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[Warning: This story contains spoilers for House of the Dragon, episode eight.]
House of the Dragon just aired what’s arguably its strongest episode yet: a game-changing hour that served as a finale of sorts for the show’s first eight episodes, as well as a pilot for the rest of the series.
In “The Lord of Tides,” all the major characters (save an ailing Corlys Velaryon) came together for what might be the last time at the Red Keep for a petition to determine Velaryon’s heir. But the real occasion was unspoken: dying King Viserys (Paddy Considine) desperately making a last-ditch effort to prevent a civil war among his feuding family. It also marked the first time all the younger characters — who were previously played by different actors — are embodied by their “main” performers.
The episode was written by Eileen Shim and directed by Geeta Patel (Meet the Patels), who infused each scene with creeping dread that a Targaryen doomsday was just around the corner — if only appointed heir, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy), and the king’s wife, Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), could set aside their growing differences. Patel discusses the episode with The Hollywood Reporter in the interview below.
This episode felt like a second pilot for the rest of the series, did it feel like that in some ways for the creatives as well?
I don’t know. When I read it, it felt like the culmination of a lot of setup for Viserys’ storyline that started from the beginning. It felt like the end of a film and setting up the next piece. So I just remember being so happy I got to direct it.
At the start of the episode, there was the scene with Dyana, who was then noted as missing. Is she just recovering or transferred to another part of the Red Keep? What are we supposed to assume happened to her when she didn’t return?
I think we’re all waiting for the answer on that. I know [showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik] were talking about Alicent paying her off and that she would disappear.
Okay. But the tea really was just to prevent pregnancy and Alicent was being sincere — she didn’t secretly, like, have her killed or something.
Oh, the tea was definitely to prevent pregnancy — the same tea Young Rhaenyra got. But after this, I am curious where we go with that character. Does she come up again?
The scene with Dyana and Alicent was a smart approach to sensitive subject matter — to focus on her verbally conveying the horror of Aegon’s assault.
[Showrunners] Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapochnik and [executive producer and writer] Sara Hess, when they were creating the story, made that choice. There were older actresses who were [not underage] who would’ve been easier to shoot with because you can have more hours with them. Then when we saw that young actress [Maddie Evans] during her audition and we all had tears in our eyes. I said to Ryan, “This is going to screw up my schedule, but we have to have her.” She conveyed the vulnerability, she conveyed the tragedy.
And then Olivia stepped up for the occasion. Because the big challenge of this episode was, I really wanted to be in Alicent’s shoes. I didn’t like her anymore. So coming into this episode, we needed to love her. We needed to feel her point of view. My feeling was: Let’s make this like a day in the life of a working mom. You see everything she’s dealing with. You see when she’s doing ugly things, but you understand her vulnerability. You understand she’s picking between two evils. So that scene had always worried me because I wanted so desperately for us to understand Alicent, but the words she’s saying and actions she’s taking are all quite harsh and in line with a villain. So a lot of the prep of those scenes like, cinematically, how do we walk through the door and be with her?
Then Olivia brought so much dimension. I remember after her first take, I was like, “Oh, thank God.” She brought everything, and so much more than I could have even thought of. So that was one of my favorite scenes to work on because I felt like it had the dimension with Alicent we were looking for.
You also can’t take your eyes off King Viserys in this. He’s like a ghoulish ticking bomb with every wheezy breath because we know as soon as he dies that all hell is going to break loose. His return to the throne is so emotional, yet simple. It’s just: “Can a man walk across a room and sit down?” Yet you’re on the edge of your seat.
That scene was really challenging. In filmmaking and TV, you just don’t have time because you have so much to do. We got to the point where Paddy walked down the aisle the first time and we’re all looking at our watches going, “Oh, we are screwed. We’re never gonna make this schedule because it takes so long for him to walk.” Some people approached me and said, “Maybe we should cut this down because this is going to eat up our day.” I thought about it and was like, no, because it’s actually a story moment. This isn’t one of those moments where somebody just shows up at a door so we can cut out showing them driving up and parking outside. The whole story is the exertion this man is giving toward his goal and that is happening as he’s walking. Everything that we built from the pilot is happening right there. Paddy’s back was hurting, he was pushing so hard on that cane.
