How House of the Dragon Can Redeem Alicent Hightower in Season 2

Because the thing is, House of the Dragon clearly wants viewers to see Alicent as Rhaenyra’s equal, a cunning strategist and bold decision-maker willing to make hard choices for the advancement of her family. They just haven’t done the work to get her there yet. Because the show skips over so many of the moments that might have given us a clearer insight into who Alicent is or what she wants, we know relatively little about her as a person, especially when compared to her ex-BFF. 

The narrative jumps ahead just as she’s set to wed Viserys (Paddy Considine), which means we never see the fallout from the announcement of that union or how she feels about becoming queen. The story skips ahead again shortly thereafter, speeding through a decade of life that included the birth of her children, the initial decline of her husband, and the apparent birth of the festering resentment she feels toward the stepdaughter who is allowed repeatedly to break the same rules that have bound her all her life. How have her feelings changed over this time? How does she feel about essentially ruling in her husband’s stead? Where has her sudden interest in religion come from? That’s the stuff viewers deserve to see onscreen. 

Season 2 could fix so many of the show’s issues simply by giving Alicent a consistent point of view and a real voice within the story, rather than having her actions and motivations default to whatever the story needs them to be at any given moment. Let us see her play the game of thrones on her own terms, rather than simply reacting to the actions of her father and the other council members.

If she thinks her son’s a sociopathic rapist, let’s see her work more aggressively to influence him or encourage him to cede some of his duties to her. If we have to watch her indulge Larys’ foot fetish onscreen, at least show her cagily using the information he provides to her own advantage. And let’s stop pretending she believes her own bullshit about Viserys’ poppy-addled final words confirming Aegon’s rule is somehow cosmically destined. She wanted her son on the throne, so she helped him take it. Let her unapologetically claim her power and her choices, the same way Rhaenyra has

Because on paper Alicent is one of House of the Dragon’s most interesting and compelling figures. A non-royal with little political training, she’s a woman who’s learned to survive and thrive in a world that’s shaped largely by and for men. Without a dragon or a title of her own, she’s had to learn to wield power and influence in more subtle and indirect ways than women like Rhanerya or even Rhaenys (Eve Best). Her first true moment of triumph—appearing at her husband’s court blazing in Hightower green—comes because she uses the symbolism inherent in things like clothing and heraldry to her advantage. 

Her destabilization of Rhaenyra’s claim is possible only because she understands that the populace can be swayed by rumors and gossip as easily as by the point of a sword. She gathers secrets and reads people better than (almost) anyone in King’s Landing, playing on the emotions of both those who’ve been wronged by Rhaenerya and Daemon (Matt Smith) and those who desire a more traditional style of rulership. She leans into the imagery of a devout wife when it suits her, and embraces a specifically performative style of religion. She’s not just a supporting player in the game of thrones that’s happening here, she’s running it. Or at least she should be.

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