons given for doubting Daenerys’ ability to rule was that she’d just be another Rhaenyra Targaryen.
If it’s any consolation, at least her and Daemon’s kids are the ones that continue the Targaryen line, making Dany a direct descendant of the Realm’s Delight.