House of the Dragon: Olivia Cooke Asks Fans Not to Take Sides

As House of the Dragon prepares for a bloody civil war amongst the Targaryens, actor Olivia Cooke asks fans not to take sides.

Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) converses with Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) on House of the Dragon
Photo: Ollie Upton | HBO

This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 10.

The first season of House of the Dragon shows us the events that lead up to the Dance of the Dragons – a bloody civil war between two Targaryen factions, The Greens and The Blacks. Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and her father Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) are the driving forces behind The Greens, pushing for Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) to ascend the Iron Throne as King Viserys’ (Paddy Considine) first born son. Princess Rhaenrya Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) is the face of The Blacks as Viserys’ named heir to the throne.

Even though war is on the horizon as season 1 ends, actor Olivia Cooke asks fans to not take sides as the conflict unfolds. In an interview with Vulture, Cooke says “The whole point of the story is people have been forced to pick sides and that’s why a civil war happens. We are imploring the audience not to do that, and to really empathize with every character and see inside their inner workings.”

As hard as it is to continue to empathize with Alicent as she continues to uphold the same patriarchal structures that have kept her trapped, the empathy and care that Cooke brings to the character make it just as hard to fully hate her. 

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Recently Cooke told Deadline that she doesn’t see Alicent as the villainous figure that some people are making her out to be saying “I never played her as a villain. I know she makes morally questionable decisions and her reactions can be quite uncouth, to say the least. But I have to believe in what she does in order to play her with absolute honesty and truth. I really have to empathize with Alicent and know that she’s coming from a place of undying love and protection for her children. I think sometimes the internet discourse can be a bit too black and white. I read a tweet that I think summed it up really well: It’s not who’s good and evil, it’s who’s your favorite war criminal.”

This isn’t to defend Alicent’s actions or say that doing things like covering up the rape committed by her son are okay just because she’s a victim of her circumstances, but rather that it’s important to remember that no one in this series – except maybe Helaena (Phia Saban) – are fully innocent. Daemon (Matt Smith) straight up murdered his first wife. Rhaenys (Eve Best) and her dragon Meleys killed a bunch of commoners. Rhaenrya has been gaslighting the entire kingdom with regards to who the father of her children is. Otto killed anyone who wouldn’t pledge fealty to Aegon II as king. 

Watching Rhaenrya and Alicent’s friendship disintegrate as the family lines are drawn has been one of the harder parts of the series. When asked about whether or not Alicent and Rhaenyra would still be friends if not for the men ruling over their lives, Cooke told Deadline “I think so. I think in the big dinner scene in episode eight where they’re surrounded by Daemon and Viserys, all of their sons and just the mess and testosterone that fills the room, I think it’s suddenly very clear and simple to them that they actually are together and not divided.” 

With regards to the same dinner scene, Emma D’Arcy told Vulture that Alicent and Rhaenrya’s toasts to each other are “to an extent, both of them flying in the face of what the system wants them to do. For a patriarchal system, the rift works. To stand up in front of their whole mini-universe and offer the possibility of reconciliation is a radical act.” Even as Otto and the small council work to usurp the throne in House of the Dragon episode “The Green Council,” Alicent refuses to let them send agents to kill Rhaenrya and her children. Despite the potential threat to her own family, Alicent still hopes to hold on to some of the understanding that the two reached before Viserys’ death. 

While it will be hard to stay fully neutral as House of the Dragon dives further into this civil war seeing as The Greens don’t have many redeemable or even likable characters thus far, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully hate Alicent either. Between Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke’s performances, and the way Cooke talks compassionately about her character without excusing her actions, I can’t help but feel empathy for Alicent’s situation even as things continue to escalate. Things might be different after season 2 premieres and we see the aftermath of Lucerys’ (Elliot Grihault) death, but whatever happens, I trust Olivia Cooke to do right by this complicated character.