House of the Dragon creator on expanding the Larys Strong role: 'We knew he was a schemer'

House of the Dragon creator on expanding the Larys Strong role: 'We knew he was a schemer'

Warning: This article contains spoilers from House of the Dragon episode 6.

House of the Dragon episode 6 brought a lot more fire and a lot more blood, thanks in part to Ser Larys Strong (Matthew Needham).

The son of the Hand of the King, Lyonel Strong (Gavin Spokes), and brother to Harwin Strong (Ryan Corr), Commander of the City Watch, took a more active role in the sequence of events leading up to the great civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. It's a major expansion of the character compared to what Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin originally wrote in his book Fire and Blood.

"He was fascinating in the book," Ryan Condal, series co-creator with Martin and co-showrunner with Miguel Sapochnik, told EW in an interview. "We just decided that Larys was smart enough in the history to never to get himself written down into many of the accounts too much, but we knew he was a schemer."

A substantial time jump after episode 5 brings viewers to meet Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Queen Alicent Hightower as adults, played by Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke, respectively. At this time, the queen is frustrated. She knows that Rhaenyra continues to conceive bastard children with her lover, Harwin, and not her husband, the future king consort Laenor Velaryon (John Macmillan). And yet, Alicent's husband and Rhaenyra's father, King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine), does nothing to address the situation. This leads to one night when Alicent confides her anger to one of her only confidantes, Larys.

House of the Dragon
House of the Dragon

Ollie Upton / HBO Matthew Needham appears as Larys Strong on 'House of the Dragon'

The two have been meeting in private for years at this point, with Larys serving as her own Master of Whisperers in some respects. He hears how she wishes for her father, Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), to return as Hand so someone could side with her in court. Larys takes matters into his own hands. After a fight between Harwin and Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel) gets Harwin booted from the City Watch, Larys concocts a plan to kill both his family members in one sweep by burning them alive in the seat of House Strong at Harrenhal. The queen is horrified to learn of these actions, but she's powerless to do anything, as Larys now has her under his thumb.

Condal discusses the expansion of Larys' role with EW, as well as the major time jump to adult Rhaenyra and Alicent, some burning questions about Mushroom (where the heck is he?!), Viserys' dagger, and deleted scenes.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You have the Herculean task to condense the story of the Dance of the Dragons into a TV format. I was curious how you settled on these particular times and events for each of the episodes.

RYAN CONDAL: The challenge of this season was its structure. We had a lot of time to cover because this is a story of a generational conflict and we wanted to pay each of these generations their due course. It began with Viserys and Otto and their daughters. They marry off their daughters, and then those daughters grow up and as we will see have children of their own, and then those children grow up in the latter course of the season and have desires and ambitions and problems of their own. So it was unique for a season of television because it was covering so much time.

We had to actually make these siloed time periods and figure out what is the story that needs to be covered for this particular time period. How do we tell that story in such a way that you can close the book at the end of it and start almost an entirely new chapter in the next story? As you notice from the way that season 1 is structured thus far, we don't have any of those cliffhangers where something happens at the end of the previous week's episode and then we begin immediately with the aftermath of that event in the following episode. Some of the episodes are closer together than others, but we knew we had to cover a lot of time. So we built each episode as actually a distinct slice in this history and built it around a unifying theme and decided what we needed to see all the characters go through and experience during that time in order to, again, close that chapter and then be able to open a new one as we move ahead through the timeline. I would say it's the hardest season that I've ever had to participate in structuring.

I want to talk a little bit about the first two opening tracking shots with Rhaenyra's labored march up to the Queen's chambers. I definitely saw a visual echo of the late Queen Aemma in Rhaenyra giving birth herself. Can you talk a little bit about the construction and composition of these two opening tracking shots?

That's largely in the hands of the world-class filmmaker that shot them [Miguel Sapochnik]. We built those sequences on a story level in the room. Sara Hess wrote the script. Other than saying, "Yes, great job," I really did not do much on that script at all. When we broke the story, we knew we wanted to begin with Rhaenyra giving birth because it felt like that was the thing that she was most afraid of coming off of the death of her mother in the first episode. The reason that she really did not want to get married and sold off into aristocratic marriage packs was because she was terrified of dying, going the same way that her mother did. We've seen her get married as a young woman in the previous episode. Now we're catching up to her 10-plus years later in this episode. There's this great moment in the book where, because of the question of parentage of her children, the queen immediately wants to view the baby to put her own eye on it, to see what's going on. We made this decision to make poor Rhaenyra, fresh off of childbirth, have to haul herself out of bed and then drag herself still bleeding to the queen's apartment. It's a combination of where we wanted to be with the characters, servicing the book, and then finding a really cinematic way to tell that story. That stuff was all, I would say, scripted. And then Miguel brought his visual mastery to it.

