House of the Dragon, the long-awaited prequel to Game of Thrones, premiered last Sunday to record-breaking success. Based on George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, the series concerns House Targaryen at the height of their power. In an exclusive interview with Entertainment Weekly, the cast and crew discussed the thought and care that went into one of the key components of the show—the dragons.
We meet two of the Targaryen dragons in the pilot. There’s Syrax, the golden dragon that Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy, Milly Alcock) rides, and Caraxes, the red dragon that Daemon (Matt Smith) rides. Another Targaryen who owns a dragon is Princess Rhaenys (Eve Best), the Queen Who Never Was, who rides Meleys the Red Queen. According to co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik, the show’s designers went through 900, if not 1,000 pieces of concept art just for the dragons to create something similar but distinct from the ones belonging to Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys.
MOVIEWEB VIDEO OF THE DAY
“I came up with the idea that there were three types of dragons. There’s the dragons that are dinosaur-like; they have a big bridge on their nose. There are the dragons that are canine, which usually have the convex feel to them; they feel wolf-like. And then, there’s the dragons that are like horses, which are somewhere in between. So, I’ve got a wolf skull, a horse skull, and a T-Rex skull, and designed the same dragon on top of them to see how the skull changed the features of the dragon,” said Sapochnik.
The biggest dragon that viewers will meet will be Vhagar, who Visenya Targaryen once owned, the sister of Aegon I Targaryen, who rode the she-beast over from Old Valyria during the conquering of Westeros. Laena Velaryon (Savannah Steyn), the eldest daughter of Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and Rhaenys, rides Vhagar during the period House of the Dragon is set.
“One of the most interesting things, for me, was trying to figure out dragon sizes and dragon anthropology. What we came up with is dragons never stop growing. At some point in their prime, they’re this fully formed incredible beast, and then they start to get, essentially, cancer. Bits of them break off, they start to become flaky, and they become so big that they break their legs when they land and that’s what kills them. What kills them is their own weight.”
Interacting With the Dragons
“I remember in rehearsal, we sat down and had a conversation about how one would interact with a dragon,” Carey tells EW. “We had this whole in-depth thing about living in a world with dragons… It’s something that, even as an actor, I hadn’t thought about. But especially coming from the original show, you see these characters interacting with dragons in a very different way. It was such an interesting topic of conversation. We genuinely spent at least an hour talking as a group,” said Emily Carey, the actress behind young Alicent Hightower.
According to Sapochnik, another thing they had to sit down and figure out was “how do you train a dragon.” The movie certainly helped by serving as a reference point, but training dragons became all sorts of things. For instance, a common practice in Westeros is placing a dragon egg in the cradle of a newborn Targaryen so that the two of them could grow up together and form a bond.
“Like, do they give them implants when they’re little that then later become the hooks for the reins? So, they get little pricks to figure out when they’re first given to their rider. Their riders are also kids who don’t know how to deal with the dragon. And then, as they grow older, they don’t need the reins anymore and the reins become extraneous, etc. etc. It’s nerd city. I had more fun doing that,” said Sapochnik.
Some of the younger cast members, such as Alcock, who portrayed the young Rhaenyra Targaryen, spent about five days on a Dragonpit set, filming with the actors playing the dragon handlers teaching the Targaryen how to bond with these creatures. They would use a language called High Valyrian to commune with the dragons.
“We’re in this big ditch, and there’s a scene where I’m patting my dragon, but it was just a big blue cutout and then there was a big blue screen behind it. It just looked like we were at a really s—-y music festival because it was a little lifted area that I would jump off. I would have to pat [the dragon]. Then Miguel was like, ‘Can you smell it?’ I was smelling this styrofoam, but I got the incentive, [like] you smell your dog or cat. It’s a very human thing to form a connection,” said Alcock.