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House of the Dragon’s fiery coronation didn’t end with a murder for good reason

Sometimes the game of thrones is more complicated than just fire and blood

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Eve Best as the white-haired Rhaenys Targaryen wearing a button-up black robe and standing in an open room in House of the Dragon Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

House of the Dragon’s ninth episode was on the more quiet and contemplative side, right until it wasn’t. After Viserys’ death, a castle lockdown, and the coronation of a new king, there were sure to be a few dissenting voices, and the loudest among them was Rhaenys Targaryen, the most recent Westerosian to declare her loyalties to Princess Rhaenyra and the Blacks.

While the motivation of Rhaenys’ theatrical entrance to the new king’s coronation isn’t hard to miss, the reasons behind her carefully intimidating exit might be. She had the chance to make a fiery escape and end a few conflicts in a flash, but Rhaenys also knew that the fate of Westeros isn’t as simple as a few burned bodies.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 9.]

King Aegon II’s reign began with a less than auspicious moment as, at the very height of his praise from the people of King’s Landing, Rhaenys came up through the floor with her dragon Meleys, surely crushing dozens of peasants. Meleys then approached the stage that held the royal family to stand menacingly in front of Aegon and the rest of them. Game of Thrones fans might have expected the scene to end in swift death, but Rhaenys and her dragon simply left rather than roasting the whole coronation party. There’s a notable reason for the restraint.

Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower standing over the wrapped corpse of King Viserys Targaryen in House of the Dragon Photo: Liam Daniel/HBO

The largest of these reasons is practical: An entire auditorium of people was cheering for the newly crowned king, and murdering him and his family there would be regicide, no matter who the rightful or supposed heir actually was. Sure, Rhaenyra could have stepped into the power vacuum, but The Realm’s Delight would have instantly been seen as a terror, and the Queen Who Never Was as a murderous accomplice without even a shred of honor.

With a single act, Rhaenys would have thrown the entire Targaryen dynasty into a moment of profound weakness over the continent. And an act of outright violence and treason could have sent King’s Landing (not to mention the rest of Westeros) into total chaos. This kind of conflict is why wars are fought, and winning is only supposed to be worth it if what you’re fighting for is still around when you’re the last one standing.

Aside from the political ramifications of roasting the royal family, there’s also an equally strong superstitious reason Rhaenys didn’t kill Aegon: kinslaying. According to Westerosi tradition, no one is as cursed as a kinslayer, meaning that those who kill members of their own family are often beset by horrible tragedies and thought of as monsters.

When the full Targaryen civil war does break out, kinslaying will be a nearly inevitable side effect, but for Rhaenys, it’s possible that the idea of killing so many of her own family, in such a short time, in front of thousands of onlookers, was simply too much to bear. While the consequences of letting everyone live may seem obvious, a simple act like this proves that Westeros’ traditions haven’t all fallen away just yet, no matter who sits the throne — at least for now.

Even if we don’t know the exact reasons for her momentary mercy, it is clear that Rhaenys’ actions during Aegon II’s coronation were a signal of defiance against the new crown and the perceived treason that Queen Alicent, her father, and her children have committed. Even if no members of the royal family died, Rhaenys’ slight (and her probable murder of many King’s Landing citizens) are the first real shots of the Dance of the Dragons and the wider war to come.

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