The two sets of actors for Rhaenyra and Alicent — Milly Alcock and Emily Carey as younger Rhaenyra and Alicent, and Emma D'Arcy and Olivia Cooke as the older counterparts — all mentioned that they didn't really communicate with each other to link up their performances. What were the discussions on your end about that?

They definitely knew each other. We definitely introduced them. I remember actually the first day that Milly and Emily came on set. We were shooting episode 7, actually, 'cause that was shot very early in our order. We brought them over to introduce them to their older counterparts. I was fascinated by that moment, 'cause it was very surreal after having worked for so many months to build the cast on that show and then to see both generations standing in the room at once was very exciting. We told them to go through their own process. Emma and Olivia were much more experienced actors, obviously. Milly and Emily had their own different experiences. We said, "Do what works for you," other than little things like Alicent's nervous nail-picking habit, which was a character trait that we imbued into her to show the anxiety that had been heaped upon her after years of having to be at this political paw. We didn't want them to, unless they really wanted to, study the accent of the other actor or try to mimic facial ticks or things like that, because it all felt like that would get in the way of a great performance. What we really told them was, "So much time has passed in this. Milly, Emily, we would view you as children in this world. Emma and Olivia, you're grown adults with children of your own and marriage." So there should be some evolution, some change in the way that the character is presented because tons of things have happened to them in this intervening time. That's part of what we're trying to communicate in this time jump, that things have changed radically.

House of the Dragon
House of the Dragon

Ollie Upton / HBO Emma D'Arcy and John MacMillan step into the roles of Rhaenyra Targaryen and Laenor Velaryon

I was just completely floored, in a good way, by Larys Strong. Was it George [R.R. Martin]'s idea to expand that character or did you naturally gravitate towards this character in the book?

He was fascinating in the book. We just decided that Larys was smart enough in the history to never to get himself written down into many of the accounts too much, but we knew he was a schemer. We knew he was operating in those places, but he was wise. So nobody really knew what he was actually up to. Of course, you're only looking at what's in the historical records. So that doesn't mean these things didn't happen. We looked at what George gave us in the text. We talked to him, of course. And then we took what we knew about the character and placed him into interesting dynamics, situations that had political things to be lost and gained. How is he going to play and what is this person actually gonna do? But that's actually a place where we had a tremendous amount of latitude because he's so present in the book and so interesting. You just want to turn the page and read more, but there's not much there. Because the historians didn't really get anything on him, it gave us tons of latitude to really draw on and invent with that character.

I have a couple of burning questions. How in the hell does Ser Criston Cole still have his job after punching the future king consort in the face and also bludgeoning his sworn protector to death?

There were mistakes made. It was a different time. Alicent saves his life. That's what that final scene is telling you. Alicent goes in there and saves his life and begs for his life and honor with the king and wins. And then he is absolutely, as we see in episode 6, 100 percent devoted to her.

Was that Mushroom in the background of the wedding sequence in episode 5, the little person playing the drums?

I don't know. What do you think?

I've had a lot of debate about this with some of my colleagues. It feels intentional having a character like this and prompting viewers to ask, "Where the hell is Mushroom?" Is that fair to say?

I think, yeah. I love how observant you and our audience are.

We recently saw some photos from the set of deleted scenes of Emily Carey in Alicent's wedding dress and the blowout between Rhaenyra and Alicent after Viserys announces their engagement. It sounds like you guys had a lot of material that you shot that like didn't make it into the final cut.

Yeah. I mean, things fell out of every episode. We never filmed a wedding. That didn't happen. But there was a sequence where Rhaenyra and Alicent are together and Alicent's wearing the dress meant to imply that she's going off at some point later to marry Rhaenyra's father. But, look, you make creative choices all the time when you are making a show like this and you're looking to enter and exit at the dramatic peak of things. Even in a scripted argument between Alicent and Rhaenyra, it felt like the look that is shared between them, the look of betrayal and hurt, and Alicent realizing how deeply she's wounded her friend communicated so much in a visual medium that it didn't need the barbs that were exchanged on the script level. And then knowing where we start in episode 3 with them really frosty some years later, understanding how those two different time periods are communicating with each other.

The catspaw dagger. I love how you've taken this Game of Throne's artifact and made it so integral to the lore of Westeros. Was that George's idea or did you guys come up with that yourself, to have Aegon's prophecy engraved into the blade?

That was a progression of ideas. Knowing that in 200 years, no one lives, what kind of physical things that the actors can hold could we bring back? We talked through a bunch of things. I think it was actually Miguel who pitched, "Wouldn't it be interesting if Viserys is actually wielding the very dagger that's going to kill the Night King in 200 years and have it be some family artifact?" We ran with that idea. The idea of the Valyrian glyphs telling the story of the Song of Ice and Fire being viewed on the blade was something that came out of the writer's room as a result of that first idea. That artifact moved around so much in the original series. We were charmed by the idea of seeing it move around in our series with the idea that this thing has hundreds of years of history in it.

Will we ever learn the complete history of this Valyrian dagger?

I think more will be said about it at some point.

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