"House of the Dragon": Why Criston Cole has proven himself to be the most untrustworthy

The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard's narcissistic and volatile tendencies consistently wreak havoc

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published June 24, 2024 6:07PM (EDT)

Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole in "House of the Dragon" (HBO)
Fabien Frankel as Ser Criston Cole in "House of the Dragon" (HBO)

In the "Game of Thrones" universe, power and trust are everything. Especially when they're in jeopardy of being thwarted. 

This has proven particularly true in "House of the Dragon," the "Thrones" prequel focused exclusively on the infighting that plagued the dragon-riding and incest-indulgent House Targaryen. Rife with feuds of all kinds — namely, the debate over whose silver-haired butt should grace the Iron Throne — the series' second season sits squarely on the precipice of an all-out civil war, as Westeros plunges into further chaos with each episode. 

Who better to facilitate the show's violence than a lineup of largely selfish, conniving and  – as Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) self-referentially proclaims in Sunday's episode – sinful characters? The Dowager Queen is speaking specifically about her dalliances with Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard and, as Season 2 has proven thus far, the certified worst. His "House of the Dragon" origins were seemingly benign, serving primarily as eye candy for viewers at home.

Now, Criston’s latest antics have trafficked in a level of narcissism and deceit that those who are unacquainted with George R.R. Martin's "Fire and Blood," the book upon which the show was adapted, could not have foreseen. On Sunday's episode, we see he's been named Hand of the King, after the bereaved and fecklessly impulsive Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) fires his grandsire, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans.) While Criston achieves this role after what appears to be taking decisive action in the eyes of his king, he may actually be the one most unsuited to have the king's ear. In fact, most of his actions and motivations have proven that he's not to be trusted.

Check out Salon’s take on how Ser Criston Cole has revealed himself to be the most volatile villain on "House of the Dragon."

His violent, unrelenting hatred for Rhaenyra

Though the particulars of his resentment for Rhaenyra are left somewhat open, Criston’s sense of vindictiveness for her is fierce. As a Kingsguard, Criston is sworn to an oath of celibacy. This oath is splintered in the first season. After a night of prancing around Flea Bottom that nearly ends in Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock) and Daemon (Matt Smith) sleeping together, the then-teenaged princess coaxes an adult Criston to come to bed with her instead. The entire night is an implosion of innocence.


When Criston, wracked with guilt, implores Rhaenyra to run away with him (presumably to ease his heavy conscience), she refuses. Later, at her wedding to Ser Laenor Velaryon (Theo Nate and John Macmillan), Ser Criston beats to death Ser Joffrey Lonmouth (Solly McLeod), Laenor’s lover. Although no reason is given, it's the first indication of the violent feelings that have been engendered in him that are related to Rhaenyra.


Her rejection continues to fester, and as the years pass, seems to grow only stronger. He routinely spews expletives when speaking about the “b***h queen” in Dragonstone, and his motivations in the impending war center around wanting to see Rhaenyra destroyed, rather than being motivated by his allegiance to Aegon and Alicent.


His feigned dedication to the White Cloak
It would be fair to assume that Criston’s lapse in discretion with Rhaenyra would have been a one-time violation of his Kingsguard oath, seeing how upset he was about it. But for a man of supposed integrity, this Lord Commander has a way of blurring the lines. This season so far, viewers see him getting it on with Alicent not once but twice, though we don’t yet know the contours of how this arrangement came to be and what advantages (or disadvantages) it may afford either party. 




It’s not wholly discernible whether Criston has convinced himself that he is man of upright standards or is simply a cunning schemer, but either way, his inability to stop boning royal women sets in motion catastrophic events. 


When Blood and Cheese, Daemon’s hired guns, can’t find their intended target — Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell), who ruffled some feathers when Vhagar chomped Lucerys Velaryon and his dragon Arrax to bits — they end up capturing Queen Haleana (Phia Saban) and instead decapitating Jaehaerys Targaryen (Jude Rock), Aegon’s heir. Rather than guarding the door to the nursery, Criston is in the middle of getting it on with Alicent, which Haleana winds up witnessing after she flees to her mother’s room in the midst of the attack.

His unwillingness to own his s**t

Rather than assume responsibility for failing to protect Haleana and her twins, Criston — who clearly feels immense guilt — decides to project blame onto another target, Ser Arryk Cargyll (Luke Tittensor). A fellow member of the Kingsguard, Arryk is minding his own business when Criston, fresh off of being flamed by Aegon, berates him over the dirtied hem of his white cloak. The two engage in a brief but loaded exchange over loyalty and oaths before Criston accuses Arryk of being at fault for the toddler’s murder. Arryk rightfully accuses Criston of being “mad,” but minds his rank, and acquiesces to Criston’s plot for him to make amends: infiltrate Dragonstone and pose as his twin brother, House Black supporter Ser Erryk Cargyll (Elliott Titensor), to slay Rhaenyra. 


The doomed plot ends in tragedy when the indistinguishable brothers duel inside Rhaenyra’s room — Erryk slays Arryk before apologizing to his queen and falling on his own sword at her feet. 


By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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