Luka: “The Green Council” has been very well reviewed, but it looks like a certain portion of the fandom didn’t like it that much. Where do you stand, overall?
Petra: I really enjoyed it. I like this idea of dedicating an entire episode to characters we’re implicitly supposed to oppose. The aspect of the story I’ve latched onto most is the generational nature of the conflict; the way Rhaenyra and Alicent have passed their trauma onto their children. So, I’m most invested when House of the Dragon focuses on Aegon, Aemond, Helaena and, though they weren’t in this episode, Jace, Luke, Baela and Rhaena.
Luka: This may be the episode I’ve changed my mind about the most. Having read Fire and Blood, I had different expectations for how it’d be structured; I expected more Green Council, and less searching for Aegon. On my first watch, that made me impatient and led me to miss (or at least not to truly feel) what those scenes were accomplishing. Which was a lot. It was the heart of the episode! On second watch, knowing what was coming, I thought it was actually well-paced. I’d like to ask you something, following up from last week: you weren’t sure about how Alicent believing that Viserys changed his mind about Aegon would affect her character. You thought it may make her feel, well, dumb. Do you like it more now that we’ve seen her reaction and that of everyone else around her?
Petra: I certainly felt vindicated that no one else seems to believe her, not even those who benefit from it like Otto. I was surprised by how much Aegon telling his mother she’s wrong ingratiated him to me. He isn’t likable, but at least he’s willing to acknowledge the emperor has no clothes. As for Alicent … boy, I don’t know what to think of her. I wouldn’t say I thought her reaction last week made her seem dumb, but it introduced new elements to her motivation that I felt we didn’t need. She told Aegon in episode six that he should take the throne, yet this episode she behaves as if this is a course of actions she’s only just considered. She seemed shocked and angry that Otto and the other members of the Small Council had been planning a coup without telling her. For sixteen years she’s treated it as a foregone conclusion that Rhaenyra will kill her children once Viserys dies, yet now, thanks to their brief reconciliation, she’s concerned for Rhaenyra’s safety?
Luka: But that’s the thing: Alicent is all about propriety and legitimacy. Of course she is shocked that Otto and the Small Council had been planning a coup, because a coup is not what she wanted; especially not a violent one. What she wanted until the very last moment was for Viserys to realize Rhaenyra was “trouble” and make Aegon heir. I thought Cooke played it so well: every single time she tells someone about Viserys’s deathbed confession, you can tell she’s convincing herself of it, hanging on those words for dear life because that’s what she needs to believe to justify herself. Of course, no one believes her, even among those who are happy to use her words as a story to prop up Aegon. This difference between Alicent and Otto and the rest of the Greens proves true for the crux of the episode: the race to find Aegon. The Greens may be one party, but they’re not a monolith, which is a wise adaptation choice. Alicent wants to offer good terms Alicent believes Rhaenyra may accept “without shame.” It’s not just to save face; she wants to “do it right.” Otto, in turn, wants to storm Dragonstone, take Rhaenyra and the Blacks by surprise, and imprison them only to execute them when they inevitably refuse to bend the knee. In Fire and Blood, Aegon II is the one who wants to do the latter, and Alicent and Helaena convince him to offer Rhaenyra terms of surrender instead. This, I thought, was a beautiful expansion of that, making Alicent much more of a three-dimensional, complicated character who makes decisions in her own right. Partly spurred by Rhaenys’s dig at her, of course. That was such a beautifully written scene, by the way, and one crucial to understand Alicent’s struggle: “You desire not to be free, but to make a window on the wall of your prison.”
Petra: That scene was fantastic. Rhaenys put words to what I had been feeling, that Alicent remains indentured to men however much she talks about the importance of soft power. In some ways, their conversation makes me feel better about the deathbed confession because it acknowledges, makes a thematic point, of Alicent not breaking bad, not having her, “I am through being polite, goddammit!” moment. As we see in her interactions with Criston Cole and, um, Larys, her power is entirely contingent on the men in her life allowing her to have power.
Luka: So disturbing. And not because of the fetish. I feel like we gets to live through Alicent’s perspective in this episode, and what a sad perspective it is.
Petra: I’m also not crazy about how it further reduces Larys to his disability. The man with the clubfoot has a foot fetish? C’mon, guys.
Luka: I hadn’t even made that connection! Is that on purpose? If so, yeah, it’s a bit unsavory, at the very least, especially for a character who’s so sinister already and one of the only disabled characters. Besides Aemond, I suppose.
Petra: Thus far, Aemond does not seem to be entirely defined by his missing eye. I may change my mind after next episode, but so far he’s got dimensionality beyond what happened to him as a kid. Also, I can’t tell you how vindicating it is, after years of going it (mostly) alone as a Theon fan, to favor a character that other people also like. The Aemond memes have been delightful.
