The following contains spoilers for House of the Dragon Season 1, Episode 2, “The Rogue Prince,” which debuted Sunday, Aug. 28 on HBO.
It’s no secret that House of the Dragon is due to focus on the Targaryen civil war and while the first two episodes of the HBO series may paint Daemon Targaryen as the black sheep and potential antagonist of the series, Season 1, Episode 2, “The Rogue Prince” has made it clear that Rhaenyra Targaryen has another rival to be cautious of this season: Alicent Hightower.
Alicent and Rhaenyra started off as one another’s confidants. However, their relationship began to grow distant in the wake of Queen Aemma’s death, with Rhaenyra withdrawing from the world as she grieves her mother. In the meantime, Alicent had taken to comforting King Viserys — and this closeness proved enough for Viserys to jeopardize his rule and relationship with Rhaenyra when he declared Alicent his new bride. The union understandably upset Rhaenyra, who was not at all ready for her best friend to be taking her mother’s place.
It’s worth noting that Alicent has yet to come into her role as an antagonist and hasn’t intended to hurt Rhaenyra in the midst of her relationship with the king. Even if she’s thought to have betrayed Rhaenyra, Alicent initially approached Viserys to genuinely express her condolences based on the way she wished people would’ve treated her after her mother’s death. Additionally, she continued to try to help Rhaenyra as she coped with her mother’s loss, by teaching her how to pray as a means of communicating with her mother.
Whereas Viserys is constantly battered by the small council over matters of duty, Alicent has created a safe space for the King to indulge his interests and grieve his passed wife, making their relationship feel authentic in ways that other marriage prospects weren’t. King Viserys specifically asks Alicent not to tell Rhaenyra about their talks out of fear Rhaenyra would misinterpret their relationship, so that’s a choice partially out of Alicent’s hands and not completely her fault.
Additionally, Alicent’s threat to Rhaenyra is not even based on her own position. She proves a threat because of two major factors: her ambitious father and her ability to produce a male heir. To the first point, it’s important to remember that Alicent didn’t seek out a relationship with the king based on her own initiative — she was ordered to by her father, the Hand of the King, Ser Otto Hightower. Most have drawn a comparison between Ser Otto and the infamous Petyr Baelish and for good reason: Otto’s ambitions prove to be much more of a danger to Rhaenyra than Daemon or Alicent (at the moment).
House of the Dragon has seen him manipulating King Viserys against Daemon, suggesting Rhaenyra as heir to the Iron Throne (likely as a ploy to weaken Viserys’ hold on the realm and make him or Rhaenyra easier to overthrow), and arguing against the union between Laena Velaryon and Viserys, knowing that this would cost the King an ally. While his power is directly tied to Viserys, Otto sees his opportunity through his daughter and eventual lineage. With Viserys declaring that Rhaenyra will be heir regardless of the other children he may produce, Otto will be there to ensure that his grandchildren get a fair shot of the throne. This may be a mentality that he tries to develop in Alicent as the series progresses.
With the show’s direction due to change next season, it’s likely House of the Dragon will continue to explore the first possibility. Alicent may very well give birth to a male heir over the course of the first season, which will spur deeper conflict between her and Rhaenyra. With Rhaenyra holding the formal title of Viserys’ heir, it’s not just Otto who stands to threaten her at that point. Alicent may hope to keep her family in power, furthering the tensions between the two former best friends.
The tumultuous relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent has yet to be explored in its fullest capacity. Rhaenyra feels betrated by Alicent and this stands to worsen as the story progresses. With Otto’s plot to oust Daemon and put Alicent in power fully manifested, the degradation of Alicent and Rhaenyra’s relationship is going to be critical as time continues to advance and Rhaenyra gets closer to her shot at the Iron Throne.
House of the Dragon airs Sundays at 9:00 p.m. on HBO and streams on HBO Max.