A Princess in Pants and A Queen in Green: Unpacking the Meaning Behind the Costumes of HOUSE OF THE DRAGON

Posted on September 19, 2022

Let’s get to it, shall we? We’ve got loads to discuss, since we’re a little behind on things. First, we’ll admit something we (maybe) got wrong in the last installment, but it provides a helpful jumping off point for the rest of this discussion. As always in Westeros, it’s all about power.

 

Episode 3. “Second of His Name”

As we noted when we talked about the costumes in the first two episodes, Rhaenyra and Alicent are typical Summer Children of Westeros, in the sense that the dreaded long Winter isn’t coming for several more centuries and that could be considered a reason why their clothes looked so much flimsier than we’re used to seeing in King’s Landing. Nearly as soon as we posted that theory, the show pretty much disproved it, because not only did the two royal women’s clothing get heavier and more elaborate almost immediately…

 

…they also became completely cold-weather appropriate. Still, we think their clothing has less to do with the climate (it clearly isn’t winter, even though Alicent is dressed for a blizzard) and way more to do with the one thing everyone wants in this story; the one thing that drives every action: power. When Alicent and Rhaenyra were little girls with no future ahead of them except to find a man from a good house to supply babies to, costume designer Janey Temime dressed them in flimsy, relatively simple clothes that belied their station if not their fates.

 

But with this episode, after each of them have settled more into their elevated status, Temime dressed them in much richer looks. What’s notable with Alicent is how she instantly became queenly in her style. It’s not just that she’s sporting the Targaryen red so prominently; it’s the richness of the textiles and the drama of the silhouette and shape that immediately register her as a woman of some importance.

 

Meanwhile, Rhaenyra became more kingly in her style. Rhaenyra is wearing the kind of doublet that most of the male characters wear, as well as a pair of pants here. It’s not an unheard-of practice in this world for high born women to wear pants (Daenerys, Brienne, Arya, and Yara — all power seekers or badasses – wore them too), but we think it’s not only suggestive of her power and status as the next sovereign of the realms, but also ties into her sexual appeal to men. Put a pin in that, but with a note attached to it that Ser Criston was with her for her first kill while she dressed in a masculine style. Our main point here is to note that, for the most part, the jewelry and other accoutrements of wealth and power remain relatively toned down (in comparison to the nobles of Game of Thrones), with all of the importance of a person being bound up completely in how intricate and well-made their clothing is. We saw a little bit of this same sort of thing with the Stark sisters in the final episodes of Game of Thrones. Neither of them were given to ostentation (they’d been through way too much), but they both wore extremely well-made clothing that suggested their status.

 

Episode 4. “King of the Narrow Sea”

We’ve focused mainly on Alicent and Rhaenyra because their conflict and relationship is so central to the story and also because, let’s face it, it’s more fun to talk about the gowns. But we wanted to note two things here. As we said, power seems to be expressed through the intricacies and richness of one’s clothing (the wedding is a veritable sea of gold brocades), which makes it somewhat interesting to us that Viserys’ raiment is so simple and unadorned. You could take that as a mark of his… we don’t know, humility or whatever, but that doesn’t really scan; especially when scenes like this one work so hard to point out just how ineffectual a leader he is and how many people – his brother foremost among them – tend to walk all over him. He’s a king with little power, being humiliated by a prince in a bone crown.

 

Walking into a king’s throne room wearing a crown is pretty much high treason but Daemon does it because he knows Viserys won’t respond to it. Note how his doublet has a dragon scale design on the front; the source of his victory and a form of Targaryen power his brother fails to utilize or take pleasure in.

Now, remember how we said Rhaenyra was dressing more like a king during the hunt?

Well, they put her in full princess drag when it came time to find her a husband. This gown shows more skin than anything she’s worn before. In addition, it has a lightly romantic quality that a lot of her clothing has lacked since she was named the King’s heir. Note that she’s wearing the necklace Daemon gave her, even as she’s interviewing prospective husbands.

