Unlike most book adaptations, House of the Dragon is based on unreliable source material. George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood is “written” by an archmaester who lived long after the Targaryen civil war. And that fictional historian’s retelling relies on primary sources whose accounts are not only questionable, they frequently contradict. But that’s a good thing for viewers and readers alike. The spinoff series is giving us answers to some of Fire & Blood‘s most debated events, including one of the most important moments in Ser Criston Cole’s life. We now know he was the one who asked Rhaenyra to run away with him. But that wasn’t the only huge revelation the show’s explosive fifth episode gave us about the dishonorable Kingsguard. And everything we learned about him will frame his upcoming role in the Dance of the Dragons.
Fire & Blood is full of conflicting reports about signature events from this era of House Targaryen. That includes the matter of whether Princess Rhaenyra or Ser Criston Cole asked the other to run off to a life together in Essos. Now we know Rhaenyra’s sworn protector beseeched her to abdicate her throne. That wasn’t surprising, given what we know what Rhaenyra will do to claim the Iron Throne later in life. But Ser Criston’s reasons for making that outrageous request were.
Long before we got a definitive answer of who made this request, it always seemed clear it was one of love. Fire & Blood leaves no doubt Ser Criston Cole and Rhaenyra Targaryen had an intimate bond when she was younger. It was also easy to imagine why Cole would make such a desperate, outrageous plea. It’s easy to understand why a lovesick nobody from a minor house, raised to prominence by the princess he swore to keep safe, would think a fairy tale ending awaited them.
But House of the Dragon made clear the true story was far more complicated—and a lot less noble—than we ever thought. Ser Criston’s offer was not merely one of the heart, it was a selfish one. He loves Rhaenyra, but he also wanted her to rescue him from his own actions. He’s struggling to live with himself since he broke his vows (and continued breaking them) with the princess. He violated his white cloak, the “only thing” he has to his “f***ing name.” If she would merely give up her family, her title, her home, her responsibilities, and her future crown, he wouldn’t have to feel so badly about himself. She could save his honor for him.
Throw in that crate of oranges and it’s incredible she turned him down! What an offer! Rhaenyra gives up literally everything so the guy that took advantage of a drunk teenager can feel better about himself.
Whatever you think of Princess Rhaenyra and her own decisions, Ser Criston Cole clearly did not act purely out of love when he asked for her hand in marriage. Nor was he heartbroken because she said no. He was angry. He was angry at himself before, now he’s angry at her, with little self-reflection for why he is solely responsible for his own actions.
And as though that wasn’t bad enough, Criston Cole then violated Rhaenyra’s trust to Queen Alicent. He was so lost in self-pity he confessed to a crime no one accused him of. Only his guilt and need for absolution mattered to him in that moment. He gave no consideration to what his admission would mean for Princess Rhaenyra, a girl already dealing with powerful forces seeking to deny her the Iron Throne. That’s a shocking confession not found in Fire & Blood, one that has completely changed our understanding of the story.
At least Ser Criston’s anger and guilt only led him to betray Rhaenyra’s secret. Cole took out his anger and guilt on naive Ser Joffrey Lonmouth’s face, in one of the most despicable moments in Kingsguard history. Ser Criston responded to a toothless “threat” with a cold blooded murder in the throne room before half the Realm.
Ser Criston Cole’s story would have ended right then had Alicent not stopped him from taking his own life in the Godswood. And that might be this episode’s single most important revelation. It didn’t just answer some big questions about the infamous knight; it marked a major change for the Queen. She now realizes King’s Landing and its heir—which cast away her father in service of a lie—are not as sweet and innocent as she thought. Queen Alicent is finally ready to play the game of thrones.
And she begins this deadly game with a secret that could ruin Rhaenyra. A secret Ser Criston Cole is desperate to keep hidden. And what he’ll do to make sure it does—including to whom he’ll swear allegiance in the future—will forever change Westeros.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.