A dragon from 'House of the Dragon' opposite Gayle Rankin in 'Kindred'

What ‘House of the Dragon’s Latest Casting Means for Season 2

With the showrunners of HBO’s House of the Dragon announcing they’ve cast Gayle Rankin as Alys Rivers for season 2, fans of the show who haven’t pored through George R.R. Martin’s histories of Westeros naturally have some questions about the character. Namely: Who is Alys Rivers? What part does she play in the war to come? And how important is she to the end result of the conflict between the Blacks and the Greens?

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Here’s everything you need to know about Alys Rivers and what Gayle Rankin’s casting means for House of the Dragon season 2.

Who is Alys Rivers in House of the Dragon?

In Fire & Blood, Martin’s novel about the history of the Targaryen family, Rivers is described by all three fictional sources (Septon Eustace, Grand Maester Munkun, and the Fool Mushroom) as the bastard daughter of a member of House Strong. According to Munkun and Eustace, her father was Ser Lyonel Strong, but Mushroom claimed that she was significantly older—possibly even a wet nurse to Ser Lyonel himself—and bathed in the blood of maidens in order to stay young. Eustace and Munkun dismissed this as nonsense, but did acknowledge that Alys seemed much younger than she should have, being past 40 when the Dance of the Dragons began, yet still appearing as a young woman when Prince Aemond claimed her. Despite her uncanny youth, Munkun also largely discarded Alys’s reputation as the “witch queen,” dismissively describing her instead as a serving wench with an interest in potions. Eustace, however, acknowledged Alys’s status as a woods witch, even if he didn’t believe the more outlandish statements made about her.

Afraid that they would fall victim to the same fate as earlier lords of Harrenhal, who were burned alive by dragonfire in their keep, Ser Simon Strong surrendered to Daemon and the Blacks early on in the war, and was then taken hostage along with several other members of his family. Concerned about the loss of the strategically important Harrenhal, the Greens marched to retake it, and were able to do so without resistance—only to find that the Blacks had abandoned it. Meanwhile, their absence from the much more important King’s Landing during this time allowed the Blacks to snatch it away from the Greens, granting them a greater, much more significant victory. Prince Aemond Targaryen decided to have the entire Strong household killed for the part their initial surrender played in the loss of King’s Landing.

However, when it came to Alys Rivers, rather than slaying her with her kin, Aemond decided to take her for himself, making her his mistress.

What role does Alys Rivers play in the Targaryens’ history?

It’s unclear if Alys was eager to take on the position or simply made the best of it, but she soon made herself indispensable to Aemond, who not only came to love but also trust her, and her prophetic advice, completely. Alys was even able to reign in his temper and talk him down from some of his dramatic acts of violence. Mushroom accused her of using love potions to keep Aemond’s attention, as well as to lure in and control several other men of the Greens’ camp, though Eustace refuted this, putting Alys’s influence down to the Greens’ belief in her wisdom and powers (insulting them, and her, in the process).

Alys claimed to see visions in everything from cookfires to clouds and bodies of water, and Aemond stated it was these visions that showed him where to find his uncle, Prince Daemon, when he sought him out for what became the final conflict between the two: the Battle Above the Gods Eye (a lake by Harrenhal where the last of the Children of the Forest were said to live). Aemond seemed absolutely convinced of the inevitability of his victory beforehand, even bringing the pregnant Alys with him on dragonback so she could watch from the top of Harrenhal’s Kingspyre Tower. Instead, she saw both princes plummet to their deaths.

Whether Alys also knew the outcome of this battle and purposely sent Aemond to his death as part of her long-term plan is unknown. However, she appears to have remained at Harrenhal afterwards and, years later, set herself up as witch queen of the place—as well as the regent for her son, a boy she claimed was Aemond’s trueborn heir and therefore the rightful king of Westeros. Alys’s claim on behalf of her son was made on the grounds that Aemond had married her in secret shortly before his death at the Gods Eye—a claim that could never be fully refuted precisely because the prince was dead and unable to say otherwise.

A cunning woman, despite Septon Eustace’s opinion to the contrary (“a simple minded slattern,” he remarked), Alys Rivers was a highly intelligent manipulator and, above all else, a dogged survivor. It will be fascinating to watch the direction House of the Dragon season 2 takes with her character, and how they depict her relationship with Aemond and overall position with the Greens. Whether the series draws on Mushroom, Eustace, or Munkun’s depiction of Alys (or something else entirely), remains to be seen, but she’s sure to be one of the more interesting characters introduced in season 2.

(featured image: HBO / FX)


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Author
Siobhan Ball
Siobhan Ball (she/her) is a contributing writer covering news, queer stuff, politics and Star Wars. A former historian and archivist, she made her first forays into journalism by writing a number of queer history articles c. 2016 and things spiralled from there. When she's not working she's still writing, with several novels and a book on Irish myth on the go, as well as developing her skills as a jeweller.