Luka: I guess Theon just needed a cool eyepatch! Speaking of Aemond, I’ve seen some befuddlement as to why he and Ser Criston were sent by Alicent to search for Aegon separately from Otto’s men, the Cargyll twins. I saw some people who were so confused about the premise of the race that they thought Otto wanted to have Aegon killed for some reason. I thought it was clear, but seeing so many people miss the point makes me think it’s a flaw in the script, direction, and/or editing. Were the stakes of the race for Aegon established well enough for you?
Petra: I initially got confused on who set Mysaria’s house on fire, thinking it was Otto, only later realizing it was Larys at Alicent’s behest. But I followed the logic that whichever side found Aegon would be the one to decide Rhaenyra’s fate.
Luka: Exactly! At the Green Council, Alicent realized Otto would do whatever he wanted when she saw they’d been planning behind her back and when, despite her protestations, he ordered Westerling to “take” Rhaenyra. Then she learned he’d sent the twins to retrieve Aegon, so she saw the only way to force her father to follow her plan: if she got to her son before Otto, she’d have an ace up her sleeve; if she could have Aegon safely stashed away, Otto would have to agree to her plan to offer Rhaenyra fair terms instead of stabbing her in the back. No king, no coup.
Petra: Ironic that Aemond was on the mission for a peaceful transfer of power.
Luka: Right! Aemond’s not exactly the best steward for his mother’s goal of making Aegon king while saving Rhaenyra’s life. His heart isn’t on it, to say the least. Still, mine was! It felt like a suspenseful cat-and-mouse thriller. The race for Aegon also made me think of how Aegon is a prop not unlike all other Targaryen regalia: Alicent tells Otto they need to legitimize Aegon’s rule by using the Conqueror’s crown and sword, and they hold the coronation in the historic Dragonpit in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and the funny thing is they’re using Aegon the same way, as a prop! Just like it is with whoever has the throne, the crown, Blackfyre, and other symbols of power, whoever holds Aegon has the power too. He’s just another symbol! The question is: are any of these symbols enough? Doesn’t Rhaenys show them how useless they are when faced with true power? It’s a more subtle thing, but Mysaria alludes to another form of true power: the consent of the people, which the highborn ignore to their detriment, as I’m sure we’ll witness in future seasons. I saw this episode as an enactment of Varys’s parable: “Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick— A shadow on the wall.”
Petra: It was also an example of Alicent forcing her child into the role of political pawn just like her father forced her. It’s all so toxic and superficial, both on a political level and a familial one.
Luka: Or, in other words, “You imbecile!”
Petra: That was something, wasn’t it? The way she smiled when she said it, I wondered if she meant it as a sort of joke: “You imbecile, you need to ask?” But in context, Aegon clearly does need to ask. Thinking back to the third episode, I think it’s a bit odd that they introduced Aegon into the story as this child who was showered with love and preferential treatment because of his sex, only to have him grow into this sullen asshat due to emotional deprivation.
Luka: Viserys, man… “My only child,” he told Rhaenyra. Obviously his mind was addled at that point, but I think that only revealed how he felt in his heart. He seemed to regard his children with Alicent more like nephews or grandchildren, really. It’s not a wonder to me that Aegon turned out like that. You said it first, but I feel sorry for the guy, despite him being a rapist asshole, which is good writing in my book. They’re not writing a moralistic fable here. Some of the takes I’ve read… look, I don’t even want to go there. But yes, getting to know Aegon much better, as well as Aemond and to a lesser extent Helaena, was a big part of why the long search for the prince worked for me. It gave us room to learn about Alicent’s children, about Alicent’s rift from her father, about what Mysaria’s deal may be, about where four of the seven Kingsguards will position themselves in this schism, and more. Now, I suppose it’s time to move on to the coronation, isn’t it?
Petra: Grand ceremonies do not end well in Westeros. What’s your take on Rhaenys’ splashy entrance?
Luka: The main criticism seems to be that Rhaenys sure killed a whole bunch of folk only to then not kill the very people whose death could avoid the upcoming civil war. At first I was mixed on it myself, but I realized that mostly came from foreknowledge I have that Rhaenys lacks. She hasn’t read Fire and Blood. She doesn’t know she’s in a TV show which must surely lead to a civil war (or else why would they be telling this story?). So I think it’s perfectly fine that she doesn’t have Meleys incinerate the Greens right there and then, as tempted as she obviously is. It wasn’t a random usurping king standing on that podium: it was half of Rhaenys’s family and reigning dynasty; her late cousin’s wife and queen; the entire Small Council, including a lord and two brothers of some of the richest and most influential lords, and Grand Maester Orwyle from the Citadel; and, of course, Septon Eustace of the Faith of the Seven. Killing them would avoid a war with the Greens present there… but it would make a whole lot of enemies, and it would mean committing some of the most heinous crimes in that world: multiple counts of kinslaying and regicide; and blasphemy, I suppose, for killing the Septon. The highborn take those things much more seriously than killing a few hundred civilians. So instead she sends a message, showing them true power in contrast to all the empty symbols Alicent and Otto have gathered there.
