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Alicent and Rhaenyra’s secret love gets attention

Alicent and Rhaenyra’s secret love gets attention

Since the first episode of Game of Thrones-spin-off House of the Dragon aired in August 2022, the series has amassed a fandom that even its predecessor couldn’t reach. From fan accounts dedicated to Team Black to the official Succession Twitter account that stands up for Team Green, the impact of this show has definitely exceeded initial expectations. But in a story full of beheadings, dragon fire, and steamy drama, it’s a friendship that is one of the most compelling parts of House of the Dragon-and has driven fans, gay and straight, wild.

When House of the Dragon begins, young Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) and Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) are best friends. We’re introduced to them when Rhaenyra dismounts from her dragon and walks toward a carriage where Alicent is waiting. As they stroll casually arm in arm through the Red Keep, they’re the perfect picture of a childhood friendship. But as the series progresses, for many fans, their friendship blossoms into romance. The two exchange longing glances and touches, and Rhaenyra dreams of a life where the two “ride dragonback, see the great wonders of the Narrow Sea, and eat nothing but cake.” Any chance of love is quickly dashed, however, when Alicent’s father Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) begins plotting to marry his daughter to King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) after his wife Aemma (Sian Brooke) dies in childbirth.

In fact Game of Thrones fashion, Alicent is forced to become her childhood friend’s stepmother, which sets in motion a downward spiral in their relationship. At the end of Season 1, an older Alicent (now played by Olivia Cooke) has usurped Rhaenyra’s (Emma D’Arcy) throne and made her son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) king; meanwhile, her other son Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) has murdered Lucerys (Elliot Grihault), Rhaenyra’s child. While it seems like a point of no return for the two women, Season 2 makes it clear that they are still the heart of the show.

The season premiere, aptly titled “A Son For a Son,” sees Rhaenyra and the Black faction holding a funeral for her son, Lucerys, at Dragonstone. As the family mourns, the scene cuts to Alicent lighting candles for the fallen in King’s Landing. She stares at the last candle to be lit for a moment before whispering the name of Rhaenyra’s son and finally lighting it. The series makes it clear that, even in the height of their grief and sorrow, Rhaenyra and Alicent are still bonded.

A photo of Olivia Cooke in House of the Dragon

While some fans find the idea of ​​the two still loving each other ridiculous after everything that’s happened, it’s undeniably a more interesting path for their relationship to take than in Fire & Bloodthe George R. R. Martin novel on which the series is based. Despite all the child murders on both sides, Alicent desperately sends letters to Rhaenyra that go unanswered, asking for her as a spurned lover. Although Alicent is going through her own trials, Rhaenyra is clearly always on her mind. While I’m not sure the queer coding regarding Alicent is intentional, she certainly feels like a woman grieving what her relationship with Rhaenyra might have become, had they lived in a more progressive society. When the two factions eventually split after Lucerys’ death, I wasn’t sure “Rhaenicent” would survive. But thankfully, she does.

They continue to pursue each other as the season progresses, but it isn’t until episode 3 that the two finally see each other in person again. Dressed as a septa, Rhaenyra disguises herself as one of Alicent’s main pillars of strength and bravery, entering King’s Landing to meet her ex-best friend. Throughout her marriage and the war, faith has been one of the few things that has kept Alicent going. By having Rhaenyra don this disguise, the writers suggest that Rhaenyra is For Alicent it is a form of religion, or is it as important as prayer.

When the two meet, however, their relationship is still as strained as ever. Alicent looks at Rhaenyra as if she were a ghost, and Rhaenyra is eager to tell her that she had nothing to do with the beheading of Alicent’s grandson, Jaehaerys. Rhaenyra leaves King’s Landing with the two still at odds, and while nothing is resolved here, you can’t help but yearn for a time when D’Arcy and Cooke got to share the screen more often. After D’Arcy and Matt Smith (who plays Rhaenyra’s husband, Daemon Targaryen), these two have the best chemistry on the show. It feels like the writers know this, too, and they wrote this scene not just so the characters can connect, but so the actors can.

Rhaenyra and Alicent meeting again in a house of worship is perhaps one of the strangest things the series has done so far. Alicent clearly has a lot of shame in her life, and in episode 2, after her grandson is murdered, she tells her father Otto that the gods are punishing her for her sins. While this could be a reference to her scandalous relationship with Criston Cole, we can also infer that she is talking about her attraction – and love – for Rhaenyra. Head writer Sara Hess shared in an interview with Variety that Olivia Cooke once told her that she believes “(Rhaenyra and Alicent) kissed or made out or had some other form of physical interaction at some point that Alicent’s mother found out about and forbade.”

Cooke’s headcanon for these characters makes the scene explode into a cacophony of queerness, and it recontextualizes not only Alicent and Rhaenyra’s childhood friendship, but also their relationship as the show progresses. Though deep down they know they should hate each other, their growing ostracism within their own factions reminds them of the women and girls they used to be. It feels like Alicent and Rhaenyra think of each other every time they get closure, like they’re wishing their best friend yet was there to defend them. Even amidst deaths in the family that they believe the other is guilty of, these two still yearn for a relationship that’s impossible in the world they’re in, and it makes it all the more tragic.

A photo of Emma D'Arcy and Anthony Flanagan in House of the Dragon

Emma D’Arcy and Anthony Flanagan

Theo Whiteman/HBO

It’s clear in episode 3 that the creatives behind House of the Dragon claim that despite the looming war, Rhaenyra and Alicent will always be connected. Whether through letters, physical encounters, or even an invisible cord, theirs remains one of the most compelling relationships in the series. For better or worse, the show’s story hinges on the love they once shared, and I can’t help but admire the writers for this bold departure from the novel.

It’s clear from the marketing for Season 2 that these two aren’t going anywhere, and Rhaenicent fans can thank writers Sara Hess and Ryan Condal for that. The disintegration of their friendship leaves a lot of “what if” questions lurking, and in a kinder world, maybe the two could actually be together. For now, we at least have this reunion between the two women, and I have a feeling it won’t be the last time we see them on screen together.