House of the Dragon is full of incest, abuse, death, and violence. And yet somehow the show managed to shock us with a man called the Clubfoot pleasuring himself to the Queen’s royal toes. If you never want to think about what was going through the mind of Lord Larys Strong in that moment, we understand. We don’t either. But there was much more to that scene than just its unsettling (for us and Alicent) sexual nature. It completely changed what we know about both characters and their relationship. And that has big implications for the path they’ll walk together during the Dance of the Dragons.
Until House of the Dragon‘s “The Green Council” it seemed we had a clear understanding of Larys Strong and Alicent Hightower’s partnership. He’s an amoral sociopath with grand ambition who has served as her loyal advisor and friend. Larys has also acted on her behalf in heinous ways she didn’t ask for or want. He murdered his own father and brother because it would get her dad Otto back to King’s Landing. (Larys also offered to take one of Lucerys Velaryon’s eyes for the Queen.) Of course, the Clubfoot has also benefited from his relationship with Alicent. He immediately became Lord of Harrenhal after the fire, with the implied promise the Queen would find an even better way to repay him.
The secret of his murder also gave him something to hold over her. Yes, he did it on his own accord, but he could always say he did it on her orders. If Larys is ever in danger of going down for his actions, he can take the Queen with him. They’re friends, but she must protect him to protect herself.
Combined with his web of spies and (ahem) foot soldiers, in some ways he’s been more powerful than her. He has knowledge she doesn’t and can get things done that she can’t. She’s the Queen, but in the relationship he seemed to have the upper hand. Or rather he did until their “foot” scene completely reframed their relationship.
Once you get past the initial shock of Alicent and Larys’ consensual playtime, there’s a ton of storytelling to appreciate in the moment. Once more we find him waiting for the Queen alone in her personal quarters. But upon finding him she’s already exhausted by his presence. What follows is a give-and-take. He has information for her, but he refuses to give it over until she begins revealing her bare feet to him. As she takes off her socks he opens up about the White Worm and Otto Hightower’s willingness to use Mysaria for his own purposes. He then agrees to covertly handle this problem for Alicent, all before her feet leads to him using his hand.
On the surface this interaction seems to reinforce the Clubfoot’s hold over Alicent. He’s in the Queen’s bedroom trading secrets and service for the right to pleasure himself not just to her, but in front of her. In this moment Alicent is selling a piece of herself for something of value, turning the Red Keep into a royal brothel.
But Alicent isn’t really selling her body, since the two aren’t having any actual physical interaction. Instead she’s trading her dignity to keep Larys in her service. She knows how dangerous and valuable he is. It behooves her to keep him happy and loyal to her, especially now that war is surely coming to Westeros, as few players in the game of thrones will offer what he can to a woman now competing with her own father. All it takes for her to maintain Larys Strong’s discretion and reliability is showing off her feet and turning her head. People in King’s Landing pay far more for far less everyday.
Of course, Lord Strong could go to the Street of Silk and pay someone to do so much more than merely show him their feet. The fact he wants—or possibly even needs—to see the Queen’s feet to satiate his sexual appetites shows that on some level he desires her specifically. Whether it’s being around Alicent the woman, whom he has leered at since she was a teen, or the Queen of Westeros and what that represents, she has some kind of hold on him. He might think this act is a type of power play for himself, and that Alicent is desperate for his service. But what he wants from her—and likely always has, since he’s done unspeakable horror to please her—is far more personal. And therefore he is far more exploitable.
On Game of Thrones during the Battle of Blackwater Bay Cersei gave some shocking advice to a naïve Sansa Stark. The Queen said women have a weapon they can us against men to manipulate them. Alicent isn’t using the exact “weapon” against Larys that Cersei meant, but the same idea applies. Alicent is using her body and Lord Strong’s lust for her to her advantage. He thinks he’s in control over their relationship, but she has something he wants and can only get from her. He’s not quite the supreme evil genius only driven by ambition we thought he was. He’s a man with wants and desires that make him vulnerable. Because she’s willing to exploit that, Alicent is in charge of this relationship. She wants his help, but she doesn’t need him the way he needs her.
But in true A Song of Ice and Fire fashion, power, even in a single relationship, comes with a price. Throughout the scene Alicent is exhausted and frustrated. She shouldn’t have to placate this amoral monster in such an undignified way. And she knows it’s undignified. Disgust—with herself, with him, and with this absurd situation—is evident on her face in the scene’s final moments. Alicent looks away in shame while Larys finishes his unseemly act. She’s willing to lower herself for a greater cause, but she doesn’t like it.
Pride for power? Dignity for loyalty? Bare feet for control over a dangerous weapon? Is that an exchange worthy of a Queen? Of Alicent Hightower? Of any woman? When it comes to the Iron Throne, and all the danger and death that comes with claiming it, there are never any easy answers.
But what we do know now is the truth about the relationship between Larys and Queen Alicent. Even if we’d rather not think about what it took to learn what’s really going on.
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.