Rhaenyra Targaryen: I hope for my father that he gets a son. As long as I can recall, it’s all he’s wanted.
Alicent Hightower: You want him to have a son?
Rhaenyra: I want to fly with you on dragonback, see the great wonders across the Narrow Sea, and eat only cake.
Alicent: I’m being serious.
Rhaenyra: I never jest about cake.
In the House of the Dragon premiere, Rhaenyra Targaryen, the only child of King Viserys Targaryen, had less-than-royal ambitions. Ones that could be summed up as flying off with a companion, away from Westeros and her responsibilities, and living it up. She had a dragon for the flight but didn’t have buy-in from her close friend Alicent, who was not inclined to ride in the sky alongside the princess.
Much changed in the span of four years and as many episodes. Her mother died in childbirth, her father named her heir, her best friend (and preferred cake-eating companion) was married off to her father and began producing children. Her uncle Daemon initiated her into the more carnal side of King’s Landing and she followed up on those lessons by starting a workplace romantic relationship with her sworn shield, the Kingsguard Ser Criston Cole. And her father insisted on her getting married to her cousin and fellow dragonrider, Ser Laenor Velaryon. In exchange for her father removing Uncle Daemon’s antagonist Otto Hightower as Hand of the King, Rhaenyra agreed to follow her father’s political matchmaking directives.
And then, things got complicated.
On the visit to the Velaryon stronghold of High Tide, Rhaenyra and her prospective fiancé Laenor discussed the nature of their political marriage, and admitted to one another that they were romantically involved with others, but agreed to do their duty by the marriage and continue to be with their out-of-wedlock partners. More or less having their cake and eating it too.
What could go wrong?
The Princess and the Modest Proposal
After this successful negotiation for a polyamorous pre-nuptial agreement, Rhaenyra was surprised by an offer from her Kingsguard canoodler, Ser Criston Cole. Knowing that his princess chafed under her responsibilities and that this marriage was not of her choosing, he had a different idea.
Criston Cole: I’m asking you to come with me… away from all this. From the burdens and indignities of your inheritance. Let us leave it all behind and see the world together… where we’ll be nameless, and free… free to go where we like, and love as we like. In Essos… you could marry me.
Unfortunately for Criston, he didn’t know what would guarantee success in his offer.
Rhaenyra: And eat only cake.
Okay, maybe she would have still refused the offer, regardless of the amount of sweet baked goods that could be involved. But it couldn’t have hurt his pitch.
Rhaenyra turned down this proposed adventure, one that was reminiscent of her dream from years before. She had duties. And even though she didn’t get to explain this to Criston, she had a destiny that she’d seen alluded to in the form of flaming text on a dagger.
Criston was broken-hearted by the rejection, and unhappy with the suggestion that he simply be content with being one of four members in the royal polycule being set up.
Rhaenyra had come to terms with the idea of settling into her role of future queen – securing a marriage to shore up her line for succession, and could not be tempted by the financially-suspect dreams of the dreamy Ser Criston.
Or had she really come to terms with her queenly role? Was there someone else that could tempt her away on dragonback?
The Prince and the Immodest Proposal
At the dancing at Rhaenyra and Laenor’s betrothal festivities, party-crasher and recent spouse-murderer Daemon Targaryen cut in on Rhaenyra’s dance partner Ser Harwin Strong to engage in some light avuncular banter in High Valyrian.
Daemon: Is this what you want?
Rhaenyra: I was not aware that what I wanted mattered to you.
Daemon: This is not for you. Laenor is a good man and a fine knight. He will bore you senseless.
Rhaenyra: Marriage is only a political arrangement, I hear.
Daemon: Mine was recently dissolved.
Rhaenyra: Oh, take me then. Has this not been your purpose? I am not yet married, but the hours pass swiftly. You are surely armed. Cut through my father’s Kingsguard. Take me to Dragonstone and make me your wife.
Before Daemon could act on Rhaenyra’s suggestion, Criston Cole and Laenor’s very close friend Joffrey Lonmouth got into a fight on the dance floor. After that hurley burley was done, King Viserys apparently ordered the wedding moved up by a week and Rhaenyra and Laenor were married immediately, within sight of Joffrey’s congealing blood.
It’s interesting that the scene between Rhaenyra and her uncle Daemon was like a dark mirror of the scene between Rhaenyra and Criston. But in the latter case it’s Rhaenyra proposing the escape from her arranged marriage. Was she just toying with Daemon, or was it that she still wanted to escape from her role as queen? An escape not on an adventure with a penniless knight, but with a roguish prince?
