Why Rhaenys’ Shocking Death Changes Everything
6 mins read

Why Rhaenys’ Shocking Death Changes Everything

(Warning: This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon Season 2, Episode 4.)

House of the Dragon showed remarkable restraint in the face of the impending Targaryen civil war. In Season 1, the acrimony between the Greens and the Blacks was largely verbal and political, rather than physical. Even after the usurpation of the throne and the subsequent deaths escalated the situation, the two warring factions resisted the call to pull out their biggest weapon in the arsenal for anything more than patrol duty.

That changed in Episode 4 at Rook’s Rest, a small but strategic castle in the Crownlands. Criston Cole’s (Fabien Frankel) campaign to capture the castle and cut off Dragonstone from the mainland attracted Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) and her dragon Meleys. Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) waited in the forest to attack from Vhagar, and an insecure King Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) came from Sunfyre to prove himself. The ensuing “Dance of the Dragons,” in which three dragons fought to the death in the sky, ended in total carnage: countless bodies of faceless soldiers burned to ash, and Rhaenys and Meleys perished in the rubble.

As for Aegon and Sunfyre, we’ll have to wait to find out what happened to them. But the deaths of Rhaenys, the Queen Who Never Was, and her dragon will fundamentally change the course of the war.

Why Rhaenys’ Shocking Death Changes Everything

House of the Dragon tried to warn us. Rhaenyra hesitated for a long time to unleash dragons on her enemies, incurring the wrath of her council. “If dragons fight dragons, we are doomed,” Rhaenyra replied in Episode 3, when one of her council members suggested sending them to “burn those who resist.” It wasn’t until Rhaenyra told Jacaerys (Harry Collett), her eldest son and heir, about the A Song of Ice and Fire prophecy in Episode 4, that she considered sending dragons a last resort, fully aware of what would come next. “The horrors I’ve just unleashed can’t just be confined to the crown,” she explained.

It’s no coincidence that the scene is interspersed with dragons at their most animalistic: Rhaenys provides Meleys with some reassurance, as the duo have flown together for decades; Sunfyre lightly headbutts Aegon, who looks calmer and happier than we’ve ever seen him, like a cat. In a matter of minutes, the lives of both pairs of dragons and their riders would change forever.

But, as Rhaenys told Rhaenyra in Episode 3, more heated minds than Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) prevailed in the Greens’ battle plans, bringing civil war to an inevitable conclusion in the Dragon War. In a brutal display of flame and claw, the three dragons—two who had seen action and one green (and not just because of the loyalty of his rider)—faced each other in midair. A single strike on a dragon’s hide would damage the dragons and risk the life of its rider. But any foot soldier on either side of the conflict could die if the steaming dragon blood, so hot it instantly kills anyone it touches, felled them.

Criston may have technically won the battle, but it came at a level of violence that even a seasoned knight was not prepared for. It will only get worse as more dragons fly out to meet their comrades in battle. But Rhaenys’ death also means something House of the Dragon struggled with: making this war have real stakes.

House of the Dragon he killed off characters we’d previously invested in, like King Viserys (Paddy Considine), whom we got to know over the course of eight episodes, watching his relationship with his family grow and deteriorate, and seeing his flaws on display. But that never really came as a shock, because it seemed like the only thing keeping the various Targaryen factions at bay. Plus, once his body started to break down, death was inevitable, so the question of Viserys’s downfall wasn’t if, but when.

Eve Best's photo from

The show also gave us shocking deaths, but its pacing issues barely gave us time to get to know or care about these characters before we tossed them aside. It relied on seeing other characters in despair and grief, or using shock value to inform our own feelings while watching these atrocities. This yielded mixed results at best. These deaths drove the plot, but we barely knew who these people were, so what could possibly make us care?

Rhaenys Targaryen may have been the first character whose sudden death was a shock AND whose fate we were invested in from the very beginning. Earning the nickname “The Queen Who Never Was” after her claim was overruled in favor of Viserys at the Great Council, she was a cautionary tale of how, given the choice, the world would never allow a woman to rule. Rhaenys accepted that, but her husband, Corlys Velaryon (Steve Touissant), never did, making sarcastic comments whenever he could. Until recently, it was one of the more stable relationships on the show.

She may have had complicated feelings towards Rhaenyra and her heritage, but she was loyal and respectful of Viserys’ decree. Rhaenys was the Blacks’ version of Otto Hightower, a cunning advisor who supported and championed Rhaenyra’s plans to seek peaceful options to end the war. While she was criticized for her restraint at the time, she remained cautious when it could have backfired and set a precedent. She even advised her to contact Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), although perhaps not in the way Rhaenyra did.

Now that Rhaenys is gone, hot heads will prevail on Team Black as well. “We’re getting to the point where none of this matters,” she said in Episode 3. “And the urge to kill and burn takes over, and reason is forgotten.”

Rhaenys and Meleys will likely be just the first casualties of a bloody war. But even if they are just the first in a long line of Targaryens and dragons to meet a brutal end, her death, more than any other factor that came before it, marks the point of no return.