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A Shocking House of the Dragon Move Mirrors Game of Thrones’ Greatest Sin

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The below contains spoilers for House of the Dragon. If you’re not caught up yet, check out our spoiler-free premiere review.


In the penultimate episode of House of the Dragon Season 1, Rhaenys finally got her big, dramatic moment, bursting through the bottom of the Dragonpit atop Meleys to deliver a giant middle finger to Team Green and essentially kicking off the Targaryen civil war as she loudly declares her support for Rhaenyra. She may have refrained from burning Alicent and her insufferable son Aegon to a crisp, but her actions will nevertheless have huge consequences for her family, the crown, and for the realm at large.

There’s just one problem: those actions don’t make one lick of sense for how the show framed her character through Season 1. It may be the kind of big dramatic sequence that made Game of Thrones famous, but the decision itself is reckless and even cruel – she may have spared Alicent and sons, but that act of supposed mercy doesn’t take into account the dozens, if not hundreds, of civilian lives that were lost in the dragon’s rampage. And while Game of Thrones is absolutely no stranger to murderous, reckless characters, there’s been no indication thus far that Rhaenys – who’s mostly been painted as a shrewd and strategic, if long-suffering, political player – is one of them. It seems her heel turn was dictated by the show’s need for a big moment of action leading into the finale, as well as something to more definitively kick off the Dance of the Dragons, in sacrifice of the nuanced character development that Game of Thrones has shown at its best. 

And something that worried me even more as I scratched my head at her baffling decision is how closely it mirrored a certain other Targaryen woman’s descent into murdering civilians. We’ve had many years to debate how the final season of Game of Thrones completely fumbled Daenerys Targaryen’s development from a sympathetic young hero to a civilian-murdering tyrant, so I’m loathe to get into it too heavily, but to recap: after experiencing several major losses, Daenerys went full mad queen, raining dragonfire on the peasants that she might’ve otherwise stood up for. And while Daenerys had been shown to have more than a little of that chaotic Targaryen blood in her throughout Game of Thrones, her righteous rage was always directed at slavers – or, at the very least, those in power who stood directly in her way. Burning up hundreds of innocents directly flew in the face of everything the “Breaker of Chains” stood for with no emotional justification.

Maybe that’s a parallel that they want us to make; after all, both Daenarys and The Queen Who Never Was have racked up their fair share of losses. But a checklist of traumas isn’t, in and of itself, character development, and it’s not justification for the kind of flipped switch we see in these two cases. If House of the Dragon had done what Game of Thrones didn’t and showed the threads coming apart beyond a few worried looks, this might’ve been a different story. But it didn’t, leading to another Targaryen woman wordlessly killing unknown numbers of innocents on top of a dragon, leaving us, the viewers, to sit there and wonder just how the heck our fave got here.

Another thing that these two situations have in common? You can’t blame George R.R. Martin for them. As we know, Game of Thrones had to invent its own ending since Martin hadn’t (and still hasn’t) written it yet, and Rhaenys’ act of rebellion wasn’t in the book Fire and Blood. Both seem drummed up by showrunners for two reasons: getting the chess pieces where they want them to be at any cost, and to give us some good fiery dragon action. And while I’m never mad at the latter, it’s always more exciting when that action is justified from a story standpoint.

Of course, there’s an argument to be made that Rhaenys did make the smart political move by throwing this wrench into Aegon’s coronation, reasserting her power without becoming a kingslayer – but that argument has holes, too. Both showrunners of House of the Dragon have explained Rhaenys’ decisions (both in bursting through the Dragonpit and in sparing the Hightowers’ lives) thusly on HBO’s Inside the Dragon featurette:

Miguel Sapochnik: “We really wanted to make sure that there was meat on her character. Rhaenys was not passive, and it felt this was an incredibly valuable moment to — rather than have her just bear witness to something — be able to take part in it. But her moral standpoint became the reason for inaction rather than action.”

Ryan J. Condal: “She knows if she sets fire to that dais, she ends any possibility of war and probably sets peace throughout the realm, but I think probably doesn’t want to be responsible for doing that to another mother. And it’s a complex choice and one that people might dispute or have a problem with, but that’s the choice Rhaenys makes in that moment. We see her busting out, and being the one that’s going to take the news to Dragonstone of the coup and of Rhaenyra’s throne being stolen. And it was a great, you know, great heroic moment for her character.”

Rhaenys actress Eve Best (who bears no blame for the direction her character has taken; she, like Emilia Clarke did, has performed impeccably) has also told Entertainment Weekly, “In a way, it’s also the most merciful and most graceful act. It’s because she’s so intelligent and in the end chooses to do the right thing, which is not to destroy. It’s a truly forgiving moment and sort of a loving moment, in a weird way.”

Sure, it’s cathartic to see Rhaenys jump from the sidelines and take a bold stance… but couldn’t she have done that by escaping the city on Meleys without killing dozens (again, maybe hundreds) of civilians in the process? And if it was such an act of mercy, again, why did so many innocents have to die in the process of giving the Hightowers the proverbial middle finger? 

Maybe she heard the people giving Aegon the rockstar treatment once she left the throne room, but that’s still a pretty inordinate reaction from someone who’s been painted as careful and measured, even when resentment simmers beneath the surface. And might she also think about how this would affect the commoners’ perspectives of Team Black? The people’s fear of dragons does come into play later in Fire and Blood, so maybe this is a decision meant to build up to that; but, again, that’s a matter of moving chess pieces versus character development.

It’s true, too, that Rhaenys is a family woman, but her act of not killing Alicent, Aegon, and the rest of those on the dais puts her family directly in even more danger. Her granddaughter Baela, who Rhaenys clearly wants the best for, is now betrothed to Rhaenyra’s son Jace – so if Rhaenyra’s in trouble, so is her family and thus, Rhaenys’ granddaughter. I find it hard to believe that the clever, collected Rhaenys wouldn’t take that into consideration.

There are all sorts of debates we can have over Rhaenys’ choice, and there may be nuances that they didn’t get a chance to show us as a result of the massive time jumps. But we only know what the series chooses to show us – and we shouldn’t have to wait for post-air interviews to learn their justifications. I only hope that, going forward, House of the Dragon does what it does at its best and actually shows us the character development behind the events laid out in Fire and Ice. More importantly, hopefully the showrunners learn from the mistakes of Game of Thrones. You can have your mad queens (or princesses); just make their journeys make sense. 


Alex Stedman is Entertainment Reviews Editor for , overseeing all movie and TV reviews. When she’s not writing or editing, you can find her reading fantasy novels or playing Dungeons & Dragons.

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