Chaos Is A Ladder: All The Schemers In House Of The Dragon And What They Want

Schemers will always find a way to thrive in Westeros, but the reign of King Viserys (Paddy Considine) has made it especially easy for ambitious people to sidle up to power. Maybe it's the way he uses his sword like a crutch, the fact that he's openly deteriorating, or how easily he can be swayed in any which direction, but something about this king gives everyone the confidence to reach for the stars. But amongst the sprawling cast of characters in "House of the Dragon," only a select few have the skills to actually seize the power that they crave.

Once upon a time, in the prime seasons of "Game of Thrones," a wise man taught us that "chaos isn't a pit, chaos is a ladder." When Westeros is in shambles or spiraling into an uncontrollable state of war, the wisest in the bunch will seize the opportunity and haul themselves upwards, taking advantage of each and every disaster. And if our time in the seven kingdoms has taught us anything, it's that anyone can rise to the top, under the right circumstances.

But then again, the very same man who spoke those famed words ended up flying way too close to the subterfuge sun and suffered a brutal death at the hands of the women he meant to deceive. So maybe we should take everything that Littlefinger taught us with a grain of salt.

The party can't start until the schemers sneak in

Before he was a plaything for the Stark girls to punish, Petyr Baelish was one of the most intriguing characters in the entire series. And why? Because he wasn't one to sit back and let the action happen. Littlefinger was an orchestrator of drama: his gleeful backstabbing is what kickstarted the entire series and remained a driving force as he spied on the Lords of Westeros, arranged engagements, picked off multiple Hands of the King, and even poisoned a king. His stiffest rival for most conniving man at court was yet aother schemer, Lord Varys, the Master of Whispers. Between the two of them, secrets swirled and lies moved from one ear to the next. They may not have been swinging swords or commanding castles, but in their own quiet way, they could make kings rise and fall.

As we exit the days of childhood in "House of the Dragon," those are the characters who pose the biggest threat — the schemers, the plotters, and the master manipulators. So who are they and what are they up to? Keep reading to find out.

Hobert and Otto Hightower, two snakes in the grass

"The gods have yet to make a man who lacks the patience for absolute power."

In the immediate aftermath of the queen's death, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) wasted no time at all: he ordered his teenage daughter to don her mother's best dress and spend some time comforting the king. This calculated move paid off in spades because Otto knew just how to nurture it. He made sure her visits were consistent (ew), but never actually voiced his desire for Viserys to marry his daughter. And so the lonely king fell right into his trap. With that goal accomplished, Otto's motive have since evolved: he now has his sights on making sure that his grandson Aegon sits the Iron Throne as king. 

And it's not an agenda that he's pursuing alone. Otto is a second son, the younger brother to Hobert Hightower (Steffan Rhondri), a man who has no interest in bowing to a woman — especially when the alternative is putting a member of his own family on the throne.

Who are the Hightower brothers loyal to?

The Hightower's desire to see Ageon ascend is, at the very least, multilayered. There's some practicality to replacing Rhaenyra as heir: as Otto repeatedly warns his daughter, the unfeminist men of Westeros will never accept a woman as their ruler. If Rhaenyra is next in line, then the realm could devolve into war. But let's be real — that's not the only reason Otto is backing Aegon. He's a man who cares about power and position (or, as Daemon puts it, he's a "second son who stands to inherit nothing he doesn't seize for himself"). He's the one who suggested Rhaenyra as heir in the first place — but upon realizing that she can't be controlled, changed he allegiance to Aegon.

Control is key. Otto has been hand to two separate kings and he's been good at navigating the political trickery of it all — but seeing she has made an enemy of him, Rhaenyra has thrown a wrench in the Hightower plans. She's called attention to their ambition and Otto has been dismissed as Hand. His last direct connection to the throne is young Queen Alicent.

Where does their allegiance lie? House Hightower

Larys Strong, a spider in the Godswood

"When one is never invited to speak, one learns instead to... observe."

Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) is the second son of Lyonel Strong, the new Hand of the King. You might've noticed him creeping on the outskirts of the action in prior episodes, listening to gossip, eyeing the lords and ladies of the realm, and taking note of Alicent Hightower's loneliness at court.

In episode five, Larys makes himself known as the new spider in the garden, meeting up with Alicent in the Godswood for an unexpected chat. He manages to find her in the midst of a crisis: torn between her friendship with Rhaenyra and the advice of her father. So being kind and having absolutely no ulterior motives at all, Larys gives her the exact piece of information needed to ruin her faith in Rhaenyra. Somehow, he's gathered intel about Rhaenyra drinking moon tea (Westerosi plan B) as sanctioned by the king. This tells us a couple of things: not only does Larys know enough about Alicent to understand how deeply this will wound her, but he's also a man who knows secrets.

Who is Larys loyal to?

So here's the big question: what was Larys' reason for guiding Alicent to the truth? Where exactly do his loyalties lie? He might just be a family man, helping the Strongs build more relationships with royalty. Or maybe he actually cares for Alicent, per his veiled speech about both of them being outsiders. But that outsider status also hints at a third possibility; how much of Larys has chafed against the rest of the world and the way it shuts him out? As established in his first appearance, Larys was born with a severe clubfoot, a birth defect that left his right foot curved inward and downward. In a world that values physical strength (his brother is a heralded knight), where does he fit in? He might just be answering that question for himself, acting on his own accord to win Alicent's favor as she comes into herself as queen. 

