Ser Criston Cole stands in his armor in "House of the Dragon"

The Reason Behind Criston’s Hate for Rhaenyra Is Both Complex and Incredibly Simple

It’s nothing more or less than human nature.

The first episode of the second season of House of the Dragon reintroduced us to all the characters we had left behind in the season one finale, including Ser Criston Cole.

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Played by Fabien Frankel, Criston is a knight who has ascended to the prestigious rank of Lord Commander of the Kingsguard under King Aegon II, making him a firm supporter of the Greens.

In fact, he’s known as the sworn shield of Dowager Queen Alicent Hightower—a relationship that this first episode of season 2 revealed to also be a sexual one, but more on that later. And yet when Criston Cole was first introduced he became the personal protector of the then Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, so let’s see what exactly brought them to the point they are now.

Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen holding court at the seat of House Baratheon, the castle of Storm's End
He even accompanied the young Princess on her tour of the Seven Kingdoms meant to find her a suitable husband (HBO)

So why does Criston hate Rhaenyra?

Criston’s hate for Rhaenyra is actually the result of a whole jumble of complex feelings that stem from two main issues—both revolving around their sexual encounter back in season one after Rhaenyra returns from her escapade through King’s Landing with Daemon.

On the one hand, there’s the fact that Criston broke the Kingsguard oath, which requires the members of the most elite group of knights in the Seven Kingdoms to remain celibate much in the same ways that the brothers of the Night’s Watch are expected to. It’s also important to notice that no one in Criston’s noble House—who were minor lords, bannermen to the Baratheons—had ever climbed that high, so being a member of the Kingsguard was definitely a point of pride for him.

While it was undoubtedly Rhaenyra who initiated their sexual encounter was undoubtedly and there are definitely some power dynamics to take into consideration, Criston ultimately has no one to blame but himself for not following his oath. The guilt that he feels is one of the many elements that feed his hatred for Rhaenyra.

Milly Alcock and Fabien Frankel as a young Rhaenyra Targaryen and Criston Cole in the first season of House of the Dragon
Then again it’s also important to notice that the power scales aren’t exactly balanced with Rhaenyra being of a much higher social standing than Criston and Criston being Dornish, something that carries a lot of stigma in Westeros (HBO)

Then there’s the fact that the Princess refused his proposal to run away to Essos together, where they could get married and live as simple people with no big names, legacies, or duties to weigh them down. A proposal that was pretty foolish to begin with—as if  Viserys wouldn’t have searched far and wide for his daughter, as if Rhaenyra would want to leave her dragon and all the people she knew and loved behind, and as if she had ever given any signs that she did not greatly enjoy the privileges that her rank granted her. It was obvious that she was going to refuse, and I’m convinced that deep down Criston knew it too.

But this secret marriage would have “repaired” his broken oath somehow, and so Rhaenyra denying it is putting the final nail in the coffin of Criston’s knightly honor. And then there’s the humiliation that comes from being refused to consider, another element that definitely comes into play when it comes to how present-day Criston feels about Rhaenyra.

We see all these feelings first bubble to the surface when Criston kills Sir Joffrey at Rhaenyra’s wedding celebrations. Joffrey light-heartedly mocks Criston, revealing he has realized his affair with the Princess and so unearthing all that shame and guilt that Criston has clearly not worked through. And all that happens at the ceremony that in Criston’s mind forever prevents Rhaenyra from becoming his lawful wife. 

A picture of Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower in Episode 8 of House of the Dragon

That’s when Queen Alicent—who has also supposedly turned completely away from Rhaenyra, except that she remains obsessed with her in what is hands down one of the most interesting relationships in the show—stops him from taking his life and brings him into her direct service, where their complicated feelings for the Princess of Dragonstone can feed off of each other and grow and fester.

That’s also the reason for their hypocrisy, I think—they have to barricade themselves behind what they perceive to be righteous contempt since the scale of their unresolved feelings for Rhaenyra is so massive that it would topple them in the blink of an eye.

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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.