The Thematic Connection Between HOUSE OF THE DRAGON’s Rhaenys and Ned Stark

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Spoiler Alert

“A war is like to be fought over this treachery, to be sure. But that war is not mine to begin.”

Princess Rhaenys refused to kill the Greens in House of the Dragon‘s first season during Aegon’s coronation. She justified her inaction by saying the coming Targaryen civil war was not hers to start. It was (at best) a frustrating moment that immediately seemed like a mistake. Yet it wasn’t totally out of line for Eve Best’s character. The Queen Who Never Was did not wish for fire and blood to consume the Realm. Rhaenys was a decent, wise person who knew what a war of dragons would mean. But being a good person did not save her during the Battle at Rook’s Rest, where the very people she spared at the Dragonpit killed her.

Rhaenys’ demise gets to the very core of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, a story about what it means to lead that asks if it’s even possible to be both a good person and a good ruler. And like Rhaenys, Ned Stark also paid with his life to learn why you can’t on Game of Thrones.

Rhaenys Targaryen on her dragon
HBO

The kind, insightful Rhaenys was a fearsome warrior who did her best to avoid combat if she could. She was a keen observer of people who also recognized the pitfalls of power and glory. Like Ned Stark, Rhaenys was everything you’d want in a leader, and though she never got to rule, she was a huge and steadying influence over many who did. Rhaenyra had no greater ally than Rhaenys, the very best of House Targaryen. Westeros was lucky to have her.

And what was Rhaenys’ reward for being a good, decent, honorable person on House of the Dragon? Her own kin, the very same people she let live, killed her. Being the best Targaryen in a Targaryen civil war wasn’t enough to keep her safe. But once she entered the war, that was all but inevitable. Rhaenys ultimately supported Rhaenyra in the Queen’s fight for the Iron Throne and went to war on Rhaenyra’s behalf. There were only two outcomes once she did. As Cersei Lannister will tell Ned Stark two hundred years later, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

Ned Stark speaks to Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones
HBO

Ned Stark will die in Game of Thrones, same as Rhaenys does in House of the Dragon. And for the same reason. He tried to be a good person in a world that often demands you be ruthless. The Lord of Winterfell learned the terrible secret that Cersei’s children were not King Robert’s kids. But rather than arrest Cersei and her brother Jaime, Ned infamously told the Queen what he knew. He wanted to give her a chance to flee with her children, lest Robert kill them all. Eddard Stark did the noble, decent thing, just as he always did. His reward for being good was losing his head.

A Song of Ice and Fire is a story about what it means to be a good leader. The demands of power rarely lend themselves to being a good person because being decent and “winning” are rarely compatible.

Ned Stark about to be beheaded
HBO

That’s a lesson Jon Snow, who survived the game of thrones, learned over eight seasons in which he was constantly forced to choose between doing what was “good” and what was “necessary.” Jon needed to “kill the boy” he was and accept the hard responsibilities of ruling, just as Maester Aemon told him. Those responsibilities were often unthinkable, like when Jon didn’t want to behead Olly. Executing a child certainly wasn’t something any decent person would do. It was something the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch was forced to do.

Jon was a decent, noble person like the man who raised him, but Jon didn’t make the same mistakes Ned did. He adapted to the world around him, and he accepted his duties, even the ones that went against his very nature. Neither Ned Stark, nor Rhaenys were able to do this and so they seemingly sentenced themselves to death in respective Game of Thrones stories.

Jon Snow Kit Harington
HBO

If Ned Stark hadn’t been so kind and noble to Cersei, he would have lived. If Rhaenys had burned the Greens at the Dragonpit, she would never have had to fight at Rook’s Rest. Who was wrong, though: Ned Stark and Rhaenys, or the world? Can we really fault people for doing the “right” thing even in a world that can be so evil? The answer, as it so often is in A Song of Ice and Fire, is not an easy one. Their goodness was commendable, and the world would be better if everyone was like Ned Stark and Rhaenys. Yet ultimately, their good actions were not good for them, their families, their allies, or even the Realm. Their decency led to war and countless more bloodshed.

A battered and soot-covered Rhaenys looks sad as her dragon fall from the sky on House of the Dragon
HBO

Rhaenys was wise and temperate. She was good. And now she’s dead on House of the Dragon, and the very fire and blood she tried to prevent from happening will consume the Realm. Too bad that good Ned Stark didn’t learn from Rhaenys’ mistakes.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist and #1 Ned Stark super fan. You can follow him on  Twitter and  Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.



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