Game of Thrones was certainly known for its expansive characters. Each season delved deeper into the competing houses and presented new roles for viewers to keep up with and track. Prequel series House of the Dragon has that in common with the original, as viewers get to know the Targaryens who lived roughly 200 years before Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) made her debut.
Like Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon is based on the world imagined by author George R.R. Martin (who serves as an executive producer). It follows the events written in Fire & Blood, a "historical" text that essentially track the downfall of the Targaryens (a.k.a. the house associated with dragons).
"The really interesting thing about this series is, because the book is written as a history book with opposing viewpoints and unreliable narrators, in some cases you'll find what was said to have happened didn't actually happen, for specific reasons," co-showrunner Ryan Condal revealed to Metacritic and other outlets during a recent roundtable interview. "But the thing that will make the audience engaged and lean forward in this story is how and why things happen."
To say it's a complex family at the center of those events would be an understatement! The cast talks about their roles, relationships, and Season 1 conflicts (both internal and external), below.
Also, click here for 5 important ways House of the Dragon is different from Game of Thrones.
When audiences meet King Viserys he's already had some time to settle into his role at the Red Keep. That means the pressure has been getting to him, especially with a new baby on the way and a brother who can't stay out of trouble. But according to Considine, he still very much wants to do right by the throne and his people. As a result, he is constantly thinking about those he is serving.
"It's not the job that people think it is — you're not free to do whatever you want to do," he said. "I think his choices are pretty even, but he definitely makes mistakes. The trouble is, within that realm, there's always pressure on you to make decisions regarding heirs and marriages and your Hands. … He doesn't make consciously bad choices, but he makes decisions that certainly have consequences."
House of the Dragon spans a 10-year time period, so one of the things Condal and co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik decided on was to have two actors play the role of Princess Rhaenyra. When viewers meet the younger version, she's very much of the viewpoint that women can do more than marry and have babies. That doesn't mean she isn't into men, much like her best friend, Alicent Hightower (played by Emily Carey). According to Alcock, that leads to some friction between the friends.
"They're in competition with each other, but it's more for the attention of men, which is what is quite tragic about their relationship as modern women ourselves," Alcock said. "That misogyny within the show is explored not only through patriarchy, but also through internalized misogyny, which is quite nuanced within our relationship and how women are usually forced to compete to be seen and to be heard."
Like Princess Rhaenyra, the role of Alicent Hightower was also split between two actors. As a younger girl, Alicent is daughter to the Hand of the King, and appears to be struggling to find her place in the world. She is her own person, but also has a complex relationship with her father, whose political ambitions may be greater than he originally lets on.
"She's a 14-year-old girl. … She's confused, not by the world around her or by the implications of the choices she's given, but because she doesn't have any choices," Carey said. "She's confused by the emotions that is provoking."
As Princess Rhaenyra ages, she is faced with an increasing amount of pressure not only to live up to her father, but also to make hard choices with potentially dire consequences. It was an interesting role for D'Arcy, a non-binary actor, as the character toes the lines between traditional Westeros feminism and masculinity in a world that's afraid of change.
"Westeros is a society that doesn't afford [women] space," they said. "Within this universe, womanhood is associated with motherhood, with amenability, with duty, with incapacity. The fundamental question of the show with regards to women and power within patriarchy is, if you are a woman, how do you convince male subjects that you are not 'other'? How do you undo those prejudicial labels? That's really the question this series is built around."
As Alicent and Princess Rhaenyra age, their relationship inevitably grows up as well. According to Cooke, however, within the world of Westeros during that time period, female relationships are largely doomed to fail.
"Fundamentally, were the men to leave them alone, that relationship might endure," she said. "One of the most nuanced and sort of saddening abilities of patriarchy is in pitting women against each other and forcing them to believe they are in competition and driving a wedge between the relationships that would otherwise create a stable foundation for a different type of reality. That's how patriarchy consolidates male power. External forces kind of drive them apart, and the series watches them possibly attempt to reach back in one of those directions."
Heading into House of the Dragon, Smith has already accumulated a significant fanbase thanks to such TV projects as Doctor Who and The Crown. However as Prince Daemon, the actor is showing a whole new side of himself. Not only is the character the brother of the King, and therefore less likely to be punished for the dark things he does, but also, as viewers see in the first episode, he appears to have quite a dark heart.
"There was an ambiguity to him that was very interesting," Smith said. "Daemon could quite easily be one thing and I was interested in trying to subvert that. I thought there was a strange fragility and I was really interested in the relationship with his brother. That sort of underpins who he is, particularly in this first season."
Much like in Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon features several characters who believe they deserve power but are relegated to the outside. Princess Rhaenys is one of those characters, as she was passed over for the throne simply because she is a woman. Showcasing that misogyny was appealing to Best, especially since she felt that double standard once again manifested in real life when Hillary Clinton ran for president.
"There are a lot of resonances with that whole situation," she explained. "She was clearly the best candidate for the job, and then having to do what you do in the aftermath of rejection. How do you handle it, because the instinct is to escape and retreat and retire or bury your head in the sand — have nothing more to do with politics and just go on holiday for the rest of your life. It takes a very strong, special woman to pick up the pieces of yourself and take it on the chin and exist as a public figure."
Lord Corlys, aka Princess Rhaenys' husband, is another character with a unique point of view when viewers meet him in the premiere. Being married to the woman he believes would have made the best ruler, he holds his cards close to the vest. That's especially important since he also sits on the current king's council and advises Viserys on matters of the kingdom. According to Toussaint, at the end of the day everything this character does is driven by legacy.
"That's his thing in life: We have to shore up on legacy, this family. One of his quotes is, 'History doesn't remember blood, it remembers names.' So he believes they have to be close to the throne and that becomes his motivation — at least for the first few episodes," he explained.
Criston may be one of the most mysterious characters at the start of the new series. Not only is he an outsider to the Targaryens, but also, he comes in with a very shocking and controversial debut. Add in his equally mysterious motives, and he's a character that unfolds as the series rolls out. For now, Frankel reveals whatever his motives are, they probably aren't thought-out.
"I don't think he's such as cerebral a character as potentially Daemon is. He's instinctive, like a soldier," he revealed. "He's instinctive in that way when you're dealing with life or death on a battlefield. I can't imagine that many things are cerebral, you feel things out in your body and react accordingly."
House of the Dragon premieres Aug. 21 at 9 p.m. on HBO and will also stream on HBO Max.