According to House of the Dragon writer and executive producer Sara Hess, the confusing decision made by Rhaenys in the series latest episode to spare the lives of Queen Alicent and her fellow royal usurpers – thus condemning the realm to warfare – was borne out of the recently-freed Targaryen princess’ womanly respect for her captor.
As seen in the climax of the series ninth episode, The Green Council, the season-long battle between Queen Alicent and Rhaenys for control of the Iron Throne came to a particularly brutal head when, after being freed from the former’s captivity by Ser Erryk, the Princess of Dragonstone summons her mount Meleys and roars up from the depths of the Dragonpit to confront her former confidant.
However, upon coming dragon-to-face with Queen Alicent, Prince Aegon, and their allies, rather than putting a decisive end to the power struggle and instructing her mount to roast them alive, Rhaenys spares them, instead choosing to simply turn and flee the city.
Unsurprisingly, this merciful decision was met with confusion from fans, with many finding it unclear as to why Rhaenys would choose to avoid a handful of murders in favor of the bloody brutality of war.
Presented with an opportunity to speak with the episode’s writer and director, Sara Hess and Clare Kilner, respectively, The Hollywood Reporter‘s James Hibberd used the chance to inquire just as to why Rhaenys did what she did (or rather, what she didn’t do).
Beginning with a bit of ‘alternate history’ speculation, Hibberd opened his conversation with the pair by asking Hess for her thoughts as to “what would Alicent have chosen to do to Rhaenys [if she hadn’t escaped and refused to bend the knee]?”, to which she opined, “I feel like she just keeps on being a prisoner.”
“Alicent’s not going to chop her head off,” reflected the writer. “She’s more passive. She tends to let the men steamroll her in most cases. So I don’t know what would have happened, but Alicent was clearly OK with just keeping here there. I don’t think she would have let her get murdered, but I don’t think she necessarily would have set her free, either.”
“I think Alicent believes that she is trying to keep peace and stop war, but she’s just working within the patriarchy,” added Kilner, prompting Hess to affirm, “[Alicent] believes: “If we can just get the men to do the right thing!”
Turning to the moment during a recent post-episode premiere interview with the two, Hibberd asked, “So from the beginning, we have been waiting for Rhaenys to do something badass and you gave us this incredible moment. It’s very cool, but it did make me wonder: Does it make sense that she doesn’t kill them?”
Briefly mentioning that “she [also] murders a bunch of civilians by busting out anyway,” the reporter was met with a simple exclamation from Hess: “It’s Game of Thrones — civilians don’t count!”
Pressed further by Hibberd as to why Rhaenys didn’t just “pull the ‘dracarys’ trigger and save countless lives — possibly including her own — by preventing war? Why just turn around and fly away?”, the writer explained, “I think she just can’t do it.”
“It’s not her war,” she continued. ” The fight is between these two sides and she’s kind of not in it. She doesn’t feel like she’s the one to come in and do that. But you’re right. If she had just incinerated everybody, it’s game over, Rhaenys wins and we’re done here. But the cost is huge.”
“I also feel like that moment, she looks Alicent in the eye and Alicent walks in front of her kid to shield him,” said Hess. “It’s one mother to another. Rhaenys is angry, but in her previous scene with Alicent, she respected her, even if she doesn’t agree with her. So she’s not going to kill another woman like that.”
In coming to this decision, interjected Kilner, the team “talked to [Rahenys actress] Eve Best about this, and in the previous scene she felt that Alicent really saw, Rhaenys for the first time in a long time.”
“In that moment, they’re mothers in this terrible world created by men and she can’t do it,” she concluded.
House of the Dragon is currently airing Sunday nights on HBO.