Matt Smith and Fabien Frankel talk complex House of the Dragon characters

House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO
House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO /

With the premiere of House of the Dragon just over a week away, it’s time to get officially hyped to return to Westeros. Set roughly 200 years before Game of Thrones, HBO’s new prequel series will depict the Targaryen dynasty at the height of its power. But since just showing things being all peaceful and stuff would be pretty lame, it will also cover one of the most vicious civil wars in Westerosi history: the Dance of the Dragons, when rival factions of the Targaryen family tore the realm asunder over the Iron Throne.

Two prominent figures in the dance are Daemon Targaryen, the Targaryen “rogue prince” who sticks to his own bloody moral code and “wants to cause chaos” according to actor Matt Smith; and Ser Criston Cole, a skillful knight of divided loyalties played by Fabien Frankel. While Daemon is consistently loyal to his older brother King Viserys, Criston Cole will find himself torn between two sides in the wars to come.

House of the Dragon
House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO /

“I can only speak to the first episode, [but] I think that shifting allegiances is a theme that runs rife in Game of Thrones and in the books—and in certainly in our show, it’s the same. It’s something I’ve thought about, definitely,” Frankel told Screen Rant as part of a roundtable interview with Smith. “In that first episode, his allegiances are to no one but himself. Which I think is interesting. He’s one of the only characters who has no allegiance to anyone, although I think Daemon has allegiances to himself in some way as well.”

It’s certainly true that Daemon Targaryen operates by his own code, but there are a couple of people he’s incredibly loyal to, such as his brother Viserys and his niece Rhaenyra. Daemon and Rhaenyra have an…interesting relationship, to say the least. Screen Rant writer Tatiana Hullender is of the opinion that Daemon may have an “uncomfortably soft spot” for Rhaenyra, which is putting it delicately.

“In everyone’s opinion!” Smith joked. “I think Daemon has such an intrinsic link, biologically and physically and mentally, to his brother. In some way, Rhaenyra’s inherited that, and they’re the only two characters that he really gives a damn about. The rest? Maybe Mysaria as well. But I think it’s a bloodline thing with Daemon. I think he’s got a really warped sense of loyalty, and Rhaenyra and his brother King Viserys really feel the full front of that.”

Daemon will be “the saddest person at the medieval orgy” in the House of the Dragon premiere

Game of Thrones featured quite a lot of sex. Some of those scenes were criticized for trying to titillate the audience rather than move the story forward. There’s been a lot of talk in recent weeks about how House of the Dragon will approach sex more “thoughtfully.”. That said, Smith has said that he thinks his character has “slightly too much” sex onscreen.

Now we’re getting a few more details: apparently, Daemon will take place in an orgy during the House of the Dragon premiere, and for some reason will be a bit mopey about it.

“I don’t think it’s ever nice to be the saddest person at the medieval orgy, is it?” Smith said. “But I think it tells you something about Daemon. On paper, people keep saying, ‘Is he a villain?’ and all this, and he does really bad stuff. That’s true. But I think, deep down, there’s a real sense of fragility about him. There’s a strange vulnerability. And he’s got a strange moral compass, which is war, but it is a moral compass in his own way.”

"I don’t know, really. No one likes doing sex scenes. They feel quite exposing, do you know what I mean? But luckily, Sonoya [Mizuno], who plays Mysaria, was just really wonderful. We had an intimacy coordinator, and that all felt quite good and safe and stuff. Do I love that scene? I don’t know; I have a question mark against it. But that’s the world that we’re representing. That’s the world that George has written. That is the world of House of the Dragon. And we’re trying to represent the books as truthfully as possible."

It’s interesting to hear Smith talk about how good and safe it felt to have an intimacy coordinator involved in shooting his sex scenes considering that just earlier this week Game of Thrones star Sean Bean was making headlines for reminiscing about the good ol’ days before intimacy coordinators were a thing. It’s nice to hear someone attached to House of the Dragon talk about how reassuring it was to have one be a part of their experience.

In House of the Dragon, Criston Cole is from Dorne rather than the Dornish Marches

In an intricate fantasy world like the one depicted in House of the Dragon, little details and research go a long way. Both Smith and Frankel watched Game of Thrones to prepare for their roles (it was a re-watch for Smith, who was a fan of the original show when it was on air).

In George R.R. Martin’s novel Fire & BloodSer Criston Cole is a knight from the Dornish Marches, which is a border region that connects the Stormlands, the Reach, and Dorne. The show tweaked this slightly to make it more explicit that Cole is of Dornish descent, and Frankel embraced that by researching Dornish culture.

“I did. Yeah, I did,” the actor said when asked whether he’d researched Dorne to prepare for the role. “The books, [and] there’s 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. I thought that was a very helpful tool for me, in terms of the way that I wanted to create this character. You can find on YouTube, there are videos of the way the Dornish are spoken about; with disdain, and a lot of hatred, and a lack of respect for the way they live their lives. I actually think it echoes modern day racism in a lot of ways."

Beyond the research, there were a few small details that both Smith and Frankel asked to be included in their costumes to help them get more into character. “I asked to have a dagger that’s never seen in the show,” Frankel said. “I just wanted it; I had it in my back the whole show and every scene, and I thought it was something I wanted there. There was no need for it or anything like that. It just helped me. I felt like the swords are heavy, and they’re big. There’s something about a dagger that I think, especially in close proximity, can be quite a dangerous weapon. It made me feel tough, which I don’t necessarily feel every day.”

For Smith, he found himself missing pockets. “I couldn’t have them, so I got this belt [made] where I could sort of anchor my hands, which was pretty cool. But props to Jany [Temime], the costume designer. I think she’s done really glorious work. Beautifully tailored and fancy. I think it’s really good.”

We’ll be able to feast our eyes on all the beautiful costumes and complex characters of House of the Dragon when it premieres on HBO and HBO Max on August 21.

Next. First episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel is “absolutely spectacular”. dark

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