This article contains House of the Dragon episode 3 spoilers.
For the lords and ladies of Westeros, marriage is as much a political contract as a social one. At least that’s how it’s presented to the highborn women of the realm, who time and again we’ve seen traded like bargaining chips: Sansa to Joffrey in Game of Thrones, then to Tyrion and finally Ramsay Bolton (gag). Margaery Tyrell to Joffrey next, and then his younger brother Tommen when that didn’t work out.
So it has been, and so it supposedly must always be. Milly Alcock’s young Rhaenyra Targaryen was given much the same spiel during a meeting with her father at the end of Sunday night’s latest House of the Dragon episode.
“You must marry, strengthen your own claim, shore up your succession, multiply,” her father King Viserys (Paddy Considine) insists. Yet Rhaenyra is perhaps the first woman we’ve seen onscreen to point out the hypocrisy of this. Her father expects her to wed to strengthen House Targaryen’s political power base while he himself rejected the (revolting) idea of marrying young Laena Velaryon (Nova Foueillis-Mosé). As a testament to his flickering moments of decency, Viserys deserves some credit for choosing not to marry a 12-year-old. But in terms of political alliance-building, it was an impetuous choice to follow his heart and instead marry the still only 15-year-old Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey). Apparently his decency has its limits.
Still, Rhaenyra is able to extract this concession from her father: Rather than wedding her off for “a mountain stronghold or a fleet of ships,” the king will allow his daughter to have the same choice he did. She can take whatever partner she wishes of the other sex as a spouse. But if Rhaenyra is really allowed to pick her husband, what are the actual prospects?
Below is a collection of the partners who appear to vie for the attention of the Princess of Dragonstone… as well as a few nonstarters she might desire far more.
The first and most obvious suitor of Princess Rhaenyra’s hand is also the currently least likely to claim it. Jason Lannister (Jefferson Hall) has impeccable breeding and credentials—perfect for a princess’ consort. As his father’s eldest son, Jason is Lord of Casterly Rock and the Warden of the West. The status of that title is probably striking to Game of Thrones fans since everyone remembers the prestige commanded by Charles Dance’s Lord Tywin Lannister in the original series.
However, it should be noted that House of the Dragon is set about 150 years before Tywin’s heyday. “The Rains of Castamere” song has not been written, and the Reynes actually do reign in their hearty home. The Lannisters are still wealthy at this time, of course, but they lack the prestige of House Velaryon or even arguably House Hightower. More than wealth or status though, Jason already appears lost to Rhaenyra since his idea of courtship was to suggest that she give up her claim to the Iron Throne and join him as wife in the west. Would she trade the throne for literally all the gold in Casterly Rock? We think not.
The fact Jason also suggested to Viserys they could come to an arrangement in wrestling the succession away from Rhaenyra also pretty much condemned him in the eyes of the only man who theoretically could still force Rhaenyra to wed. In other words, thank you, next.
The next potential suitor is one House of the Dragon viewers probably just started noticing for the first time: the Sea Snake’s only son, young Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate). As a lad close in age to Rhaenyra, he certainly has some appeal. Like Rhaenyra he’s a dragonrider, which viewers saw visceral evidence of in Sunday night’s episode. Hardly as commanding as the Princess of Dragonstone or Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), Leanor still cut an impressive, if awkward, image atop his much smaller dragon while burning out pirates and crab feeders on the Stepstones.
As a recap, Leanor is Rhaenyra’s cousin once removed as the son of Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best), the Queen Who Never Was. In terms of Targaryen incest, this is about the best case scenario of being a “distant” relation. But he still has the Blood of the Dragon and rides a dragon to prove it.
In other words, he’d be a politically strong match that is made all the stronger since he is the son of the actual richest man in Westeros during this time, the Sea Snake (a fact that Lord Lyonel Strong pointed out to Viserys in the latest episode). Lord Corlys became estranged from the king when Viserys passed over Corlys’ daughter in favor of Alicent. Frankly, this would be arguably the best political match for Rhaenyra since it would ally her (and her future children) with Westeros’ greatest naval and financial power.
But there is one more, quite gross, option that might be even more politically expedient…
Yes, this is by far the most disgusting option but it must be acknowledged upfront: the safest political choice for Rhaenyra and the realm would be for her to eventually marry her little brother, who during the most recent episode had just turned two and is 16 years her junior. It is a grotesque idea, but all of the Targaryens you are now watching are the grandchildren or great grandchildren of sibling incest. Both King Viserys and Princess Rhaenys’ grandfather, the wise King Jaehaerys, married his younger sister about 70 years earlier. And the Targaryen family tree is littered with wedded siblings, including of course Aegon the Conqueror, who married both of his sisters.
So there is precedent for baby Aegon and big sis tying the knot. Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) even suggested such a match in last night’s House of the Dragon because he wished to streamline Aegon’s path to the throne. And, though we’re loath to admit it, it might be the safest political solution for Rhaenyra (if you don’t study the fine print). She could extract a decree that they would rule as equals (and with her being much the senior, she would likely be the true leader of much of the reign, particularly if it began while Aegon was in his “regency” and she could steer his loyalties away from his mother and grandfather), and it would squash the building tension between her and Aegon’s claims.
