House Of The Dragon Has Been Playing The Long Game With Its Most Chilling Villain

This article contains spoilers for "House of the Dragon" episode six.

For all of the politicking, backstabbing, and violence in "House of the Dragon" thus far, there hasn't been a clear villain. The two women at the center of the tale, Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy), are both presented as complex figures that are neither entirely good or evil. Like its predecessor, "Game of Thrones," the series is interested in moral ambiguity and on the horrible things people will do in order to survive. In episode six, "The Princess and the Queen," the series' most potent, potentially terrifying villain emerges from the shadows. Larys Strong, played to perfection by Matthew Needham, is another of George R. R. Martin's secretive schemers, but he has already shown himself to be far more ruthless than Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) or Varys (Conleth Hill) could ever dream.

Larys has been creeping in the background for a little while now, being a grade-A gossip and manipulating those around him for his own games. Like both Varys and Littlefinger, Larys' allegiance is not to a house or a throne, but who, or what is he beholden to? That mystery is part of what makes him so scary, and perhaps the biggest power player in this game of thrones. 

A wizard of whispers

In the run-up to episode six's big time jump, which moved events forward a decade, Larys was creeping around King's Landing, learning what he could about its people and their habits. The schemer has some powerful family members, as he's the younger brother of Ser Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), the captain of the City Watch who rescued Rhaenyra from the brawl at her pre-wedding feast, and the son of Lord Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), who became Hand of the King after Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) was dismissed. No one seems to think much of Larys, who walks with a cane and a limp due to a club foot, and it seems like he prefers it that way. After all, the less he's noticed, the more he can learn. 

We first see Larys' true intentions when he introduces himself to young Alicent in the godswood, spilling the tea about Rhaenyra's morning-after brew and driving a wedge between the two former friends. His efforts are cemented when Alicent dresses in green at Rhaenyra's pre-wedding feast, and Larys himself is the one to note it, telling his brother that her dress symbolizes a call to war. Needham completely owns the moment, allowing Larys only the tiniest moment of satisfaction in a job well done before he gets back to the task at hand: more scheming. 

A terrifying lack of allegiance

Larys' reasons for sowing discord are still a big fat question mark, and his actions in episode six don't clarify anything. He's clearly not a big fan of Rhaenyra as heir, given his moves to turn Alicent against her, but beyond the basic gendered reasons, he doesn't have much motive. Then his brother sires not one, but three bastards with Rhaenyra, which brings shame to all of House Strong and potentially the Iron Throne. (None of this would be an issue in Dorne, where bastards are legitimized, queer people aren't shamed, and women can rule, but we're stuck in the Alabama of the known world, remember?) After Harwin rearranges Ser Cole's face for pointing out his attachment to Rhaenyra's children, Lord Lyonel and Ser Harwin relocate to Harrenhal. Larys can't keep an eye (or ear) on his brother or father from that distance, and he's aligning himself more and more with Alicent each day, so he does the unthinkable.

In the book that "House of the Dragon" is based on, "Fire & Blood," the fire at Harrenhal is a tragic mystery. The HBO series leaves no doubts, as Larys takes a crew of prisoners sentenced to death and pardons them, as long as they give up their tongues and go do him a favor. He has them start a fire in Harrenhal, focusing on the rooms where his father and brother sleep. It looks like an accident, and Harrenhal is cursed, after all, but we know better. 

An insect-obsessed sadist

This franchise loves animal-based symbolism, and each of the major schemers has had an animal counterpart. Lord Varys was called "The Spider" because of the webs he wove, but he also called his network of spies "little birds." Littlefinger wore a pin of a mockingbird, commenting on both Varys' little birds and his own place as a keeper of secrets. Larys' creature of choice is a beetle of some kind, and his cane has one of the insects carved into its handle. His mute followers also wear pins of the same insect, so it's something he enjoys associating himself with despite being thought of as lowly. Larys is also regularly represented with rats, because apparently someone at HBO just saw the end of "The Departed" and wanted us to know he's not trustworthy. 

What's interesting about Larys is that while he has quite a bit to do in "Fire & Blood," it's written as a purely historical text and we don't get much information on his personality or character. Series co-creator Ryan Condal told Entertainment Weekly that they simply had to expand Larys in the TV series because of how fascinating he was on the page:

"You just want to turn the page and read more, but there's not much there. 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."

That means that Larys isn't just a wild card within the world of Westeros, but fans who have read the book will also be somewhat in the dark about the motives to his machinations. He's a true mystery, and that's exciting.

Some creepy-crawly predictions

There hasn't been too much of the supernatural in "House of the Dragon," besides the dragons, but Larys might be playing around with some mystical magic. He's not only really into bugs, curses, and tongue-taking torture, but in the book, he's also pretty heavily obsessed with blood. These kinds of obsessions in this world usually lead to some kind of dark magic, and it's not difficult to believe that a ruthless schemer like Larys wouldn't be willing to play with the dark arts in order to gain the upper hand. There is something to do with prophecy and bugs, as Helaena Targaryen (Phia Saban) is similarly fascinated by the creatures and seems to have a gift for telling the future. As she plays with her millipede and her mother and brother talk, she whispers about their conversation and her words are truly haunting to anyone who has read "Fire & Blood" and knows what is to come. 

Since the team behind "House of the Dragon" have to flesh out the characters a bit more and create the human stories behind the histories, maybe they will create a bond between Larys and Helaena, who are both obsessed with bugs and secrets. We'll have to wait and see, but keep your eyes on these two, because they're going to both play a massive role in the war to come despite being well behind the front lines. 

New episodes of "House of the Dragon" drop Sundays on HBO and HBO Max.