Warning: This post contains spoilers for Fire & Blood.For all terms and purposes, Alicent Hightower is the de-facto « villain » in House of the Dragon. Assuming Rhaenyra is the typical hero, then Alicent’s antagonistic actions towards the heiress to the Iron Throne will surely earn her the scorn of fans and critics. However, not everything is as it seems in Westeros, and House of the Dragon will soon make it clear.
Alicent is among the show’s most misunderstood characters, and while she will commit numerous ruthless acts throughout the Dance, she is far from just an evil stepmother. Indeed, Alicent is a complex and layered character, and it’s not an exaggeration to say fans have the wrong idea about her.
Cersei Lannister is arguably the ultimate villain in Game of Thrones. The self-serving and diabolical queen of Westeros was a force to be reckoned with, responsible for some of the cruelest acts in the show. Cersei considered everyone an enemy and went to great lengths to protect those she loved from danger, even those she created herself.
Despite the comparison from fans, Alicent is not Cersei. She is one of the main antagonists in House of the Dragon, but she’s neither cruel nor short-sighted, two of the qualities that most define Cersei. Alicent had kindness in her, displaying it towards Kings Jaehaerys and Viserys, her children, and even Rhaenyra. Cersei never showed such feelings, not even in her moments of vulnerability.
Alicent is observant and cunning, two qualities that make her an ideal politician and player in the game. Many fans believe Alicent’s actions come from jealousy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Alicent seems to be more shrewd than Viserys (who wants tranquility above all), Daemon (who wants power at any cost), and even Rhaenyra.
Alicent’s moves are precise, calculated, and come from a place of deep understanding of Westerosi politics. On the contrary, the Targaryens do as they please because their name allows them to, whereas Alicent, as a Hightower, was to be smarter.
Many believe Alicent and the Greens started the Dance because of their greed for the Iron Throne, but that’s only half true. Otto’s purpose was certainly that, but Alicent did it out of protectiveness for her children. Her eldest son, Aegon, would always be a threat to Rhaenyra, and his existence would incite provocation.
Furthermore, Alicent knew Rhaenyra’s husband, Daemon, and their close ally, Corlys Velaryon, had long set their sights on the Iron Throne. Even if Rhaenyra hadn’t moved against her half-brother, Daemon and Corlys would’ve. After all, Daemon killed his first wife simply because he was fed up with her. In short, Alicent’s children would’ve never been safe. War might not have been the best option, but inaction wasn’t either.
Although the show paints her in an overwhelmingly positive light, Fire & Blood’s portrayal of Rhaenyra is much more complex. She is as mercurial as her second husband, Daemon Targaryen, and becomes bitter. Rhaenyra is also proud and self-aggrandizing, believing herself superior to everyone.
Most fans believe Alicent’s animosity toward Rhaenyra began after the latter lied about her affair with Daemon. However, Alicent’s mistrust has more to do with Rhaenyra’s willingness to lie and cheat — using her dead mother’s memory, no less — to protect her claim to the Iron Throne. In truth, Alicent was right not to trust her former friend, especially considering how much Rhaenyra changes when she’s under stress or cornered.
Game of Thrones was famous for its smart villains, some of which became fan favorites. Alicent seems to be House of the Dragon’s resident evil queen, but the truth is more complex. Alicent is scheming, lying, and manipulating, but that’s just another day in King’s Landing. The truth is that Alicent is just playing the game, and she’s doing it well.
It could be easy to discard Alicent as « the bad guy » because the show is going to great lengths to establish Rhaenyra as a typical heroine. However, Alicent’s motives make sense, and her actions are easier to understand, even if viewers don’t sympathize. Still, it’s clear that like Thrones’s best antagonists before her, Alicent’s characterization is not black or white.
House of the Dragon spends considerable time exploring the deterioration of Alicent and Rhaenyra’s relationship. Even so, the two former friends don’t hate each other; they just deeply distrust one another.
Alicent tries to negotiate with Rhaenyra several times before and after the Dance, and Rhaenyra corresponds because of their shared history. The show makes it obvious that they remember their friendship but can’t reconcile those emotions with their newfound fear, insecurity, and distrust. Their feelings for each other are more complicated than just hatred, and the show will surely keep developing them further.
House of the Dragon’s book fans know that Otto Hightower is one of the cleverest characters in the show. Known for his considerable knowledge, Otto was adamant about placing his blood on the Iron Throne and saw Alicent as the best way to do it. However, she had enough agency to see through his schemes and willingly bonded with and eventually married Viserys. And while she did it out of duty and didn’t love him, she did grow to care for Viserys, and his feelings were similar.
Alicent had a history of caring for others. For instance, she spent considerable time with Jaehaerys the Wise before his death, reading and caring for him. Thus, there’s reason to believe Alicent would’ve found a way to get close to Viserys, even if there wasn’t a relationship between them. House of the Dragon implies Otto is the mastermind of the conflict, and he is. However, he didn’t manipulate Alicent into her eventual marriage to Viserys.
Despite being one of the most powerful Queen Mothers in Westerosi history, Alicent’s actions were not out of greed or power lust. Everything she did was to protect her eldest son from Rhaenyra’s mercurial and violent husband, Daemon.
It’s undeniable that Alicent was enthusiastic about placing her blood on the Iron Throne, but she wasn’t the Dance’s architect. That was Otto. Alicent had blood in her hands, but so did everyone else in Westeros. She was right to fear the Blacks, considering both Daemon and Corlys had histories of trying to secure the Iron Throne before with deadly means.
« The Princess and the Queen » features Rhaenyra suggesting a supposedly generous offer that involves marrying her son, Jacaerys, to Alicent’s daughter, Helaena. However, Alicent rejects the match, mainly because Rhaenyra is only proposing it to protect her children from further rumors about their bastardy. Furthermore, Aegon, not Helaena, is Rhaenyra’s threat and will always be, and her solution conveniently leaves him out.
In the books, Alicent is the first to propose a solution to the problem, suggesting Rhaenyra marries Aegon, but both the Princess of Dragonstone and Viserys reject the offer. Aegon was 10 years younger than Rhaenyra, but the proposal would’ve effectively prevented the Dance. Alicent also sends terms to Rhaenyra during the war, but her efforts are in vain.
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