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House of the Dragon’s foot fetish scene is gut-wrenching cringe

Alicent’s lowest moment comes at her greatest victory

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Queen Alicent stands in a green dress in her dimly lit room, hands folded in front of her as she looks toward the camera in something close to consternation, or maybe exhaustion, in HBO’s House of the Dragon. Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO
Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

One of the biggest challenges facing House of the Dragon has always been one of the many messy aspects of its wildly successful predecessor: At times, especially in its earlier seasons, Game of Thrones was a show for perverts. (This is not a joke, but something frequent Thrones director Neil Marshall told Empire magazine in reference to an executive producer that encouraged him to include more nudity for “the perv side of the audience.”) The series relished in what became known as “sexposition,” a term coined to discuss the many instances in Thrones and premium TV dramas like it that delivered heaps of exposition in titillating scenes — Littlefinger, like Tony Soprano, did not have to set up shop in a brothel (or the Bada Bing), but they did. Sex sells.

In its first season, House of the Dragon’s approach toward sex has been intentionally much more muted. It’s still there, but not front and center, and usually as a dramatic turning point in the plot. However, in “The Green Council,” the penultimate episode of the season, there’s a bit of a sexual curveball: Following the death of King Viserys and in the midst of a dramatic plan to install Prince Aegon as king over the crown princess Rhaenyra, the schemer Larys Strong meets with Queen Alicent in her chambers to discuss the rapidly shifting balance of power.

As Larys speaks, Alicent sits across from him and takes off her shoes — an oddly normal and relatable moment in a show that’s full of high drama. The woman has been up and scheming all day! She’s tired. Then things get oddly familiar as Alicent takes off her stockings and puts her bare feet up for Larys to see, slowly turning away while his gaze turns lascivious and he reaches under his robes to touch himself.

Larys Strong, played by Matthew Needham, rests his hands on his cane while sitting in a chair in House of the Dragon. Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Depending on your sensibilities, the scene can play a tremendous number of ways. It can be a horror short, an outrageous bit of prurience, an incredible moment of dissonant comedy, or a wildly insensitive character beat (the way the camera conspicuously cuts to Larys’ disabled leg suggests a link between his disability and sexual deviancy, a jarring implication in a scene this layered).

The moment feels misplaced in an episode full of big dramatic beats stemming from subplots that have been simmering all season long for viewers, and actual decades for the characters. This is part of the discomfort. It’s staged as a prurient reveal, yes, but, like the rest of the episode, what makes it truly notable is what’s missing: contrast. Or, in other words, Rhaenyra.

In “The Green Council,” Alicent has won. Yet the episode never feels like a victory for her. Her small council has gone behind her back, secretly plotting to name Aegon king without including her. Her attempts to sway, then coerce, family members like Rhaenys (Eve Best) over to her side without violence quite literally blow up in her face. Spies and minders abound, and the only way she can gain the upper hand is by giving the shiftiest man she knows the Westerosi version of feet pics. In patriarchal Westeros, Alicent can never truly win by playing by the rules, because playing by the rules demands a woman’s dignity as the cost of buy-in. Now she’s been playing for years, and the weight of all she’s traded away is catching up to her.

Rhaenyra and those close to her do not appear in “The Green Council.” Its action is entirely set around the ticking time bomb of King’s Landing, and she and Daemon are far away. Yet still, Rhaenyra casts a large shadow: She is the missing target of a coup, the person an already unsatisfied public must be swayed from following, and the keeper of enough dragons to contest whatever the newly installed government does. She is not in power, but she is powerful — and she didn’t have to show anyone her feet to get it.

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