Alicent Hightower had to navigate a lot of tricky situations in the final two episodes of House of the Dragon. She’d recently made up with her former best friend Rhaenyra Targaryen, but only after years grooming her own son Aegon to take the Iron Throne rather than allow Rhaenyra, who was the chosen heir of Alicent’s husband King Viserys Targaryen, to sit it.
When Viserys died, he kinda-sorta hinted to Alicent that he’d prefer Aegon to sit the Iron Throne rather than Rhaenyra; or at least, that’s how Alicent heard it. It’s an open question whether Alicent actually believes that Viserys set aside everything he’d ever said publicly about his heirship on his deathbed or if Alicent is just convincing herself that that’s what he means.
Olivia Cook, who played the adult version of Alicent Hightower, broke it down for Variety. “I think both of those answers can exist in the same breath,” she said.
Underneath the layers, there is probably a willful ignorance and a willfulness for her son, the actual Targaryen heir, to be on the throne. But also she’s just tenuously made amends with Rhaenyra. The relief in saying to Rhaenyra, “You will make a fine queen,” has done a lot in shedding boatloads of bitterness from the past and all the hang-ups about the legitimacy of her children’s lineage. But she has to honor her husband’s dying wish, doesn’t she? And that’s what she hears. If she does waver over the course of the episode, when she’s telling people what she heard her husband say, she can’t admit that, otherwise her legitimacy would be questioned.
Frankly, I wish the show had leaned a little more into the “willful ignorance” angle, cause to me it came off like Alicent was hanging her quest to crown Aegon entirely on a misinterpretation of Viserys’ garbled, drugged out final words. I don’t think that does justice to the complex person Alicent is, but whatever her exact reasons, it gets us to the same place.
Alicent thinks Aemond would make a better king that Aegon on House of the Dragon
Adding to Alicent’s trepidation is the fact that her eldest son Aegon, a drunken lout, doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to the throne…or possibly to anything. “I played Alicent as wishing it could be someone else other than her son on the Iron Throne,” Cooke said. “She doesn’t think Aegon is suitable whatsoever. She loves him, but she is simultaneously disgusted in him as a person, and does not think he holds the fundamental qualities to be a king at all.”
She probably thinks Aemond is more suited, but then again he’s a psychopath. And Helaena is in her own world, and so I don’t know if she thinks any of her children should be on the Iron Throne…In Episode 8, with the speeches at the end of the dinner where everyone is unified in Viserys’ imminent death, I think she really does believe that Rhaenyra would be a worthy queen.
So she has a mess on her hands.
Alicent didn’t realize how sending the page to Rhaenyra would be “an insult”
After Alicent throws in her lot with Aegon, she tries to smooth things over with Rhaenyra by sending her generous terms, along with a page torn from a book they both read when they were young besties. Again, the question arises: is this a genuine gesture or is it manipulation on Alicent’s part?
“I don’t think it was a manipulation at all,” Cooke said. “I really think she is trying to do whatever she can to smooth over the craters that are about to ensue. She wants as little bloodshed as possible. I do think that’s an olive branch, not manipulation whatsoever. But it’s misplaced, and it’s implemented by panic rather than straightforward thinking. I don’t think she would realize how much of an insult that would be.”
That’s interesting to hear, because I don’t think Rhaenyra took it as an insult. I was kind of surprised that Alicent kept the page all that time. “Alicent has very little to hold onto to remind herself of when she was a little girl, without too many pressures and all the duties she has,” Cooke said. “I can imagine Alicent being someone who has a little box where she can find comfort in little treasures of when she used to have a little bit more autonomy than she does now.”
Alicent is “no longer the little girl” that Otto Hightower can manipulate
As if her relationship with her children and former best friend wasn’t complicated enough, Alicent also has to navigate her strained relationship with her father Otto Hightower, who manipulated her freely as a child. Now that Alicent is older, she’s more willing to push back:
She is no longer the little girl that he can just pimp out. She is a worthy confidant, and an equal in this game of thrones. She’s become incredibly formidable. He is incredibly proud at what he thinks he’s created and molded because, of course, these narcissistic fathers have to take all the credit. He wouldn’t be too stupid to undermine the power that she can possess and the lengths she’d go to protect her children. Similarly, I think there is a wariness. Even though she knows her father loves her, I don’t think he would spare her if it came down to a choice between him or Alicent, and she knows that.
All 10 episodes of House of the Dragon are streaming now on HBO Max. The second season will probably be along in 2024.
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