There’s “an element of queerness” to the Rhaenyra-Alicent relationship


House of the Dragon is HBO’s follow-up to Game of Thrones. There are plenty of similarities — it’s about a group of ambitious people fighting for the Iron Throne — but plenty of differences as well. It’s set over 100 years before Game of Thrones, for one thing, so there’s a whole new cast of characters.

Behind the camera, producers were careful to get more women involved in high-level positions, since there was a paucity of that on Game of Thrones. Across all eight seasons of that show, women wrote a total of three episodes and directed four. In the first season of House of the Dragon alone, women wrote four episodes and directed four.

“The first story George R.R. Martin published from ‘The Dance of the Dragons’ was an excerpt from ‘Fire & Blood’ called ‘The Princess and the Queen,’” showrunner Ryan Condal told Variety. “ This story was always a female-centric one, so it was important to me to have multiple female voices on the creative team.”

Like any great actor, a great writer should be able to put themselves in the shoes of any character and tell their story, but every artist is limited by their own experience — myself included. I know I don’t have all the answers, and I knew that my writing would be improved by the presence of great female storytellers so that we could shape ‘House of the Dragon’ together. I’m incredibly proud of the result: What this team has built together has resonated with audiences and has done so in a way that is complex and nuanced. It is a true feminist story that explores the strengths and shortcomings — warts and all — of the two women at the center of it.

Showrunner calls House of the Dragon “a true feminist story”

The two most important women in the story are Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower, played as young women by Milly Alcock and Emily Carey and as adults by Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke. Early in their relationship, a lot of fans saw romantic undertones to their relationship, something that producer Sara Hess also sees. “There’s an element of queerness to it,” she said. “Whether you see it that way or as just the unbelievably passionate friendships that women have with each other at that age. I think understanding that element of it sort of informs the entire rest of their relationship… Even though they’re driven apart by all these societal, systemic elements and pressures and happenings, at the core of it, they knew each other as children, and they loved each other and that doesn’t go away.”

Olivia has told me she believes — and this is her headcanon — that they at some point kissed or made out or had some kind of physical interaction that Alicent’s mother found out about and forbade. And that was Olivia’s head story, ‘Oh, I can’t do that. That’s not right.’ And that’s the background for her in their relationship going forward. I would be 100% down with that.

Cooke said that she and D’Arcy” have “definitely” talked about Alicent and Rhaenyra being “each other’s first love,” although by this point “too much has happened and too much time has passed to probably even recognize those fledgling feelings.”

House of the Dragon cast talks sex and sexuality in Westeros

All that said, Condal and Hess weren’t “necessarily interested in ever defining” what the love between Alicent and Rhaenyra meant in terms of their sexuality. But there are plenty of sexual undercurrents flowing on House of the Dragon. “I can definitely understand that it’s hot watching complex female characters who have agency and who are trying to navigate the world and understand themselves. Like, that is hot,” D’Arcy said. “And is very different from, I suppose, more two-dimensional portrayals of female sexuality.”

Cooke weighed in on the show’s sexuality, as well: “I guess what’s alluring, and quite scintillating, is that they all live in quite close proximity to each other,” she said. “Stealing these loaded looks with someone that you fancy and that’s forbidden, that’s hot. It’s all hot.”

The show also tried to make room for conversations between female characters, like when Rhaenyra or Alicent talk to the older Rhaenys Targaryen. “In those moments, there’s a shared understanding of what it’s like to be women. Even when you’re antagonistic toward each other, we both understand what it’s like to be us. Therefore, we can have conversations that are very different than we would have with a man,” Hess said.

Cooke picked up on that thread, talking about the scene in Episode 8 when Alicent speaks to a serving girl named Dyana whom her son had just raped. “There’s an embedded empathy when you have a scene with another woman,” Cooke said. “With Alicent and Dyana the servant girl, Alicent being, ‘I know, I know, I know what you feel like. I’ve been that.’ There’s a time when Alicent was having sex with Viserys against her will – martial rape, she’s 14, I don’t know what you’d call it in Westeros – but it’s this umbilical cord of understanding between all these women.”

Having said all this, obviously House of the Dragon also has plenty of male characters. Hess said that the goal was to make “every character on our show equally flawed and nuanced and interesting and virtuous and fucked up at the same time and to imbue our women with just as much contradictory flawed humanity as possible.”

We’ll see what the whole lot get up to when House of the Dragon returns for a second season in 2024.

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