In the first episode of House of the Dragon, I fell head over heels in love with the friendship between Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Alicent (Emily Carey). They were sweet, loving and funny. There was a little rivalry between them, and their closeness bordered on romance. I cried with them in episode two when Alicent related her grief over the loss of her mother to Rhaenyra’s recent loss of her. But all of the following season was an exercise in how things can fall apart, culminating in Alicent’s gorgeous arrival at Rhaenyra’s wedding party in a green dress and proudly declaring which side she’s on. When Alicent called her “stepdaughter,” I gasped. All affection is gone, seemingly forever.
After the fifth episode, a lot of guilt is thrown around by the fans. It’s all Alicent’s fault, some say. She seduced the king. She should have forgiven Rhaenyra, or at least not judged so harshly. But neither Alicent nor Rhaenyra are the villains. They are two young girls in an impossible situation made worse by patriarchy. At the Red Keep, they are the only two women most of the time. They have no mothers or mentors to talk to or confide in about their friendship, jealousy, or fears. They’re trying to thrive in a system that doesn’t want them to thrive because they’re women.
Alicent doesn’t have a good choice for her. Her father (Rhys Ifans) ordered her to comfort the king. The King (Paddy Considine) ordered her to marry him. Now he orders her into his bedroom so she can continue having children and continue the royal line. It’s not “right” that Alicent is jealous of Rhaenyra, but it’s understandable and understandable (who wants characters who are always right?). Alicent is jealous that Rhaenyra can seemingly choose any man as her husband. She is jealous that she is allowed to sneak out of the castle, go on adventures and kiss handsome men. She is jealous, Rhaenyra had people defending her against accusations that she slept with her uncle; If Alicent had been revealed as not a virgin before her marriage to the king, she would be finished.
And it must be said that despite Viserys’ great failings as husband, father and king, he loves Rhaenyra in a way Alicent’s father does not love her. Otto only sees Alicent as a pawn; Their value lies in their connection to the crown. Viserys, on the other hand, tries hard not to use his daughter in the same way (although he doesn’t always succeed). Alicent sees this and gets angry about it. However, Otto is her most important ally, and in choosing Rhaenyra over her father, she seemingly loses him completely, making the fact that Rhaenyra misled her even more painful.
The story is just as brutal from Rhaenyra’s perspective. She is the heiress in name only, as she basically knows that no one wants her to take the crown. Her father says he does, but does nothing to back her claim with action. He wants her to marry off to men she doesn’t know, and she has to trust those men to please her. But why should she trust that when her own father murdered her mother in the birthing bed? Also, as she tells her father, if she were a male heir, she would be considered odd because she doesn’t sleep with every person she could get her hands on. And when she thinks she’s found someone who understands and loves her in Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), he almost immediately turns his back on her. The whole empire is waiting for her to lose all her status and power, and her own father took away her best friend when he decided to marry her. Shot.
Neither perspective is entirely true, but both are understandable. The tragedy is that if Alicent and Rhaenyra had found a way to be open about those feelings and what was going on with each other, perhaps the dissolution of their friendship could have been avoided.
“House of the Dragon” is a series that deals with patriarchy and how it deprives women of power and prevents them from attaining it. Aemma’s brutal death in the first episode is a great and brave example. The end of Rhaenyra and Alicent’s friendship is a less obvious illustration of the same thing. In a world where women own property – pawns in a larger power struggle and broodmares for the men around them – it’s almost impossible for them to come together. Rhaenyra and Alicent will forever bear the brunt of their father’s decisions.
In the preview for the sixth episode, which will air September 25, viewers learn that there will be a massive time warp, leaving teens Alicent and Rhaenyra behind. Their relationship seems to have only deteriorated further. It will be sadder because of the friendship they had and cherished so long ago.
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