In Blood and Fire, the George R.R. Martin novel that inspired the acclaimed Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon, Alicent marries King Viserys when she’s about 19 and his daughter, Rhaenyra, is eight or nine. The gap in their ages understandably keeps Alicent and Rhaenyra from being friends.
But House of the Dragon, co-created by Martin, made a change that drives almost all of the drama on the show. On the HBO series, Alicent (Emily Carey) and Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) are both about 15 when we first meet them — and they’re also best friends. King Viserys, who is in his 20s in the book, is far older in the show. When we meet him, he’s middle-aged, played by 49-year-old Paddy Considine. His age makes his marriage to Alicent deeply disturbing. We feel for her, and hope that Rhaenyra can provide some kind of support.
The initial connection between Alicent and Rhaenyra makes all of their interactions over the ensuing years even more wrenching. When Episode 6 took a major jump forward in time and Carey and Alcock were replaced by Olivia Cooke and Emma D’Arcy, respectively, as Alicent and Rhaenyra, viewers retained a sense of hope and sadness at how badly their friendship had fallen apart. Any alliance is likely doomed, of course, by their fears that their offspring may someday kill each other in a war over succession. Their fears intensified in Episode 7, when someone lost an eye.
Our desperate hope that the former friends might someday reunite was briefly lit anew in Episode 8, when Alicent and Rhaenyra, out of self-preservation and their shared allegiance to the dying King Viserys, they raised their glasses to one another and tried to make peace. Of course, peace doesn’t last long in Westeros.
Screenwriting spitballing sessions can include all kinds of wild ideas – “Do they have to be teenagers?” — but whatever spitballing took place around House of the Dragon yielded an excellent raising of the stakes.
Main image: Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra and Emily Carey as young Alicent on House of the Dragon, now streaming on HBO Max.