Emma D’Arcy: Rhaenyra Targaryen is an “expert” on grief

Image: House of the Dragon/HBO
Image: House of the Dragon/HBO /

The first season of House of the Dragon wrapped up last year, but the Emmy nominations are only just now about to come out, and star Emma D’Arcy is talking about her journey as Rhaenyra Targaryen in preparation.

For the first five episodes of House of the Dragon, Rhaenyra is played by Milly Alcock. We only meet D’Arcy’s version in Episode 6, when the story jumps 10 years ahead and she’s delivering her third son.

“I found Rhaenyra’s journey into motherhood quite surprising,” D’Arcy told Awards Watch. “I think having feared that role so much because of the fate of her mother, because of this broad fear of incapacitation, of being displaced by the men around her. There’s this giant obstacle heading into motherhood. In fact, as a character who historically struggled to be at one with a court environment, she suddenly builds her own tribe and I actually think it does a huge amount to give her the confidence to take on her own name and stop fighting so hard with this innate fire, this Targaryen desire that’s kind of like an iron rod up her spine. Yeah. I feel like she gets birthed from the family that she creates.”

What drives Rhaenyra Targaryen?

Throughout this interview, D’Arcy is very articulate about her character, the show, and the acting process. For instance, here she is explaining the roles that Rhaenyra’s husband/uncle Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) and her best friend/bitter rival Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) play in her life:

"I think Daemon represents a lot of what Rhaenyra craves. It’s like boisterous access to this freedom. It’s like power and he commands respect. Then the other pole, I think Alicent was like the first home, I think again, in a court environment where Rhaenyra isn’t that naturally comfortable. I think Alicent was a sort of translator, a person by which Rhaenyra could sort of understand that environment and almost pass within the court. I think, ultimately, Rhaenyra has this need to be known that sits a sort of piece of slab marble in her abdomen and both Daemon and Alicent cared for that need in different ways at different points.It’s funny, I feel like Rhaenyra is a character who really, really struggles as an autonomous agent. She actually requires at least one person to make an ultimate act of devotion in order for her to find confidence and independence. She’s ultimately stuck in a sort of longing between those poles."

See? Articulate. All that insight and she’s still most famous for naming her favorite drink.

The season finale of House of the Dragon is Rhaenyra’s “reeducation in grief”

D’Arcy also spoke eloquently about the final scene of the season, when Rhaenyra learns that her son Lucerys has been killed by her half-brother Aemond. She absorbs the news with her face turned away from the camera, and then turns around, grimacing with cold rage. It’s a chilling moment that came together naturally on set.

“I was pretty nervous about that day because I suppose you’re acutely aware that you are being asked to deliver not just something on a character basis, but if I’m being real about it you’re also being asked to deliver an ending,” D’Arcy said. “I think I was definitely nervous, but actually, I’ve said before, the massive turning point of the morning for me when me and Matt and [director] Greg Yaitanes were talking about it was Matt’s idea to deliver the news to me as we walked away from the camera. As soon as he said that I could just see the scene.”

"Actually, I don’t think I’m an actor who can often picture what the monitor will see, I’m broadly able to work outside-in like that. I guess I just loved it, so I could so feel how painful it would be to be held in suspension as the news that we as an audience already know is delivered that it just clarified so much. Then I guess for the character, I was just aware that we’d seen this character wrung out multiple times, and especially in that episode, in episode 10 there’s not one mountain to climb. It’s a range. It’s a full mountain range of big tragic events."

Rhaenyra does indeed go through the wringer in the season finale. Not only does she lose her teenage son, she also delivers a stillborn daughter at the beginning of the episode. “I guess the way I thought about it was [that] Rhaenyra, as you said, is well versed in grief,” D’Arcy said. “She has known loss in her life, and I think she might even consider herself an expert on that topic, knowing what it does to her body. What she doesn’t know is the new event at the end of 10 is what happens when you lose one of your children. I suppose my thinking was that what she discovers then is that it’s not only childbearing that risks the body, but that losing a grown child, losing a child in adolescence also ravishes the body, is another huge tearing and actually for her, a reeducation in grief.”

There’s “a great wig” on the way in House of the Dragon season 2

Obviously, D’Arcy isn’t about to give anything away about the upcoming second season of House of the Dragon, but she does slip up juuuust the barest bit when talking about the wigs on the show, of which there are many. “The wig does all the work,” she said. “Wigs are amazing. They change everything about your behavior. They change how you are read and received by the world.”

"God, there’s a great one this year, but I won’t talk about it."

House of the Dragon is known for its sweep of beautiful white-blonde wigs so favored by members of the Targaryen and Velaryon families. It’s hard to know which wig she’s talking about in season 2, although it might be worn by Ewan Mitchell, who plays Rhaenyra’s murderous half-brother Aemond. D’Arcy reserved a lot of praise for Mitchell. “Ewan is also amazing, who plays Aemond; between that and the eye patch, just like the most exquisite baddy I’ve ever seen,” she laughed. “I just think he’s the most astonishing actor and it’s great hair.”

Emma D’Arcy “would advocate for gender-neutral categories” at awards shows

Because this is an awards publication, D’Arcy was also asked about their opinion on gender-neutral awards categories. “Best Actor” and “Best Actress” categories have reigned at awards shows for decades, but with more actors like D’Arcy identifying as non-binary, there are increasing calls to just nominate everyone in one category.

“God, I find it very difficult because it’s such a divisive topic at the moment, and I just am a non-binary person who, at a certain point, has to cut out the noise and live,” D’Arcy said. “Yeah, I would say it’s quite a painful time to have this conversation – it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of space for productive, generative engagement.”

"Obviously, I would advocate for gender-neutral categories – the current award systems feel increasingly antiquated. The very fact that they are unable to adequately serve a growing number of actors indicates the need for reform. How you manage and instigate that reform, I realize, is a complex question."

The 2023 Emmy nominations will be announced on July 12; hopefully D’Arcy will be among the nominees. As for the second season of House of the Dragon, expect it on HBO and Max in the summer on 2024.

Next. Rhaenyra Targaryen will be “released” in House of the Dragon season 2. dark

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.

Get HBO, Starz, Showtime and MORE for FREE with a no-risk, 7-day free trial of Amazon Channels