The loss of a friendship hurts more than heartbreak, and this is one of the most unfairly underrated facts of life. Friends are often called the family we choose, and believe it or not, it is the choice that makes the emotional investment of friendships greater than the rest. And that is exactly what happened with Alicent Hightower and Rhaenyra Targaryen.
Rhaenyra had never had anyone who completely understood her. Her mother, Aemma, may or may not have believed in the patriarchal norms of the world she lived in, but that is what she clearly wanted her daughter to follow, at least due to the belief that she had no other option. Her father never gave her any attention because she was not his son. Neither did she have any siblings, whom she could confide in. And a young girl with a fire in her heart to carve out an identity for herself does not find many true friends. When the series started, Rhaenyra was about 14–15 years old. Alicent, who was 2-3 years older than her, was her only friend. She was the one who Rhaenyra confided in with her innermost thoughts. She was the person with whom Rhaenyra dreamt of spending her entire life with, eating cake and enjoying life. In a world where everyone told Rhaenyra that her greatest duty was marriage and childbirth, Alicent used to get cross with her for not taking her history lessons seriously, indicating that she saw her best friend as a person outside of the path everyone so eagerly charted out for her.
Rhaenyra And Alicent’s Friendship
Even before Rhaenyra was named the heir to the Seven Kingdoms, all she wanted was the love and acknowledgment of her father, not just as his daughter but as an individual. She got that from her mother, but it was tinged with fear. When someone’s strength is tested too much, it can cause one to be exhausted from the world in a way that is heartbreaking. Aemma was aware of it; all women are aware of it, and that is the reason that though they applaud strong women, they know the price of that strength.
Rhaenyra loved her mother, but she was too young to understand this perspective. What she wanted, what any teenager at that age wants, is complete acceptance of who they are, and she got it from Alicent. She was her safe space, the one she could count on to understand her and have her back, always. While the friendship did not exist in the books, in the series, it went far enough to gain a homoerotic undercurrent. We would like to know if that was intentional, or just something the makers greenlit for the heck of it. We remember speculating that Alicent Hightower reminded us of Margaery Tyrell from “Game of Thrones,” in the way that this is a woman who hides her quest for power under the garb of “helpless and gentle femininity.” It is an unfortunate fact that in a world that rewards women for their “comely helplessness” while punishing and standing against any hint of their strength, women often have to adapt to that behavior as a survival tactic.
It is clear that Alicent and Rhaenyra fall on different ends of this spectrum. Alicent wants power, and she knows how to use the rules to get it. She was not forced by her father to marry the King. It might look like she was just a participant in her father’s plans, but we detect enthusiasm and willingness. In her interactions with Rhaenyra before her marriage, Alicent encouraged her friend to not neglect her lessons, because it was one tiny way of holding onto any power the princess might have. And despite her affection for her best friend, Rhaenyra’s station meant Alicent’s proximity to the privileges that come with power. Marrying Viserys made her the most powerful woman in the Seven Kingdoms. Alicent wanted that. Regrettably, she is the one who understands Rhaenyra but doesn’t care for her beyond what she wants for herself.
Their Relationship After Alicent’s Marriage
Episode 3 of “House of the Dragon” is set 3 years after the events of the previous episode. Alicent has given birth to a son, and everybody has assumed that Rhaenyra will now be set aside in his favor. The relationship between the two women has fallen apart, mostly from Rhaenyra’s end. Alicent seems to want for them to still remain friends. She tries to tell her that there need not be such coldness between them and also takes a stand for her in front of Lady Redwyne when Rhaenyra is taunted about her uncle’s actions. But Rhaenyra doesn’t talk to her former best friend/stepmother, beyond the basic pleasantries. However, she still seems to care for her well-being, which is shown when she inquires with concern whether she should even travel for a hunt while she is pregnant again.