 

Daemon certainly noticed it right away. Like her “courting gown” while she was seeking suitors, this dress is light and femme and vaguely romantic. We imagine a good deal of her wardrobe looked like this throughout the two-month process of husband hunting. She can’t be strolling around in pants, after all. The straight men of Westeros don’t want to marry a king, they want to marry a princess, so she’s dressing the part. Critics of the series may not like it, but the show is committed to unpacking the rampant sexism and misogyny of a pre-industrial feudal society akin to the Middle Ages and that would seem to include the restrictions and expectations placed on women to make them more desirable. Daemon certainly seems to like her this way. Put a pin in that, along with a note about how it’s already been established that he goes limp when a woman takes an assertive role in sex, as seen with both Mysaria and then with Rhaenyra, when she started responding to his attention in the flesh houses – while wearing (or half-wearing) pants, we might add.

 

When Alicent summons her, it’s the first time she looked higher in rank than the princess. While this isn’t an elaborately intricated gown (it’s daytime and there are no social events on the calendar, it would seem), it’s nonetheless richer, heavier, and more adorned than Rhaenyra’s relatively simple gold dress. The shoulders give her power, the sleeves have a regal flare to them, the embroidery is rich and the jewelry and hair stand out against Rhaenyra’s plainer styling. If you came across these two pictures with no idea of the characters, you could easily peg which one of them is a queen. This works perfectly for the scene, because Rhaenyra is in some deep shit and she knows it. It’s not a coincidence that Alicent looks like her superior here. Rhaenyra knows if she doesn’t take control of this conversation (which she does by lying to her only friend in her mother’s name), her whole life is going to come apart.

 

Episode 5. “We Light the Way”

Alicent wears the same dress when her father makes it clear to her that she’s been lied to and manipulated, which has resulted in his banishment from court. Wearing that living reminder of Rhaenyra’s lie while being educated on just how dangerous the heir is to her and her family was a perfect visual reminder of both the power that she has as a queen and the education she’s sorely in need of in order to learn how to wield it.

Okay, let’s talk pants again.

We meet Daemon’s “bronze bitch,” his good lady wife Rhea Royce. Please note that she’s brusque, not particularly femme, and wearing pants. Please also note that he kills her. And then please note further (because this show is a lot of things, but subtle is not one of them), that she literally goads him into finishing the job by disparaging his manhood and sexual prowess. She did this not because she’s a bitch or because she’s dumb, but because it was the only weapon she had to hurt him while she lay there paralyzed. Daemon can’t get it up for a woman who isn’t subservient to him and she shamed him for it as she lay dying. We want to note again that the one man Rhaenyra has slept with – and the only man she pursued on her own – fell in love with her after watching her kill a boar while wearing pants and broke his vow after she undressed him while wearing pants. He’s the only man who wants her for who she is rather than what she is, and the only man who not only doesn’t seem fazed by her power-seeking or aggression, but seems a little turned on by it. He’s the anti-Daemon. Granted he’s not exactly boyfriend material, but still.

 

Rhaenys is also wearing pants when she greets Viserys upon his arrival at Castle Driftmark. You could unpack this by noting that showing up in casual day clothes for a royal visit as as offensive to the king as making him approach you while you sit on a throne, as her husband did. As she noted later, Viserys coming to them to beg for their son’s hand is a humiliation. She didn’t feel it worth her time to put on a gown. But we also think it’s notable because like Rhaenyra, she once thought she was in line to be the ruler of the realms and she’s taking this moment to express that. It’s a flex. A king thing. Women wear pants in this word when they’re badasses who aren’t traditionally feminine (Brienne, Yara Greyjoy, Rhea Royce) or when they feel they’re owed the same power given to men. In other words, it’s the typical pants-wearing stereotype of lesbians and feminists. Like we said, this show is not subtle at all.

 

Meanwhile, Rhaenyra’s back in her courting gown to set the terms of her marriage to her cousin. This tells us that she wears this gown not to be appealing to any potential husbands (because she knows damn well that Laenor has no interest in her), but because she’s doing as told. Also note that she is not wearing Daemon’s necklace anymore.

 

We think it’s HIGHLY notable that Alicent returned to wearing her mother’s old dress, years after we first saw her wearing it when she was (possibly inadvertently or against her will) “courting” the king. Like Rhaenyra’s courting dress, it shows considerably more skin than her normal wardrobe. It’s odd to us that she’d wear it here, but we suppose she either thought she needed to be more alluring to get the truth out of Ser Criston (remember, she had no idea that he’d slept with her stepdaughter) or because she’s sick of all this Targaryen bullshit and wants to dress in the style of her family of origin. We tend to think the latter interpretation makes more sense, especially given how she dressed for the wedding. Her father just got banished and told her in no uncertain terms that she needs to accumulate her own power and allies, away from the family she married into, so she threw away her red dresses and put on something comforting that ties her to her past.

