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Larys Strong Is Sweet on Feet

The penultimate episode of ‘House of the Dragon’ revealed the king’s confessor as a foot guy—and as even more of a Littlefinger clone than we realized

HBO/Ringer illustration

In February, GQ declared that “having a foot fetish has gone mainstream.” That was before Bob Odenkirk briefly broke the internet by following @perfect_feet_in_sexy_shoes on Instagram, Kourtney Kardashian Barker indulged a question about her husband Travis Barker’s fondness for her feet, and the most popular prestige drama on TV identified a key character as a foot guy. Yes, as Episode 9 of House of the Dragon revealed, Larys Strong—lord confessor of King’s Landing, secret kinslayer, and confidant of the queen—is sweet on feet. This is big news for feet and those who have a thing for them. It may be bad news for House of the Dragon, and for the prospect of Larys ever becoming a character who doesn’t seem like a less compelling clone of Littlefinger from Game of Thrones.

Back in Episode 5, Larys told Alicent, “When one is never invited to speak, one learns instead to … observe.” This week, we learned what he likes to observe: feet. (Alicent’s, specifically.) In one extended scene that starts with a waiting Larys surprising Alicent when she returns to her chambers—creepy!—the gossipmonger informs her that he’s discovered something she should know. In return, however, he expects what we gather is the typical price for the info he feeds to the queen: She has to show feet. And not stocking feet, either—the full feet monty, from ankles to toes. A few weeks ago, a House of the Dragon mailbag reader asked my colleague Zach Kram, “What skin does Larys have in the game?” Well, now we know. While the rest of the realm’s movers and shakers are playing “Leggo my Aegon,” Larys is playing “Just the tiptoe” with the queen. Just as Criston Cole once served Rhaenyra in multiple (possibly several) positions, Larys is Alicent’s devoted foot soldier in more than one sense.

Shortly before lusting after the feet of the queen, Larys converses with the hand of the king, who remarks, “You’ve spent many hours with the queen of late.” We can infer from that comment—as well as from Larys having access to the queen’s quarters, Alicent taking his presence there in, um, stride, and the wordless way she complies with his wishes—that these transactional sessions are quite common. (Check out Larys’s eyeline when Alicent takes her shoes off at dinner in Episode 6.) Which means we finally have an answer (if not an especially satisfying one) to the question of what Larys wants, an unknown Alicent alludes to in Episode 5 when she orders, “State your purpose, my lord.”

In Fire & Blood, the George R.R. Martin tome on which House of the Dragon is based, Larys is a cipher, but the TV adaptation has lifted the veil (and the hosiery) on his actions and motivations. For one thing, there’s the show’s disclosure about the origins of the fire at House Strong’s HQ, Harrenhal, that kills Larys’s father and brother. “The cause of the fire was never determined,” Fire & Blood’s narrator relates. “Some put it down to simple mischance, whilst others muttered that Black Harren’s seat was cursed and brought only doom to any man who held it. Many suspected the blaze was set intentionally.” In the book, Larys was a suspect—the deaths of Lyonel and his heir Harwin made Lyonel’s second son Larys the head of House Strong—but not a leading suspect, what with Westeros’s condemnation of kinslayers.

In Episode 6, House of the Dragon divulges that Larys did do the deed. But why? He has little affection for his father—about whom he says, “His honor’s always been a millstone about his esteemed neck”—but he also seems to have little interest in Harrenhal. And although the killing is an (unasked-for) favor to Alicent—one that enables Otto Hightower to be reinstated as hand—it’s not clear whether Larys has a specific reason for currying favor with the queen. At the end of that episode, Larys says, “I feel certain you will reward me ... when the time is right.”

Three episodes later, we watch as—not for the first time—he collects a sexual reward, one that Alicent bestows with no pleasure on her part. That scene resolves one of the central mysteries of the series and its source material. “The enigma that is Larys Strong the Clubfoot has vexed students of history for generations, and is not one we can hope to unravel here,” Fire & Blood notes. “Where did his true loyalty lie? What was he about? … So may we ask, but none will answer. [Larys] keeps his secrets.” Until House of the Dragon spills them, that is.

