Warning: Spoilers ahead for “House of the Dragon” season one, episode nine “The Green Council.”
HBO’s TV adaptation of “Fire and Blood” has made some changes to the story of House Targaryen’s war.
When Rhaenys killed a bunch of people in the dragonpit, there was solid strategy behind the bold move.
At the end of “House of the Dragon” episode nine, which aired Sunday, Rhaenys shocked everyone by bursting through the floor of the dragonpit on the back of Meleys (her dragon). Despite killing hundreds of random King’s Landing citizens who were herded in there without choice, Rhaenys chose not to kill the newly crowned King Aegon II and virtually every Hightower supporter with any power.
Rhaenys could have ended the war before it started, or so some have interpreted that scene.
But there’s a layer of strategy at play here that might not be clear yet if you don’t know the context of “Fire and Blood,” the book upon which the series is based. This entire Rhaenys sequence was created for the show’s more omniscient telling of events in the fictional history of House Targaryen.
‘Fire and Blood’ is giving more characterization and nuance to the aftermath of Viserys’ death
In George RR Martin’s “Fire and Blood,” the story readers are told comes from various sources of either biased or unreliable witnesses. “House of the Dragon” is presenting a new, more nuanced series of events and choices that will ultimately lead to tragedy. Anyone who has seen “Game of Thrones” knows that House Targaryen began declining after their dragons died out – that is the whole magic and awe of Daenerys Targaryen’s accomplishment of hatching not one but three dragons and reviving the power of House Targaryen in the earlier HBO series.
So, what does this all have to do with Rhaenys?
Throughout “The Green Council” episode, both Otto Hightower and Queen Alicent are vying for control of the situation. Otto wants Rhaenyra, Daemon, and all their children killed immediately – before the people of King’s Landing even know that King Viserys is dead.
Alicent wants to send terms to Rhaenyra and crown Aegon in the meantime as fast as possible (wrongly believing that was Viserys’ dying wish), and hoping for a truce between their families without bloodshed.
Both of these are pretty ambitious plans, given the defenses Rhaenyra and Daemon have at Dragonstone and the bonus of Rhaenyra’s rightful claim to the Iron Throne by public decree of the late King.
Rhaenys is the only person who knows what is going on and can relay the true order of events to Rhaenyra and Daemon and their children (who are also meant to be in the true line of succession).
Rhaenys was imprisoned in the Red Keep while Otto had highborns like Lord Caswell executed for trying to send word to Rhaenyra that her father had died. Rhaenys’ life di lei was absolutely in danger, should she fail to bend the knee to Aegon. So she needed an out – and found it with her dragon di lei.
But guess who knows none of this? The actual people who live in the Seven Kingdoms
Very few people knew Viserys had died in the first full day after he took his final breath.
And as we’ve seen in conversations over all the time jumps in earlier episodes, the lords and ladies of the court have either stayed loyal to the oath they swore to Viserys nearly 21 years ago, or have decided that of course a son should inherit the throne over a daughter because male rulers are all they’ve ever known.
The people of the Seven Kingdoms have no reason to doubt the account from the Hand of the King himself that Viserys changed his mind and wanted Aegon to rule instead of Rhaenyra.
Rhaenys is the one who brings Aegon’s crowning into doubt – reminding the people how dragons are the real power. The creatures are weapons capable of mass murder at a whim, and when bonded with a Targaryen, the dragons will serve their commands.
By crashing into the dragonpit like that, and then sparing the lives of the newly ascended king and his family, Rhaenys brought the story of the family’s divide into public view. In her own way, Rhaenys was setting the tone for the people of the Seven Kingdoms: Get in line with the rightful Queen Rhaenyra, or suffer the fate of our dragons.
But Rhaenys also makes the strategic choice to not kill the freshly crowned King Aegon II or Alicent and Helaena and the other members of her own family by blood and marriage.
Rhaenys doesn’t wants the public story to be “Rhaenys is a kinslayer and Rhaenyra just wanted power at any cost.” Rhaenys wants to display her power di lei, give Alicent one more shot at doing the right thing, and then get the heck out of King’s Landing safely.
How passages in ‘Fire and Blood’ also give context to the strategy around Aegon’s coronation at the dragonpit
We know that public perception is something that factors into wars and political strategy. In “Fire and Blood,” Martin tells us that “riders went forth on pale horses to spread the word to the people of King’s Landing, crying ‘King Viserys is dead, long live King Aegon'” once the Hightowers decided it was time to make Viserys’ death public.
“Hearing the cries, Munkun writes, some wept whilst others cheered,” the book continues. “But most of the smallfolk stared in silence, confused and wary, and now and again a voice cried out, ‘Long live our queen.'”
Martin also says in this fictional history book that the dragonpit seated 80,000 people (about four times as many as in the real Madison Square Garden in New York City), and that the Hightowers thought the structure would protect them from outside “traitors.”
“The pit’s thick walls, strong roof, and towering bronze doors made it defensible, should traitors attempt to disrupt the ceremony,” the book says.
“House of the Dragon” pokes a big hole into this logic with the shocking scene of Rhaenys bursting out of the floor, putting the Greens on their back feet and giving another win to Team Rhaenyra.
The episode also goes out of its way to show us that Aegon is a disastrous candidate for the job of King. He’s more interested in watching children fight to the death and siring bastards and getting drunk than anything to do with ruling.
His opponent, and the actual person who Viserys wanted crowned, is Rhaenyra – a traditional Targaryen queen who served in Small Council meetings from a young age and was appointed heir at 14 years old, giving her more than 20 years to prepare for ruling.
Rhaenyra has done plenty to turn public opinion against her, including siring bastards in a much more public way than Aegon and passing them off as trueborn (with the consent of her whole immediate family and husband). She’s also rumored to have murdered her husband di lei in order to marry her uncle in the tradition of incest that most believers of the Faith think is wrong.
So if Rhaenys had killed her own family members and shed the first royal blood in the fight over the throne, it would sway opinion against Team Rhaenyra. Kinslaying is a special kind of moral flagrance in Westeros.
And yes, so is murdering hundreds of innocent citizens of your city. This has been a major sticking point for many people who didn’t think the ending of the episode was satisfying.
Without going into spoilers from “Fire and Blood,” I’ll just say this: Don’t think that the deaths of all those people will go unremarked upon by the whole story’s ending.
The season one finale of “House of the Dragon” airs Sunday on HBO at 9 pm ET. For more, read our breakdown of the best details you might have missed in last week’s episode.
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