Alicent Hightower might yet be the most interesting character in “House of the Dragon,” a classic case of the conflict between what one has been conditioned into and what one knows to be right. It was said somewhere that if you don’t chart out your own path in life, you will end up being a part of somebody else’s plans, and you will not necessarily like that. That’s what repeatedly happens with Alicent Hightower.
We know by now that she was cautious of Rhaenyra’s independent spirit while, at the same time, being appreciative of it, though she doesn’t express it as much. Alicent did not seek independence or purpose; she knew she was going to have a certain life and had never questioned it. Her conditioning about the role of a woman was set by society and her faith, and she wasn’t going to fight it for a long time to come. She was a good friend, and Rhaenyra mattered greatly to her. It was probably only with her that she was ever truly happy. But Alicent was also a good daughter.
The burden of being the “good daughter” meant that she always deferred to her father’s decisions. Whatever he said, she did not question it. When he asks her to visit the King wearing her own mother’s dress, she understands his intention but does not offer an opinion on it. We get a glimpse of how Otto Hightower views her when he asks her to wear his late wife’s dress. He may love her, but that doesn’t seem to be relevant to him. He sees a beautiful woman who he can manipulate easily according to his wishes. She is a pawn to be used, and he intends to not waste that objective. Alicent tells Rhaenys that her husband would have been happy as a country lord, reading his books and building his set and that he was not cut out to be a King. But the same holds true for her as well. Alicent would have been happy as the wife of a country lord who loved her and treated her as an equal, without the burden of politics hanging over them all the time. She herself was not cut out to be a queen. Obviously, she did not realize that as a child. When she was sent to the King, she must have believed that her father was doing this for her own good. It is also possible that she spun a fantasy in that young mind of hers. After all, she had believed her entire life that her purpose was to be led by others. She just found out quite late that she did not like the direction.
Alicent Hightower was not happy being married to Viserys. But instead of understanding the reasons she had gotten to where she was, she chose an easier target to take out her frustrations on. She still believed in the values of her faith and her father, but that had not given her happiness. And there was Rhaenyra, openly flaunting her privilege while disregarding both, just doing what she wanted while making her move to have Otto removed as the Hand of the King. In Alicent’s mind, that made her a sinner who did not deserve to be the heir. But things started to get muddled. Away from the influence of her father, Alicent started to see the grey side of things. She definitely did not like what she discovered, and that somehow turned her towards her faith that much more. Alicent Hightower was a believer in tradition and naming a woman as your heir broke that. It further frustrated her because her ex-best friend’s children were clearly not Targaryens. Rhaenyra had become a woman of questionable character in Alicent’s eyes which was all the more infuriating. She wanted things to change in the name of righteousness. But really, she was anxious that her children would be killed once Rhaenyra took the throne because if she had questionable character, she must be evil. And that is why she was so angry when Aemond lost his eye. Alicent saw it as an attack on her entire family and a sign of their fate to come. She was more angry for herself than for her son. But that was a moment of intense clarity for her. It was probably the first time that she recognized, as much as Rhaenyra and everyone else did, that her motivations were not entirely moral. It must have been difficult to come to terms with that after a lifetime of believing that you are a certain kind of person.
Cut to a few years later, Alicent Hightower recognizes that her son, Aegon, is not that great of a person either. He is a wastrel and a rapist, things which are still against her faith as well as the common good. He was the alternative to Rhaenyra, but he might be the worst of them all. Losing Driftmark was a great blow, but over time, Alicent had probably come to understand Rhaenyra, though not accept her. That is why, at the dinner table, she seemed to acknowledge Rhaenyra as the heir and the future Queen. But conditioning doesn’t let go of itself that easily, which made her misinterpret Viserys’ words without a second thought. It was, after all, what she had wanted for years. It did not matter that Aegon was unfit to be King; he was a man, and he would wear the crown. She would excuse his every action that she had judged Rhaenyra for because, for her, there was no other way to do things. Logic is damned; hypocrisy is the way to go.
In her conversation with Rhaenys, she has no qualms in admitting that she should have been the Queen. But she fails to apply the same thinking to Aegon and Rhaenyra. Also, when Rhaenys points out that she just wants a window to her prison instead of breaking it, it means that Alicent just wants the illusion of choice rather than an actual one. She is still walking the path set out for her by her father, her religion, and the world at large, even though she is not happy. Her actions right then just let her continue her delusion that she was in control of her life instead of actually taking charge. However, self-awareness was making space in her heart, however tiny it might be. She had come to see her father for what he was. But that did not change her mind too much. Her father and her faith wanted the same things but with different motives. She understood the true nature of the former, but the latter still had a strong hold on her, which her father knew. And that’s why he did not fight it too much when she told him that she would run the show from then on. Because he understood that it did not deviate from his plans too much. Their only point of contention was whether to kill Rhaenyra.
