Why Does Ser Criston Cole Lash Out at Rhaenyra’s Wedding in House of the Dragon?

The Kingsguard's own Ser Criston Cole is responsible for the usual violence we encounter at Westerosi weddings. But what triggers him?

Ser Criston Cole (Fabian Frankel)
Photo: Gary Moyes | HBO

This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 5.

According to Illyrio Mopatis, a Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair. If that’s the case then perhaps Westeros and Essos in George R.R. Martin’s sprawling Word of Ice and Fire are not so different after all.

As viewers have seen through eight seasons of Game of Thrones and five episodes of House of the Dragon, it’s rare for a Westerosi wedding to come and go without some bloodshed. The trend started with the massacre that was The Red Wedding in Game of Thrones season 3. It continued with Joffrey Baratheon’s own “Purple Wedding” the next year. Now, in the fifth episode of House of the Dragon, violence visits a wedding yet again in the form of a disgruntled Dornish knight.

Putting it simply: Ser Criston Cole (Fabian Frankel) absolutely loses his shit at the wedding of Ser Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate) and Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock). When Ser Laenor’s not-so-secret lover Ser Joffrey Monmouth (Solly McLeod), approaches Ser Criston to ask if the Kingsguard knight can be chill about their respective paramours getting married, Criston opts to be decidedly unchill and beats the lad to death.

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What exactly triggered Ser Criston Cole? Why did he punch Ser Joffrey’s face until it resembled rare ground aurochs? And why couldn’t he even wait until the wedding was over to do it? As is often the case on House of the Dragon, the answer isn’t clear cut but there are some educated guesses to be made. For starters, it might be helpful to know a little about Ser Criston’s upbringing…

Where is Ser Criston Cole From?

Culturally speaking, Ser Criston Cole is slightly different from his fellow Kingsguard and many of the other royal individuals at court. House Cole is a small noble family in Westeros with no actual land holdings to speak of. Ser Criston was born to a mere steward of the Dondarrions, a far more powerful house in the Dornish marches region of the Stormlands.

The Dornish marches are a geographical feature that fit neatly between the southern portion of The Stormlands and the independent kingdom of Dorne. That’s right: Dorne is not technically a part of the Seven Kingdoms at this point in history, despite the Targaryen dynasty claiming it to be. House Dondarrion and House Cole just happen to reside in or around Blackhaven, an area that is geographically and culturally Dornish, but still firmly under Westerosi control.

As such, Ser Criston Cole is often the odd man out at court – the one Dornishmen in a sea of First Men and Andals. In an interview with EW, Fabian Frankel likens the experience to being Irish in England during the mid 1900s. Ser Criston has been operating on unfamiliar territory this whole time but that alone doesn’t explain his violence outburst. Some other events prior to the wedding just might, however…

Ser Criston Cole: The Soiled Knight

You probably don’t need me to tell you this but a Kingsguard sleeping with a princess is generally frowned upon. When they don the white cloak, Kingsguard knights swear an oath to protect and defend the king and his family above all else along with a vow of chastity. To engage in sexual acts with a member of the king’s family is to soil that white cloak in historical fashion.

After Rhaenyra seduced Ser Criston in episode 4, the duo have clearly kept up their regular sexcapades. Now that Rhaenyra is on the verge of getting married to Ser Laenor, Ser Criston finally sees an out. He invites her to run away with him to Essos. He will work as a sellsword in the Disputed Lands while Rhaenyra will…well, it’s not entirely clear how a royal familymember will operate unseen and unbothered in the Free Cities or anywhere else. It’s not a great plan on Ser Criston’s part but it’s all he has.

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As he tells Rhaenyra: marrying her is the only way out of the dishonorable hell he has created for himself. She wants the status quo to carry on while he can’t stand to be her common whore while she’s married to another man. That is simply just too many dishonorable things stacked on top of one another. Obviously, however, Princess Rhaenyra is not going to run off to Essos with her knight. There is no world in which that happens. And just liked that, Ser Criston realizes that there is truly no escaping what he’s done. There is no relief on the horizon. He is a soiled knight and once (not if) word gets out, House Cole will be equally as soiled forever.

Why Does Ser Criston Kill Ser Joffrey?

Poor Ser Joffrey Lonmouth probably thought he was so slick when he approached Ser Criston to discuss how the two will serve as steadfast secret-keepers for their respective paramours. Honestly, it is very impressive and emotionally astute that Ser Joffrey is able to identify Ser Criston as Rhaenyra’s side piece solely by how he observes her from afar.

When Joffrey delivers his pitch to Criston it must sound eminently reasonable to him. He’s not saying anything that Rhaenyra and Laenor haven’t already said to each other. If Rhaenyra and Laenor can be adults about these unique extramarital arrangements then why can’t Criston? Unfortunately, Joffrey has no way of knowing the intense inner turmoil that Criston is experiencing in that moment.

According to Frankel, Ser Criston likely had no intention of acting violently that night.

“I don’t think there’s anything premeditated about him, at least in the beginning of the show. I don’t think he’s searching for any form of conflict at this wedding at all,” the actor told EW. “If anything, he wants to be as far away as humanly possible.”

Something about Joffrey approaching him, perhaps even as an equal sets him off. There’s a non-zero chance that Ser Criston is simply homophobic and the revelation that Ser Laenor’s lover is a man makes him feel even more compromised in his masculinity than he already does. As chill as everyone at court seems to be with Laenor’s sexuality, the subject remains taboo and may be particularly so for Criston, who comes from more common origins.

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While that could be what ultimately sets Ser Criston off, the engine burning in side him is clearly one of pure hate: hate for Joffrey, hate for Laenor, hate for Rhaenyra, hate for the gods, and above all else – hate for himself for getting into this situation in the first place. So Criston does what most Westerosi knights do when confronted with feelings too intense for them to understand: he starts punching shit.

Unfortunately the thing he punches just happens to be another noble knight’s face. Afterwards, Ser Criston attempts to do what he maybe should have done in the first place and unsheaths a dagger to plunge into his belly. Queen Alicent (Emily Carey) stops him at the last moment. We don’t know what Alicent says to stay his hand but she’s a shrewd political operator now who knows that the most manipulatable knight is a soiled knight.

New episodes of House of the Dragon premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max in the U.S. and Sky Atlantic in the U.K.