House of the Dragon: The Tragedy of Aegon II and Alicent Hightower

The Green Council had its way in the latest House of the Dragon. So why does everyone look so miserable?

Aegon and Alicent and the Greens in House of the Dragon
Photo: HBO

This article contains House of the Dragon episode 9 spoilers.

Aegon Targaryen, Second of His Name, did not want to be king. In fact, it’s unclear what he does want, beyond mayhaps the love of a father that is forever out of reach. Yet into the cauldron of political intrigue and throne games he goes. If the lad wasn’t so repellent as a human being, one might even wonder if his mother Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) would recognize the irony of another generation having a loathsome crown placed on their head.

Aye, the great tragedy of “the Greens,” which is to say the members of court and the royalty family who back Alicent’s children in the line of succession, is that it persists of parents sacrificing children to their thorny ambitions. House of the Dragon underlined this fact in dragonfire by beginning the series nearly 20 years before Aegon’s ascent to the Iron Throne. When we met Alicent Hightower, as played by Emily Carey, she was a naive girl absent of aspirations or ambitions other than whatever ambiguous feelings existed between her and Princess Rhaenyra (then Milly Alcock). We saw how to please a father, Alicent played the dutiful daughter and seduced King Viserys (Paddy Considine) with kind words, good books… and her mother’s gowns.

The latter was a requirement expected of her by her father, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), who never saw this child who looks so much like her mother as anything but a bargaining chip in the game of thrones. Or a pawn.

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Alicent finally addressed her father’s callousness head-on in tonight’s episode, “The Green Council.” She told him “our hearts were never one,” and that she was never more than a pawn in his game. Coldest of all though is how Otto fails to deny this; he just smiles, “And I made you a queen.” He goaded Alicent into a position of supreme power and privilege—so supreme that she and her father’s sycophants were perfectly placed to steal the Iron Throne and plunge Westeros into the abyss of civil war.

So it’s strange she does not see how history is repeating itself when she insists to her father (and in the very same scene!) that they’ll place Aegon the Conqueror’s original Valyrian steel crown on her son’s head. It will breed a sense of tradition and ancient majesty in her son, a boy she has convinced herself is “the prince who was promised.”

Of course anyone who knows her son should recognize this is no hero of prophecy. As played in adulthood by Tom Glynn-Carney, Aegon is a mess. On his best days he bothers no one at all but his liver by vanishing into his cups—albeit that often invites the disgust of his grandfather, as we saw in the seventh episode, “Driftmark.” On horrifically worse ones, his libidinous urges make him a rapist, likely many times over. Alicent is aware of this, hiding the horrors she learns about with Moon Tea and gold, and all while she pulls her seven-pointed star closer to her chest.

What she doesn’t know about, however, is all the bastards Aegon has apparently fathered along King’s Landing’s Silk Road (the red light district). We get a glimpse of it in tonight’s episode when his Kingsguard spot one of Aegon’s many bastards with the silvery hair of a Targaryen consigned to the bowels of hell; the child is in a seedy tavern where orphans are dehumanized and forced to fight to the death.

It’s doubtful Aegon cares about that, nor gave thought to the question of whether the mother was a willing prostitute or an unwilling child sent to rouse him from his bed. As he confesses to younger brother Prince Aemond (Ewan Mitchell), he is unfit to be king. And Aemond does not disagree. If they both had it their way, the elder would be halfway to Lys where a short but luxuriant life awaited in the pleasure houses.

So why does he end “The Green Council” with a crown on his head? Because in spite of Alicent’s newfound awareness about her father’s reptilian nature, and her insistence that she is a better person, Alicent really is her father’s daughter. She wants a crown on Aegon’s head because she’s willing to deceive herself into believing that this is the right thing to do. Despite Viserys ignoring Aegon for the boy’s entire life, and the king remaining adamant that his daughter will be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Alicent will pretend that on his deathbed and under the influence of Milk of the Poppy, that Viserys really wanted her child to be king. Because if he didn’t, what was all her own suffering as queen consort for?

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To whatever credit can be granted Aegon, he understands at least how ill-suited he is to this ascent. He recognizes the crown is a death sentence, or at least a prison. He saw how the weight of it decimated his father, who also never wanted to be king. In fact, the only thing old Viserys was clear about was that he wanted Rhaenyra to succeed him. All that power made his father an unhappy man, and perhaps played a role in the disease that took his life so early (keep in mind Viserys is only five years older than Prince Daemon!).

But Alicent hears none of these valid points as they’re rushing their carriage to the Dragonpit, determined to finalize the treason before word of the king’s death can spread past the city walls. Alicent has her own reasons, too, for hasteness. Much of “The Green Council” was about a proxy rivalry between the queen and her father, with two Kingsguard deployed by Ser Otto to find Aegon before Prince Aemond and the queen’s own favored White Cloak, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) could.

The assumption was that whoever spoke to a weak-willed sinner like Aegon first could persuade him to their preferred method of dealing with Rhaenyra, with the Hand favoring cold-blooded murder and the queen hoping Rhaenyra will accept terms of wealthy exile (yeah, right). Through it all, Aegon is just a pawn between them.

Aegon’s pitiful grotesqueries are of his own making, with his lascivious nature being one of choice. However, you cannot help but wonder how differently the lad might’ve turned out if instead of being bred and raised as a weapon against Alicent and Otto’s worst enemy, he was treated as a beloved son who needed to be educated about how to wield his privilege—and treat women.

But much like their mother before them, Aegon and Aemond did not have normal or loving childhoods. Aegon likely received daily whispers to fear his sister and nephews, for “they scheme to kill you” he was told, and how he must be king; Aemond, meanwhile, heard much the same but was never promised a crown. And after the loss of an eye, the flicker of hate Alicent tended in him became a roaring fire.

Now as young men, one is a self-loathing lush and the other is a cold-blooded weapon whom the Greens only need an excuse to unsheathe. And on the day of Aegon’s slapdash coronation, his mother failed to look her eldest son in the eye and say “yes” when he asks if she loves him.

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So it is that at the end of the ninth episode of House of the Dragon, Aegon II Targaryen is made king with his great-great-great-grandfather’s Valyrian steel crown. It’s a power Aegon literally ran from a day earlier, but now that it’s here, it feels insidiously cozy. Before the corrosive influence of power was seized, Aegon knew himself well enough to understand he shouldn’t be given this absolute privilege. Now that he has it though, we imagine he’ll wallow in it much like the rest of his proclivities.

The prince who was promised? Maybe in the Seven Hells.