House of the Dragon's Cast and Crew on HBO's Return to Westeros

House of the Dragon's Cast and Crew on HBO's Return to Westeros

The Game of Thrones prequel blazes onto HBO and HBO Max this weekend.

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Two silhouetted Targaryens.
Screenshot: HBO Max

There will be more fire (yay, dragons!) and blood (those family feuds) when Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon arrives to dig into the history of House Targaryen. Based on George R.R. Martin’s Fire and Blood, the HBO Original drama will expand on Westeros’ past and the battle for the Iron Throne 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones.

With the show nearly upon us—starting August 21, the 10-episode series will begin its weekly release on HBO and HBO Max—io9 attended press roundtables with other outlets to get a taste of what to expect. We sat down with co-creator/co-showrunner/executive producer/writer Ryan Condal and co-showrunner/executive producer/director Miguel Sapochnik, as well as cast members Paddy Considine (King Viserys Targaryen), Matt Smith (Prince Daemon Targaryen), Emma D’Arcy (Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen), Olivia Cooke (Alicent Hightower), Eve Best (Rhaenys Targaryen), and Fabien Frankel (Ser Criston Cole).

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New Leadership

New Leadership

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Screenshot: HBO Max

Sapochnik, who previously directed key episodes of Game of Thrones, talked about how he teamed up with Condal. “We’d been introduced by a mutual agent [and] we got on, so we started looking for to do things together. We had a television show for Conan at Amazon, which we’d set up, and a show at Warner Brothers. And then this kind of came along, and I think I had gone off to do something. But by the time I came back, Ryan had already written a first draft and called me and said, ‘Do you want to get involved?’ And that was kind of it. I don’t think you get to choose your projects as much as they choose you. It’s like, no, it comes along and you just got to go.”

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House of the Dragons Will Cover a Lot of Ground

House of the Dragons Will Cover a Lot of Ground

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Screenshot: HBO Max

Condal on what to expect: “This is such a complex story. It takes place over such a long, long period of time—the first season in particular because it’s the story of this generational war. So you need the young women to get married and have children, and those children grow up. And then they’re eventually the ones that climb on dragons and go off and fight each other.  I think it will, you know, deepen and enrich your understanding of the of the Targaryen history that we’re telling. I think one of the more meta themes in this in this particular story is this idea of how history is written and why history is written. And we’re taking the position that history, particularly this history, was written with an agenda in mind.”

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The 11th Doctor Was a Game of Thrones Fan

The 11th Doctor Was a Game of Thrones Fan

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Screenshot: HBO Max

Before signing on, Doctor Who star Matt Smith was a fan of the original show. When he was cast as House of the Dragon’s Prince Daemon Targaryen, the younger brother to King Viserys and heir apparent to the throne, he revisited it to inform his take on the character. “It was a great source [of inspiration], which is a great source of entertainment,” he said. “Over the years, I watched Game of Thrones [as it came out], and it was a good reference point, but I did rewatch it with our show in mind. I think our show feels like an original world and an original time ... we tried to do something original with it while delivering on the hits—the themes, I suppose—that existed in something like Game of Thrones.”

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From the Future to the Past

From the Future to the Past

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Sapochnik on taking on the reins as a producer: “I was heading that way on season eight [of Game of Thrones] in terms of producing duties; that was already kind of in the works. It felt like it was a natural progression. There were a few things that were different that I’m still getting my head around, like working with other directors, which I’d never done before in that kind of way.”

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Good Men Don’t Fare Well in Westeros

Good Men Don’t Fare Well in Westeros

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Paddy Considine’s King Viserys Targaryen—chosen by the lords of Westeros to succeed King Jaehaerys Targaryen over his daughter Rhaenys Targaryen—is a reluctant, kind leader motivated by family loyalty to carry on the Targaryen name. Considine shared that his take on the character has already earned one very important favorable reaction. “George [R.R. Martin] has since likened Viserys—not before [we shot], but since the he’s seen the show—to be like King Lear. I was quite proud of that because that was an acknowledgment of the word. And George is generous enough that [he created] this body of work, but if someone is going to adapt it, [he gives] it to them and lets them have license with it. All the qualities of Viserys were kind of there on the page. I could see them when I read it. So it kind of already existed in some form within the world. I wasn’t informed by any particular kings really or any particular writings other than George’s world. I was just allowed to go in an expanded and grow on what was already there.”

