Alicent and Rhaenyra’s Queer Subtext Is The Heart of ‘House Of The Dragon’


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Despite House of the Dragon garnering a growing reputation as a show almost exclusively about bad wigs and hot war criminals — the show’s queer subtext also feels too loud to ignore.

In case you’ve been asleep under a rock, House of the Dragon (HOTD) is the prequel to Game of Thrones that details the downfall of the Targaryen family’s rule over Westeros. The series is set 170 years before Daenerys Targaryen, the family’s surviving heir, retakes the Iron Throne.

The new show also, in my humble opinion, has a lot of delicious queer subtext surrounding its two embattled regents, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Queen Alicent Hightower — and many of the actors and fans agree.

What Do The Actors Say?

The two main women of the series, Rhaenyra and Alicent, have been portrayed by two different actors — one younger and one older. Their young actors portrayed them from episodes one to five, when the characters were growing up. But all their respective actors have discussed deliberate queer subtext in their performances.

Openly queer actor Emily Carey, who portrayed the young version of Alicent in the first half of the season, told Insider: “It was something I was immediately conscious of when I read the script, as a queer woman myself, I was like, hey, they’re kind of in love a little bit. But I think something we played around with is the closeness of young girls like that.”

“I think any woman could think back to the best friend that they had at 14-years-old, and it’s a relationship and a closeness unlike any other where you toe the line between platonic and romantic.”

Milly Alcock, who plays the younger version of Rhaenyra added in the same interview, “It’s 100 percent something we were conscious of. And so if it reads on screen, it was purposeful.”

“When you have your first intense friendship, you’re throwing all these emotions at the other person and seeing which one sticks,” Olivia Cooke, who plays the adult version of Alicent, told Insider. “And it’s incredibly complex but very passionate.”

The sentiment is shared by Cooke’s co-star and Rhaenyra’s older actor, Emma D’Arcy. “I think there’s erotic energy in most intense teenage relationships because it’s a period of trying to work out what one is and what one wants,” D’Arcy said.

The Difference Between Baiting And Subtext

Fans online have also noticed the gay subtext in House of the Dragon. Of course, the series does have one openly gay character Ser Laenor Valeryon, Rhaenyra’s husband.

“Let Rhaenyra be queen! she will legalise gay marriage (so she can marry Alicent),” one fan tweeted. Another wrote, “the dance of the dragons happened because Otto Hightower realised his daughter was gay and in love with Rhaenyra Targaryen”.

Of course other fans have accused the series of queerbaiting. One fan wrote, “What is disturbing, is HOTD‘s queerbaiting with Alicent and Rhaenyra.” Another tweeted, “not HOTD being the first show to successfully pull off lesbian queerbaiting on this scale”.

As many have pointed out over the years, queerbaiting isn’t a synonym for something gay not happening in a piece of media. The term refers to when media is intentionally and explicitly marketed as queer, but never delivers on what it’s advertised.

House of the Dragon’s actors have been clear that any queerness between Alicent and Rhaenyra on screen is a subtext there for the audience to interpret. Subtext is far from baiting, however. It’s a long-held tradition in film and television where creators deliberately portray certain meanings and themes without directly stating them.

In the history of film, queer subtext was historically the only way LGBTIQ+ filmmakers could imbue their work with queer themes, due to Hollywood morality guidelines such as the Hays Code. In many ways, queer subtext is the opposite of baiting as it’s a hidden meaning within a work, whereas queerbaiting is a method of advertising that loudly showcases nothing.

Well, Are They Gay?

Let’s recap: In the first episode of House of the Dragon, a young Rhaenyra offers Alicent a ride on dragon back, an honour typically exclusively reserved for the Targaryens. Fellas, is it gay to tell your girl best friend, there’s room for two on her dragon?

Soon after, we’re treated to scenes of Rhaenyra lying in Alicent’s lap and lamenting that becoming queen would mean less time together. The pair hold hands and pray together too. There’s also a still from the deleted scene of Alicent’s wedding that shows the two pressing their foreheads together. As someone who’s gay, not even I was this gay with my friends.

Even after Alicent is manipulated by her father into a loveless union with Rhaenyra’s father, driving a wedge between them that lasts years, they eventually confess to unbearably missing one another in episode four — though Alicent’s look of betrayal when she learns Rhaenyra has had sex is one that has very little heterosexual explanation if you ask me.

One TikTok user pointed out that the fact that Alicent clothes Rhaenyra in a cloak for her coronation, that the pair have made vows beneath weirwood trees, and even Alicent stabbing Rhaenyra — all reflect various rituals of marriage in Westeros.

The stabbing in question saw Alicent’s festering resentment of Rhaenyra’s privilege that had been egged on by her father hit a boiling point. But I ask you, what’s gayer than redirecting your anger at the patriarchy toward your crush; the walking talking reminder that you can’t ever be what you know you should be?

Despite their fathers’ manipulations, the characters show a consistent dedication to one another. As adults, Rhaenyra repeatedly offers to betroth their children to strengthen their bond. Despite her father’s objections to Rhaenyra’s appointment as heir to the throne, Alicent does support her right to it… until shit hits the fan.

Alicent goes back on her support for Rhaenyra as the chosen heir, usurping Rhaenyra by installing her son as king after the King’s sudden death. All thanks to Alicent misinterpreting her hubby’s final words, and assuming he’d changed his mind on making Rhaenyra his heir.

Yet Alicent begs the High Council and her son to spare Rhaenyra’s life in the coup. Over and over again, Alicent desperately contends that Rhaenyra should be spared because it’s what her husband, Rhaenyra’s father, would have desired.

“Your husband? Or you, his daughter’s childhood companion?” says Alicent’s father, Otto. The subtext here being Alicent’s own father, the hand of the king, has known that Alicent’s true feelings toward Rhaenyra have nothing to do with her husband.

A quintessential experience of queerness is being called out for being a little too obsessed with someone, despite your best efforts to make it seem totally innocuous. LGBTIQ+ folks have often had to cover up their seemingly undefinable and sometimes frightening feelings for someone for their own safety and sanity.

Alicent and Rhaenyra’s intimacy and intensity with one another mirror the experiences of gay and queer women growing up in oppressive environments. In the very least, in a world where men constantly sought to use them, they’re one another’s first and arguably only true friends.

But like so many LGBTIQ+ women before them, their love for one another — a love that was so natural and a source of joy in their youth — has been poisoned and corrupted by a society that prioritises the power and influence of men.

Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon have both shown being gay in Westeros is no picnic, with the majority of LGBTIQ+ characters ending up dead. So it’s no wonder Alicent and Rhaenyra aren’t hosting Kings Landing’s Pride parade, making their desire for one another a truly divine, yet tragic subtext.

The Targaryen civil war in which House of the Dragon is based is known as the Dance of Dragons, and it’s billed as a great battle motivated by power and greed, which it is. But in many ways, it’s also the tragic epic of two young women made so powerless by the men around them that their quest for power consumed even who they were to each other.

Whether you think there’s queer subtext between them or not, one thing we can all agree on is that a whole civil war might have been avoided if selfish kings and scheming fathers had not carved out a black hole-sized wedge between two women who cared about each other.

House of the Dragon is streaming on Foxtel.

Merryana Salem (they/them) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher and podcaster on most social media as @akajustmerry. If you want, check out their podcast, GayV Club where they yarn about LGBTIQ media. Either way, they hope you ate something nice today.