 

Okay, let’s talk about the whole reason you clicked on this post: THAT WEDDING. Tom saw a screener of this episode before Lorenzo did and told him “You’re gonna love this episode! Everyone looks amazing and it’s SO fucked up!” It just wouldn’t be a Westerosi wedding without a little bit of incest and a whole lot of blood, now would it? First, let’s note some of the attendees’ looks for the night:

House Velaryon did not come to King’s Landing to play, they came to SLAY. There’s more gold running through the threadwork of their outfits than in the rest of the room combined.

 

Laenor and Laena Velaryon are gilded up like two prize trophies to be won. They’re both beautiful, powerful dragon-riders from the most powerful family in the seven kingdoms. Corlys is a proud man. There was no way anyone in that room was going to outshine his heirs.

 

The gorgeous brocade of Joffrey Lonmouth’s doublet sets him far above Ser Criston’s armor. Ser Criston is not just angry and humiliated by Rhaneyra’s rejection, he’s feeling incredibly inferior to everyone in the room; good enough to be a hired sword or a whore, but not any more than that. The incredible richness of Joffrey’s outfit only serves to highlight that perception and infuriate him more.

Unlike Criston, who has to stand guard in his armor and hope for no more than to be the future queen’s side piece, Joffrey (the future king’s side piece) gets to wear the brocade, dance with his lover, and carry on however he wants to.

 

Now look at the Targaryens. Obviously, they’re dressed to show their power and we think it’s notable that this is the richest, most embellished thing Viserys has ever worn, but they are both easily outshone by House Velaryon here. We tend to think this highlights our earlier point about Viserys and how he doesn’t know how to wield power effectively. He let this wedding get completely out of hand and then collapsed when it was over. He finally looks like a king, but he immediately looked poorer next to his daughter’s in-laws. As for the bride…

 

 

There’s no denying that there’s a power and richness to this look or that she looks more adult, more queenly than she ever has. But we would argue that it’s less about the dress, which is almost modest in comparison to so many others in the room, not to mention other gowns she’s worn, than it is about the styling here. You don’t need rich embroidery or intricate designs when you’ve got Targaryen hair and royal jewels. Given how much this story tries to unpack all the ways in which women are subjugated or held back in a patriarchal system, we think there’s something to the idea that she’s wearing white for the same reason many brides have worn it in the real world: to signal her purity. This would, after all, be extremely important to Viserys, the king who sent his daughter a nice warm mug of abortion tea after he found out she enjoyed herself too much. This whole marriage is an attempt to solve a series of problems for the king: his daughter’s wanton activities and the rumors that are likely to follow her, her unwillingness to find a good man to marry, and the rift that has developed between the Targaryen and Velaryon houses. Dressing the royal bride up to look rich but modest, regal but feminine, is right in line with everything we’ve seen in the story so far.

In other words, they toned everything down on Rhaenyra in order to let Laenor and his family look like the richer, more powerful people in the room. It’s politics.

 

See? It’s a dance. Of dragons. Did we mention that this show isn’t subtle?

 

Anyway, while Viserys put his daughter in the kind of relatively modest royal dress he prefers in order to soothe the ego of her future father-in-law, there’s one thing he clearly never planned on.

 

His own wife showing up and declaring war on half the room. While looking positively sickening, we might add.

 

She’s sporting the brocade, the gold threads, the big jewels, a little bit of sex, AND the big hair. All of the symbols of royal power are there, but absolutely no trace of Targaryen can be found in any of it. No red or black will be touching this queen today.

 

Alicent has learned a couple of very important lessons. The first is that a queen needs to figure out where her power lies and utilize it to her benefit. The second is that most of her power originates in symbolism. We said earlier that she immediately became more queenly in her style when she married, but she was dressing like a Targaryen then. As Ser Larys Strong noted to his brother, green is the Hightower family color and it’s also the color of the beacon that sits on the tower for which the family is named in Oldtown. She’s sending a clear signal to anyone who would support House Hightower that she’s gathering allies in order to secure the future of her children. We’re not sure how much Viserys understood this, but her own people sure did. This dress was a call to arms in support of the queen and given that this is the first time Alicent has shown any facility with the trappings of power, we can’t wait to see how she utilizes it as she gets older.

 

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