Of course Rhaenyra absolutely will refuse this match because it’s heinous, it still sets up the child and his family to challenge her power (albeit more subtly), and she frankly despises the little bastard. For surely, Otto and his supporters would attempt to use Aegon’s ascendency to further weaken Rhaenyra’s standing in the court as little more than “the wife.” And Viserys, for all his faults, again showed shades of decency when he likewise was repulsed by Otto’s suggestion of marrying his children. With that said, Rhaenyra’s heart could be swayed by one other icky option…
Up to this point, we’ve been acknowledging the best political matches for our fair princess. However, we’ve never seen her show much interest in anyone of Velaryon descent to date, and the other two unions would cause her to scream bloody “Dracarys.” But what of the men we’ve seen maybe catch her eye?
While she’d sooner die than wed her baby brother, there is no denying a spark of something between Rhaenyra and her more than doting uncle. When first we witness a meeting between Prince Daemon and his niece, it is with more than just avuncular fondness that the prince slips a necklace around the princess’ throat. Daemon seems to have the eyes of a wolf for his brother’s daughter, and Rhaenyra likewise appears excited about meeting her favorite uncle in the shadow of the throne they both covet.
“Me and Matt wanted to leave a sense of ambiguity in that scene and kind of leave the door a bit half-open,” Alcock said when we chatted with her about their characters last month. “But ultimately she’s a young woman and whatever feelings that she’s feeling, she doesn’t fully know how to grasp them. She doesn’t fully comprehend her attraction toward Daemon, and whether it’s platonic or sexual or romantic. She’s unaware.”
Still, as Alcock concedes, there is an attraction there. And it’s the kind that under Targaryen tradition would not typically be frowned upon. Just consider the way the pair bask in their private High Valyrian conversations! Happy marriages in Westeros have started from less.
That said this would be a complete political disaster. Arguably the only reason Viserys made Rhaenyra his heir is because he and the small council came to fear Prince Daemon becoming king. The Hand of the King already hated Daemon’s crazy-eyed stare, even before Otto’s grandson became a little princeling. Now that the Hand is urging weak-willed Viserys to make Aegon his new heir, a match with Daemon could spell catastrophe for Rhaenyra’s claim.
The only other man that Rhaenyra has shown any potential romantic interest in to date is her favorite knight of the kingsguard: Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel). This is the dashing Dornish lad she raised up to unexpected heights by appointing him to his white cloaked position. Understandably, she partially did this because he was one of the few candidates for the post who has seen actual combat. But that dreamy smile looking up at her during the first episode’s tournament—when he carried her favor into battle against her uncle—surely couldn’t have hurt.
In the years since that appointment, it’s heavily implied that Ser Criston has become Rhaenyra’s personal bodyguard and something of a confidant. Could he become her lover? Mayhaps. But he’ll never be her royal consort. Once again a potential match for love is denied to Rhaenyra due to the simple fact she made Criston a member of the kingsguard. Until the Lannisters came into power during the events of Game of Thrones, that appointment is intended for life, and members of the kingsguard are expected to remain celibate. They shall father no children, marry no wives. Granted rules can be broken—in secret and at great risk. But in terms of marriage potential, it is fantasy, summer child.
One last possible contender for Rhaenyra’s heart, and who we feel compelled to mention, is also the far most impossible to amount to anything except broken dreams and a lifetime of regrets: Alicent Hightower. When Rhaenyra and Alicent were introduced during the first episode of House of the Dragon, the two seemed inseparably close. They walked hand-in-hand as girlhood friends throughout the Red Keep, and doted on each other in private. When we later saw them spend a leisurely afternoon in the godswood, Rhaenyra mused, “I want to fly with you on dragonback, see the great wonders across the Narrow Sea, and eat only cake.”
It’s an impossible daydream though. Even so, some viewers have perhaps not unfairly read a romantic interest in their early scenes. When we spoke with Carey, she told us, “I think something we explored within the relationship between Alicent and Rhaenyra is their closeness, and sort of toeing the line between platonic and romantic.”
If there was a romantic attraction between the characters, they lived in a time where they lacked the vocabulary or mindset beneath a heavy patriarchy to even describe it. Perhaps their relationship fell somewhere along the LGBTQ+ spectrum, however they would never fully recognize it or comprehend it in that modern context.
Still, it is striking that when Viserys told Rhaenyra in the latest episode that he hopes to see his daughter contented, happy even, she hisses, “You think a man would do it?”
At least at this point in her life, Rhaenyra obviously does not wish to marry any man. If that is due to a different type of attraction, it remains ambiguous. Alcock’s face betrays real contempt and sorrow when her father says, “Find a match that pleases you, as I did.” But perhaps that is simply due to being reminded that he married her best friend? Then again, it could speak to something more.
Either way, in this highly medieval patriarchy, the idea of a princess openly romancing, never mind marrying, another woman is as likely as the sun rising in the west and setting in the east. It’s also a dream that now looks like a nightmare since Rhaenyra’s former confidant has become the mother of the king’s firstborn son. Some betrayals can never be forgiven.