Let us say that Alicent doesn’t agree to it, then. But it doesn’t mean that a need will not arise for it later on. Otto must have known that his daughter was in cahoots with Larys Strong and was responsible for the death of Harwin Strong. He knew that she was not as morally upright as she liked to present herself. He also knew that she was aware of it, and he was skillful enough to know how to manipulate it. Alicent did not want to kill Rhaenyra because that was the right thing to do. But we doubt she would have been able to stick to that for long enough. For her, faith came above actual “right or wrong,” and she would bend her principles accordingly.
Otto Hightower had always made Alicent act according to his whims and fancies. He had made her do things that served his own interests. If we look back in time, Alicent wasn’t the kind of girl who could be called ambitious. She was somebody who obediently fulfilled her father’s commands, conscientiously prayed to the Faith of the Seven, and she liked spending time with her best friend, Rhaenyra. She didn’t like it one bit when her own father used to send her to Viserys’ chamber to “comfort” the mourning king. The hesitation and the helplessness were always evident on her face. It did not even occur to say no to him. Her tender age and conditioning did not let her see through the malicious intent of her father. And even when she did, she didn’t have the courage to speak up against him. We believe that things changed a little bit when Alicent got married to Viserys Targaryen. Though her father still exercised a lot of control over her, things had become a little different with the coming of another man into Alicent’s life. She was married to the King of the seven kingdoms and was no longer bound to listen to what her father said. If not undermining his authority, she could at least put her arguments in front of him. In a lot of situations, she had started making her own decisions. Viserys was not the kind of man who would oppress his own wife and not let her act according to her will. Alicent had started to take a stand for things, though her father was still in a position where he could create doubts in her mind. When Otto Hightower was removed from the position of the “Hand of the King,” he told Alicent that she would have to kill her best friend, Rhaenyra. For the first time, he saw defiance in the eyes of his daughter. Alicent was ready to take a stand for her friend. The timid Alicent had come a long way. She somewhat saw through the manipulative tactics of her father. She had realized that she had been used as a political pawn. But before that feeling could seep in properly, she revealed that Rhaenyra had lied to her and that she had been made to drink the moon tea. The rising rebellion inside her was once again crushed, and she felt that maybe her father was actually right all this while. Once again, Otto became the Hand of the King, and he started coercing Alicent to do and act as he wanted.
In the 9th episode of “House of the Dragon,” Alicent Hightower once again stood at loggerheads with her father. She realized that the small council was plotting to make Aegon the King behind her back. Later, she confronted her father. She told him that she was done being a political pawn. She told him that she was not going to kill Rhaenyra at any cost. But still, she didn’t even flinch before asking Larys Strong to kill Mysaria. We believe that she had been controlled and brainwashed by her father for so long that she had ultimately become what her father always wanted her to be. Alicent’s insecurity had made her more ruthless than ever. She fought with her father, accusing him of manipulating her, but she fell prey to her own delusions. She had developed a crooked sense of judgment. Her righteousness was molded to her delusions. She thought herself to be morally superior as compared to her father. But it was not so. She was just delusional about it. Her father knew who he was and had no problem with it. In fact, his awareness was his strength.
For Alicent Hightower, her lack of awareness was her greatest weakness. She had come close to breaking down when confronted with her reality when she rushed to stab Rhaenyra’s children after Aemond had lost an eye. Her delusions, her false sense of morality, was what was keeping her together. Otto knew it and used it well. He asks Larys Strong about the nights he spent with his daughter, meaning he was aware of it. Larys Strong lets him know that his time with the Queen could be used for Otto’s benefit, meaning that he is going to continue manipulating his daughter, one way or the other. This is one of the many examples of how he knew that he did not have to worry about her standing up to him. Whether she nods or not at his words, she will still take the path he wants her to take, if not for him, then for herself or her twisted sense of justice. Alicent is not the villain we make her out to be. She is not inherently evil, but she is a slave to never having formed an independent thought outside of what she has been taught, which is what led to her great downfall.