Luka: Still, characters aren’t pieces on a board: Rhaenys has good personal reasons not to incinerate them all; characters don’t and shouldn’t act as rational actors always. That would be boring and robot-like. Having her waver is not inconsistant writing; it’s people, us, who are inconsistent. But even if Rhaenys was a perfectly rational decision-making machine, there were good reasons not to do it. I don’t believe killing them all would’ve necessarily avoided a war, as I said, but even if we accept that, then so could’ve the Greens by secretly assassinating Rhaenyra at any point in the last twenty years; so could Rhaenyra by storming the city with dragons now, or by having Otto killed years before. There have been many such murderous opportunities! The single difference I can spot is this was a show original, a departure from Fire and Blood. There’s a reason none of those things happened: typically, leaders, as much in Westeros as in the times the story is inspired by and in our own times, are much more willing to kill hundreds of thousands of people, or even millions, if it’s done in a way that’s considered “proper” and legitimate.
Petra: I appreciated the scene as a microcosm of the Dance, in that a character we’re intended to like massacres smallfolk to send a message to her enemies whom she doesn’t kill because their lives have value. Even so, the scene felt messy to me. I know Rhaenys doesn’t care about the smallfolk, but she does seriously damage the Dragonpit, a significant architectural landmark in King’s Landing, just to send a non-lethal warning before flying off through a very narrow door … it just didn’t work for me. It felt like spectacle over substance.
Luka: On that we can agree. I’m fine with the decision she makes; my problems with the scene stem from how it was all framed and executed. To start with, I honestly believe they went too far with the visual effects of Meleys bursting from the closed arena gates. It’s a large dragon, but not that large. So much destruction wasn’t necessary, and I don’t mean morally; I mean I don’t think that would’ve happened and the producers decided to go so big just because it’d be shocking and spectacular. Which it was! Although, funnily enough, we don’t actually see that many people die, because of all of that smoke. Meleys strikes two people with her tail, and later when the smoke dissipates we see a few dozen corpses on the floor. But that initial explosion made it seem like hundreds or even thousands may have died, which I’m not sure was on purpose, you know? The messiness of it was more about the execution than character motivations, to me.
Petra: As with so many things, I think I’ll be alright with the scene if it has consequences later. It certainly gives the smallfolk of King’s Landing a reason to dislike team Black and dragons in general. It’s similar to how Alicent and Larys’ decision to burn Mysaria’s house down likely drives her over to team Black. Underestimating the power of the smallfolk is a mistake, as Mysaria tells Otto.
Luka: For sure. I’ve seen a ton of people angry at the writers for answering questions about Rhaneys killing civilians with a joke, but honestly, I don’t know what else they can do except jovially avoid the question. They’re not gonna spoil what’s coming, are they? Who knows, maybe there’s a certain shepherd who lost an arm in this attack. We’ll have to wait and see!
Petra: I haven’t put much stock in the behind the scenes interviews since Ryan Condal and Claire Kilner gave contradicting explanations for why Daemon opted out of having sex with Rhaenyra in episode 4 “King of the Narrow Sea.” I enjoy Inside the Episode featurettes, but I don’t look to them as a source of canonical truth. Although, speaking of canonical truth, I would be delighted if Aemond got confirmed as Jahaerys and Jahaera’s father.
Luka: My new favorite theory! He seems to like and respect Helaena much more than his older brother does; he was willing to marry her because Aegon didn’t want to in “Driftmark.” So I can totally see it. And this episode offered a few good clues in this direction, too. It’s a “let’s wait and see,” for future seasons if it’s gonna happen at all, but I’d like it, especially knowing some of the things that are coming.
Petra: Coming as soon as next episode. I absolutely cannot wait for… that!
Luka: It’s all very exciting, although we can’t really tease much without spoiling. I’d like to end by asking you something that none of us know the answer to because it’s not in the book, in which at this point Ser Harrold Westerling is long dead: is he doing a Barristan, or what? I didn’t expect him to survive. I thought he’d be victim number two right after Beesbury (oh, Brave Beesbury!) Do you think we’ll see Ser Harrold in the finale? Will we have to wait for future seasons? Is it possible he’s just out and won’t appear again? That’d be crazy, right?
Petra: Surely they’ve kept him alive for a reason. I don’t remember from Fire and Blood, so this is genuine speculation, not a veiled spoiler, but I wonder if he’ll pop back up to help the Blacks infiltrate the Red Keep, or something.
Luka: It feels nice not to know, sometimes. Sadly, we know some of what’s coming next week. I’m as excited for it as I’m dreading it!