How ‘House of the Dragon’ fixes ‘Game of Thrones’ mistakes

Warning: The following contains spoilers from House of the Dragon Episode 4, King of the Narrow Sea.

Young Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen from House of the Dragon is a lucky girl. She has freedom, security and guile, luxuries that weren’t allowed to the women of Game of Thrones until they endured all manner of violence and humiliation over several seasons.

We’re only into the fourth episode of the HBO prequel series, and already there’s evidence that Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) possesses Daenerys Targaryen’s dragon-riding skills and warrior-heart, Cersei Lannister’s scheming talents and Arya Stark’s rebellious spirit, especially when told to “behave like a lady”.

The young king is the product of mistakes learned in the original series, most notably Dany’s death. Like many of the “Game of Thrones” women who were regularly raped, abused, imprisoned, starved, or married to sadistic pigs, she had to suffer before she was granted any shred of sovereignty. And when Dany was finally ready to take the throne, the Chainbreaker and Mother of Dragons was slain just yards from the Seat of Power. She was denied the award for abusing her authority and burning innocents alive on her quest to conquer King’s Landing. But was it worse than the blood on the hands of the men who ruled Westeros before her, or those who might come later? Could she redeem herself like Tyrion and Jamie Lannister? For female fans watching the show, its ending reflected a familiar office dynamic: men fail upwards and capitalize on chance after chance. Women’s failure is fatal because they only get one chance.

The situation is different in Westeros from “House of the Dragon”, which takes place almost 200 years before Dany was born. Rhaenyra does the unthinkable in this week’s episode, and she’s neither disowned nor dead — not yet. Her discretion is all the more astounding given that King Viserys (Paddy Considine) has finally allowed her to choose a husband instead of arranging their marriage. But marriage is the last thing the 17-year-old wants. Rhaenyra rejects a procession of suitors, from frail old men to frail boys, and rolls her eyes at “the ridiculous pageant”.

She later complains to her childhood friend Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) about the exhausting tour of would-be husbands.

Alicent, who is now the queen, says, “It is rare for girls in this realm to have a choice of two suitors, no fewer than two dozen.”

“They only want my name and my Valyrian blood for their offspring,” the princess laments, to which the queen replies, “I think that’s quite romantic.”

“How romantic it must be to get locked in a castle and squeeze heirs.” Poor, forever pregnant Alicent. It’s the story of her teenage life.

A woman stands in front of a burning city

Turning Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) into a demented killer was a betrayal of her series — and one of the decisions that alienated Game of Thrones viewers.

(HBO)

Though rebellious, Rhaenyra is still naïve in many ways, and her devious uncle, Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), sees opportunity in that innocence. He urges her to sneak out of the castle with him at night, and disguised in boy’s clothing, she witnesses the spectacle and debauchery of The Keep. He takes her to a brothel that has far more men on the payroll than Littlefinger’s brothel (another notable change in this version of Westeros). The orgy arouses her passions and Daemon begins to publicly seduce her – and then literally leaves her with her pants down. She returns to King’s Landing and in turn courts her knight and protector, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel).

The princess removes his armor and clothing. She initiates her role on the royal sheets, choosing who and when to lose her virginity with. It was a surprising twist in a gripping but brutal saga in which barbarism towards girls and women was an integral part of the game.

But House of the Dragon is not a progressive reimagining of the Seven Kingdoms, despite all the protests from “fans” who have criticized the prequel for being too “woke” simply because it features black characters and self-possessed women. Even at first glance, the changing societal mores make sense: House of the Dragon is set in a different time period than Game of Thrones, and much can evolve – and go back – over two centuries.

Alicent is a prime example of the norm for royal ladies in this version of Westeros. While the princess takes a liking to the hot young knight, the mother-of-two fulfills her duty as queen: she stares blankly at the ceiling and lies on the bed under the old, decomposing king while he grunts at her. It is the epitome of sacrificing for the kingdom.

There are other signs that “House of the Dragon” has instilled more in Rhaenyra than her predecessors (at least in the HBO series’ social order). Her strong survival instinct kicks in when a spy reveals she’s been to a brothel where she appears to have “lost her honor” to her uncle, and it’s here we witness her potential as a master tactician. Cunning in women is often a negative attribute reserved for evil queens and witches, but here it is a potential superpower in the making.

It remains to be seen if Rhaenyra will be allowed to soar or if she gets her wings clipped if she gets too tall, à la Dany. With six episodes to go, it’s a franchise known for crushing fans’ expectations of their favorite characters. But for now, House of the Dragon has artfully separated two excellent series by empowering a young princess.

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-09-11/hourse-of-the-dragon-episode-4-rhaenyra-versus-daenerys How ‘House of the Dragon’ fixes ‘Game of Thrones’ mistakes

Sarah Ridley

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