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As a lesbian who watches TV for my job, I am no different from other queer people who grew up without positive representation on screen: I see gay women in almost anything I watch. This doesn’t mean I only consume queer media (unfortunately, there isn’t enough for this), but that I just find queerness in anything.
As a result, I’ve heard more than my fair share of exasperated responses like, “Not everything is gay.” But it’s not something I can help, nor is it something I want to stop doing. Seeing characters as queer-coded makes my viewing experience a little more enjoyable, and it affords me at least one person to cling to if no one else is relatable.
Sometimes, it takes a little more effort than not to find that queer reading. But with a seemingly hetero show like House of the Dragon, I didn’t need to whip out my queer lens to see that something sapphic was going on between Rhaenerya and Alicent.
As you might expect from a series set in a medieval-esque setting, House of the Dragon is not really a haven for LGBTQ+ characters. Of the handful of queer people we have seen on the show—and in the larger Game of Thrones universe—the majority of them have been men as well; it’s not the most diverse, inclusive place on television.
There are only two officially sapphic women in the Westerosi television canon. And while it seems like a masochistic thing to wish for, considering most characters’ fates, the Game of Thrones universe is in sore need of more lesbians. And it’s not just the fans who think so—it seems like even the actors agree.
From the jump, the sapphic energy between Princess Rhaenerya Targaryen (Milly Alcock) and Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) is palpable. When Rhaenerya is first introduced, she’s coming home from riding her dragon, Syrax. Alicent is right there to greet her, while coyly turning down Rhaenerya’s offer to join her on dragon back. Even though Alicent is a stickler for rules and order where Rhaenerya is decidedly not, there is a sense of admiration and mischievousness in Alicent’s refusal to join her friend. And Rhaenerya? Rhaenerya looks on like a lovesick puppy.
From that point forward, the two teen girls become an inseparable pair. They become so entwined in each other’s lives, we can tell that they know each other’s thoughts just through a shared look at a bustling jousting arena.
It’s such a strong relationship that you can’t blame viewers who see Alicent and Rhaenerya as more than just best friends. They’re not alone for seeing the girls as having feelings for each other: When speaking with Insider right after the show’s August 21 premiere, both Alcock and Carey said that they leaned into a more romantic connection that they felt their characters shared, even while reading the script.
"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," Carey said about Alicent and Rhaenerya. And while not all best friends "toe the line between platonic and romantic” with each other, she said, both actors chose to make that bond one that leans more toward girlfriends, not just gal pals.
This “emotional closeness” also has something to do with being the only two teen girls in the Red Keep, the pair explained. “If it reads on screen, it was purposeful.”
We do know that the two characters don’t end up together romantically, especially after the most recent episode’s big-time jump. Instead, we’re seeing Alicent and Rhaenerya pull further apart from each other in a way that will end nastily. But the queerness to their friendship remains important to note, both as a queer viewer and major fan of the franchise. Watching two female characters develop a close friendship is meaningful enough to a female viewer, but for them to have a bond that borders on romance feels especially unique and powerful.
Don’t call it queer-baiting, however. Just because these two are never confirmed queer in their source material, the actors’ choice to add that angle to their characters’ relationship is valid. It helps to make Alicent and Rhaenerya’s unspoken backstories a little more colorful, giving depth and nuance to their actions.
Alicent and Rhaenerya are also just another example of the Game of Thrones TV universe introducing a current of sapphic flirting into a couple that isn’t in the books. Back in Game of Thrones Season 6, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) was more than accepting of Yara Greyjoy’s (Gemma Whelan) advances. She even appeared to reciprocate them, which Clarke said came from a place of respect for another “badass chick” in Daenerys’ circle. But even if it was just two women having a ton of respect for each other, viewers definitely saw what they thought was a bit of flirting between them too—because why not? If the actors say it’s intentional, there’s no harm in queer viewers enjoying a bit of same-sex adoration.
There is the issue, however, of how the show treats characters that openly identify as queer. Yes, the openly gay Loras Tyrell was blown up—but gruesome deaths are fair game in a place like Westeros. And in a recent episode of the House of the Dragon, when Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod), the lover to the new king consort Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate), died a grotesque death at the hands of Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), his sexuality had nothing to do with it. There was a legitimate story reason for his death: He was an annoying gossip who chose the wrong time and person to flaunt his new knowledge to.
It’s not fair to downplay the concerns of fans who do want to see a queer relationship play out on screen in a positive manner, however. Lesbian and sapphic storylines hardly get the spotlight they're due. That's especially visible when queer storylines or shows focused on sapphic women are seemingly first on the chopping block. Consider the recent deaths of shows like First Kill on Netflix and Paper Girls on Amazon for instance. Even the queer-coded shows that do gain critical and commercial acclaim, like the deeply sapphic Killing Eve, fall into the same trap of mistreating its queer characters.
House of the Dragon doesn’t have this problem; at least, it doesn’t yet. Because for queer and lesbian viewers, the story of two female friends in a royal court, who later exist on two sides of a succession dispute, is much more than that. It’s about two girls who feel drawn to one another, and who fall in love—perhaps as friends do; perhaps, hopefully, as more. Rhaenerya’s massive betrayal of her best friend is not only a break of trust, per this reading—it’s a betrayal of the heart too. A sapphic lens gives more depth to Alicent’s transformation into the calculated and surefire queen we see during the season’s big time jump.
As we move forward, there might not be any love left between the two of them. And maybe Queen Alicent’s motives have mostly to do with making sure her kids rise to power and stay alive. But beneath it all, thanks to the queer read on these two characters, that deep love’s betrayal makes it all a bit more interesting.