Not for the first time, HBO’spresented a perplexing character decision in need of further dissection. from to , season 1 of the Game of Thrones prequel series is absorbing, to say the least. The latest episodes — — saw Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, aka The Queen Who Never Was, take her turn in the spotlight.
Let’s discuss that huge final scene with the Princess and why she chose not to burn a certain family to cinders.
Warning: Spoiler ahead.
Why didn’t Rhaenys burn the Hightowers?
Despite having been imprisoned by the Hightowers, Princess Rhaenys chooses to spare their lives — for now. After escaping her room with the help of defected knight Erryk Cargyll, Rhaenys finds herself swept up in Prince Aegon’s coronation ceremony. She slinks away as Aegon receives the Conqueror’s crown, managing to descend beneath the floorboards and reunite with her red-hued she-dragon Meleys. Rhaenys and Meleys then burst through the floorboards, sending the ceremony into chaos.
Facing down the Hightower clan — including Queen Alicent, her father Otto and her son Aegon — Rhaenys has the opportunity to end the Hightowers’ reign for good. All she has to do is say “Dracarys,” the High Valyrian (language of the old Valyrian Freehold) word for “Dragonfire” and order Meleys to breath fire. Instead, Meleys lets out a deafening shriek. Rhaenys shares a meaningful look with Alicent, who’s standing protectively in front of Aegon, before she and Meleys fly off.
Let’s allow the co-showrunners to explain why Rhaenys chose to spare the Hightowers. Here’s what Miguel Sapochnik says in HBO’s Inside the Episode featurette about creating the big moment for the character:
“We really wanted to make sure that there was meat on her character. Rhaenys was not passive, and it felt this was an incredibly valuable moment to — rather than have her just bear witness to something — be able to take part in it . But her moral standpoint become the reason for inaction rather than action.”
Here’s what Ryan J. Condal says about Rhaenys’ motivations behind sparing the Hightowers’ lives.
“She knows if she sets fire to that dais, she ends any possibility of war and probably sets peace throughout the realm, but I think probably doesn’t want to be responsible for doing that to another mother. And it’s a complex choice and one that people might dispute or have a problem with, but that’s the choice Rhaenys makes in that moment. We see her busting out, and being the one that’s going to take the news to Dragonstone of the coup and of Rhaenyra’s throne being stolen. And it was a great, you know, great heroic moment for her character.”
Condal is right in thinking this is a controversial character decision from Rhaenys. Wouldn’t she ultimately want to dutifully serve her chosen side by destroying the opposition?
Let’s look at her interactions with Alicent in the lead up to help explain her motivations.
What do Alicent and Rhaenys say to each other before the coronation?
Halfway through, Alicent pays Rhaenys a visit in her quarters, where Rhaenys was being held prisoner. She informs Rhaenys of King Viserys’ passing, and Rhaenys quickly ascertains that Alicent is usurping the throne from Princess Rhaenyra.
Alicent explains she came to Rhaenys to ask for her support. Alicent argues that House Velaryon’s alliance with Princess Rhaenyra has only brought misfortune. Rhaenys’ daughter Laena is dead. Her son. Rhaenyra’s heirs are of questionable non-Velaryon heritage. Only Rhaenys’ husband Lord Corlys Velaryon cares about the Iron Throne and he’s also potentially on his deathbed after a six-year trip to war.
“The word of my house is not fickle” — is how Rhaenys responds to all of this. Her house is pledged to Rhaenyra, so they will remain fiercely loyal.
Alicent then surprises Rhaenyra with her last, desperate plea:
“No. But, dear cousin, you more than any soul alive understand what I say now. Princess Rhaenys, I loved my husband, but I will speak the truth we both know. You should’ve been queen … The Iron Throne was yours by blood and by temperament. Viserys would’ve lived his days a country lord, content to hunt and study his history, but… here we are. We do not rule. But we may guide the men that do. Gently … away from violence and sure destruction and instead toward peace.”
Rhaenys is astute again, seeing through Alicent’s words and realizing that House Hightower needs her dragon to overmatch Rhaenyra. This is the only way Rhaenyra will be encouraged to negotiate and avoid war.
Rhaenys says Alicent is wiser than she first believed, but reproaches Alicent for her continued service to men.
“And yet you toil still in service to men. Your father, your husband, your son. You desire not to be free but to make a window in the wall of your prison. Have you never imagined yourself on the Iron Throne?”
It seems that Rhaenys understands Alicent more than the other way around. Seeing Alicent at the coronation ceremony, standing in front of her son, Rhaenys might have decided to have faith in Alicent. She might have believed Alicent would do her best in guiding her son on the right path. Rhaenys, taking control of the situation, chooses a moral stance against violence and destruction and instead believes there might be a way to peace.
Rhaenys also knows that, if she sticks with Rhaenyra, their side is still more powerful. Even if Rhaenys retreats now, her side stands a good chance of winning any ensuing wars. Basically, Rhaenys rules.
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