Rhaenys was called “the queen who never was” for a reason. She was not merely a contender, for sitting on the Iron Throne, because of her royal lineal descent but also because, temperamentally, she was best suited to rule the Seven Kingdoms. She was calm and composed, and more importantly, she was never seen making reckless or impulsive decisions like her male counterparts. In the second episode of “House of the Dragon,” we saw that Rhaenys caught Rhaenyra off guard and asked her something, which not only gave us an insight into the patriarchal society but also how an ambitious woman struggles every day to prove her worth in front of those who already have a preconceived notion about things.
Rhaenys favored Rhaenyra against all the odds, even when Alicent and Otto Hightower had orchestrated a coup and made Aegon II Targaryen sit on the Iron Throne. She could have easily sworn her allegiance to the Hightowers but instead she decided to risk her life for the sake of conscience. There was a mutual respect and admiration that existed between the two. Somewhere, Rhaenys saw her reflection in the subversive nature of the young Targaryen princess. She saw a girl who believed that she could rule the Seven Kingdoms. She saw a girl who didn’t want to play the role of a second fiddle but wanted to pull the reins herself. In the second episode of “House of the Dragon,” Rhaenys wanted to warn Rhaenyra. She was somewhere being protective in her own peculiar manner. She just didn’t want Rhaenyra to get disappointed after she got to know the true nature of things. She wanted her to understand the order, which at that moment, Rhaenys thought couldn’t be changed.
Rhaenys told Rhaenyra that the men of the realm would never accept a queen sitting on the Iron Throne. She said that her father, Viserys Targaryen, would eventually marry, and the moment he had a male child, Rhaenyra would be replaced as the heir. Rhaenys had a lot of contempt for the narrow-minded people of the kingdom. She said that the harsh truth was that they would see the kingdom burn but still not have a female sit on the Iron Throne. In her childish optimism Rhaenyra said that she would change the order of things. Though Rhaenys told her that men wouldn’t allow her to sit on the Iron Throne, she deep down hoped that Rhaenyra would be able to prove her wrong. Rhaenys had a lot of ideological differences from Rhaenyra from the very beginning, but still, it didn’t mean that she didn’t respect the young princess. Rhaenys knew that whatever Rhaenyra was trying to do wasn’t easy. It took a humongous amount of effort to go against the tide and keep fighting for what you thought you deserved.
Also, Rhaenyra very unabashedly told everybody what she wanted. She didn’t camouflage her real intentions under the pretext of duty. She was what she was. She owned up to her misdeeds. Rhaenys knew that a lot of people misunderstood Rhaenyra’s intentions and had formed a very different opinion. They saw her as the fierce Targaryen princess who wouldn’t mind spilling blood if it came to that. They saw her as a person who wouldn’t mind indulging in immoral activities and mocking the moral compass of society. But Rhaenyra was not the barbarian that people thought her to be. She was flamboyant in her approach, but she had a kind heart. We can say that with surety because she had all the reason in the world to kill Laenor Velaryon, yet she chose to free him from his misery. Though Rhaenys didn’t know anything about this aspect, she still vouched for Rhaenyra and hoped that she would do something that Rhaenys herself wasn’t able to accomplish.
Alicent Hightower, on the other hand, was a by-product of a patriarchal society. She was not a rebel like Rhaenyra. She had been brought up in a very different manner. Her upbringing played a crucial role in making her what she had become. She considered that it was her duty to serve the males in her life. In the 9th episode of “House of the Dragon,” Rhaenys described Alicent’s mindset very aptly. She said that Alicent didn’t desire freedom, but all she wanted was to peek from the window that was present on the wall of the prison that she had made for herself. Rhaenys was very different from the kind of person Alicent was. Alicent wanted to be in power, but she never imagined herself pulling the strings. She lacked the entrepreneurial spirit to take on initiatives. She would never get her hands dirty and would instead expect Larys Strong to act in her stead. Alicent, even after being in such a position of power, leaned upon the males in her life and rarely undermined their authority. The dichotomy of her personality was evident from the fact that though she thought herself to be the flagbearer of righteousness, in reality, she was capable of being the most treacherous person. Rhaenys saw through her pretentious behavior. Alicent was not real with herself also. She had made her delusions so big that she no longer could differentiate between what was real and what was not. Alicent had become hypocritical over a period of time. She ceased to be the person who used to abide by the teachings of the Faith of the Seven, and she was also not somebody who had the courage to blatantly go after what she desired without feeling the need to disguise her real intentions.
Apart from the behavioral similarities or dissimilarities that the two girls had with Rhaenys Velaryon, one more fact that played a key role in Rhaenys’ decision-making was that Otto Hightower didn’t share a very cordial relationship with House Velaryon. Otto had always wanted to undermine the authority of Corlys Velaryon, and he played all sorts of petty games to get some leverage over the strongest kingdom of the realm. Viserys was supposed to get married to Laena Velaryon, but Otto was successful in luring the king. He used to send Alicent to pacify the mourning king and give him some company. He had hoped that the king would fall for her daughter, and that is exactly what happened. House Velaryon, at that time, felt betrayed.
Rhaenys wanted to play things to her advantage, but in the process, she didn’t want to do something that her conscience didn’t allow her to. Though the seizure of power was not something that King’s Landing hadn’t witnessed before, there was something about this whole facade that just didn’t feel right. It felt like a betrayal. It felt like treachery. It felt sinful to be on the side of the Hightowers. Rhaenys had maybe realized that people who couldn’t stay true to their word couldn’t be trusted in the long run. Though the Hightowers were considered to be the propagators of the Faith of the Seven and harbored a feeling that they were morally superior to everybody else, in reality, they were quite capable of behaving in a despicable manner that was in stark contrast to their ethical standards.
Towards the end of the 9th episode of “House of the Dragon,” Rhaenys came out with her dragon and stood in defiance against the Hightowers. Alicent thought she would burn her family alive. She was petrified seeing the fire that was burning in Rhaenys’ eye. Rhaenys stared at Alicent and for a moment it felt like time had stopped. That miniscule of a second felt like an eternity. Rhaenys established a clear distinction between her and the Hightowers. Even when Rhaenys had the option of finishing her rivals in the spur of the moment and ending the whole conflict, she didn’t do it because she was an honorable woman. She knew that she might have to face them on the battlefield, but still, she didn’t resort to contemptible ways and means. She proved that she was not a hypocrite. She didn’t want to become a part of the iniquitous system and go against her own conscience. She was not like Alicent who could burn the whole family when they stood defenseless.
Rhaenys rode her dragon and escaped to Dragonstone. She had chosen to fight alongside Rhaenyra, and for once, Alicent realized that the art of deception, which she had mastered of late, might have worked with the men who surrounded her, but it couldn’t outwit the Queen who never was but one, who certainly should have been.