This kind of character is George R. R. Martin's bread-and-butter: like Tyrion, Littlefinger, Varys, and Jon Snow, he considers himself an outsider and that chip on his shoulder might just be Larys' guiding light.

Where does his allegiance lie? Undetermined

Mysaria, a woman of whispers

"I didn't come into your service wanting gold. Or power. Or station. I came to you to be liberated."

Larys and Mysaria (Sonoya Mizuno) are battling it out for the Varys of "House of the Dragon." Larys feels like the obvious choice because he's literally one letter away from sharing a name with the guy, but it's Mysaria who controls the "little birds" of Westeros. First introduced as a brothel proprietor and paramour to Daemon Targaryen, Mysaria didn't appreciate being used as a pawn in the rogue prince's play for power. So she went her own way and found a profession better suited to her talents. Evidently, those talents include spying on the royal family (amongst others). Her new trade is information and in between the time jumps, she's built up her reputation so well that even Otto Hightower trusts the mysterious White Worm's information. 

As a spymaster, Mysaria is the one to report Daemon and Rhaenyra's excursion into King's Landing, thanks to a young boy trading her information for money. It seems an awful lot like the relationship Varys established with his own little birds, placed around the world, but instead of working in service of the crown or the realm, Mysaria is simply doing business.

Who is Mysaria loyal to?

As much as she has in common with the spider, Mysaria also brings to mind another great Littlefinger speech. Also spending his free time in brothels, Baelish once pulled a super villain move and explained his entire MO to his sex workers. He shared that after losing a duel, he was forged into a new person. "I learnt that I'll never win. Not that way. That's their game, their rules. I'm not going to fight them — I'm going to f*** them." Mysaria has mad it very clear that she understands her lot in life, but she's tired of living in fear. So she's found a way to forge a path that gives her more control — and the means to destroy any enemies that arise along the way.

As far as allegiance goes, Mysaria is backing herself above all, but she does have a lingering fondness for Daemon Targaryen. She has the drunk prince brought into her protection after his night on the town with his niece, but that doesn't stop her from passing the info along to Otto. Whatever desire she has to protect him doesn't extend to his secrets.

Where does her allegiance lie? Herself

Daemon Targaryen, a would-be schemer and our resident agent of chaos

"It was never my brother's strongest trait. Being King."

Chaos is a ladder... a ladder into our hearts. Despite a long list of atrocities, Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) has wormed his way into our good graces: week after week, it's getting harder not to grin when the rogue prince appears onscreen because his presence is a guarantee that we will always be entertained. Daemon has never been coy about his goals — he's a power-hungry, self obsessed Targaryen, dead set on restoring his family legacy to its original fire-breathing, continent-conquering glory. And whatever chaotic act gets him closer to that goal is always on the table.

Daemon isn't a traditional schemer: unlike Mysaria, Larys or Otto, he isn't quite thinking three steps ahead at any given moment. But we have seen him plan and execute some very devious missions: whether that be seducing his niece in a brothel or rolling up the Vale just in time to smash his wife's head with a rock. Daemon will go to great lengths, but his schemes aren't quite as seamless as the Hightowers and Strongs of the world. (You probably noticed that basically every episode ends with Daemon being banished from court for pissing off his brother.) He's not exactly the most subtle man in Westeros. Every time he walks into a room, the lords of court grimace because it's only a matter of time before he commits another war crime. And sure enough, Daemon touts some traditional means of strength: he'll charge into battle with a sword or destroy his enemies from dragonback, but it's important to remember that he also sees the value in conniving quietly. 

Who is Daemon loyal to?

Though his biggest problems are often impulse control and follow-through, Daemon does have the mind to play this game. He knows all the secret passageways in the castle and isn't afraid to use them; plus, he understands that sometimes, it's better to bow down to his brother and play nice. But if his longterm goal is restoring power to House Targaryen, then his schemes aren't exactly a rousing success. Everything Daemon does just destabilizes his family even more — making Viserys look weak or Rhaenyra a less appealing ruler. Maybe paired up with someone capable of keeping his ego in cheek, Daemon could accomplish something greater.

To his credit, he seems to be coming to this realization himself — not the part about needing someone else of course, but the idea of doing more damage than good. He has a soft spot for his family, which might be the reason he didn't follow through on his plan to, uh, publicly deflower his niece. When it comes down to it, will he take himself out of the running and support Rhaenyra instead?

Where does his allegiance lie? He's torn between House Targaryen and himself.

Honorable Mention: Alicent Hightower, a Queen on the rise

For a while there, Alicent Hightower was little more than a pawn in someone else's game. In the opening moments of the series, she even makes a point to tell Rhaenyra that she's perfectly content as a spectator. But like a couple of her other conniving contemporaries, Alicent has realized that standing in the background isn't the way to survive life in King's Landing — so she's donned a green dress and officially declared herself a real player. As far as schemes go, she's previously been very good at coaxing her husband into making certain decisions which, once upon a time, worked in Rhaenyra's favor. But now that her friend's lies have been revealed and her father's advice is echoing in her head, Alicent will be using her powers of persuasion to protect her children over anyone else.

Where does their allegiance lie? House Hightower