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[This story contains spoilers for the House of the Dragon season one finale.]
House of the Dragon concluded its debut season with a dramatic tragedy that will spark the Targaryen Civil War.
The HBO fantasy hit’s tenth episode depicted a sequence that was highly anticipated by readers of author George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, where the young princes Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) and Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) met at Storm’s End, both seeking to obtain House Baratheon’s support for their respective immediate family’s’ Iron Throne claims. A dragon-mounted chase though a lightning storm ensued, and Lucerys was tragically killed after their hot-blooded dragons attacked each other – all-but-ensuring Lucerys’ mother Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) will go to war against Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cook) and plunge Westeros into chaos.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to showrunner Ryan Condal about a few of the key moments in the episode, the “gloom” debate, the show’s long-term plan and about some of the backlash to comments that were made last week regarding Daemon Targaryen.
Sooo, how did things go with Jace at The Eyrie?
(Laughs). Hopefully better!
Just how serious was Aemond during his pursuit of Lucerys?
Aemond is definitely not blameless in what happened to Luke. But Aemond was also a kid who was bullied and was made a mockery for part of his life for not having a dragon. Now he does, and he rides the biggest dragon in the world. I think he was showing his rival that he will not be intimidated and trifled with is probably more in play there than trying to become a kinslayer – that would be very un-calculated and stupid of Aemond to do at the outset when the pieces are moving about the board and loyalties are being set and figuring out who is going to make marriage pact to guarantee whose army … for Aemond to launch nukes right out of the gate and go for an all-out dragon war would be very foolish, but that’s exactly what he ends up doing because things get out of hand and out of control. It’s a complex scene. Aemond is not blameless, but he’s also not a psychopath without a logical line of thinking.
The Song of Ice and Fire prophecy was brought up again [where Aegon the Conquerer proclaimed the Targaryen line must remain on the Iron Throne to eventually fight against the forces of darkness]. I might be missing something here, but given Rhaenyra and Aegon’s claims would both result in a Targaryen on the Iron Throne, why does this weigh on Rhaenyra and seem so urgent to her? Especially when it’s not like Jace is more of a full-blooded Targaryen than Alicent’s Aegon is.
All good questions. Rhaenyra is focused on the fact that she sees herself as uniquely capable of ruling without stoking war and keep keeping the realm united. It’s the thing her father raised her her entire life to know and pursue as a sovereign. And she does not think that Aegon is capable of that. And on a more personal level, this is her birthright that her father gave her. That’s the thing you see her struggling with throughout the finale. She doesn’t just immediately turn around and say, “You know what? I’m going to war.” Because her father entrusted her keep the realm united in a peace. But at the same time, this thing that my father gave me, my birthright, was stolen. So what am I to do? How do I serve both of these ends? The answer is a bit of a paradox. And Daemon’s frustrated with her because she won’t just immediately go to war. She thinks she can gather enough support from the other kingdoms where she can make them surrender without launching nukes.
Why wouldn’t she let her handmaidens near her when giving birth? Was she thinking about what happened to her mother in childbirth [in the premiere]?
That’s very astute. There’s a lot going on in that scene; she’s going through an emotional hurricane. A big part of it is that Rhaenyra swore she was not going to go the way of her mother. That’s the reason that she didn’t want to get married if you go back to her resisting all the suitors. She’s also dealing with the news her father has passed away and her extended family has seized the opportunity to steal her throne from her. That news together has caused such stress that it has caused her to essentially have a miscarriage. The baby has not come far enough to term where, in this world, that she would be hopeful of giving a viable birth.
And in the moment this happens, Daemon takes the first opportunity to stalk off and try to start a war instead of saying at her side and helping her. So I just think at a very simple human level in that scene, she simply doesn’t want to be touched by anybody.
Speaking of Daemon, last week we interviewed executive producer and writer Sara Hess and asked about all the fan thirst for Daemon. I took her “Internet boyfriend” comments as rather funny and playful – sort of applying modern dating standards to a fantasy TV character. But I’ve since heard she’s received really horrifying messages online amid some backlash.
