To be a Game of Thrones fan in 2022 is to shrug your shoulders at incest, but draw the line at a foot fetish.
Let's be real, viewers of the show have had more than a decade to get acclimated to couples who share a bed but also genes. What was once a shocking reveal in the Thrones' pilot, in which the consequences of the Lannister twins engaging in distinctly un-sibling-like behaviour were dire enough that they attempted murder to conceal their secret, has never been more commonplace than in House of the Dragon. The Thrones prequel follows the Targaryens, a family known for its incestual practices, meant to preserve their bloodline and strengthen claims of succession. In this show, women not only expect to marry their uncles, cousins, or brothers, but also anticipate it eagerly. A foot fetish, however, is new to this universe (despite GQ calling it “the accessible kink-of-the-moment”), and tiptoes into it with tragicomic timing in the penultimate episode, The Green Council.
When it opens, King Viserys I (Paddy Considine) has died. Misinterpreting his last words to her, Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) connives to put her son Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) on the Iron Throne, instead of Viserys’ chosen heir, his daughter Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy). When she meets with her advisor, the well-informed but slimy Lord Larys (Matthew Needham), he seems on the verge of offering her news of strategic importance but lets silence linger between them instead. Alicent slips off her shoes and puts her feet up on the table, an unusual choice for a woman with such rigid posture, but not all that suspicious at first — plotting a coup is tiring work. Larys continues speaking, then defaults to silence once more when she asks him a question. This time, she takes off her stockings. A close-up of her feet, Larys’ pause before he answers, his glassy stare and heavy breathing form the final pieces of a jigsaw puzzle designed for perverts. Alicent can only stare off into the distance as he slips a hand into his pants. There’s something perversely comic about Needham’s performance, equal parts pathetic and acutely aware of his own power, and about the inclusion of this scene in an episode otherwise dedicated to big political plays, but the development is still consequential. The game is now…afoot.
For years, Thrones has bucked conventional television storytelling norms by having its most explosive events occur in its penultimate episodes rather than its season finales — the beheading of Ned Stark, the battle of Blackwater Bay, the battle of the Bastards. No one of importance is killed in The Green Council, but enough occurs to make viewers squeamish, particularly this scene. Larys, who spies on Rhaenyra so he can supply Alicent with crucial information, who orders his father and brother’s assassination to futher her cause, who whispers that he’s confident she will repay him when the time is right, only wants…feet? Truly the biggest sexual mystery in the Westeros after: What’s the deal with Daemon’s erectile dysfunction and why does House of the Dragon keep harping on about it? At least an HBO Inside the Episode installment provides some explanation.
Earlier in the show, Daemon takes his niece to a brothel in King’s Landing, ostensibly to show her that pleasure can exist outside the confines of an arranged marriage, but more to seduce her and by extension, forge a path to the throne. He tries but falters, eventually unable to go through with it. “His impotence in this scene is a reflection of the fact that he knows deep down what he’s doing isn’t right,” said executive producer and showrunner Miguel Sapochnik. It’s in keeping with the Thrones tradition of advancing character development or delivering relevant information through sex scenes, a practice so rampantly relied on in the original show, it birthed the term “sexposition”. By way of course correction, the sex scenes in House of the Dragon are fewer and much less gratuituous, but still deliver clues about the characters’ temperaments and relationships.
The inclusion of the foot fetish scene in The Green Council, an episode dedicated to power struggles and potential seismic shifts across the realm, demonstrates how dynamics can shift in smaller, but just as significant ways in Westeros. Larys, a man whose disability has led to him being overlooked in public court life, has accrued enough power to wield it over the queen in private. The camera lingers on his clubfoot as he enters the room, suggesting a direct link between his disability and his fetish. “When one is never invited to speak, one learns instead to observe,” he tells Alicent, though the subject of his observations is, to put it plainly, toe-curling.
Despite being the queen, episode 9 makes it abundantly clear that Alicent is little more than a pawn in the games men play. Letting Larys get off to the sight of her exposed feet is just another in a long list of humiliations that began with her father manipulating her into being married off to a man his age and then letting this increasingly decrepit man thrust on top of her so she could dutifully produce his heirs. In a show that prizes long-term political strategy, it’s telling that Alicent, even at this point, has no powerful female allies and her only claims to power have come through the men in her life — her father, husband, Larys, her son who will one day be king, her knight Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel).
The scene also speaks to the tragedy of Alicent’s life, of the moral compromises she’s had to make along the way, the tiny parts of herself she’s had to let go of to survive. The girl who viewed morality in black and white in the initial episodes, who was aghast at her best friend having consensual premarital sex, has now grown up to shield her rapist son, coerce his victim into covering up the crime and doom her daughter to the same life of marital misery as her. The hypocrisy continues — Alicent’s smart employment of the Faith of the Seven symbols on her clothing and around the Red Keep prop up the image of a devout woman, and if she happens to roll down her stockings for a creep, well maybe the Gods will ignore her stepping out of line.
The Thrones universe has always been a patriarchal one — more than a century from now, a teenage Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) will be sold to a Dothraki warlord as part of her brother’s quest to claim the throne — and House of the Dragon, which opens with a voiceover from a would-be queen passed over in favour of her male cousin, isn’t subtle about its in-world misogyny. Alicent might live in a castle, but she’s also very much trapped. “You desire not to be free, but to make a window in the wall of your prison,” she’s told, an apt description of how far-fetched the idea of escape seems to her. The symbolism of her scene with Larys feels incredibly intentional — even the most powerful woman in Westeros must stoop to exposing her feet if she is to ever find an equal footing in this world.