Participating in a fantasy franchise as big and beloved as HBO’s Game of Thrones inevitably means adopting a strange relationship with the public.
Surely not a day goes by when Emilia Clarke isn’t questioned about the location and health of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons. And it will be a long time before Kit Harrington stops hearing “you know nothing, Jon Snow.” Still, when Matthew Needham (Endeavour) signed on to portray murderous gossipmonger Larys Strong in the Thrones prequel House of the Dragon, he couldn’t have possibly anticipated the moment that fans would eventually latch onto.
“The amount of people who have come up to me and said ‘I felt soiled after that scene. I felt like I needed to take a shower … ‘” Needham tells Den of Geek.
Of course, “that scene” refers to the Larys moment that you’re already probably thinking of. Yes, the one where Larys dishes some fresh intel to Queen Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke) and in return receives a privileged peek at her bare ankles for his … uh, masturbatory amusement. On a show filled with rampant incest, dragons roasting people alive, and onscreen castrations, it was the “Larys foot fetish” scene that captured the internet’s collective imagination and disgust moreso than just about anything else.
“Kink shamed!” Needham jokes. “It’s inevitable though. I don’t think you could do a scene like that in 2022 and not expect the internet to have a whole range of reactions. Obviously I knew that this was gonna get meme’d to shit, but I think most discerning people understand the scene through the context of the show.”
That context, of course, has nothing to do with feet but with power … like pretty much everything in House of the Dragon. Reflecting on Oscar Wilde’s famous quote that “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power,” Needham notes that for Larys everything really is probably about power. And in many ways that makes him the consummate Game of Thrones character.
Through eight seasons of Game of Thrones, the fantasy universe created by George R.R. Martin and brought to life by HBO has developed a well-earned reputation for highlighting a certain archetype that could best be called “a creepy little guy.” Prominent entrants in this genre on Game of Thrones include Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen), who sowed chaos to climb it like a ladder, and Varys “The Spider” (Conleth Hill), who used a network of spies and his superior intellect to keep the realm together.
The presence of creepy little guys in King’s Landing is an understandable byproduct of a feudal society preoccupied with power above all else. The “heroes” of Westeros are often considered the strong men respected for their martial prowess and the noble women celebrated for their beauty and grace. So what is a player in the game of thrones supposed to do when they have no athleticism, skill, or beauty but still want a piece of the Iron Throne’s power? Why, become a creepy little guy, of course!
Like many Game of Thrones underdogs before him, Larys is the second son of a powerful family, in his case: the Strongs of Harrenhal. While his older brother Harwin (Ryan Corr) lived up to the family name by becoming one of the most physically imposing men in Westeros, Larys was born with a twisted foot, leading to his insensitive nickname of “Larys Clubfoot.” And yes, that played a role in the memorable season 1 scene in question.
“I don’t think he’s got, like, a foot fetish,” Needham says. “(That) would be a little mundane for Larys. It’s the fact that he has this thing that has ruined his life. And he wants to reenact that trauma onto other people.”
Still, Larys’s limited mobility led to the development of other skills – like the ability to listen closely, glean valuable information, and use that information to his advantage. Even before their relationship turned upsettingly sexually transactional, Larys proved to be a powerful ally to Alicent and will likely continue to be one in the show’s upcoming second season, whether Alicent wants him to be or not.
Already the Master of Whisperers under King Viserys I, Larys continues in that position under Alicent’s son King Aegon II in the source material Fire & Blood. Though Game of Thrones viewers are already familiar with the spymaster-like role at court thanks to the similarly named Varys, Larys hails from an earlier era and gets to put his stamp on the job long before King Robert usurps the Iron Throne. And while Needham is operating in a prequel of Game of Thrones, he can still turn to future iterations of creepy little guys like Varys as a starting point for how to tackle the whisper merchant game.
“I know nothing is accidental and Larys is an awful lot like a combination of Littlefinger and Varys but I think if I was just trying to copy a quality that they have, it wouldn’t work,” Needham says. “This is like ‘Baby Larys.’ This is someone who hasn’t come into his himself yet. Whereas with Varys and Littlefinger, you get the sense when you met them that they’ve had years leading up to where they’ve got to.”
While it’s nice to have Varys and Littlefinger as reference points, the truth is that Westeros isn’t the only Medieval setting populated by creepy little guys whispering in monarchs’ ears. According to Needham, House of the Dragon is the oldest kind of story and that’s what viewers respond to.
“It’s such an ancient story of power and what happens when the wrong people get power. Who is destined to have it and what you do to keep while you have it? What do you do when you lose it? These are sort of eternal stories. And I think George R.R. Martin just is a master at making it so palatable and interesting.”
Interesting, yes. But some might have notes on its palatability vis-à-vis feet.
House of the Dragon: The Complete First Season is available now on digital download, 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD in the U.S. and U.K.