King Aegon Targaryen, Second of His Name, is an amoral, depraved man-child without honor. So when he finds an idea grotesque, it must surely be too terrible for anyone with a shred of decency to entertain. Yet in House of the Dragon‘s “Rhaenyra the Cruel,” the measured Otto Hightower proposed something that horrified his otherwise unethical grandson. The (now former) Hand of the King turned the brutal murder of little Prince Jaehaerys into a funeral progress of propaganda against Rhaenyra. It was a monstrous, sickening plan that turned his family’s private grief into a public spectable. And Otto was right to do it.

That’s not an easy thing to admit, but not for the reason you might think. Defending Otto Hightower’s actions on House of the Dragon means you are also legitimizing Tywin Lannister pulling off the Red Wedding on Game of Thrones.

Rhys Ifans sitting in a dark room as Otto Hightower on House of the Dragon

It’s hard to imagine anything could make Alicent’s son Aegon recoil with horror. He grew up drinking and whoring his way through Flea Bottom where he frequented kids fighting pits, even though some of those children might have been his own unacknowledged bastards. He’s completely craven, and sitting the Iron Throne has only brought out the worst in him. Yet his grandfather’s ploy to turn little Jaehaerys’s murder into a public relations opportunity on House of the Dragon shocked the King. Even a despicable pig like Aegon recognized what anyone with an ethical bone or beating heart did instantly: this was a truly repellent suggestion, even for war.

But as Otto had told his daughter in private before the small council meeting, “Some good may yet come of this.” He wasn’t going to let Jaehaerys “die in vain,” even if that meant doing something Otto must have known in his soul was disgusting. He wouldn’t simply name Rhaenyra a “slayer of infants” without proof (totally unseemly on its own). Otto Hightower wanted to hold a funeral progress to let the people of King’s Landing physically look at a decapitated six-year-old so they could “look upon the works of this pretender to the throne.”


From there, word spread to the lords of Westeros, who would inevitably revaluate their loyalty to the Queen. But Otto Hightower wasn’t going to leave anything to chance on House of the Dragon. He was going to milk this unthinkable tragedy for every ounce of publicity he could. “The Realm must see the sorrow of the crown,” he said. “A sorrow best expressed through its most gentle souls.” Those souls were his guilt-stricken daughter and Jaehaerys’ sweet, traumatized, neurotypical mother, Queen Helaena. They’d have to sit behind the boy’s body as they were quite literally paraded through the city.

Otto’s reprehensible idea was even worse in reality. We had to see Jaehaerys, stitched back together, get stuck in a rut in the streets. We had to watch an overwhelmed Helaena made to suffer even more when she should have been left to grieve in private. And we had to hear Rhaenyra, a grieving mother herself, falsely labeled a monster to smallfolk being manipulated. Aegon, miraculously, was right to find the mere suggestion of the propaganda event so vile. Yet Otto Hightower’s reasoning for this House of the Dragon funeral progress is totally defensible. “Jaehaerys will do more for us now than a thousand knights in battle,” he said to the green council on, which ultimately agreed with him.


The Dance of the Dragons is here. There’s no stopping it now. Jaehaerys’ death will just be one of many still to come. Lots of people are going to die, many of them smallfolk and children as innocent as the little prince. Why not turn the boy’s death into a spectacle if it saves lives? What better outcome could there be? Wouldn’t lessening the pain and suffering of others be the kindest thing the greens can do, especially if the only price is their own pain?

Saying something is “the lesser of two evils” doesn’t mean something is not evil, which Otto Hightower’s House of the Dragon funeral progress surely was. But “lesser” is a relative term, and his plan might lessen the overall amount of evil in the world.

Ollie Upton/HBO

You don’t have to like anything about Otto Hightower’s otherwise unethical House of the Dragon scheme to recognize its merits. But the real quandary begins once you do. Because when you admit Otto had a point you also have to accept that you’re making the case for Tywin Lannister conspiring with Walder Frey to pull off the Red Wedding two centuries later on Game of Thrones.

Inviting people into your home under a banner of peace and protection only to slaughter them is obviously reprehensible. It’s the kind of unimaginable act that seems an obvious bridge too far (intended!) even when done against people you are literally at war with. Tyrion will raise the same argument with his father when he learns about what happened at the Twins. But Tywin Lannister will raise the same type of argument as Otto Hightower long before him: “Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner,” Tywin will say.


Is he right? Was Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding—as plainly devious and cruel as it was—justified? If we acknowledge Otto had legitimate cause to use his grandson’s murder to save lives, don’t we have to admit Tywin will have legitimate cause to kill a dozen men in a dishonorable manner because he thinks it will save thousands from dying with honor? What’s honor to the dead anyway? Plus, Tywin didn’t attack innocents victims at the Red Wedding. He only killed soldiers engaged in a war against him and his family, the family he was trying to protect. How is one okay and not the other?

The answer is not obvious because there’s an obvious distinction between exploiting a death that has already happened versus committing literal murder. One is personally repugnant and exploitative, while the other is a war crime. Yet the distinction between the two probably isn’t large enough to make fans of the Seven Kingdoms comfortable. The only real lesson we can take comfort in is one both Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon have left unquestioned: the only way to truly save lives in war is never to fight one.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. He is sick to his stomach for having defended Otto Hightower in any way. You can follow him on Twitter and  Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.