How Rhaenys Targaryen’s Death Played in the Book 5

[This story contains spoilers from season two, episode four of House of the Dragon, “The Red Dragon and the Gold.”]

If the Dance of the Dragons wasn’t already officially on, it certainly is now.

In its fourth episode, House of the Dragon season two finally went there — “there” meaning, full-on dragon-on-dragon violence, in the much-hyped Battle at Rook’s Rest. The casualties include countless individuals on the battlefield, several structures, potentially a king and definitely the Queen Who Never Was, Rhaenys Targaryen, played by Eve Best.

“It’s a pyrrhic victory for both sides,” showrunner Ryan Condal says about the battle in the behind-the-scenes feature that followed Sunday’s episode, “The Red Dragon and the Gold.”

“We lose Rhaenys, one of Rhaenyra’s most trusted counselors. We don’t really know the condition of Sunfyre or Aegon,” he continues of the list of casualties and potential casualties, the latter including the King (played Tom Glynn-Carney) and his dragon. “You have to regard it as a great example of how horrible and awful dragon war is, and the reason it needs to be waged with great restraint.”

The episode sees conflict between the Blacks and Greens coming to a full boil at Rook’s Rest, one of the closest locations for Rhaenyra’s forces on Dragonstone to make landfall on Westeros proper. Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) leads his army in an attempt to claim the territory, with Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) and his massive dragon Vhagar waiting in the wings. Rhaenyra is forced to respond with her own dragon power, but it’s Rhaenys, the woman who once almost secured the crown instead of the late Viserys (Paddy Considine), that decides to take flight. It’s a fatal choice, ultimately, as she and her dragon Meleys, the Red Queen, are killed at the hands and maw of Aemond and Vhagar.

“Rhaenys chooses to step in, having said for the whole season, ‘We mustn’t use dragons, anything but using dragons,’” Best says in the same behind-the-scenes feature. “If it has to be done, if this action has to be taken, then it’s better she takes it than anybody else. Ultimately, she is expendable, where Rhaenyra is not.”

Ewan Mitchell as Aemond Targaryen in House of the Dragon season two.

Theo Whiteman/HBO

Some fans will strongly argue against the notion of Eve Best’s Rhaenys being expendable, as one of the very few level-headed players on and off the House of the Dragon battlefield. But it’s not just a left curve for the sake of a left curve. In George R.R. Martin‘s Fire and Blood on which HOTD is based, Rhaenys is one of the conflict’s earliest casualties, a clear signal that there’s no peaceful way back from the politically violent — and now actually violent — war between the two sides of the Targaryen war.

The battle in the book plays out largely similarly to how it occurs on the show, though it’s worth remembering that the book was written within the universe of Westeros — meaning, there are deliberate factual inconsistencies to consider. For one, Martin writes:

“Two more winged shapes appeared: the king astride Sunfyre the Golden, and his brother Aemond upon Vhagar. Criston Cole had sprung his trap, and Rhaenys had come snatching at the bait. Now the teeth closed round her.”

The description is technically true. Though the episode plays it as King Aegon recklessly running into battle atop Sunfyre, despite protests from Criston Cole and Aemond.

Martin’s description of events also plays out differently than the show in some other ways. The episode sees Aemond deliberately cloaking his brother and Sunfyre in fire, and then sneak-attacking Rhaenys in a last-minute act. In Martin’s version, the battle is much more chaotic and much less intentional:

“Princess Rhaenys made no attempt to flee. With a glad cry and a crack of her whip, she turned Meleys toward the foe. Against Vhagar alone she might have had some chance, but against Vhagar and Sunfyre together, doom was certain. The dragons met violently a thousand feet above the field of battle, as balls of fire burst and blossomed, so bright that men swore later that the sky was full of suns. The crimson jaws of Meleys closed round Sunfyre’s golden neck for a moment, till Vhagar fell upon them from above. All three beasts went spinning toward the ground. They struck the ground so hard that stones fell from the battlements of Rook’s Rest half a league away.”

The episode stops short of revealing Rhaenys’ body — though it hardly needs to show it, given the character’s hard fall from the sky. Not to mention the creators confirming the character’s demise. But if there’s another look at the Queen Who Never Was in the next episode, it may look something like what Martin wrote:

“A body believed to be Rhaenys Targaryen was later found beside the carcass of her dragon, but it was so blackened that no one could be sure it was her. Beloved daughter of Lady Jocelyn Baratheon and Prince Aemond Targaryen, faithful wife to Lord Corlys Velaryon, mother and grandmother, the Queen Who Never Was lived fearlessly, and died amidst blood and fire. She was fifty-five years old.”

House of the Dragon releases new season two episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO and Max. Read THR‘s interview with Ewan Mitchell on the episode and follow along with THR‘s season coverage.

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