The Secret Queer Love Is the Heart of ‘House of the Dragon’ (2024)

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Episode 3 of “House of the Dragon” finally saw the reunion of Alicent and Rhaenyra, delighting fans who have long projected a queer romance onto the two female leads.

The Secret Queer Love Is the Heart of ‘House of the Dragon’ (2)

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/HBO

Since the first episode of Game of Thrones-spinoff House of the Dragon aired back in August 2022, the series has garnered a fandom that not even its predecessor could reach. From fan accounts dedicated to Team Black to the official Succession Twitter account going to bat for Team Green, this show’s impact has definitely surpassed initial expectations. But in a story filled with beheadings, dragon fire, and steamy drama, it’s a friendship that remains one of the most compelling parts of House of the Dragon—and has made fans, queer and straight, go wild.

When House of the Dragon begins, young Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alco*ck) and Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) are the best of friends. We are introduced to them both when Rhaenyra dismounts from her dragon and walks to a carriage where Alicent awaits. As they stroll casually through the Red Keep arm in arm, they’re the perfect image of childhood friendship. But, as the series goes on, for many fans, friendship blossoms into romance. The two share yearning glances and touches, and Rhaenyra dreams of a life where the two ride “on dragonback, see the great wonders across the Narrow Sea, and eat only cake.” Any chance of love is quickly stifled, though, when Alicent’s father Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) begins to plot his daughter’s betrothal to King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) after his wife Aemma (Sian Brooke) dies in childbirth.

In true Game of Thrones fashion, Alicent is forced to become her childhood companion’s step-mother, which sets off the downward spiral of their relationship. By the end of Season 1, an older Alicent (now played by Olivia Cooke) has usurped Rhaenyra’s (Emma D’Arcy) throne and made her son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) king; meanwhile, her other son Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) has killed Lucerys (Elliot Grihault), Rhaenyra’s child. While it seems like a point of no return for the two women, Season 2 makes it clear that they are still the heart of the show.

During the first episode of this season—aptly titled “A Son For a Son”—we see Rhaenyra and the Black faction having a funeral on Dragonstone for her son Lucerys. As the family mourns, the scene is intercut with Alicent lighting candles for the fallen back in King’s Landing. She stares at the final candle that needs to be lit for a moment, before whispering Rhaenyra’s son’s name and finally lighting it. The series is making it clear that, even in the height of mourning and grief, Rhaenyra and Alicent are still tethered together.

The Secret Queer Love Is the Heart of ‘House of the Dragon’ (3)

Theo Whiteman/HBO

While some fans find the notion ludicrous that the two would still hold love for each other after all that’s happened, it’s an undeniably more interesting route to take their relationship than in Fire & Blood, the George R.R. Martin novel that the series is based on. Despite all the child murder on each side, Alicent is desperately sending letters to Rhaenyra that have gone unanswered, and she asks after her like a lover scorned. Although Alicent is going through her own tribulations, Rhaenyra is clearly always on her mind. While I’m not sure if the queer-coding regarding Alicent is intentional, she certainly feels like a woman who mourns what her relationship with Rhaenyra could have become, if they lived in a more progressive society. When the two factions finally split after Lucerys’ death, I wasn’t sure whether or not “Rhaenicent” would be able to survive. But thankfully, it has.

They continue to haunt each other as the season progresses, but it isn’t until Episode 3 that the two finally see each other in the flesh again. Dressed as a septa, Rhaenyra disguises herself as one of Alicent’s main pillars of strength and braves entering King’s Landing to meet with her ex-best friend. Throughout her marriage and the war, faith has been one of the only things that has kept Alicent going. By allowing Rhaenyra to wear this disguise, the writers are proposing that Rhaenyra is a form of religion to Alicent, or she is just as important as prayer.

    When the two meet, though, their relationship is as fraught as ever. Alicent looks at Rhaenyra as if she’s a ghost, and Rhaenyra wants nothing more than to relay that she had nothing to do with the beheading of Alicent’s grandson, Jaehaerys. Rhaenyra leaves King’s Landing with the two still at odds, and while nothing gets solved here, it makes you yearn for a time where D’Arcy and Cooke were allowed to share the screen more often. After D’Arcy and Matt Smith (who plays Rhaenyra’s husband, Daemon Targaryen), these two have the best chemistry in the series. It feels like the writers know this as well, and not only did they write this scene for the two characters to come together, but for the actors to do so as well.

    Rhaenyra and Alicent meeting again in a place of worship is perhaps one of the most queer things the show has done so far. Alicent clearly harbors a lot of shame in her life, and in Episode 2, after her grandson is murdered, she tells her father Otto that the gods are punishing her for her sins. While this could be in reference to her scandalous relationship with Criston Cole, we can also infer that she’s talking about her attraction—and love—for Rhaenyra as well. Head writer Sara Hess shared in an interview with Variety that Olivia Cooke once told her that she believes “at some point [Rhaenyra and Alicent] kissed or made out or had some kind of physical interaction that Alicent’s mother found out about and forbade.”

    Cooke’s headcanon for these characters explodes the scene into a cacophony of queerness, and it recontextualizes not only Alicent and Rhaenyra’s childhood friendship, but their relationship as the show progresses too. Although they know deep down they should hate each other, their growing ostracization within their own factions remind them of the women, and girls, they used to be. It feels like each time Alicent and Rhaenyra are shut down, they think of each other, as if they’re wishing that their closest friend up until this point was with them to defend them. Even amidst family deaths that they believe the other is guilty for, these two are still yearning for a relationship that is impossible in the world they find themselves in, and it makes them all the more tragic.

    The Secret Queer Love Is the Heart of ‘House of the Dragon’ (4)

    Theo Whiteman/HBO

    It’s clear by Episode 3 that the creatives behind House of the Dragon maintain that despite the impending war, Rhaenyra and Alicent will always be connected. Whether this be through letters, physical meetings or even an invisible cord, their relationship continues to be one of the most intruding in the series. For better or worse, the series’ narrative hinges on the love they once shared for each other, and I can’t help but admire the writers for this bold change from the novel.

    From the marketing of Season 2, it’s clear that these two aren’t going anywhere, and Rhaenicent fans can thank writers Sara Hess and Ryan Condal for that. The disintegration of their friendship leaves many “what ifs” laying in wait, and in a world that was kinder, perhaps the two could actually be together. For now, at least we have this reunion between the two women, and I have a feeling it won’t be the last we see of them on screen together.

    The Secret Queer Love Is the Heart of ‘House of the Dragon’ (2024)


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