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The Natural Fit for a King

The Natural Fit for a King

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As House of the Dragon will explore, Smith’s Daemon may be too chaotic for his own good. “I think Daemon sort of has such an intrinsic link, biologically and physically and mentally, to his brother in some way,” Smith said. “Rhaenyra inherited that and they’re the only two characters that he really gives a damn about—maybe Mysaria as well. But yeah, I think it’s the bloodline thing with Daemon. I think I think he’s got a really warped sense of loyalty. And you know [Daemon’s niece] Rhaenyra and his brother King Viserys fill the forefront of that.”

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The Queen That Never Was

The Queen That Never Was

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Rhaenys Targaryen is known as “The Queen Who Never Was,” passed over as heir to the Iron Throne because the realm favored her cousin Viserys. Actor Eve Best talked about how that is something her character keeps at her core. “When that happened, that essential primary miscarriage of justice, which is what it was went really deep—it’s like a dagger to the heart. And I think that’s where her vulnerability really is. So she has this supercool exterior,” she said. “It’s like she’s almost closed down her emotional toolbox as a kind of coping mechanism to deal with pain, but also has a political way of navigating these very choppy waters of this intensely volatile and corrupt environment that they all are in. And to find a way to position herself in a way that sort of holds on to her own self-respect in the face of such a crushing defeat, and also the self-respect of other women around her. [She] is a strong woman in a very vocal position, even though she [is] technically [without a role]—which is another source of great potential humiliation, to be so prominent and so in the spotlight, but actually have nothing to do. They have nothing to do except for give wine to their men or possibly die in childbirth.”

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Would-Be Future Queen

Would-Be Future Queen

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Emma D’Arcy stars as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, first in line after her father King Viserys, which during this period in Westeros prives quite tricky. D’Arcy shared, “I think crucially in Westeros, there’s probably no space for a ‘girlboss’ story because it’s a patriarchal culture that keeps women tightly restricted. In terms of a show that speaks to patriarchy, misogyny in power, I think one of the questions that it asks is: ‘If you are a woman how do you convince male subjects that you’re no other?’ And I think of that to be an incredibly resonant question. Today, we’re still making males leaders. I think it’s a really nuanced piece of work because life is nuanced and complicated.”

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Of Dragons and Women

Of Dragons and Women

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Condal expanded on what makes this era the tale worth telling. “The gift that this story has given us is that there are a lot of really cool women—dragonriders. So even though they haven’t been necessarily trained in the traditional art of warfare and haven’t been knighted or we don’t necessarily yet have a Brienne of Tarth character in our show,” he explained, “you do have a bunch of royal women who are also dragonriders who have learned to ride a dragon in a time of peace as it is so far, not yet in the time of war. That gives you ways to activate the women in a way that doesn’t feel like you’re breaking the fourth wall and stepping out into a modern construct.”

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Friends Turned Foes

Friends Turned Foes

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Olivia Cooke plays Alicent Hightower, daughter of the Hand of the King, opposite Emma D’Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra. The first episode focuses on their childhood in the Red Keep, where they’re played by Milly Alcock (Rhaenyra) and Emily Carey (Alicent). Those scenes help inform the older versions we follow, in building their characters.

Cooke shared while [she and D’Arcy] didn’t visit during [the younger actors’] shoot, they did watch their scenes. “We were being really respectful of their process. We’re like, we don’ t want to impose anything on them because of what we know. I would be shown scenes that Emily had done and almost like implant a memory. And that was really, really helpful for me.”

D’Arcy chimed in. “It was like watching a Targaryen home video or something. There is definitely an element of seeing yourself as a younger person and so much as you feel familiar and you sort of recognize what’s going on there and simultaneously feel very distinct from the person.”

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Dornish Representation

Dornish Representation

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Fabien Frankel who stars as Ser Criston Cole, who’s of Dornish descent. He shared that playing a common-born son with no claim to land or titles but mad skills with a sword is something he was able to tap into. “I read summaries on the internet of the way the Dornish were spoken about in King’s Landing. My family are from all over the world, I feel very lucky in that. And I think that when you have a character that doesn’t come from the same world as everyone else, you instantly find yourself isolated. And I thought that was a very helpful tool for me in terms of the way that I wanted to create this character. I actually think it echoes modern day racism in a lot of ways.”


Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

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