[Warning: Spoilers for “House of the Dragon” season 1, episode six, which is aptly titled “The Princess and the Queen”.]
After five episodes of “House of the Dragon”, Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke finally made their debut as older versions of Prince Rhaenyra Targaryen and Queen Alicent Hightower, respectively. The two stars take over the roles originated by Milly Alcock and Emily Carey after the “Game of Thrones” prequel series jumped forward 10 years in episode six.
And it’s safe to say that the relationship between the former best friends is as complicated as ever as family in-fighting and politicking for the Iron Throne continues to drive a massive wedge between them. While speaking to ET, D’Arcy and Cooke share where each character is at this point in their life as “we pick up with our ancient characters,” the latter jokes.
After opening with another triggering birth scene, it’s revealed that Rhaenyra has given birth to several children with her husband, Laenor (with John MacMillan taking over for Theo Nate). But upon Alicent’s immediate inspection of their newborn, who is named Joffrey after Leanor’s dead lover, it’s clear that he is not the biological father. Alicent later chides Laenor, telling him to do better and that sooner or later they’ll give birth to a child “that looks like you.”
Despite producing multiple children and giving the impression that they’re happily married, it’s later revealed that Rhaenyra and Laenor are not on the same page. In fact, Laenor, who has taken on a new lover, wants to go on an adventure, claiming that “I’m a knight… I played my part for 10 years.” Despite her ongoing affair with the commander, Rhaenyra pushes back on Laenor’s philandering and desires to leave, commanding him to stay no matter what.
Elsewhere, Alicent is still married to an aging and increasingly frail King Vicerys (Paddy Considine), who has all but succumbed to his mysterious disease, and is consumed with motherhood as her children continue to grow older and start combat training or learning how to ride their dragons. She’s also concerned with Rhaenyra’s open secret, confiding in Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) about upset how she is over the way the princess flaunts her privilege.
And while House Targaryen continues to deal with outside threats, especially now that Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) has left King’s Landing undefended, tensions between Alicent and Rhaenyra boil over. While Rhaenyra tries to mend the situation by proposing a marriage between their kids, the episode ends with her telling Laenor to pack up their things because they’re moving to Dragonstone.
At this point, Rhaenyra is at “a fork in the road,” D’Arcy says, explaining that throughout the series, the main thing the princess is trying to figure out is “a way to live authentically.”
“And I think that intersects with what she’s made of, right? She’s humming with this Targaryen fire and it takes her a long time to learn to trust it and actually to learn that it’s crucial for her survival,” the actress continues. “She’s treading a really difficult path between dampening this thing, which is fundamentally herself, and learning to trust it and let it burn. And I think when we come in, when I take up the [mantle], that’s a question that’s still totally, fundamentally on the soul.”
And despite her continued clashing with her father and Alicent, D’Arcy says that Rhaenyra “is a good person, who is trying to figure out where she slots in, in terms of the Targaryen family… and where she sits within the vast kingdom.” And although she has been promised the Iron Throne after Viserys, “she’s a person who also feels like an outsider in her family and an outsider at court. She feels to be at odds with how she’s read by the world.”
So, it’s no wonder that she’s contemplating “a different path.”
Alicent, meanwhile, is far from the innocent, comely young woman first introduced as the daughter of the Hand of the King (Rhys Ifans) and is no longer just “a product of the patriarchy,” which is how Carey initially described her. Now, not only is she the queen, but she’s produced a number of male heirs and carved out a place within the king’s innermost circle.
“My version of the character is acutely aware of her role within the kingdom and how it’s one rule for her and then another rule for Rhaenyra,” Cooke says. “And I think as someone who’s lived by the books all her life and has been impeccably behaved and been the poster child for a lady at court, I think [something] starts to fester in a really ugly way.”
She’s also “this incredibly repressed and neurotic woman by the time you meet my version of Alicent,” the actress continues, explaining that the “old wound” between the two women hasn’t had a chance to heal “because they live under the same roof and they’re both vying for the king’s approval and the king’s attention.”
“Ultimately, they were each other’s first love, and I think that heartbreak has never really had the chance to heal,” Cooke says, referring to the deep bond Rhaenyra and Alicent had as kids.
In fact, despite their ongoing efforts to court favor of Viserys, “it’s not the most fundamental desire,” D’Arcy says of the two. “The most fundamental desire, I think, is for some sort of reunification. But circumstance makes that kind of impossible.”
Cooke adds, “And that’s really hard to vocalize as well.”
“House of the Dragon” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO and HBO Max.