I was actually pretty horrified at the way Sara has been treated. She was horribly attacked in a way that’s completely unacceptable. She’s my right hand in this. We wrote the first season together – 85 percent of the writing in the first season is Sara and I. Nothing that was put on screen did not pass through my filter – or hers, for that matter. Nothing is done in a silo, it all comes across my desk, that’s my job, that’s how it works. And the idea that just because you don’t agree with something that happens in a fictional television show you can go and attack real people online remains a bizarre, alien and, frankly, horrifying concept to me. It’s why I don’t exist on social media.
I read what Sara said. She’s one of the funniest people I know. She cuts right to the heart of the matter and will say anything to anybody. She was maybe being overly glib when answering a serious question. She wasn’t taking herself seriously in the way she was answering it. But I think she made some valid points in there. People are looking to put white hats and black hats on characters. They’re looking for good guys and bad guys. They’re looking for the Dark Side and the Light Side of The Force. And this is simply not that kind of show. Daemon is a compelling character. He’s incredibly charismatic. He’s played by a very handsome actor in Matt Smith. I understand why he has a super fandom built up around him. I totally get it. But that doesn’t mean that Daemon is unimpeachably heroic. Damon has done some really horrendous things. He will continue to do really horrendous things. He will also do heroic things – and that’s what makes Damon really interesting and, I think, why everybody’s gravitated to him. Honestly, it’s Matt Smith’s virtuosic performance that’s conspired to make this really iconic television character. But that doesn’t mean you can project what you want onto this character and it’s going to be satisfied. It just doesn’t work that way. So disagree with us. And if you’re on social media, have a reasonable discussion. But don’t attack people.
You’re now working on season 2, what lessons have you learned from the first season that you’re applying to the second?
There’s a million little things you learn in the process of making any first season. We made 10 episodes. They were extraordinarily difficult. I intend to put all those lessons into use on season 2. They were less sort of universal concepts about making television and more about making this particular show – even for [crew members] who worked the original Game of Thrones. They’re more [producer oriented] than creative; ways to do things more efficiently.
The wonder of going into season two – for any show, but for this one in particular – is we have such an embarrassment of riches in terms of the great cast that we put together. The writing is so much easier because you’re now writing for a this great cast [who we have now seen] embody these roles. They’re three-dimensional characters and it makes their story so much easier to tell because they’re already embodied and there’s a joy in the writing because of that.
One frequent complaint was that the show looked dark – not just in episode seven, but in a lot of scenes. The word “gloomy” was used a lot. Is the look that was established with the first season going to be the same moving forward? Or is that something that’s evolving?
The visual continuity of the show is certainly something that we will look at. That stuff is always so tricky because we’re doing [post-production] on millions of dollars worth of high-end equipment, almost as if we’re making a movie. It looked great in post and I looked great on my television. But when you release a Star Wars film, you’re releasing it in theaters. For TV, you’re releasing it onto a million different television screens and different setups and calibrations all over the planet. You’re also releasing it through different distributors who are going to distribute it in 4K or 1080p or 1080i or not that at all. So it’s hard to account for everybody’s everybody’s televisions and their calibrations and sometimes the file can get compressed. So the show can look very different than the thing that we saw and approved and released.
But look: It’s our job to take all that into account. These are one of the things that you learn in the making of a show – you take that knowledge into account when making season two and say, “How can we do better?” The feedback was certainly heard. I get it. And we want the show to be a great viewing experience for everybody.
Recently George R. R. Martin affirmed the idea that this story will last four seasons. Is that the plan?
I’m very focused on the 10 episodes in front of me at the moment. There’s definitely more storytelling to come after season two. This is the story of a Targaryen dynasty that marches on for 150 years after the events in the season one finale. Kings and queens come and go as the history marches on. So the question is less where this story ends and more where does the curtain fall [on the show]. Because it’s an ongoing history being written George as we go. It’s not like The Song of Ice and Fire books where the end is the end of the story. This is the end of a chapter in the story, and then another chapter begins. So “I don’t know yet” is the honest answer. But we will take the time that we need to tell this story and when it dramatically needs to come to an end, it will come to an end.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
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