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Why Does Alicent Hate Rhaenyra So Much?

Queen Alicent Hightower, played by Olivia Cooke, brandishes the Valyrian steel dagger in House of the Dragon

HBO’s House of the Dragon Episode 7, “Driftmark,” started slow, with the tension-filled long looks that we grew to love in Game of Thrones. However, the tension wouldn’t stay unspoken for long; blood was drawn on numerous occasions in the latest episode, and one instance illuminated the motivations of one character more than ever before.

While some viewers have criticized the long time-jumps in House of the Dragon, being able to see central characters like Alicent Hightower and Rhaenyra Targaryen as teenagers has accomplished one thing: we can truly see how far apart they have grown.

Until this episode, the antipathy from Alicent towards Rhaenyra has seemed slightly confusing, at least to me. So Rhaenyra lied about sleeping with her uncle—in the world of Westeros, so what?

Rhaenyra has also ostensibly tried to heal the rift, offering a marriage pact and a dragon egg in Episode 6. Now though, when Alicent revealed herself in a moment of pure desperation, her words let slip why she has so much anger towards Rhaenyra in particular.

Olivia Cooke and Ty Tennant in House of the Dragon (2022)

Why does Alicent hate Rhaenyra in ‘House of the Dragon’?

‘Driftmark’ saw Alicent lose her queenly cool and launch herself at Rhaenyra with Aegon the Conqueror’s dagger. “What have I done, but what was expected of me?” she sobbed. “Forever upholding the kingdom, the family, the law, while you flout it all to do as you please.

“Where is duty? Where is honor? Where is sacrifice? It’s trampled under your pretty foot again.”

It’s these three questions that, to me, reveal exactly why Alicent is so angry. Since childhood, she has been used by her father for his own political gain. The Hightowers are closely allied with the Faith, and Alicent has been raised to believe that women’s duty is to be subservient and to bear children.

Where Alicent did what she perceived to be her duty, sacrificing her childhood, her body, and much of her freedom to serve her family, her husband, and the kingdom, her mirror image in Rhaenyra has, from her perspective, flouted these rules.

If Rhaenyra can have children with whoever she likes, ignore the traditional laws of inheritance, and act in a way that is not thought to be appropriate for women, then why has Alicent sacrificed so much? Looking at Rhaenyra is a constant reminder for her that her worldview might be wrong.

Speaking on the official House of the Dragon podcast, Olivia Cooke, who portrays the adult Alicent, said that the queen feels “backed into a corner for so long.”

“So when it’s so obvious that Viserys is going to choose Rhaenyra and throws the threat of that being treason for what I am saying or what my boys have said, I think that’s just when she just breaks,” Cooke explains. “It’s just piled on top of her for so long that I don’t even think she realizes she’s grabbed the knife and is chasing toward Rhaenyra until she slices. It’s just pure id at that point and adrenaline”

Ultimately, Alicent’s anger doesn’t stem from bad will towards Rhaenyra. It truly comes from anger at the life she’s been forced into, at the role her father pushed onto her, and from the world that has pushed these two women apart.

(featured image: HBO)

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