This article MIGHT contain mild spoilers for House of the Dragon.
The Game of Thrones prequel is heating up with three major lead additions to the House of the Dragon ensemble. With the casting of Matt Smith, Olivia Cooke, and Emma D’Arcy, significant pedigree has been added to the series, particularly for either Doctor Who or British Royal Family enthusiasts with regard to Smith. And it also feels a lot more tangible for fans looking on from the outside.
However, other than a brief mention of who the new cast members are playing—Daemon Targaryen, Alicent Hightower, and Rhaenyra Targaryen—not much in the initial press release blast is preparing you for the high stakes courtly intrigue that is to come. So if you don’t mind peaking a little behind the curtain a little to look ahead at the wars to come, here are details about who each new cast member is playing, and what it means for House of the Dragon’s narrative…
Matt Smith is Prince Daemon Targaryen
Perhaps the biggest name just added to the House of the Dragon cast is Matt Smith, aka the Eleventh Doctor on Doctor Who. Also appearing in Edgar Wright’s upcoming Last Night in Soho and as Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh during the first two seasons of The Crown, Smith will make his Westeros entrance playing an entirely different type of prince.
Prince Daemon is described in HBO’s press material as a “peerless warrior and dagonrider [who] possesses the true blood of the dragon.” But he was a little bit more complicated than his combat prowess or heritage might suggest. Certainly hot-tempered and alleged to have a cruel streak, Prince Daemon is the younger brother of King Viserys I, the dithering monarch who’s death eventually triggers the infamous “Dance of the Dragons.” The Dance in question was a civil war that tore the Seven Kingdoms asunder when Viserys I decreed that his daughter and eldest surviving child, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, is his heir. Viserys’ final wishes said one thing, but his Small Council said another; they lined up behind young Aegon, Viserys’ oldest son.
See, Rhaenyra was born from Viserys’ first marriage, while Aegon (or “Aegon II,” as he is crowned) is born from Viserys’ second marriage. It’s all loosely based on the actual 12th century British civil war known as “the Anarchy.”
Where Daemon falls into this is crucial. As Viserys’ younger brother, Daemon believed he would naturally be Viserys’ heir for years while all the king’s sons died in the crib or were stillborn. So Daemon bides his time by being an apparently ruthless Lord Commander of the City Watch, inventing that his men wear gold cloaks, inventing a tradition that carries on into the time of Game of Thrones. Daemon also becomes known as King of Flea Bottom due to his penchant for visiting prostitutes there and spying on the local populace.
Yet as his power in King’s Landing grows—as well as abroad with Daemon leading conquests along the Stepstones on behalf of the crown and declaring himself King of the Narrow Sea—his enemy in Hand of the King Otto Hightower begins to tear Daemon apart in the king’s ear. And after King Viserys takes Otto’s daughter as his second wife—also soon giving birth to healthy sons—Daemon makes maneuvers to claim his crown by other means… by marrying Viserys’ oldest child, Rhaenyra.
When the war comes, the Seven Kingdoms’ greatest warrior sides with the daughter Viserys named heir, while much of the rest of the realm sides with…
Olivia Cooke is Alicent Hightower
Rising star Olivia Cooke might be best recognized for appearing in Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One—though you should really check out her phenomenal work in Thoroughbreds and Sound of Metal if you have not—but that is likely about to change with her casting as Alicent Hightower.
HBO describes Alicent as “the most comely woman in the Seven Kingdoms,” and a young woman gifted with “courtly grace and a keen political acumen.” She’s also gifted with being born to one of the best placed families in Westeros. She also possesses the good tact of knowing how to use it. Aye, Alicent’s father Otto Hightower is Hand of the King when she catches old King Viserys’ eye. Although Viserys is a man with a daughter of near the same age, Viserys takes Alicent Hightower as his second bride, with whom he has multiple children.
Gossip in Westeros’ history tomes (written by George R.R. Martin) suggest Alicent may have had an affair with Daemon before her marriage to his older brother, but no one knows for sure. Daemon certainly became a political enemy to Alicent, viewing her children as obstacles that pushed him further down the line of succession. Alicent, however, was apparently an intelligent political operator, befriending Viserys’ actual heir, Rhaenyra (at least until Alicent’s son was born) and winning the favor of much of the court.
After Viserys’ death, many of the lords and ladies of Westeros come around to Alicent’s way of thinking, which is to make her son Aegon the king, stepping over Viserys’ actual heir. Some accounts (rather unconvincingly) suggest Alicent had a hand in Viserys’ death. In any event, she certainly was ready for it and what came next.
Emma D’Arcy is Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen
A relative newcomer, Emma D’Arcy appeared in Amazon Prime’s Truth Seekers and BBC/Netflix’s Wanderlust. She also recently starred The Crucible in the Yard Theatre. She might likewise have the juiciest role of the players who’ve so far been cast.
As Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, D’Arcy portrays the king’s first born, pure Valyrian blooded child, who like her uncle is a dragonrider. According to HBO, some say Rhaenyra was “born with everything… but she was not born a man.” She also was not born into the easiest family. As the daughter of King Viserys I and Aemma Arryn, the power of her Valyrian heritage showed early when she mastered riding her dragon Syrax at the age of seven.
She also became her father’s protégé, cupbearer, and heir apparent, as a son continued to fail to materialize from her parents’ marraige. Even so, the grossness of the Targaryens is borne out of historical rumors that suggest she had an affair at a young age with Prince Daemon, her uncle, losing her maidenhood to him. She certainly married him after several other brief marriages, and after her father took Alicent as his second wife.
From Dragonstone, Rhaenyra ruled from on high and waited for news of her ascendance. But when word of her father’s death finally came, it was accompanied by the treachery of a small council that aligned with her baby nephew and mother-in-law, including old friends and lovers who picked Aegon II and the Hightowers over the true Blood of the Dragon. No matter, unlike Aegon II and Alicent, Rhaenyra could fly a dragon into battle, which she did alongside her husband in the wars to come…
There is of course more to say about all three parties, but we’ll stop there in case we get much too far ahead of the upcoming House of the Dragon…