This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon
House of the Dragon episode “The Green Council” features one of the most divisive scenes of the series so far. And that’s saying a lot considering that the series has featured two women dying fairly brutal deaths while giving birth, Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) murdering his father and brother, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) betraying Rhaenrya (Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy) after they sleep together, literal child brides, and a lot of incest (even by Game of Thrones standards). What makes this scene in “The Green Council” so divisive, however, seems to be a blatant disregard for the lives of the common people of King’s Landing.
“The Green Council” focuses on Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Otto Hightower’s (Rhys Ifans) plot to supplant Princess Rhaenrya as the true heir to the Iron Throne and instead crown Alicent’s son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) as king. Rhaenys (Eve Best) has been trapped in her room until she vocalizes her support for Aegon. During Aegon’s coronation ceremony, which is held in the Dragonpit, Rhaenys escapes with the help of Ser Erryk Cargyll (Elliot Tittensor) and uses the ceremony as cover to regain custody of her dragon Meleys.
In true Targaryen fashion, Rhaenys and Meleys burst dramatically through the floor of the Dragonpit staring down Alicent and her children before flying away. The controversy in this scene not only lies in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of King’s Landing citizens (surely there was another way out of the Dragonpit), but in Rhaenys’ missed opportunity to end the war before it even starts. Even though House of the Dragon can’t take too many liberties with regards to how the Dance of the Dragons plays out in George R.R. Martin‘s book Fire & Blood, many viewers questioned why Rhaenys would kill so many people just to fly away without uttering a single “Dracarys.” Have a scroll through the House of the Dragon subreddit, for example, if you dare.
According to showrunner Ryan Condal in HBO’s House of the Dragon: Inside the Episode (watch above), they “wanted a triumphal moment for [Rhaenys] at the end of the season.” His co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik also says that “rather than have her just bear witness to something” they wanted her to “be able to take part in it, but [have] her moral standpoint become the reason for inaction rather than action.”
In an interview with EW, Best digs into Rhaenys’ thought process during the sequence: “It was the most outrageous and explosive action of the season. In a way, it’s also the most merciful and most graceful act. It’s because she’s so intelligent and in the end chooses to do the right thing, which is not to destroy. It’s a truly forgiving moment and sort of a loving moment, in a weird way. She has all the ammunition, and the desire for revenge is so great. She’s suffered so much loss, and for her own sake and on behalf of so many others, the urge to destroy is so strong. And yet the choice not to destroy becomes even stronger.”
Framing Rhaenys’ decision not to incinerate the usurpers as one of “inaction” and not destructive is interesting given that she literally kills a bunch of people and destroys the Dragonpit right before that moment. As admittedly awesome as this scene was to watch live, the criticisms aren’t unfounded.
Even though this scene was empowering for Rhaenys and showed us an important side of her character, it also tells us that the royal family doesn’t actually care about the people they rule. While that’s not a huge surprise, it still matters when deciding which characters to root for. This likely isn’t the last time that common people are going to pay the price for the Targaryen’s civil war, and it’s important to remember that they are still people too, even if their lives aren’t as dramatic and messy as those we follow on House of the Dragon.
The House of the Dragon finale airs this Sunday at 9 pm ET on HBO.