House Of The Dragon Wants You To Hate Alicent (But You’d Be Wrong To)

WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for Fire & Blood and House of the Dragon season 1, episode 6!House of the Dragon episode 6 continues setting up Alicent Hightower as the villain, trying to make it impossible for viewers not to hate her – however, it’d be wrong to do so. House of the Dragon episode 5 marked a turning point in the way Alicent viewed Rhaenyra, precisely because Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) and Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) provided information that helped Alicent make up her mind and choose what her father Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) always pointed her toward, her family. Alicent’s green dress served as a declaration of her intention to oppose Viserys and Rhaenyra, and her decision to stop King Viserys’ (Paddy Considine) speech with her entrance made sure of that during Rhaenyra’s engagement party to Laenor Velaryon.

House of the Dragon season 1, episode 6, « The Princess and the Queen, » builds up on episode 5’s overt declaration of the different side Alicent picked by having the adult Alicent (Olivia Cooke) oppose Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) in every possible way. From challenging the parentage of Rhaenyra’s children in the presence of others – despite Viserys having forbidden her to do so – to complaining about Rhaenyra’s actions to allies such as Criston Cole or Larys Strong, Alicent is obviously shown as dissatisfied with what she perceives as Rhaenyra’s lack of respect and Viserys’ obstinacy to keep her as his heir to the Iron Throne. However, while many of Alicent’s actions in House of the Dragon season 1, episode 6 point to her inclination to choose conflict whenever Rhaenyra is involved, easily depicting her as House of the Dragon’s villain, one detail at the end of the episode paints a more accurate picture of Alicent’s situation.

Larys Strong’s decision to kill his father and brother Lyonel and Harwin Strong as a way to solve Queen Alicent’s problems makes Alicent an accessory to his crimes. While her wishes to have her father Otto close as Hand of the King might come true because of Larys’ actions, they also make Alicent a victim and dependent on Larys and his whims, as he could easily implicate her were she not to reward him as he wishes in the future. Alicent Hightower is in no way faultless, but she also isn’t an outright heartless House of the Dragon villain, being just as much constrained by her circumstances as Rhaenyra is – with her life being almost entirely decided firstly by her father manipulating her into her marriage, then in her decidedly loveless marriage with Viserys, and finally by Larys Strong himself.

Alicent has no problem antagonizing Rhaenyra in House of the Dragon episode 6. However, her position was always a difficult one, being the mother of Targaryen male heirs. After all, House of the Dragon repeatedly showed Westeros’ opposition to having a woman on the Iron Throne, so if Rhaenyra were to take power after Viserys’ death, she’d have to secure her claim to the throne by killing her half-brothers, as Westerosi would always prefer them on the throne, no matter what their previous king might have wished. While it was her perception of Rhaenyra’s deceit in House of the Dragon episode 5 as a betrayal that might have convinced Alicent to antagonize Rhaenyra, making her unlikable or easier to hate, her behavior doesn’t change the fact that to protect herself and her children, Alicent has to oppose Rhaenyra’s claim, as its very existence threatens their life.

While Alicent might very well behave in a way that makes her unlikable, she has to be a villain in Rhaenyra’s story because of the patriarchal way Westeros is organized that pits her against Rhaenyra, even if she were to support Rhaenyra’s claim. The nuanced portrayal of House of the Dragon’s characters clearly shows it because no matter the choices Alicent and Rhaenyra make, it’s the order of things that needs to stay the same according to Westeros’ lords and people. Hating Alicent might come easy, but it’d be shortsighted to just see her as disagreeable when the circumstances she finds herself in have a considerable part in bringing out the worst in Alicent, and House of the Dragon subtly but consistently hints at that.

New episodes of House of the Dragon release Sundays on HBO/HBO Max.