It’s a special kind of fun to dissect the dynamics of a love triangle, and “House of the Dragon” has given us one of the more interesting ones of recent times. With his reassuring words and supportive presence, Ser Criston Cole charmed us as much as he did Rhaenyra. Daemon is intriguing and brings that promise of excitement while, at the same time, assuring you that you can count on him. One needs Rhaenyra, and she needs the other, all in a mishmash of emotions that connect all three. However, there’s no sugar coating that in this battle of wills, Rhaenyra emerges the winner.
Let us start by taking a look at her relationship with Daemon. She has always had a soft spot for her uncle. The reason for it is probably that he was living the life she constantly dreamed of, wild and untamed. Rhaenyra, too, desired freedom above all else. She wanted to live a life on her own terms, and right in front of her was a man who was doing just that. Of course, she was fascinated by him. And he was probably the only man who did not treat her with kid gloves. Everyone in her life was obsessed with telling her how to live her life as a woman and, later, as the heir apparent. It was only Daemon who seemed to see through that and recognize the person underneath. Rhaenyra told everyone she knew that she did not want the traditional life, but she told only Daemon that it was because of the fate she had seen her mother suffer.
The gifts that Daemon bought for her from across the world were dear to Rhaenyra. In fact, she was wearing the necklace he brought her while she was out to choose a suitor for herself in “House of the Dragon” Episode 4. The necklace was not just a pretty ornament, but a source of comfort for Rhaenyra. Imagine nobody understanding you all your life. And there is a person out there who you feel just might give you what you have been craving all along-acceptance. Rhaenyra probably knew that it would never turn into a reality, but she was never ashamed of that thought, and neither did she fight it. Come to think of it, Rhaenyra had suitors coming for her hand from all over the Seven Kingdoms. All of them couldn’t have been old men and children. Yet she liked no one. And when it came to her uncle, she was not unaware of his desire for the throne. Yet she did not stop herself from being swept away by him. She felt something for him, beyond the politics and duties of the world. And he felt it too.
Daemon is a complicated man. He was known for his “good nature, yet, for some, the blackest of all villains.” He wanted the throne as he thought he was the most deserving one. Though he was married, he never bothered with his marital obligations or tried to hide how much he despised his wife. This was a trait he shared with his niece, who was not a diplomat either. He probably always saw Rhaenyra as a possible political pawn. But maybe he was also aware of his own affection? Let us not forget that when he took Rhaenyra to the brothel, he could have gone all the way with her. She wasn’t under the impression that he loved her, and she was aware of the consequences of her actions. He had her permission to do what he wanted, but he made a choice not to. He wanted her reputation to suffer for his ambition. But he could not break her heart, because he loved and respected her. And that’s why he left her.
When Daemon left Rhaenyra in the pleasure house, she probably understood the reason behind his actions. Or maybe she did not. But there is not much hope of reconciliation after you leave a woman, least of all a princess, half-clothed and vulnerable in a public place. Her pride and dignity were hurt, which drove her into the arms of Ser Criston Cole. Rhaenyra had always been fond of him. She recognized his capabilities and assigned him to be part of the Kings Guard against the advice of Otto Hightower. He had a gentle way with him and had mastered the subtle art of letting a woman be comfortable enough in front of him to speak her mind. We are not sure whether Rhaenyra loved him, but she certainly counted him amongst her friends. Ser Criston Cole, on the other hand, was probably in love with Rhaenyra. He did mention how he owed everything he had to her. And let’s remember that she was a beautiful woman who was unlike any he had ever seen. Maybe it wasn’t love, but there had to be a hint of attraction. That night, after being abandoned by Daemon, when she returns to her chambers, Rhaenyra is furious. However, when she opens the door to stop Criston from going to get someone, she has a rather impish look on her face. Something clicked in her brain in those few seconds. She probably realized that the best way to get back to Daemon was right outside her door. There had always been a certain dislike between the men, exacerbated by the fact that Daemon had been defeated in the jousting match by a common knight. Being together with Criston would be an apt way of showing Daemon that she did not need him. As for Criston, the princess’ advances were encouraging enough for him to act on what he had been feeling for such a long time.
In Episode 5 of “House of the Dragon,” we realize exactly how seriously Ser Criston Cole has taken things. He might have crossed his ethical boundaries and, for once, diverged from the strict code of conduct, but he was still a noble man. He had indulged with the princess, and it was eating him up, though he found solace in the fact that the feelings both of them held for each other were pure and unadulterated. He expresses his desire to Rhaenyra and tells her that he wouldn’t mind leaving everything behind and going somewhere far off. He talked like a hopeless romantic who is head over heels. He was ready to risk his reputation, and his integrity and, for once, prioritize something or someone above his strong sense of duty. Ser Criston Cole harbored dreams of them having a future together. The noble knight wasn’t aware of the complexities and eccentricities that Rhaenyra was made of. But the heir to the iron throne believed in ruthless pragmatism. She had kindled the spirit of a warrior in her from a very early age in her life. She believed that she could lead the kingdom, as well as her male counterparts. She didn’t want to run away with Criston Cole. She enjoyed whatever she had with the knight but didn’t want to settle with him. Rhaenyra was always attracted to non-conforming behavior, which is why she always had a soft corner for her uncle, Daemon Targaryen. She liked Criston Cole and being with him gave her an adrenaline rush. She also spoke to Laenor Velaryon and pitched him an offer. She knew that a knight named Joffrey Lonmouth was the lover of Laenor Velaryon. She told Laenor that though they couldn’t negate the wishes of their fathers, after marriage, they could continue with their respective affairs. But Criston Cole wanted more. He didn’t want his relationship with Rhaenyra reduced to just an inconsequential affair. Also, after he came to know that Rhaenyra had a very different perspective on things compared to him, he started feeling guilty. He felt that he had violated his code of conduct for no apparent reason.
On the other hand, Daemon knew Rhaenyra and her motivations far better. When she is getting married to Laenor Velaryon, he tells her that the heir to the Driftmark was way too noble for her. He knew she liked a bit of rebellion and that only he could provide it for her. Rhaenyra tells him bluntly that she would willingly go with him if he had the courage to slay the Kings Guard of her father and take her in front of everybody. Rhaenyra has obviously had enough of the whole “needing a man in her life” farce and is going to do what she wants, regardless of any remaining feelings she might have. Kudos to her for that. Daemon would definitely try to find a way to be with her, as he knew that they both understood the oddities of each other way too well. Criston Cole, on the other hand, swore his allegiance to Queen Alicent Hightower, both feeling betrayed by the acts of Rhaenyra Targaryen. Feelings are getting messier and the stakes higher. It is going to be a treat for fans as, now that collective consciousness has taken a backseat, personal interests and agendas will drive the narrative ahead.