Cersei in Game of Thrones

Dracarys!

House of the Dragon makes the darkest Game of Thrones plotline even darker

A familiar force is at work in House of the Dragon.

HBO

Like Game of Thrones, prequel series House of the Dragon is as much a complex political drama as it is a fantasy epic. That’s especially clear in Episode 6 now that Rhaenyra (Emma D’arcy) and Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) are all grown up and jousting for control of the kingdom. But the feud between these two goes beyond mere politics, it’s downright religious. And in the process, it could redefine one of the most iconic scenes in Game of Thrones history.

Major spoilers ahead for Episode 6 of House of the Dragon.

House of the Dragon Episode 6 explained

In House of the Dragon Episode 6, it quickly becomes clear that a more mature Rhaenyra Targaryen (now played by Emma D’Arcy) has been having children out of wedlock with Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr) while her husband, who she knows is gay, has fun of his own. Rhaenyra’s father, the king, refuses to see the truth, but everyone else knows her children are bastards. And no one seems quite as upset about it as Queen Alicent Hightower/Targaryen (Olivia Cooke).

Of course, Alicent has political reasons for being peeved — her own children have a claim to the throne that Rhaenyra is heir to — but her disapproval goes beyond the battle for succession. Alicent sees Rhaenyra’s actions as an affront to the new gods of The Faith of the Seven (the primary religion in King’s Landing). And while there’s no High Sparrow here like there was in Game of Thrones to punish the heretics, Alicent finds another type of ally to exact her religious vengeance.

Larys and Alicent started becoming chummier in Episode 5 of House of the Dragon. HBO

After Alicent expresses her disgust with Rhaenyra in front of Larys Strong (Matthew Needham), he plans the accidental arson that leaves his own brother and father dead. When Alicent realizes what’s happened she’s visibly shocked, but she doesn’t seem completely displeased about it either. How did Alicent get to this point? The answer is tied to her religious beliefs.

What is the Faith of the Seven?

The Faith of the Seven overtly regains dominance over King’s Landing 300 years after the events of House of the Dragon. HBO

You may recall the Faith from Game of Thrones Seasons 5 and 6. It is a monotheistic religion that believes there is one god with seven aspects (much like how Christianity believes there is one god with three aspects: a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit). They are often referred to collectively as the new gods.

These seven aspects are:

  1. The Father
  2. The Mother
  3. The Maiden
  4. The Crone
  5. The Warrior
  6. The Smith
  7. The Stranger

The Faith expressly forbids kinslaying, bastardy, incest, and homosexuality. Larys (and Alicent, to a certain degree) use their beliefs to justify punishing Rhaenyra by murdering Harwin.

The Faith of the Seven may have started in Essos and arose among the Andals thousands of years ago. The Andals are one of the major ethnic groups from which the humans of Westeros descend. They are said to have been tall and fair-haired. (The other two major ethnic groups are the First Men and the Rhoynar. Hence why the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms’ full title is “King or Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men.”)

The Andals are also said to have brought the Faith of the Seven to Westeros with their invasion. Some of the Andals were said to have had the seven-pointed star of the Faith carved into their skin to show their devotion, and to intimidate Westerosi natives out of worshiping the old gods.

What is House Hightower’s connection to the Faith of the Seven?

House Hightower plots and prays. HBO

The Hightowers in Oldtown — one of the largest and oldest noble houses and cities in Westeros, formed and built by the First Men, pre-Andal invasion — were friendly with the Andals. The head of House Hightower at the time, Damon Hightower, accepted the Faith and constructed the first sept in Oldtown. Oldtown eventually became the center of the Faith of the Seven. Oldtown is also where the High Septon lives (in the Starry Sept). At the time of House of the Dragon, the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing (where the High Septon lives during the events of Game of Thrones) has yet to be constructed — or exploded.

Alicent and Otto (Rhys Ifans), among other members of House Hightower currently at court in House of the Dragon, were raised to be devoted to the Faith of the Seven. House Hightower wants more power reinstated to the Faith, which was lessened during the Targaryen dynasty.

What is the Targaryen Doctrine of Exceptionalism?

King Jaehaerys I Targaryen, along with (at the time) Prince Viserys I Targaryen, his first wife Aemma Arryn, Corlys Velaryon, and Princess Rhaenys Targaryen. HBO

A lot of drama went down between the Faith of the Seven and King Jaehaerys I Targaryen (King Viserys’ grandfather).

