The White Hart in ‘House of the Dragon’ Just Hinted at the Show’s Future

·3 min read
Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

Episode 3 of HBO's House of the Dragon, "Second of His Name," centers on a royal hunting expedition that takes place as part of the festivities surrounding the birthday of Aegon Targaryen II, the prince born to Viserys and Alicent in the years following episode 2. While other parents might hire a clown or buy a cake, Viserys decides that the best way to honor his young son is to track down and kill the white hart, a fabled stag that resides in the King's Wood.

What is the meaning of the white hart in House of the Dragon?

The image of the great stag has always held great significance in fairytales and folklore, often being interpreted as synonymous with nobility or even divinity. In ancient Celtic myths, the god Cernunnos bears the antlers of a stag, and is king of the forest. In the epic poem Beowulf, the royal dining hall of Heorot translates to "Hall of the Hart." This extends to pop culture: in Snow White and the Huntsman, the white stag is a mystical, revered creature. Even in Bambi, the main character's father, a brown stag, is known as the Great Prince of the Forest.

It makes sense, then, that within the world of Game of Thrones, House Baratheon would choose the crowned stag as its sigil. But when it comes to House of the Dragon, the symbolism of the white hart may actually provide some clues as to how the plot of the season will unfold.

In the episode, Otto Hightower mentions that the white hart is the "king of the King's Wood," and that hunting it down will serve as an encouraging omen for young Aegon, who he believes should be named heir. It is also said that "before the dragons ruled over Westeros, the white hart was the symbol of royalty in these lands."

So far, so folkloric. But when the royal hunt eventually closes in on a stag, it is a brown one, not white. And even then, King Viserys fails to kill it with a single clean blow, a drawn-out moment which perhaps points to his own frailty as ruler, and evokes Robb's incredibly messy beheading of Rickard Karstark in Season 2 of Game of Thrones.

Photo credit: HBO
Photo credit: HBO

Meanwhile, the viewer learns that the King's Wood is home to the white hart, but that it chooses to show itself to Rhaenyra, not Viserys. The Targaryen princess has already proven she's handy with a blade, having violently dispatched a wild boar earlier in the episode, but after a moment of regarding each other in silence (game recognizing game?), she chooses to let the hart go rather than capture or kill it, suggesting she holds a greater respect for life and for the realm at large than her father.

We know by now that George R.R. Martin isn't afraid of including prophecies and portents in his work, and the presence of the white hart in "Second of His Name" definitely suggests that the lesion-riddled, wine-guzzling Viserys is on his way out... and that Rhaenyra's ascent is only just beginning.

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