‘A true monarch knows when to step up and when to step down.’ That is what sets Rhaenyra apart from the rest; that is what makes her a queen. After the “queen who never was,” Rhaenyra was the only other woman to be declared as heir. But unlike Rhaenys, whose ambitions were crushed not once, not twice, but three times, Rhaenyra always had the unwavering support of her father. Rhaenya was first looked over by Baelon, then Viserys, and finally, her daughter was rejected as the future queen. But Viserys never changed his mind about his daughter being his heir. The reasons for it could be many. We had said often before that the throne was not what Rhaenyra aspired for. All she wanted was to escape the fate of her mother, whom she had seen suffering all her life because of her father’s desire for a male heir.
Painfully aware of her limited options as a woman, despite being a princess, maybe she knew in her heart of hearts that all she could do was a dream while she could. And Alicent Hightower was her companion through it all. There wasn’t a single thing that Rhaenyra did not confide to Alicent about. She knew her dreams, her fears, and maybe also of her unrealized love for Daemon. Alicent herself was known as the “comeliest” woman in the whole Kingdom. While a badge of pride then, we know now that it came with the burden of gatekeeping patriarchy that doesn’t even spare its guards. But the girls were too young to realize any of that. It was a time of ease, with hopes and dreams. In a moment in the episode, Otto Hightower hands over a torn page to Rhaenyra, which reminds her of a memory from her childhood. It was an easier time when she had not been named heir yet. She was resting on her best friend’s lap and telling her that she wanted to see the world with her and eat lots of cake.
Alicent is more serious and is annoyed that her best friend is not taking her lessons more seriously. It is one of their last happy memories together before the struggle for the throne changed the course of their relationship forever. It isn’t much later that Aemma dies in childbirth. Viserys is racked by his guilt for having made a choice to cut her open for his son. His greed for an heir had cost him the love of his throne, and he regretted it till his dying day. It is possible that he considered it his punishment that he lost his son soon after. Maybe that was his greatest motivation behind naming Rhaenyra as his heir, an acknowledgment of his foolishness. It is also possible that he wanted to correct the wrongs of the past—when he had been chosen instead of Rhaenys to be King. Gender had been a defining factor in a lot of the major events of his life. It was his gender that had placed him on the throne, and it was his gender that had led him to kill his wife. Maybe he saw the futility of it all and decided to name Rhaenyra as the heir. Everyone believed that he would change his decision once he had a son, but that did not happen. It must have infuriated Otto, who had placed all his bets on his daughter’s marriage to the King. When he couldn’t manipulate the King, he went for the queen. He placed the fear in her that Rhaenyra was not a good person and that she would eventually kill Alicent’s children once she sat on the throne. A ploy that worked.
20 years passed between the time the events of the story started and where it is now. It’s enough time for people to change and for relationships to change. Alicent had become a person who was a slave to her father’s manipulations and her own delusions. Rhaenyra, on the other hand, had become battle-hardened. She had faced repeated questioning of her position as heir, the loss of her best friend, a rejection by the person she had loved, and a marriage where she did not have any support from her husband except for show. She had faced it all alone. But she had also done more. As she tells her son, she has learned to earn her title.
In the first episode of “House of the Dragon,” Alicent questions whether she is worried that her station will be taken away by her father once her brother arrives. Rhaenyra replies that she wants her father to have a son so that he will be happy, and her mother will know peace. Even as a child, she was capable of thinking of others, of the bigger picture. That remained constant even after she grew up. But then, that was the difference between Otto Hightower and Rhaenyra Targaryen. One cared about power, and the other cared about the Kingdom. Rhaenyra knew that a war would burn down the Kingdom. It would be too many people that would die, and it would be a land of absolute misery that would welcome her. For her, the oath did not just mean getting to sit on the throne; it also meant fulfilling her duty towards her people. That was her priority, but Otto’s was far from it.
It wasn’t even moments after Viserys’ death that Otto made his moves. When he goes to meet Rhaenyra, he knows that he is the more ruthless one. Had he been on dragon back instead of Rhaenys during Aegon II’s coronation, he would have burned down the place. He knew that the opposing party had morals that he did not care for, which gave him an edge. Right before the death of the King, Alicent and Rhaenyra had seemingly made up. Otto was a master manipulator, which comes with understanding the people around you. He knew that Rhaenyra was disappointed in her best friend but love still remained. In addition to the fact that he was aware of the restraint, Rhaenyra was showing. He played into that. To be honest, his terms of peace were not that bad. He knew Rhaenyra could be counted on to be reasonable, and his few well-calculated moves would pay off, with his blood sitting on the Iron Throne. He plays with Rhaenyra’s emotions when he gives her a piece of paper from her childhood. It is a symbol of the goodwill extended by them toward her. Otto was manipulating, and it was evidently infuriating, but it might have just worked because, at the end of the day, he did not cut Rhaenyra an unfair deal. The piece of paper served to quell her anger so that negotiation would be easy. And it worked, almost. Rhaenyra considered it. She might even have agreed if Lucerys had been unharmed.