[Warning: Spoilers for episode 1 of “House of the Dragon”, “Heirs of the Dragon”, written by Ryan Condal and directed by Miguel Sapochnik.]
“House of the Dragon”, the “Game of Thrones” prequel, premiered with the first episode on Sunday, bringing to life George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood. The all-new series, which takes place 200 years before the original, details the battle of succession as House Targaryen attempts to maintain its place on the Iron Throne.
Members of the ensemble cast, including Emily Carey, Eve Best, Fabien Frankel, Matt Smith, Milly Alcock, Paddy Considine and Steve Toussaint, recap the in-fighting in episode one and tease where things go from here, as season 1 gets deep into the political maneuvering that follows.
“It kicks off with the Old King trying to find his named heir, and the woman with the right temperament to rule the kingdom is shafted for the younger male heir,” says Olivia Cooke, who portrays an older version of Alicent Hightower. “That’s how it kicks off and that sets us up for the next.”
Essentially telling the same story twice, the first hour of the series sets up the precarious line of succession and what happens when there is no male heir to inherit the Iron Throne.
Starting with the Old King, Jaehaerys Targaryen, the Great Council is left in a lurch when they realize there’s no direct male heir to assume the throne and maintain Targaryen’s reign over King’s Landing. While his granddaughter, Princess Rhaenys Velaryon (Best), is technically the next in line, history dictates that only men can inherit the throne, which leads to a number of distant family members attempting to make a claim for the seat.
But when it comes down to it, there are only two rightful heirs, Rhaenys and her cousin, Viserys Targaryen (Considine), with the latter being chosen by members of the council and thus Rhaenys becoming known as the “Queen Who Never Was”.
“She was the best candidate for the job at the time, but she was passed over because she was a woman,” Best says. And consequently, “she doesn’t have a role as a result of this terrible miscarriage of justice.”
The story then jumps forward, well into Viserys’ rule over his kingdom, as the king faces a similar problem of having no male heir — well, at least not yet. While he does have a daughter — Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Alcock) — he and his wife, Aemma Targaryen (Sian Brooke), are still trying to have a son as dictated by the realm.
With his wife pregnant and soon to give birth to a son, Viserys prematurely launches a tournament of celebration, which brings Viserys’ younger brother, Daemon Targaryen (Smith), as well as the Dornish knight, Ser Criston Cole (Frankel), who subsequently duel, much to the delight of Rhaenyra and her best friend, Alicent (Carey).
“That is certainly an indicator of things to come,” Frankel says, teasing that Criston understands “the pressures of being prince of the city and so far removed from the world in which he grew up.”
He adds, “He’s an empathetic person. But as to whether he would go about things the same way as Daemon, I don’t know. But there is mutual respect there.”
When it comes to Daemon, his motivations are unclear. But as Smith explains, the commander of the King’s Watch is “interested in sort of conflict and chaos as much as he’s interested in power. I think he’s interested more in the obstruction of power than he is in actually attaining it. So, he goes about being as problematic as can be, and that sort of makes him feel interested and alive.”
Sadly, however, Aemma and her son, the would-be heir, both perish during childbirth.
This leaves a distraught Viserys forced to make a decision about the line of succession, even though he’s far from stepping down or in danger of dying, and making sure that Westeros doesn’t fall into chaos as Houses attempt to make a bid for the Iron Throne. While Daemon has a rightful claim to succeed him, his inner circle, including Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifan) and an embittered Lord Corlys Velaryon (Toussaint), warns against it.
This leads the king to make a bold choice and name Rhaenyra as the next in line while also commanding his council to pledge that they’ll honour this decision when the time comes. Of course, many members of the extended family, including Daemon, Rhaenys and even Viserys’ daughter, have reservations about this course of action — or if it even will hold true — especially now that all of their relationships have changed moving forward.
“Suddenly, when Rhaenyra’s mom dies while trying to produce an heir, she’s left without a mother. And Viserys is somebody that doesn’t know how to be a father to a teenage girl. So, that has kind of difficulties within itself,” Considine says of Viserys and Rhaenyra’s relationship. “And then also the fact of naming her heir and what that means to the realm, what a big decision that is and how that affects their relationship going forward is huge.”
Alcock, meanwhile, suggests that the young princess is more interested in being a dragonrider than she is following in the footsteps of her father. “There’s a lot of things going through her mind. You know, the most obvious one being the loss of her mother and how she’s never gonna have a mom again,” she says, noting that her character “is put into a very difficult position because I don’t necessarily think Rhaenyra wants the throne.”
As for Rhaenys, all of this is like “a sword was plunged deep in her heart,” Best says, suggesting that it is reopening a wound that she’s spent a long time trying to recover from. And when it comes to her husband, Corlys, “he doesn’t hide the fact that it irks him that his wife is not on the throne,” Toussaint says, noting that Rhaenys is a far more qualified ruler.
“In fact, sometimes it looks as if it hurts him more than it hurts her because there are moments when he’s just like, ‘It should be you.’ And she’s like, ‘Ahh, leave it. We’re rich.’ And he’s like, ‘No, it should be you,’” he continues, teasing that a lot of Corlys’ “motivation for an awful lot of this season is about the pursuit of his family’s legacy and planting their name in history.”
During all of this, Otto convinces his daughter, Alicent, to comfort the king in his time of need — a seemingly shrewd decision to curry favour with the king. “We always describe Alicent as a product of the patriarchy. She is very acutely aware of where she fits into this world,” Carey says. “And I think when we find her, it’s not been an issue for her thus far. She’s quite content with where she is and she doesn’t mind where she’s going.”
But, of course, “things very rapidly changed due to decisions completely out of her control,” the actress says, referring to being thrust into Viserys’ recovery. Despite all the shifts in dynamics, it’s unclear how Alicent feels about it all. “She doesn’t know what she’s feeling. She doesn’t really know what to choose. But the key is that she’s made to believe she can choose when in reality she knows she can’t,” she continues.
Unsurprisingly, the episode ends with many fraught relationships and various members in and outside of the immediate family wondering what to do next, with Smith teasing that “it’s a pretty deadly, dangerous place” and the Targaryens are “a tricky family to be part of.”
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