House of the Dragon: Who are Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower?

HBO is reportedly casting two key roles in its upcoming Game of Thrones prequel: Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower. Who are these women?

Recently, reports have been swirling that HBO has begun the casting process for a few key roles for its Game of Thrones prequel series, House of the Dragon. Although the details aren’t set in stone just yet, the best info we have suggests that the show will be about the Dance of the Dragons, a brutal Targaryen civil war that tore apart Westeros over 100 years before the show proper began.

The two characters reportedly being cast are Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower. Now seems like a good time to get to these these two women. Who are they, and why are they so important to the Dance?

Who is Rhaenyra Targaryen?

Let’s start with Rhaenyra, known in her youth as the Realm’s Delight. She was the only surviving child of King Viserys I Targaryen and his first wife, Queen Aemma of House Arryn. Beautiful and intelligent, Rhaenyra started helping her father at an early age, becoming his cupbearer and attending him at table, tourneys and court. She must have shown promise in the family business, because when Queen Aemma died giving birth to Rhaenyra’s brother, who himself died a day later, King Viserys proclaimed her as his heir. Rhaenyra Targaryen was next in line to the Iron Throne.

Growing up, Rhaenyra continued to learn from her father. She was charming, but also quick to anger, and knew how to hold a grudge. By the age of 7 she had already ridden a dragon, a young one she named Syrax.

Rhaenyra eventually married Ser Laenor Velaryon. He wasn’t exactly her type — she once implied that her half-brothers would be more to Leanor’s taste, if you know what I mean and I think you do — but accepted the proposal after her father threatened to rescind her position as heir. She and Leanor had three children together, although there are rumors that they were actually sired by Ser Harwin Strong, known as Breakbones, a captain in the City Watch of King’s Landing.

After Laenor died, Rhaenyra married her uncle Prince Daemon Targaryen, with whom she was said to have been attracted from an early age. She would have more children with him. There are also rumors that, when she was younger, she had an affair with Ser Criston Cole, who would go on to become Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. It’ll be interesting to see how House of the Dragon sorts out the truth of these rumors.

Who is Alicent Hightower?

Then there’s Alicent, Rhaenyra’s bitter rival. Like Rhaenyra, Alicent started playing the game of thrones early in life. Her father, Ser Otto Hightower, was Hand of the King to Jaehaerys I Targaryen, and brought the teenaged Alicent to court. She attended the old king in his final days, and stuck around when his son Viserys ascended the throne. When Viserys’ wife Queen Aemma died, Viserys eventually got remarried to Alicent, which made her Rhaenyra’s step-mother.

At first, Rhaenyra and Alicent got along well, but when Alicent had two sons and a daughter in rapid succession, that changed. Alicent started to push for Viserys to name their eldest son, Aegon Targaryen, as heir to the Iron Throne, rather than Rhaenyra. Her father, still the hand of the king, pushed for this so hard he was eventually stripped of his position and returned to Oldtown in the Reach. But Alicent kept on the pressure, and gathered a network of supporters at court.

Things reached a new level at a tourney in King’s Landing. Queen Alicent wore a green gown while Princess Rhaenyra dressed in Targaryen red and black. Thereafter, Alicent’s supporters were known as the greens while Rhaenyra’s were known as the blacks.

The relationship between the two women continued to sour. There was an incident where one of Rhaenyra’s sons maimed one of Alicent’s, taking out his right eye. Thereafter, Alicent remained at court in King’s Landing while Rhaenyra and her family settled on Dragonstone.

And then came the moment of truth. In 129 AC (after the invasion of Aegon the Conqueror), King Viserys died. Queen Alicent quickly arranged for her son Aegon to be named king in his place. When Rhaenyra heard of this on Dragonstone, she had herself crowned queen, and the Dance of the Dragons had begun. By the time it was over, Westeros would be changed forever.

Rhaenyra was 32 when King Viserys died and Alicent was 41, to give you an idea of the timeline for all of this. The Dance of Dragons is a complicated story with a lot of characters and moving parts, but Rhaenyra and Alicent are sort of ground zero for the whole thing, so it’s vital that HBO choose the right actors to play them. As to who that should be…

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