Daemon might not be bringing along any cakes (I wouldn’t rule it out though), but he would be bringing along the other element from Rhaenyra’s discussion in the godswood with Alicent, a dragon.
This should feel like a familiar situation to A Song of Ice and Fire readers, and something that Game of Thrones watchers might have seen one side of previously.
Exiled Knights and Lost Loves
In the years following Robert’s Rebellion (almost 200 years after Viserys Targaryen was named successor over the claim of his cousin Rhaenys’ line) Balon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands declared himself king and tried to secede from the Seven Kingdoms. This effort failed.
At the siege of Greyjoy’s castle Pyke, a northern lord from Bear Island distinguished himself in battle by being one of the first to enter the breach of Pyke’s walls. (The honor of first into the breach goes to the legendary Thoros of Myr, of course.)
This fighter was Jorah Mormont, and for his bravery was made a knight. In the victory celebrations that followed in Lannisport, the newly-knighted Ser Jorah won the champion’s laurel at a celebratory tourney and received Lord Hightower’s blessing to marry his daughter, the lovely Lynesse Hightower.
Jorah was short on details when telling his tragic backstory to Daenerys Targaryen, other than remarking that the two weeks it took to sail from Lannisport to Bear Island were blissful.
But then things went sour. Lynesse was used to metropolitan Oldtown. Bear Island was, well, Bear Island.
Lady Lyanna Mormont: *death stare*
Lynesse might have thought she was going on a grand adventure with a dashing and successful knight, but the reality was not there to support the romanticism. (These details can only be inferred of course, since Lynesse has never had a chance to weigh in on her side of the story.)
Eventually, Ser Jorah and Lady Lynesse were on their way to Essos. On an adventure to see the wonders of the world? Well, more to get away from Ned Stark, acting as Northern Executioner, seeking to execute Jorah for crimes.
When I heard that Eddard Stark was coming to Bear Island, I was so lost to honor that rather than stay and face his judgment, I took her with me into exile. Nothing mattered but our love, I told myself. We fled to Lys, where I sold my ship for gold to keep us.
His voice was thick with grief, and Dany was reluctant to press him any further, yet she had to know how it ended. “Did she die there?” she asked him gently.
“Only to me,” he said. “In half a year my gold was gone, and I was obliged to take service as a sellsword. While I was fighting Braavosi on the Rhoyne, Lynesse moved into the manse of a merchant prince named Tregar Ormollen. They say she is his chief concubine now, and even his wife goes in fear of her.”
Dany was horrified. “Do you hate her?”
“Almost as much as I love her,” Ser Jorah answered. “Pray excuse me, my queen. I find I am very tired.”
— A Clash of Kings, Daenerys I
Certainly there are differences between the story of Jorah and Lynesse in regards to Rhaenyra and her overly-optimistic suitor Criston. But the story of Mormont and his wife gives hints as to what would likely befall the disgraced Kingsguard and his princess, should Rhaenyra agree to leave Westeros behind for Essos. Ser Criston has little skills other than martial ones, so like Jorah, he would likely be offering his sword for service.
And like Lynesse was taken in by a merchant prince, how long would it be until Prince Daemon would find Rhaenyra (especially if she’d absconded with her dragon Syrax) and convince her to run away with him?
Jorah: Look, it happens. (Or in my case, will happen.) But things are looking up for me. I’m spending time with the last Targaryen, so it’s not like some Targaryen prince can snatch her up.
Ironically, for all the talk in the fifth episode of a knight offering to run away with Rhaenyra, and Rhaenyra taunting her prince to abduct her, in that episode a knight does run off with Rhaenrya, or at least tosses her over his shoulder during the dance floor scrum. But he’s not whisking her away from her impending marriage, but instead to safety where things can settle down and the royal wedding could happen immediately, before any other disaster might occur.
That knight was Ser Harwin Strong, the son of Lord Lyonel Strong, the Hand of the King and a captain in the Goldcloaks. In fact, Harwin Strong had run into Rhaenyra when she was off dressed like a boy on her Shakespearean adventure in the season’s fourth episode with Daemon.
That Harwin seems to always be around.
Harwin: I only came to the wedding to get some of that cake.
Rhaenyra: I love cake too! We have so much in common.