WARNING! This article contains SPOILERS for House of the Dragon season 1, episode 10, « The Black Queen. »House of the Dragon star Olivia Cooke says her character is not necessarily a villain. The Game of Thrones prequel has continued the franchise’s grand tradition of offering the audience characters that they love to hate. While the source material for the series, George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood, contains several fascinating antagonists, the television adaptation has offered more nuanced portrayals of them. The most recent example of this shift saw Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) accidentally kill his nephew Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) in the House of the Dragon season finale after losing control of his dragon, a murder that seemed more intentional in the novel.
In particular, House of the Dragon has consistently offered a more sympathetic portrayal of Alicent (Cooke), Rhaenyra’s (Emma D’Arcy) childhood friend turned bitter enemy who starts the Dance of the Dragons by installing her son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) on the throne after King Viserys’ (Paddy Considine) death. Starting early on the series, Alicent’s betrayal of marrying her friend’s father was the result of her own father Otto (Rhys Ifans) grooming her into the decision. Additionally, the character’s cruel manipulation of her eldest child and defense of her problematic sons is shown to stem from a deep-seated fear (though possibly misguided) that they will be in danger if Rhaenyra ascends to power. Despite Alicent’s updated motivations, much of the audience has been quick to label her as the villain of House of the Dragon.
Cooke now speaks with Deadline about her character’s morality, stating that she doesn’t play Alicent as a villain, though she understands why viewers would consider her one. Indeed, many social media posts have condemned Alicent in light of the last few House of the Dragon episodes, though much of the audience also seems to view Alicent’s side and feel sympathetic toward her position. See what Cooke has to say below:
« I never played her as a villain. I know she makes morally questionable decisions and her reactions can be quite uncouth, to say the least. But I have to believe in what she does in order to play her with absolute honesty and truth. I really have to empathize with Alicent and know that she’s coming from a place of undying love and protection for her children. I think sometimes the internet discourse can be a bit too black and white. I read a tweet that I think summed it up really well: ‘It’s not who’s good and evil, it’s who’s your favorite war criminal.' »
While Martin’s Fire and Blood does present a more black-and-white view of Alicent as a villain, that perspective comes from an unreliable narrator, which has led House of the Dragon to paint many characters in a new light. This update to the source material has resulted in Alicent becoming far more sympathetic as a character. Her actions, though hypocritical, stem from having a lack of control over her life due to surviving in a patriarchal society, leading her to embrace tradition and ‘duty’ in an attempt to make sense of where she is in life. House of the Dragon even made Alicent’s fateful choice to usurp Rhaenyra more justifiable, since she misinterprets Viserys’ last words and claims (whether she believes it or not) that Aegon on the throne is what he actually wanted.
House of the Dragon making Alicent a more sympathetic figure has largely to do with showing the many ways in which women learn to adapt to their stations in the world of the series. When she is not shown to be fully evil or corrupt, it makes the eventual fallout of her actions and battle against her childhood friend all the more tragic. This nuanced portrayal of the book villain sets up an extremely compelling House of the Dragon season 2, as Alicent leans in to her « morally questionable decisions » while possibly retaining some of the humanity that Cooke seems determined to preserve.