There’s nothing wrong with Larys letting his foot flag fly, but there are plenty of problems with the way he gets gratification. Olivia Cooke owns a five-star rating (“beautiful feet”) on wikiFeet, but a man of means, such as a scion of House Strong, surely has access to a more consenting selection of the finest feet his heart could desire on the Street of Silk. Larys could’ve gotten someone’s socks off, and his rocks off, without murdering multiple family members and coercing Alicent into disrobing below the knee. “You toil still in service to men,” Rhaenys tells the queen. “Your father, your husband, your son.” We can add Larys, another ostensible ally, to the list of men whose impositions and improprieties Alicent has endured for what she’s been led to believe is the good of the realm. Even as Alicent shows her resolve by putting her foot down with her father over Rhaenyra’s fate, she shows the sacrifices even the most powerful woman in Westeros must make by putting her feet down in a different way with Larys. (Like Larys when he invokes killing a queen bee in his chat with Alicent, I’m “begging your pardon for the turn of phrase.”)

Of course, Larys’s demands probably don’t come down solely (sole-ly?) to a predilection for a pair of fetching feet. The sense of debasement Alicent seems to experience as she subjects herself to his gaze is likely what leering Larys is after. It doesn’t take an expert in psychology to deconstruct this scene: A man who’s been mocked and disparaged for decades as “the Clubfoot” is getting some sexual frisson from using the powers he does possess to compel the queen to expose her well-formed feet to him. In public, he’s underestimated and dismissed, but in his private interactions with Alicent, the power dynamic shifts, as the quality of his intel, the extent of his reach, and the absence of his ethical qualms put him on equal (if not superior), well, footing, with a leading member of the ruling regime.

The issue with this latest Larys plot point—whether his sexual interest in Alicent had taken the form of a foot fetish or not—is that it brings the character even more closely in line with Littlefinger, who like Larys is an accomplished puppet master. Ever since his introduction, Larys has schemed, skulked, and lurked like Lord Petyr Baelish. And now he has the same motivations—a thirst for influence fueled by humble origins (in Larys’s case, a physical deformity; in Littlefinger’s, a non-noble background), and an infatuation with an unattainable woman (Alicent for Larys; Catelyn and, later, Sansa Stark for Littlefinger).

Matthew Needham, who plays Larys, has acknowledged his character’s similarity to Littlefinger and master of whisperers Varys, allowing that “The ‘chaos is a ladder’ way of life is something they share,” along with “a sort of murky underworld of the mind.” (The name Larys even sounds like a portmanteau of the names of the two Thrones plotters.) Nevertheless, Needham argued that Larys is different from Littlefinger and Varys in that, “I don’t think either of those guys burnt their family alive. I’m sure they did other horrible things, but he’s his own strange guy, I think. He’s on his own path.”

While it’s true that neither Littlefinger nor Varys is a known arsonist or kinslayer—Larys is indeed ”a dark animal,” as Needham says—the Game of Thrones duo does dirty work, too. Each of the two is a murderer in either A Song of Ice and Fire or Game of Thrones. (In both the books and the show, Baelish supplies the poison that kills Jon Arryn and Joffrey Baratheon; he also murders Lysa Arryn. In A Dance With Dragons, Varys murders Grand Maester Pycelle and Kevan Lannister.)

Needham points out, quite correctly, that a character “can’t be just enigmatic for enigmatic’s sake.” But as he also acknowledged, “If you start explaining away things, it suddenly becomes less interesting.” That’s particularly true if the explanation is one we’ve heard before. Larys might be more interesting if he viewed chaos not as a means to an end, but as an end in itself; if instead of acquiring power or shaping how it’s wielded, he just wanted to watch the world burn as payback for the indignities it’s inflicted on him. A fondness for feet doesn’t preclude Larys having some nihilistic leanings—as he tells Alicent, “Truth has many flavors”—but his character’s ambitions and desires were more intriguing when he and the queen were keeping things platonic.

Larys seems extra redundant because Otto, who has some attributes in common with Tywin Lannister, also sometimes gives off Littlefinger vibes. And it doesn’t help that Larys is written and portrayed as an almost cartoonishly conniving and dastardly villain. Littlefinger wasn’t exactly subtle himself, but this is some serious scenery-chewing:

Before Episode 9’s scene between Larys and Alicent reaches … completion, Larys informs the queen that Talya, her lady-in-waiting, is a spy. The conversation seems to set up Mysaria as a foil for the greens’ sinister intelligence-gatherer. Maybe both of those frustrating characters will be more watchable with each other as adversaries—or maybe they’ll eventually take each other down and free up some screen time for the characters who’ve clicked.

“Love is a downfall,” Larys tells Alicent in Episode 6. Love (or some twisted, unrequited version of it) was Littlefinger’s downfall, and whatever Larys feels for Alicent may get him in trouble too. For now, though, it’s Alicent, and the show itself, that stand to suffer as Larys proceeds down his appointed path—one foot in front of the other.