Television

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Rhaenyra Targaryen

Your day is coming soon, Daemon.

A teenage girl and a man in a garden.
These two! Ollie Upton / HBO

After each episode of House of the Dragon, HBO’s prequel to Game of Thrones, Slate writers gather to answer an age-old question: Who is the worst person in Westeros? This week: senior editor Rebecca Onion and books and culture columnist Laura Miller answer the call.

Rebecca Onion: Laura! Last week we marveled at the fact that Daemon, despite obviously being the troublemaker on this show (and also being named Daemon), had not been the Worst Person in Westeros yet. This week, I am ready to give him the crown. He arrives back at Viserys’ court, what seems (to judge by the age of Alicent’s fussy younger child) to be a scant year or so after the end of Episode 3, asking for forgiveness and reacceptance into his brother’s good graces. Viserys—perennially a fool—hugs him and lets him in. Then, Daemon, who knows very well that his niece Rhaenyra is a pent-up bottle of rage—having been continually fighting with her father, who still wants her to marry advantageously—sets up a fun night on the town, giving her clothes to dress as a boy and taking her around to taverns and amusements. They end up in a brothel, they kiss, and maybe (I’m curious for your interpretation) have sex, up against a wall. Then he pushes her away, knowing she will want more, and later asks the king for her hand.

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Rhaenyra marrying Daemon would suit him very well, both because he’s attracted to her and because he wants power, and he might be able to get that by making her fall in love with him (or, I guess, just activating the pre-existing chemistry they seem to have with one another—and yes, I know I’m typing that about uncle-niece incest, but I think it’s the show’s fault, not mine). He seems to have ruined her in more ways than one in this episode—in the Regency romance, “caught in a compromising position,” way, and just by being more interesting and more electric than anyone else she knows in her everyday life. As her uncle, who’s known her a long time and has some degree of her trust, he was uniquely positioned to take advantage of her stagnant frustration, and he did it.

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It remains to be seen whether the plan will work, but I think he deserves it: WPiW. Do you agree? Or is there another candidate out there?

Laura Miller: Now that the guy who feeds people alive to crabs has been taken out, Daemon is the perennial No. 1 choice, but I’m going to be bold here and propose Rhaenyra as the Worst Person in Westeros. First, though, I need to gripe about my meta-worst person, which is whoever is responsible for everyone in the series constantly referring to Westeros as “the realm”! It’s such a hokey, costume-drama tic, and (as a history buff) correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t medieval or early-modern potentates commonly refer to the kingdoms they rule by name—not “the realm,” which makes it sound like this is a fairy tale, but “England” or “France”? It’s a little thing, but it’s a symptom of the cheesiness of so much of HotD, which doesn’t feel like a gritty fantasy version of the historical past as much as GoT did.

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This beef is related to my suggesting Rhaenyra, I promise! You and I have concurred that HotD is so much like one of those princess series on Starz, only with dragons. This episode has very few dragons, or just one in a brief fly-by, which only accentuates the princess-series qualities: a lot of flouncing and petulance in fancy dresses and complaining about how hard it is to be a princess and unable to marry the guy of your choice. Rhaenyra has been sympathetic up to this point, but now she’s starting to resemble her dad. She wants to be queen, but she doesn’t want to accept any of the responsibilities that come with it. She’s fighty, I’ll grant her that, but just as Viserys avoids warfare, she seems unwilling to engage in any kind of strategic diplomatic behavior. She seems to think that being in line to rule means she gets to do whatever she wants, which is something she shares with Daemon.

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But most of all, I think she was selfish and irresponsible in seducing her bodyguard, Criston Cole, who, unlike her uncle, is of common blood and likely to be executed if anyone finds out that he slept with her. People go on and on about how ill-suited Viserys is for power, but this made me think that Rhaenyra is equally so, just in a different way.

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Onion: Okay, yes. Rhaenyra was going to be my second choice, for these same reasons. How can she possibly think that she can become queen, and keep power? She has no evidence, except for the fact that she wants it and that her father is still behind her, and by now she should know that Viserys doesn’t make good decisions. Her reaction to seeing the play that Daemon takes her to in disguise, where citizens of “the realm” (which, that’s cheesy as hell, I agree) boo her effigy on stage and clearly want her brother to take the throne instead, is to say, basically, “They will have to get used to it.”

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I sense that Daemon, for all that he wants to marry Rhaenyra for her position and to have sex with a niece he thinks is hot, also has some desire to protect her from this scenario, which he thinks may end with her head on a pike, and is trying to give her more evidence that people aren’t with her, to convince her she needs him by her side. (Am I … thinking the best of Daemon, again? How awful! I do go back and forth, and I blame Matt Smith for being interesting to watch.)

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Regardless, I do agree that Rhaenyra seducing Ser Criston was extremely selfish and short-sighted, and maybe the worst thing she’s done so far. He’s doomed as soon as anyone finds out—she elevated him, and now she’s going to wreck him, all because she got mad at her uncle/lover and wanted to prove something about gender equality to herself. I wasn’t even sure Ser Criston was all that into the sex! She imposed herself. This show really needs to give Rhaenyra something else to do—some kind of a function she can perform that’s unrelated to waiting for the throne-slash-marriage. Right now, she’s pretty unbearable.

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Is there anyone else to consider? Otto Hightower, for spying on Rhaenyra and telling tales of her exploits to her dad? Viserys was pretty mean to Alicent, laughing at her for offering to show Daemon her new tapestries, and then later on that night having sex with her while his open sores were weeping. (So gross.) But they seem fairly secondary compared to these two main contenders.

Laura: I pity Viserys, so it’s hard for me to pick him. He can’t help his physical deterioration. Otto is a creepy climber doing what creepy climbers do. I agree that Daemon is awful, particularly in the last episode when he beat the messenger who came with news that his brother was going to help him out. Clearly, he was willing for plenty of his men to suffer and die rather than share credit for victory over the Crabfeeder.

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But this week, he didn’t coerce Rhaenyra into anything. Incest isn’t a taboo for the Valyrians, so—rather hilariously—when it’s suggested last episode that she marry Aegon, what’s considered shocking is the fact that he’s a baby, not that he’s her brother! Daemon knows that Rhaenyra is attracted to him, so he takes her on this educational little tour of how the other half lives and thinks, culminating in a tour of a whorehouse to get her worked up enough to succumb to their mutual attraction. I think his goal is both to compromise her and to make her want him, laying the groundwork for his pitch to Viserys that he marry her. But I don’t think their canoodling was consummated, and that’s why she seduced poor Ser Criston. Then she denied it very convincingly to Alicent. Wow! What a gifted little liar she is!

Rebecca: Oh, okay. You’re right about the open sores; Viserys can’t help it. And I forgot about the “lying to Alicent” Rhaenyra did!! Poor Alicent! The two of them had just begun to reconnect after their rift of the past years, or so it seemed, and Alicent had admitted to Rhaenyra that’s she’s intensely lonely. Then here comes this “friend,” abusing her trust. Okay, that’s it. I agree with you: Princess Rhaenyra is the Worst Person in Westeros this week. So let it be written!

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