Then when we rehearsed it, and Rhaenyra just happened to have been in the middle of talking when he comes in. All of a sudden, it came together in my head. I called Ryan and said, “Wait a minute. He’s not walking to the throne. He’s walking to his daughter. He’s doing this for her, he’s finally choosing family.” So at the last minute, we figured out how to get some footage of Rhaenyra looking at Viserys and Viserys looking at her. I had tears in my eyes because the love a father has for his daughter is so beautiful and so primal. And the fact that it came to fruition amid all the struggle, it was just awesome.
For the dinner scene, it felt like reading a chapter in one of George R.R. Martin’s books. What are some of the subtleties fans might have missed amongst all that was going on?
There was so much because every character in that at that table had a story to tell, had an opinion and had a big shift. So I am hoping we got a lot of it because we worked so hard to get around that table to every single interaction. I think one of some of the more subtle moments might have been Aegon and his relationship with Viserys — the fact he doesn’t really have the love that he wants from his father. That’s what’s driving a lot of his behavior and lack of esteem. He comes across as a complete jerk. But there were looks he was giving Viserys where he’s a bit like a teenager. And in the throne room, too. [Actor] Tom Glynn-Carney had really come to understand the history of his character and the humanity of his character.
My favorite bit might have been Daemon sizing up Aemond as they passed each other. Daemon seems sort of amused this guy is stealing his look and also at the same time they’re mutually acknowledging they’re destined to conflict at some point.
Actually, that was a note I got from Ryan. He pointed out something that is to come in the future and how that moment was really important. And that was all Matt Smith, just letting him be Daemon in those moments. It’s a benefit of getting to this point in the season where everyone has a really good idea of what their character wants and what’s standing in the way of it.
Just how sincere were Rhaenyra and Alicent during those toasts?
So that was another moment! They were sincere, but they were still themselves. The goal was to get to that scene and understand how lonely each of them was and how they both missed each other in some way. Ryan and Miguel and I talked for a year about how we’ve got to earn that moment. The idea was we would feel it coming earlier in the throne room when they both see Viserys was so vulnerable. Rhaenyra realized Alicent wasn’t lying to to her and she was telling the truth that Viserys was suffering and that Alicent really loved him.
So you’ve got this father on his deathbed and these two fighting “daughters” of his sitting on either side of him to mourn him, and somehow the chemistry of both of them came together. It was hard because they never actually say [the toasts] to each other. They had to somehow do it in between all the lines of them saying hurtful things. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve been a part of as a director.
So during Viserys‘ death scene, did Alicent deliberately misunderstand what the king meant when he was talking about Aegon’s Ice and Fire prophecy? Or at least embrace it despite its fuzziness because it’s what she wants to hear anyway? Or does she genuinely think — when he’s delirious on milk of the poppy — that he believes he made a total mistake and wants her son Aegon on the Iron Throne?
It interesting you say that because that was my fear going in. The intention was that she genuinely thought he was telling her that her son was going to be the heir. The only way to get even close to achieving that was to feel the vulnerability and innocence in Alicent. We had to feel less of the conniving and more of the girl that we grew up with in episode one. The fact that you were even confused makes me feel good because I felt like that was such a high bar for us coming out of Miguel’s [episode seven] when she was was hanging out with Larys in the last scene. The joke is, I called Miguel and I was like, “Can you please, like, do something at the end of your episode to help me a little bit with Alicent?” Nope, you’re on your own!
And what was Viserys whispering as he was dying — there are no subtitles on press screeners and I wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be apparent or not?
When he was dying, it was Paddy’s own world. We’re not supposed to know what he’s saying.
OK. I kept wanting Rhaenyra to pull Alicent aside and just say: “You know that you and your kids are going to be safe, right? I wouldn’t hurt them.” I feel like that’s like the one thing she needs to hear.
That’s true. And the thing that that stands in the way, of course, is all this pride. They all have pride at this point.
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Thomas Brodie Sangster