Alicent Olivia Cooke and Rhaenyra Emma D'Arcy

Emma D’Arcy, Olivia Cooke Discuss ‘Erotic Energy’ Between Rhaenyra and Alicent on ‘House of the Dragon’

Everyone ships it a little bit.

HBO’s House of the Dragon is the fantasy soap opera we have all been waiting for. It’s got political intrigue, dragons, and heaps of family drama. One of the core dynamics of suspense and drama lies between Queen Alicent Hightower and Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen. The former best friends turned into bitter rivals before trying to find common ground again.

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The two powerful women have a charged chemistry that began when the characters were young. As teenagers, Alicent (Emily Carey) and Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) were very close friends. The younger actresses said they wanted romantic subtext present in their interactions. During several scenes, the characters seemed in love rather than just BFFs. But when Alicent married King Viserys, Rhaenyra’s father, their relationship took a hit. Then, another rupture occurred when Alicent felt lied to and betrayed by Rhaenyra.

Now that the two are all grown up, and played by different actors, does the romantic subtext remain? In an interview with the New York Times, Olivia Cooke and Emma D’Arcy addressed the erotic energy between their characters.

Alicent the Repressed

Obviously, there is a long and complicated history between Alicent and Rhaenyra. When Alicent married the king, her girlhood was over. She became a wife and was expected to bear the king more heirs. Alicent put duty to her husband and realm before any kind of duty for herself. All of her feelings were packed down deep. For her, all that mattered was taking care of her husband and their growing brood of children, even if the path was something she never wanted.

We can see a kind of resentment growing towards Rhaenyra, who is much freer to follow her heart (though not as free as a man). Whether bad or good, there is still a pull between the characters. Olivia Cooke (adult Alicent) described her character as not being self-aware enough to “know what’s propelling her to reach out to Rhaenyra again.” As Cooke also pointed out, Alicent may not know what her own feelings are from years of repression. She said, “sexuality and lust are probably a prehistoric, sedimentary layer by now.”

Rhaenyra the Hurt

Unlike Alicent, Rhaenyra has had several fulfilling intimate relationships. Rhaenyra and Harwin Stong (the biological father of her three oldest children) were attracted to and cared for each other. And then there is the whole problematic (but explosive and compelling) relationship Rhaenyra has with her husband/uncle, Daemon Targaryen.

However fulfilled she is by her husband and ever-growing brood of children, there is still a part of Rhaenyra that seems to miss Alicent. Emma D’Arcy (who plays the adult Rhaenyra) admitted “that sort of erotic energy is very present in their early relationship.” But over the years, Alicent hurt Rhaenyra many times. D’Arcy added, “The hurt and pain is so dominant that I don’t know if there is space, at this point, for a conscious interaction with sexual lust, but she definitely yearns for the old physical intimacy that they shared.”

With both women pining for each other, it makes me wonder if things could have been different in Westeros. Maybe if Alicent and Rhaenyra had been allowed to explore their feelings instead of falling in line with the patriarchal demands of their station, they could have avoided the whole Dance of Dragons mess. They could have flown off into the sunset on dragonback, just like Rhaenyra promised Alicent when they were young.

(featured image: HBO)

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.