Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 3 of House of the Dragon.


The Big Picture

  • Helaena Targaryen’s tragic role in
    House of the Dragon
    Season 2 proves that she is the only innocent member of Team Green.
  • Phia Saban delivers a haunting performance, making Helaena a soulful character who’s forced to navigate overwhelming trauma and isolation.
  • Helaena’s family doesn’t give her the understanding and support she deserves, instead exploiting her grief for political gain.


House of the Dragon Season 1 didn’t have much time to spare for Helaena Targaryen (Phia Saban). Establishing the Dance of the Dragons’ primary characters meant that the only daughter of King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) and Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) kept to the shadows. Conveniently, an existence on the sidelines reflected both Helaena’s position and disposition, even if viewers caught only suggestions of the latter: a reserved young woman with a fondness for insects, and whose cryptic statements often came true in startling fashion. There could hardly exist a more immediately brutal way to catapult Helaena to Season 2’s forefront than the infamous Blood and Cheese incident. Forcing a mother, let alone the heir to the Iron Throne’s mother, to bear witness to the beheading of her toddler permanently alters Helaena’s life and changes the tone of this entire conflict. Beyond veering the Targaryen civil war into greater tragedy, however, Blood and Cheese’s aftermath underscores a prevailing truth: Helaena is Team Green’s only blameless member. Within a family of schemers at best and kinslayers at worst, Helaena is just a passenger, an innocent torpedoed along by association. And, as evidenced by Season 2’s first three episodes, the consequences are already tearing her asunder.



The Other Targaryens Ignore Helaena in ‘House of the Dragon’

Despite having little to do in Season 1, Phia Saban’s astute performance ensures that Helaena is a grounded, soulful character instead of a fragile, dreamy stereotype. Saban’s eyes, esoteric but always aware, suggest a keener understanding of the world than her family gives her credit for while still allowing Helaena a profound vulnerability. House of the Dragon suggests that her immediate family doesn’t actively, cruelly dehumanize her so much as treat her like a portrait on a wall: something distant and flat, her emotions unworthy of recognition — which is a different kind of dehumanization. Helaena’s brother-husband Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney) ignores her; his childhood disgust over his “strange” sister becomes adult apathy. Alicent pities her daughter. As a result, Helaena blends into the background, little more than a spectator and a living chess piece. After all, she’s a woman. She doesn’t have value beyond fulfilling her obligation (producing heirs) and representing gendered symbols (daughter, sister, wife).


Considering this, it’s easy to infer that her family’s inability to relate to Helaena’s neurodivergently-coded attributes (and their unwillingness to try) leaves her even more love-starved than her damaged brothers. Granted, she never states as much. But her isolated habits speak for themselves. Helaena’s impulsive dance with Jacaerys Velaryon (Harry Collett) during the family’s last peaceful dinner is the most animated we see her — and it’s a situation when she’s freed from the Hightowers’ belittling grip. Once her brother Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) breaks that joyful spell like dropped glass shattering on the ground, Helaena reverts to her resting state: internalized and awkward. She isn’t interested in her family’s affairs. Helaena can only ever be herself, and that self doesn’t belong. Small wonder that she prefers the company of insects.


‘House of the Dragon’s Version of Blood and Cheese Is More Realistic

When Blood (Sam C. Wilson) and Cheese (Mark Stobbart) infiltrate the Red Keep, their vengeful goal has nothing to do with Helaena. Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy) would never target her “sweet sister” because Halaena hasn’t committed any acts deserving of retribution. Helaena just happens to be nearby when Blood and Cheese improvise, just like she happened to be born into the royal family — and just like Alicent and Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) happen to be indulging their secret affair that night, a decision that leaves Halaena and her children unguarded. Helaena is a victim of circumstance, nothing more.


George R. R. Martin styles Fire and Blood, the novel charting the Targaryen dynasty, like a historical tome. As such, Fire and Blood‘s Helaena performs her motherly grief over Jaehaerys’s death according to expectations: i.e., theatrical screaming and sobbing. House of the Dragon‘s interpretation is a realistic trauma response, and Phia Saban’s performance actively haunting because of it. Helaena never screams. She shrinks into herself, shock turning her as numb as a petrified deer. When bargaining fails to dissuade her attackers, she understands the situation’s severity; either her son dies, or all three of them fall.

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Helaena accepts reality and chooses to save one child, silently fleeing down empty corridors with her daughter in her arms. When she hunches over Alicent’s floor and calls Jaehaerys “the boy,” she’s disassociating. Her mind and body are going through the motions long before she can process the overwhelming trauma of listening to her son’s decapitation. Perhaps most heartbreaking of all, Helaena instinctively runs to her mother: the closest thing she has to a trusted protector.

‘House of the Dragon’s Team Green Exploits Haleana’s Grief

Olivia Cooke and Phia Saban wearing funeral veils in House of the Dragon Season 2 Episode 2
Image via HBO


Helaena doesn’t receive the necessary support, reassurance, or space to grieve. Politics will politic during wartime, but it’s death by the thousandth cut for the Small Council to parade Halaena out for the public’s consumption. Aegon can scream and swing his sword all he likes as long as it’s in private. Helaena must perform feminine distress for the eyes of the smallfolk, strangers to whom she has no connection and owes nothing, let alone her traumatized and exploited heartbreak. The more eyes fixating on her, the more hands clamoring for her, the more her panic attack heightens. Trapped inside her body and her role as queen, desperate to claw free, all she can do is roll her head in claustrophobic agony like she might pass out. If Helaena ever chose to scream, it would be during Jaehaerys’s funeral: under a black veil, riding behind a procession parading her child’s body — his severed head sewn back on — through the streets of King’s Landing.


When she’s not turned into a spectacle, Aegon and Helaena’s eyes meet as they pass one another in the Red Keep. A deeply grieving Aegon either isn’t capable of approaching Helaena or chooses not to. Either way, he brushes past without a gesture or a word. A husband and a wife should be leaning on one another in this moment; no one else can comprehend this particular heartbreak. Instead, Aegon dismisses Helaena back to her island of one. She watches Aegon leave, and a resolved resignation fills her face. In this, as in all things, she’s entirely alone and entirely powerless.

By Episode 3, Helaena wonders whether she deserves to feel her sorrow at all. If the smallfolk lose their babies constantly, then what right does she have to indulge in a useless feeling? The reaction could be her natural inclinations, a response to the funeral, or another form of disassociation. Either way, her discussion with Alicent ends with Helaena forgiving her mother. Whether it’s about Alicent’s liaison with Cole on the night of Jaehaerys’s death or a vision of the future, she doesn’t specify. What matters is how, in her direst time of need, Helaena becomes a child who absolves her parent’s guilt instead of a daughter who receives the motherly support she needs.


Helaena Is the Only Innocent Person on Team Green

Helaena Targaryen with her face covered by a veil looking up in House of the Dragon Season 2
Image via HBO

What could Halaena Targyaren have achieved if her family validated her? Who might she be if they recognized and celebrated her instead of infantilizing her with insulting quips? Or if she understood that she’s a Dragon Dreamer, one of the rare Targaryens capable of prophetic visions? To paraphrase Phia Saban’s interview with the official House of the Dragon podcast, Helaena is the quintessential Cassandra figure: a doomed woman whispering warnings to herself because no one bothers to take her contributions seriously. Rhaenyra has the right of it when she describes Helaena as “an innocent,” one who’s done nothing except exist. Every Westerosi woman is a victim of the patriarchy. Helaena is a victim of her kingdom’s most abiding curse: familial indifference.


New episodes of House of the Dragon Season 2 premiere Sundays on HBO and Max.

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