Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower, played by Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke, in their confrontation in season 1 of House of the Dragon. Max
(HBO)

Characters Don’t Have To Be Bastions of Morality To Be Interesting!

And yes, this is indeed about the dragon show.

If there’s one thing being in fandom for almost two decades has taught me, it’s that staying out of drama is always the best decision you could possibly make. Do your own thing, have your own headcanons, and live a very serene fandom life.

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And that doesn’t just mean not engaging in endless online discussions, but also not reading them whenever they end up on your feed. For the most part, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing in pretty much every fandom I’ve been in. Except for anything A Song of Ice and Fire related—and especially, especially when it comes to House of the Dragon. I swear that show gives me the same brainrot that the Targaryens have been carrying down their genes since the Doom of Valyria

Vhagar sleeps at Driftmark before being claimed by Aemond Targaryen on House of the Dragon
Why fight when we could instead enjoy all these amazing dragons? (HBO)

So here I am, ready to once more give my two cents on the latest debate that has made its rounds across the House of the Dragon fandom—but certainly not the last, considering there are still two months to go before the show’s second season official release and everything could happen until then. And then there will be the actual season to keep us all occupied for another two months. 

Here’s a rundown of what happened. During a promotional video, Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke—who very much are the heart of the show, as testified by their mind-blowing new photoshoot for Entertainment Weekly—sat down to watch their most iconic season 1 scenes as Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower.

Of course, one of those scenes is the confrontation that happens between Rhaenyra and Alicent at Driftmark, after the fight between their children that leads to Aemond losing his eye. We all know how it ends. Alicent, ignored by her husband even when her son’s getting sown back up by a maester, draws Viserys’s Valyrian dagger and launches herself at Rhaenyra. It’s a point of no return for both of them, a terrible crack in their already deteriorating relationship—even though they both still cling to it even in season 2, Alicent especially, if those trailers are anything to go by.

When speaking about their characters’ actions, D’Arcy makes a very simple yet poignant comment: “Because [Rhaenyra] just lies!” And that was more than enough to set the fandom off.

I’ve read several tweets saying that what D’Arcy is doing is senselessly criticizing the character and just bashing on Rhaenyra to maybe shine a better light on Alicent, in this endless and—let me say—nonsense trial to try and find out if the HotD production team favors Team Black or Team Green. 

But D’Arcy simply stated a fact. Rhaenyra is a liar who knows how to play a situation to her own advantage like pretty much everyone born into aristocracy or royalty in the Seven Kingdoms. We know that the game of thrones only has two outcomes, so how could we expect the woman who stands to inherit the Iron Throne not to be a player? Of course she lies, as does Daemon, as does Otto, as does Alicent, as did every single politically savvy character we ever saw in Game of Thrones.

No character in House of the Dragon can claim moral superiority over the others—no one is more “deserving” of the throne because they’re morally better than the other party. We can argue in-universe succession rulers, of course—even though they often spiral down into unironic bloodline discourse which would be hilarious if people weren’t receiving very real insults over it—but ASOIAF is at its core a critique of feudal monarchy and blood purity, so not a single one of these characters who very much engages in it can be elected as a shiny example of “goodness” over the others.

But the point isn’t even that you shouldn’t expect morality lessons from a show about an incestuous family of absolute rulers that wield their world’s equivalent of nuclear weapons; it’s that it shouldn’t matter to your enjoyment of the story and your engagement in the characters.

The HotD cast of characters are all in various shades of despicable, and that’s what makes them interesting. That’s what makes them fascinating, what moves the story forward, and also, personally, what keeps me glued to my screen. They’re filled with contradictions, wielding the power the patriarchal society of Westeros gives them while also being crushed by it, chasing the throne while also trying to follow their own desires, all eventually destroying their whole family in the process. 

As the French philosopher Simone Weil said, “Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.” House of the Dragon is a story of imaginary evil, and that’s what makes it so addicting.

So instead of trying to justify every single action our favorite character has taken in an effort to put them on a pedestal of morality, we should just enjoy them being deranged and pathetic and vengeful and murderous—especially when it comes to female characters, because as D’Arcy themselves said in the EW interview, we should “support women’s rights and women’s wrongs.” This is, after all, fiction—it’s simply entertainment, and it doesn’t exactly reflect someone’s real-life values and personality.


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Author
Benedetta Geddo
Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.