Before the events of House of the Dragon, the Faith and House Targaryen were at odds with each other. The details of the Faith Militant Uprising, as described in the A Song of Ice and Fire prequel texts, are complex, but the most important part of the rebellion is its aftermath.

When Jaehaerys ascended the throne, he was crowned by the High Septon. While the Targaryen king before Jaehaerys was loudly anti-Faith of the Seven, Jaehaerys wanted to make amends to restore order to King’s Landing. But he also wanted to make sure the rules don’t apply to the Targaryens.

During negotiations between the High Septon at the time and the king, it was agreed upon that the Iron Throne would always protect and defend the Faith, essentially making the Faith the main religion of the Seven Kingdoms. However, the Faith had to agree to accept that the laws and justice of the Iron Throne were ironclad — and accept Targaryen incest practices.

While incest was considered an abomination by the Faith in every other circumstance, the Targaryens were not like other human beings. They rode dragons, had “dragon blood,” and are one of the remaining noble houses since the Doom of Valyria. At least, this is what Jaehaerys says to convince the High Septon to create a Targaryen-shaped loophole. And thus, the Targaryen Doctrine of Exceptionalism came to be.

The High Sparrow in Game of Thrones.HBO

It is because of this doctrine that Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) had to do her infamous “walk of atonement” in the Game of Thrones Season 5 finale. The “walk of atonement” is a public ritual of penance in the Faith of the Seven which requires the condemned to walk the streets naked to the nearest sept. In this case, the nearest sept was the Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing.

Cersei is found guilty of acts of “falsehood and fornication.” She is accused by her cousin, Ser Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon), who joined the Faith Militant and claims that she has committed adultery, incest, and regicide — all of which is true. Cersei only confesses to adultery, however, and denies the other two charges.

She is sentenced to do the walk by the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), the newly appointed High Septon who reestablished the Faith Militant and began pulling the strings in King’s Landing once again during Tommen I Baratheon’s (Dean Charles-Chapman) reign.

Thanks to the Doctrine of Exceptionalism, no Targaryen has been held to that same standard. As a Targaryen, Rhaenyra is free to be betrothed to siblings, cousins, and uncles, without a single thought given to the ethical implications. Alicent Hightower calls these customs “queer” in Episode 1 and sneers at them, perhaps a clue that noble houses that practice the Faith of the Seven see through the insincerity of the Doctrine.

House Hightower, now with easy access to the ruling Targaryen class, may see Aegon II’s ascension to the throne as their chance to rehabilitate the Faith, reuniting Church and State, and pulling the plug on the Doctrine of Exceptionalism once and for all.

What is Alicent Hightower’s relationship with the Faith of the Seven?

Alicent admits that she turns to religion often to deal with her own mother’s death, hoping to inspire Rhaenyra to do the same. HBO

In both the books and the HBO series, Alicent Hightower is pious. Her holier-than-thou attitude only becomes more prominent with age. She was raised with religion, which makes sense given that she is a highborn noble lady in House Hightower. We see her pray with Rhaenyra in Episode 2, and pray again, alone in her quarters, in Episode 4.

Alicent’s religiosity is probably why she was so anxious and overwhelmed by her father’s insistence that she woo Viserys into marriage. We never see them having sex on-screen premaritally, but it is heavily implied that she was asked to visit his bed chambers at night (by her own father!).

Her faith may also be one of the several reasons why she was so angry with Rhaenyra for not abstaining from sex before marriage, perhaps projecting her own shame onto the princess.

What is Larys Strong’s relationship with the Faith of the Seven?

Larys Strong comes to stir the pot in the Red Keep. HBO

Larys’ motives have always been an enigma, but, in House of the Dragon, they’re more clear. He’s using mutual faith practices and hatred for the Targaryen dynasty to manipulate Alicent and garner power.

Larys could just be aiming to get closer to Alicent and her son Aegon II, believing that their claim to the Iron Throne is more legitimate than Rhaenyra’s and therefore has a higher chance of success. But in the books, Larys likes to waver between both sides, depending on personal benefit.

Larys could also be making a play for the role of High Septon, the highest-ranking clergyman in the Faith. Either way, there’s nothing about this union that is holy.

The Inverse analysis — As long as the Targaryen Doctrine of Exceptionalism remains, Rhaenyra is protected from the Faith of the Seven (though there are, clearly, plenty of other threats in Westeros). We probably won’t get another walk of atonement moment like we did in Game of Thrones, but if we do, it could reveal just how powerful Alicent has become. And it will probably be even worse than what Cersei will endure hundreds of years later.

House of the Dragon airs Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO and HBO Max.

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