One might ask, why exactly is Rhaenyra so angry with Alicent? Is this how she was going to be if her father had married anybody else? The answer is no, because Rhaenyra wasn’t just angry; she was disappointed. Viserys married, not for the benefit of the kingdom, but because he had come to like and love Alicent. Rhaenyra understood that this had happened with Alicent’s consent. Because when the two girls were friends, even Rhaenyra knew what Alicent was. She recognized the fire for independence and power that quietly burned in her and respected her for it. She just never thought that it would burn her. The interests of whoever would be Viserys’s wife would always be in conflict with Rhaenyra, who finally found an identity of her own as the future queen of Westeros. And watching her friend willingly choose to be Viserys’s wife was a betrayal that Rhaenyra couldn’t forgive. Alicent would have sons, or she would always want one- the reason for this desire is to find an heir to the iron throne, which is a direct threat to Rhaenyra’s station. There was no hope of reconciliation. In the second episode, Rhaenyra talks to Alicent about how the council disregards her opinion and talks behind her back the moment she is out of the room. It turns out, that her best friend was no different. The princess was left alone in the world the moment she lost her best friend, and that is not something one can forgive.
Alicent herself is an interesting case study. She wants to keep the peace, but for her own agenda, to come across as the more sensible person. She supports Rhaenyra against the taunts of the ladies of the court, but schemes to have her overthrown as the heir to the throne. She walks a fine line between diplomacy and ruthlessness and does it well. For all her intelligence, if only she had had the sense to join hands with Rhaenyra, she would have been the first ‘hand’ of the queen when Rhaenyra would have taken the throne. But women have to be pitted against each other, and more often than not, these turn out to be the deadliest of all wars.
Alicent tells Viserys that he must let Rhaenyra think that she is the one who is choosing the person she wishes to be with, while he continues to pull the strings in the background. This is advice that reflects the true cunning that lies within Alicent. Viserys takes her advice and gives leave to his daughter to choose the person she wants to marry. Might he already have someone in mind, probably Laenor Velaryon, whom he plans to introduce to his daughter, albeit a little slyly? It is also entirely possible that Alicent has someone in mind for Rhaenyra, a marriage with whom would mean that the princess’s claim to the throne is further weakened. That remains to be seen. Alicent, however, is not completely without conscience. She believes in the validity of Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne, as she tells her father. She also seems to understand and respect Viserys’s conflicts. And she takes them into account for a brief second. But that remains a fleeting moment, and she is immediately back to laying the foundation for her son to be the King.
Something to note here is that both Alicent and Rhaenyra have spent their entire lives in court. They both understand the nature of power. But Alicent wants to play the game of thrones, while Rhaenyra just wants to find happiness, which she believes lies in the highest seat of power in Westeros, as that is what has given her father’s love and attention, something she has been craving since her birth. Alicent was seemingly the more obedient one of the two. Despite all her respect for her husband, she was visibly uncomfortable when her father initially told her to spend time with the King after the death of his wife. Maybe her ambition had not taken into account a courtship with the King, but that hadn’t stopped her from taking on the challenge. She was not just following her father’s orders; she was carving out her future. She probably started out a little unsure, but she never wavered.
Rhaenyra, on the other hand, is a total contrarian. She doesn’t believe in following orders just because ‘this is the way of things.’ If she had any choice in the matter, she would be on the battlefield among knights and soldiers. What sets the girls apart is exactly what they have in common-neither are they following orders because it is one. They are doing so for their own visions and goals, except that it is just more apparent with Rhaenyra. Alicent’s true colors are yet to be revealed. For Rhaenyra, it is not power itself, but the idea of the love and acceptance that come with it that makes her hold on to her position as tightly as she is doing. Alicent, who has had the privilege of love, wants something else entirely, and she is well on her way to carving the path for that. It would have been a story of another kind, in a different league altogether, if both the women had held hands instead of standing against each other. But right now, we have to watch the intrigue and the covert politics that unfold when they stand against each other. Because that is why wars within families happen—because you start looking at yourself as individuals rather than as a unit, which is what every character seems to be doing. By all means, it is going to make for some great TV, and we are definitely hooked. We look forward to the upcoming plotline and how it is going to further affect the relationship between the two men.