Tuesday, September 26, 2023

House of the Dragon: Alicent’s Green Dress, Explained

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so far, House of the Dragon taught us that in the Targaryens family, it is always political and sex is always political. In this week’s episode, “We Light the Way,” we learned that fashion is always political, too.

Like most of the other installments to date, the name of the game is quiet but crucial political maneuvering. Aside from the two explosive and bloody deaths that made up the EP, most of the plot revolves around Rhaenyra’s marriage to her childhood friend Laenor Velaryon. It’s a good match, except they’re both in love with other people. By the time the credits begin, both romances have been destroyed, and we’re reminded that this is Westeros, where love and loyalty usually die a quick death.

But most thronesThe chess move of everything has nothing to do with the violence of that show and everything to do with its symbolic political shenanigans. Until now, House of the DragonThe final protagonist, Alicent (Emily Carey), has yet to accept her role and start playing on the board. In the previous episode we saw Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) make her first attacking moves; in this episode, Alicent not only finally makes her own power play, but she makes Rhaenyra in a profound way with lasting consequences: she wears a green dress to her stepdaughter’s wedding.

If you’re a thrones nerd, this is a total “oh, shit!” moment. Allow us to explain.

Early in this episode, we finally get a glimpse of humanity from the newly fired Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans). Leaving his daughter alone and friendless in King’s Landing, he urges Alicent to wake up and prepare to fight for her firstborn son, Aegon, to claim the throne. So far, Otto has given us nothing but cold ambition, but here we see a glimmer of genuine concern and heartache for Alicent.

If she tries to support Rhaenyra, he warns her, she will perish with her – and Rhaenyra will perish. With this ominous sermon and zero tips on how to deal with being totally fucked, he makes his exit.

Otto’s belief that no one will accept Rhaenyra as an heir is based on centuries of Targaryen tradition in which only a male heir could ascend the throne. And while the lords of the realm have ostensibly sworn the knee to Rhaenyra, we have seen that the populist view favors Aegon just because he was born a man and given a royal name. Rhaenyra has largely rejected this argument and has vowed to change the status quo once she is ruler.

However, Alicent now seems to understand for the first time how pointless that is, and how precarious her situation is. It doesn’t help that she found out that Rhaenyra lied to her that she was still a virgin, which seems to destroy all her personal loyalty and love for her best friend turned stepdaughter. In her jealousy, bitterness and newfound sense of self-preservation, Alicent makes a huge decision: she decides to follow her father’s advice and covertly promote Aegon’s claim to the throne over Rhaenyra’s. For this she uses that age-old method: color symbolism.

The vibrant emerald green dress Alicent wears to the wedding party — showing up to make a real impression — signals to astute members of the King’s Court that she’s ready and willing to fight for the throne on behalf of Aegon. Green is the color of House Hightower and a reference to the color of the beacon atop the high tower of her family’s seat in the old southern port city of Oldtown.

The Hightowers are named after this structure, which functions as both a safe fortress by the sea and a lighthouse. The tower gives the family its coat of arms and its motto, “We light the way”, also referred to as the episode’s title. And, crucially, when House Hightower needs to summon its soldiers and bannermen in its name, it summons them by turning the flame on top of the Hightower green.

The message, for those who see it, is clear: Alicent is calling its supporters to war.

Since Rhaenyra’s marriage and marriage in the mighty Velaryon house is intended to bolster her claim to heir, Alicent’s fashion statement can only be an uppercut to the king’s agenda. Concentrated on the wedding feast, King Viserys and Rhaenyra don’t seem to realize the message the Queen is sending. But many in the crowd do, and before the night is out, some have explicitly offered their support to Alicent. She even goes one step further, recruiting Rhaenyra’s sworn protector, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), into her service at his most vulnerable moment, knowing she’s just managed to forge a powerful ally.

What we have just seen is the birth of the kingdom’s main opposing political forces in the civil war that will follow: the Greens and the Blacks. The Greens are the supporters of Alicent and ultimately of Aegon. The blacks refer to the followers of Rhaenyra, as black and red are the traditional colors of House Targaryen. This insidious faction may seem small now, but we already know that support for Aegon is rampant across the Empire.

The Greens and the Blacks aren’t just about which of the king’s children is the most popular ruler – remember, Aegon is a toddler, so no one knows what kind of king he’ll be. Support for him is based purely on the widespread populist belief that women should not inherit the crown. By assuming his claim to the throne, Alicent must join a deep misogyny of thought. By contrast, joining Rhaeynra and supporting her claim to the throne is inherently a sign of support for women’s equality. In other words, on a rudimentary level, the Greens and the Blacks are the Westeros version of red states and blue states, with their political undertones likely to influence who joins them and what they want much more than any direct support for the two women at the center of their movements.

As for their actual historical analogy, some fans have argued that the Dance of Dragons appears to be based on a lesser-known period in British history called “the anarchy‘, in which King Henry I named the mighty warrior Empress Matilda, commonly called ‘Maud’, as his heir. Maud was a direct descendant of William the Conqueror and the king’s only direct heir. Because she was a woman, the court rejected her claim, and her cousin Stephen essentially beat her to the throne and refused to give it up.

This clash plunged England into a 19-year civil war. (Fun fact: the current official website of the British Royalty insists that “anarchy never spread all over the country.” Nice try, royals, but it’s called “The Anarchy”, we know what’s going on!) The war finally dissolved, when Stephen adopted Maud’s son Henry and agreed to pass the throne to him after Stephen’s own death . Henry II became one of England’s most famous rulers, and Maud died peacefully of old age.

Unfortunately, if you know anything about the Targaryens and Westeros, then you know that things are probably not going to be resolved so harmoniously for one of our key players. So what about Alicent’s green dress For real signals is a sign for the public to buckle down: it’s going to be a bumpy, bloody ride.

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