Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers for episodes 1-5 of House of the Dragon.The world of Westeros is not always kind to women. Both George R.R. Martin’s novels and HBO’s adaptation of Game of Thrones have attracted sharp criticism for the way that the female characters have been depicted. While there are empowering figures like Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), the casual sexism and frequent depiction of assault have drawn criticism from viewers. There are not many characters in the universe that have functional, healthy relationships.
Thus far, House of the Dragon hasn’t really taken a different direction. The tension of the series thus far has revolved around a series of marriages that are made for political convenience. After the death of his wife, Queen Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke), King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) is forced to take a new bride. Although he thinks that he’s choosing Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey) out of love, she is far younger and placed there advantageously by her father. Similarly, Viserys’ daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), is angry that her courtship is left to others to decide.
However, not every relationship in House of the Dragon is a toxic one. We’ve seen the rare example of a healthy couple with the relationship between Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best). The two value each other’s opinions, and work towards a common goal. House of the Dragon has shown that even a marriage made to satisfy political goals can be productive.
Both Corlys and Rhaenys have earned their reputations. Corlys earned the name “The Sea Snake” for his aptitude in naval combat, and his many adventures battling pirates. Similarly, Rhaenys was close to claiming the Iron Throne for herself. She was a candidate to become King Jaehaerys I’s successor, but was denied the position after the voting body chose to go with Viserys. This gives them both something to prove; Corlys is angry that Viserys won’t let him leverage his skills to deal with the situation in the Stepstones, and Rhaenys wants to put her children in positions of power and negotiates her son, Ser Laenor Velaryon (John Mcmillan) to marry Rhaenyra.
Corlys has shown that he is willing to stick up for his wife. In the pilot episode, “The Heirs of the Dragon,” he suggests that Rhaenys could be a potential contender for the throne when the nature of Viserys’ succession is put into question. Although he ultimately decides to back Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), Corlys makes sure that the council shows his wife the respect that she deserves. He makes it clear in private that she would have been a far more successful ruler than Viserys.
Corlys and Rhaenys Know Each Other’s Motives
Corlys and Rhaenys know how to read a situation together. In this week’s episode, “We Light The Way,” Viserys visits them in Driftmark to propose a marriage between Rhaenyra and Laenor. The couple knows that they hold all the cards in this situation. The King has already made the mistake of disrespecting their commands when he refused to wed their daughter. As a result, they backed Daemon, who earned the reputation of being the “King of the Narrow Sea.”
Although they both greet Viserys, Rhaenys allows her husband to handle the cordial proceedings. She has picked up on Viserys’ behavior, and can notice the casual shifts in his demeanor. She takes note to recognize later that he is dying. Together, Corlys and Rhaenys’ polite attitude is very imposing. After the meeting concludes, they make it clear that they’ve orchestrated the perfect trap to spring on House Targaryen.
Discussing Their Son Laenor
After their meeting with Viserys, Rhaenys and Corlys discuss the emotional consequences that this arranged marriage will have on their son. They know their son’s sexual orientation, and Rhaenys feels that he will be miserable if he is married to Rhaenyra. Although Corlys urges her that their son’s feelings will pass, he does not discount her opinion. They come to a mutual agreement that putting their house on the throne is their primary goal.
This is the type of parental compassion that we never see on House of the Dragon. Both Viserys and Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) treat their daughters as bargaining chips, and never take the moment to acknowledge their feelings. Although Corlys and Rhaenys aren’t above using their children for political gain, they at least take the time to consider how Laenor will respond. And Rhaenys speaks up for her son, not being afraid to challenge Corlys’ opinion on the matter. They show that they know their son well and can give him the kind of guidance that he needs to live up to his position.
This is also the type of level-headed discussion that we so rarely see in Westeros. Corlys and Rhaenys aren’t seeking to win an argument; they look at the pros and cons of the situation and come to a conclusion that they can both feel satisfied by. Laenor is at a disadvantage in King’s Landing, but his parents keep a curious eye out for his safety. They have set a precedent for success that he will have to live up to.