About That “House of the Dragon” Foot Scene . . .
Trigger Warning: This article contains mention of sexual abuse. Please proceed thoughtfully.
In the penultimate episode of “House of the Dragon,” there’s a lot that happens: a dead king, a coup on the part of the Greens (led by Queen Alicent and her father Otto Hightower), murder in the small council, and a coronation centering a part-crashing Princess Rhaenys and her dragon, Meleys. But what’s been grabbing people’s attention is a particularly uncomfortable, if brief, scene between the long-suffering Queen Alicent and her oily spy master, Larys.
If you’re not caught up on the show, Larys is a second son of House Strong. He’s long been loyal to Queen Alicent, supplying her with information from his vast network of spies in the Red Keep and beyond. He’s cunning, but not physically strong or a warrior. Much attention has been given to Larys’s disability and use of a cane throughout the show. Notably, he ordered the deaths of both his father Lord Lyonel Strong (former Hand to King Viserys), and older brother Ser Harwin Strong (who was Princess Rhaenyra’s lover, and father to her three eldest children) after Queen Alicent vented her frustrations over shifting court alliances and Rhaenyra’s bastard children. Larys is a deceptive, mysterious, and, frankly, creepy character – with, it seems, a particular fascination towards Alicent.
Until the most recent episode, the motivation of this fascination was unclear: was he power hunger a la Little Finger’s “chaos is a ladder”? Did he have a grudge against his own father and used Alicent’s anger as impetuous? But on Sunday, it was revealed that something else was (ahem) afoot: Larys harbors sexual feelings towards Alicent.
In the scene that people can’t stop talking about, Queen Alicent finds Larys waiting for her in her chambers. He has information to reveal, but it’s clear he’s withholding. Alicent sits down on the couch opposite him and takes off her shoes. Slowly, the viewer realizes this is an exchange between the two. Upon removing her shoes, Alicent “earns” a piece of Larys’s information. When she takes off her stockings, a few more secrets follow. Finally, when all is told, Alicent looks away, her feet and ankles bare, as Larys masturbates.
This scene is causing a bit of an uproar on social media. One user tweeted, “In a show full of incest, a foot fetish is apparently where I draw the line #hotd” But there’s actually a lot more to dig into about how disability and fetish fuel the outrage over this scene.
Let’s be clear: Larys’s foot fetish is explicitly tied to his own disability. As he moves to sit down across from Queen Alicent, the camera lingers on Lary’s clubfoot, slow, uncomfortable gait, and cane to an exaggerated degree. The camera shot serves to remind you that Larys is disabled; the scene’s visual and thematic framing wants his “deficit” front-and-center in the viewer’s subconscious mind.
This framing does a few things. First, it pushes the audience to the conclusion that a disabled man developed a foot fetish based in his own physical deformity. Second, it shows that disabled man weaponizing his disability – via a foot fetish – to sexually abuse a vulnerable woman. It also shows that having a fetish is somehow exceptionally gross, whereas in reality, fetishes and kinks are a normal, healthy part of sexuality when expressed in risk-aware, consensual dynamics.
Queen Alicent is a tragic character, and this scene is not her first exposure to the patriarchal violence that defines her life. As a teenager, her father strong-armed the young Alicent into a marriage with King Viserys, a man decades older than her. Upon their marriage, HOTD depicts an extremely reluctant Alicent being called to King Viserys’s chambers for sex – what many viewers recognized, and rightly so, as marital rape. Much pain was taken on the part of the writers to depict Viserys as a complicated, admirable, and ultimately sympathetic character – but this energy was not given to Larys, who is openly acknowledged as creepy and coercive.
It’s not that disabled characters can’t be creepy, or power-hungry, or abusive. Anyone can be all of those things. It’s the way HOTD chose to depict and center Larys’s disability as a motivating factor in his abuse towards others that is worth criticizing.
The characterization of Larys is ableist, and he’s taking advantage of Alicent. Both can be true. But when talking about a show where incest, sexual assault, and abuse towards women are the built-in norm – and in an episode where a child fighting pit makes an appearance – you have to question why a fetish is the plot device that elicits near-universal disgust from audiences.
If you or someone you know would like to speak with someone who is trained to assist sexual assault survivors, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.