Television

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Criston Cole

Second-worst: the makeup artist who created that smashed-in face.

A man and a woman in medieval dress holding hands.
Lovers on the Worst. 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 editorial assistant Nadira Goffe answer the call.

Rebecca Onion: Last week, Laura Miller and I considered, and then dismissed, the idea that Daemon Targaryen, the niece-seducer, might finally become the Worst Person in Westeros, instead deciding that his niece Rhaenyra—petulant, lying, entitled, and illogical—must take home the crown. I am mildly worried that this week’s decision-making process is going to go the same way, which truly says something about the way this show has made Rhaenyra into the most annoying princess ever.

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But let’s first consider what happened between Daemon and his first wife at the outset of this fifth episode, which was—pretty bad! Lady Rhea Royce (Rachel Redford) has been estranged from Daemon from the start of the series, and he’s called her all kinds of mean things, but we only find out in this episode, when we see her riding a horse on her way to hunt some deer, that they haven’t even consummated their marriage. It’s pretty clear why. Lady Rhea harangues Daemon from horseback when she runs into him in a remote ravine, and she clearly has no respect for him and never wanted to be married to him in the first place.

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In the course of this encounter, she figures out that he has an incentive to get rid of her so he can try to marry Rhaenyra, and the look that crosses her face when she realizes it is pretty well-done on Rachel Redford’s part—she gets scared. Then, in some way I couldn’t quite see, Daemon gets the horse to rear up so that it tosses Lady Rhea off and falls on top of her. (The bone-crunching sounds I could have done without!) She clearly is very severely hurt, apparently paralyzed, and taunts him into mercy-killing her. I looked it up, and in the book the show was based on, Lady Rhea dies in a hunting accident, but not at Daemon’s hand. Here, I think we see him pretty clearly kill her? Is he, finally, the WPiW for this?

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Nadira Goffe: Gosh, I do want to take a moment to commend the performances from both Rachel Redford and Matt Smith in that scene as you mentioned. That was perhaps the most suspense I’ve felt watching the show so far. But back to the Westerosi baddies (and not in the good way): I hate to say it, but I don’t think I can give it to Daemon this week either! I might have given it to him last week, if I had been on duty for WPiW, but I don’t think what he did this week is as bad as last (though it was horrible). Quietly murdering someone who is not that nice to you is not actually the worst thing that happens this week.

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In that vein, I do actually want to bring up Rhaenyra again. I know you crowned her WPiW last week, but she’s been no saint this week either. I was surprised to see how impressed I was by her decision to finally give in to her duties to ensure her status as future leader of The Realm™: namely, marrying someone not of her choice and approaching marriage on the whole as both her father and uncle have cautioned her to—as a political opportunity rather than a personal one. In this episode Rhaenyra finally gives in and agrees to marry her cousin Laenor Velaryon. A now more-mature Rhaenyra makes peace with a few things: not only agreeing to an arranged marriage, but also agreeing to marry Laenor even though she knows his not-so-secret secret: he’s gay. (He’s also romantically entangled with the knight Ser Joffrey Lonmouth.) She suggests that they get married, pop out an heir or two, and go on sleeping with whomever they like.

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But this agreement of going along to get along (with her father and The Realm™) makes clear the emotional destruction Rhaenyra has left in her wake. Ser Criston, her paramour, actually proposes to Rhaenyra and suggests they run away together. She rejects him rather unfeelingly, citing her duty to the throne, but seemingly without any remorse for wrangling Ser Criston into this position in the first place. It was Rhaenyra who seduced him, not the other way around, and he posits their potential marriage as not only a love match for him but also a way to restore his honor after breaking the oath of chastity he swore as a member of the Kingsguard. Alicent is also dismayed when she finds out that Rhaenyra lied to her (due to Ser Criston’s loose lips) not only because of the betrayal, but also because Rhaenyra’s misdeeds led to the ousting of her father as the Hand to the King. What did you make of Rhaenyra this week?

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Rebecca: Oh, I was mad at Rhaenyra. So mad. We knew last week that she was going to get Ser Criston in trouble, but I didn’t see quite how it would go, though maybe I should have. He got romantic about her! He should not have, but talk about a setup: he is her sworn protector, who promised to be celibate, and then he threw that vow in the trash for her. He seems to have convinced himself that the whole thing was so dramatic, and so bad, that it had to mean something, but he can’t have had that much knowledge of her actual personality, if he thought that. She was absolutely not going to go to a faraway land and become anonymous with him! She is the Princess, blah blah, the duty to her house or whatever. Mostly, although she didn’t say it this way, she doesn’t go with him because she will never give up being rich and powerful. Nope!

