House of the Dragon’s one true villain has been hiding in plain sight

Everyone in ‘House of the Dragon’ is so evil that it’s been hard to identify the true villain, Tom Murray writes. Step forward Larys, the most contemptible character so far

Tuesday 04 October 2022 10:36 BST
Larys Strong has stepped up as House of the Dragon’s biggest and baddest villain
Larys Strong has stepped up as House of the Dragon’s biggest and baddest villain (HBO)

Joffrey. Cersei. Ramsay Bolton. In Game of Thrones, the villains were obviously and deliciously detestable. The audience knew who to root for – Jon Snow, Daenerys – because of their morality in a crowd of reprobates. In House of the Dragon, the villainy question is a little more complicated. Everyone is so evil, in fact, that it’s hard to care about the fight for the Iron Throne - a view expressed by my colleague Amanda Whiting last week. That was until the most recent two episodes when the show’s true villain emerged from the shadows.

At first, it looked like Matt Smith’s Daemon was the show’s big baddie. The warrior prince established himself as a rogue from the off, disobeying his king’s orders, massacring petty criminals in the streets and copping off with his teenage niece. But then he showed he wasn’t all bad when he took down the Crabfeeder – the series’ only, short-lived, out-and-out villain – striding bravely into battle against the odds. Perhaps, after winning the War for the Stepstones, he can be forgiven a little light incest?

Step forward Larys Strong the Clubfoot, played with despicable avarice by Matthew Needham. Over the last few episodes, Westeros’ biggest loner has emerged as the show’s ultimate wrong’un, torching family members in their chambers, slicing a few tongues out and casually offering to remove the eye of a small child.

House of the Dragon episode 7 preview

But Larys’s misdeeds are all the more chilling because of the way that he quietly, remorselessly goes about them. While others talk, he prefers to listen; in doing so, he sees the split in the Targaryen family before anyone else, opening the opportunity hang onto some royal coattails all the way to the top. Larys puts all his money on the new queen, Alicent (Olivia Cooke), coming out on top – perhaps because of the question marks surrounding the legitimacy of Rhaenyra’s children – and, boy, does he double down. In episode six, Larys ruthlessly has his father Lyonel and his brother Ser Harwen burnt alive in their castle after Alicent made her feelings for his family members clear. These acts of patricide and fratricide put Larys beyond reproach: they were not acts of vengeance or honour, but assassinations made purely for personal gain, shaking even the queen to her core.

Barbecuing your dad and brother is obviously one way to show devotion to your queen but in doing so, Larys also makes Alicent feel culpable for their deaths, increasing his leverage over her. Fans were quick to make comparisons between Larys and Aidan Gillen’s GoT character Petyr Baelish, AKA Littlefinger, a famously callous and conniving figure. In one of the show’s most memorable scenes, he yeeted Lysa Arryn through the Moon Door - but only to protect Sansa Stark. Even he wouldn’t murder a family member in cold blood.

“The enigma that is Larys Strong the Clubfoot has vexed students of history for generations, and is not one we can hope to unravel here,” George RR Martin wrote in Fire & Blood, the 2018 novel that inspired HotD. In the source material that the show’s scripts are based on, little is said of Larys beyond his masterful powers of persuasion – and that, perhaps, is why the showrunners for the HBO adaptation chose him as their malefactor. “Because the historians didn’t really get anything on him, it gave us tons of latitude to really draw on and invent with that character,” showrunner Ryan Condal recently told Entertainment Weekly.

This ambiguity made Larys the perfect narrative tool to finally create a good versus evil dynamic. Those who align themselves with Larys become villainous by association. Alicent is repulsed by his actions, and yet she continues to rely on him heavily. Her depravity is cemented in episode seven when she calls for the eye of Rhaenyra’s youngest son, Lucerys, and lunges at his mother with a knife. “Exhausting, wasn’t it?” Rhaenyra tells Alicent in one of the show’s most cutting lines so far. “Hiding beneath the cloak of your own righteousness. But now they see you as you are.”

Emily Carey as Alicent Hightower in 'House of the Dragon’
Emily Carey as Alicent Hightower in 'House of the Dragon’ (HBO)

Finally, as Larys emerges as HotD’s most contemptible character, we have the villain we’ve been craving. Consequently, two sides have been unveiled: those supporting Alicent and the ascent of her son Aegon II, and those backing Rhaenyra and Daemon. As long as Larys resides on team Aegon, they will be the baddies. And when the audience is rooting for an incestuous, uncle-niece duo, the alternative must really be quite nasty.

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