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I suspect we won’t crown him in the end, but let’s take a brief detour to toy with the idea that Ser Criston might be WPiW material this week. At the pre-wedding feast hosted by an increasingly ill Viserys, Rhaenyra and Daemon are having a furious, upsettingly chemistry-filled fight about whether she should marry her cousin or her uncle, under cover of some Westorosi group dancing. (Side note: I loved that; any time they get fake-folkloric on a Game of Thrones show, I’m all in.) There’s a disturbance in the crowd, and people start to panic. It’s Ser Criston, who has picked a fight with Joffrey Lonmouth. The crowd surges, the characters on the outskirts worriedly try to figure out what is happening, and Criston punches Lonmouth in the face until he’s dead—it’s very disgusting.

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Meanwhile, Rhaenyra is caught in the crush, and the King’s Hand has to send in one of his own warriors to grab her out. So Ser Criston is not only a murderer who killed someone who seems to have been innocent, but he was very bad at being a sworn protector! His temper nearly got her killed. He almost stabs himself out of shame in the Godswood before Alicent finds him there. (I suspect Alicent may have discovered herself an anti-Rhaenyra ally! I’m excited to see how this develops in future episodes.)

I know, none of this is really Ser Criston’s fault. But was it? Could he have controlled his feelings a bit more, and spared us the face-mush?

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Goffe: The true answer is the HotD effects team is the WPiW, for making us look at Lonmouth’s pummeled head after Ser Criston kills him. But, yes! Yes to all of your questions! I absolutely think Ser Criston is the worst Westerosi this week. I think my issue with him has many layers, the first being something you mentioned: his near-sightedness to the way things really work. It was incredibly naive for someone of his status and proximity to Rhaenyra to think that she would ever consider leaving her fame and fortune (and future groundbreaking legacy of being a female ruler, though I still think that idea is ill-fated) for an idyllic dream of some really good produce and an attractive man. She is a princess: she already has the world’s best produce, and access to the world’s men if she so wishes. She didn’t love him; I’m not convinced she loves anyone except her late mother. What she does love is power and maintaining a rebellious spirit … and dragons. Though Rhaenyra holds more power as a princess and the current heir to the throne, Ser Criston is an older man, who should’ve known better before hopping into bed with her.

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This is all annoying, sure. But it becomes bad when his naivete brutally and rather unjustly causes the death of someone else. Ser Criston picks this fight with Joffrey Lonmouth because Lonmouth sidles up to Ser Criston during the engagement party and lets him know that he has clocked the secret romance between Ser Criston and Rhaenyra from a mile away. But he simultaneously confides in him that he is also in a secret romance with Laenor! Though during the actual wedding festivities would not be my ideal place for making such political moves, Lonmouth suggests working together to keep their mutual secrets, because if the secret is safe, then they are safe. Ser Criston then sees Lonmouth as a threat and that’s understandable.

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But Lonmouth also revealed information he didn’t have to in order to earn Criston’s trust, and I think it certainly qualifies as a proper tit for tat. Ser Criston was just too emotional to handle it well. Moments later Ser Criston is bludgeoning Lonmouth to death with his fist, in the middle of a full royal court—making a spectacle of himself, giving the partygoers PTSD, undermining the strength of the Targaryen name that all of this fanfare was supposed to shore up, and endangering not only Rhaenyra but also the arrangement she and Laenor had worked out as a manner of dealing with their betrothal. Two relationships ended that night, but Laenor was truly left heartbroken, though he did no wrong. And while it was definitely self-serving, Joffrey Lonmouth might’ve been doing the right thing. If Ser Criston had just accepted his rejection like a normal human being, he could be sailing away to find his own happiness and someone who actually loves him.

I wish he wasn’t my vote for WPiW this week (I wish it was Alicent, I was ready for her to do something dastardly to make the plot more interesting) but unfortunately he is. Who did you ultimately have in mind?

Rebecca: Okay, you are making a series of excellent points. I hate to add insult to injury, because the guy lost so much this episode (his lover, his job, the intact nature of the skin on his knuckles), but Ser Criston: You are the Worst Person in Westeros! We’re done!

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