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The Reign of King Viserys: Crafting the Palace Intrigue of ‘House of the Dragon’

Curated by the IndieWire Crafts team, Craft Considerations is a platform for filmmakers to talk about recent work we believe is worthy of awards consideration. In partnership with HBO, for this edition, we look at how design and performance were used to capture the dramatic arc of King Viserys’ reign in Season 1 of “House of the Dragon.”

Set 170 years prior to “Game of Thrones,” the filmmakers behind the prequel “House of the Dragon” drew inspiration from the eight seasons of the Emmy-winning series, but their story was set far enough in the past that they never felt beholden to it. Explained production design Jim Clay, “The European medieval genre is pretty familiar now across the cinematic and TV world, and so early conversations with [Season 1 showrunners] Miguel [Sapochnik] and Ryan [Condal] were about pushing the envelope into a slightly different world.” Early on, the consensus was leaning into the design of late Roman and Byzantine empires would result in a world that felt plausible but less familiar to the audience.

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The narrative arc of Season 1 focused on the 26-year reign of Viserys I Targaryen, opening with his accession to the throne and dramatically concluding with his death and its immediate aftermath. In the videos below, Clay and costumer Jany Temine break down how they captured this drama in their designs, while Viserys himself, actor Paddy Considine, discusses capturing the tragic arc of a wise and good man destined to suffer in the Iron Throne.

Designing a Palace of Intrigue

House of the Dragon - Production Design - Craft Considerations
House of the Dragon - Production Design - Craft Considerations

The drama of Season 1 is defined by the increasingly thorny question of who will succeed Viserys, which pits the self-interest of the King’s family and his seven kingdoms against each other. To capture this palace intrigue, Clay redesigned the King’s Landing castle (the Red Keep) with a Machiavellian undercurrent. “I designed the architecture so there was nowhere secret in the Red Keep, you were always being observed,” explains the production designer in the video above. To accomplish this, Clay and his team built one enormous composite set that allowed the camera and cast to move continuously from room to room while providing tremendous spatial depth, complete with large stairwells and open landings advantageous for constant observation.

Clay’s Red Keep was also designed so the weight of history is quite literal for Viserys. The size and scope of the throne room was increased, built with enormous columns of Targayen ancestors staring down in judgment, while a 30-foot sculpture of the dragon Balerion (“the last living creature to see Old Valyria before the doom”) keeps the past unavoidably present. Taking inspiration from fan art, Clay’s throne was extended so the swords of the conquered stretch beyond the King’s seat, creating a hazard that requires a careful, sober approach from anyone who dares climb the steps of power.

Playing the King

House of the Dragon - Acting - Craft Considerations
House of the Dragon - Acting - Craft Considerations

“Viserys was the role that I’d been waiting for a long, long time,” Considine told IndieWire, cheekily adding, “In my own cynical way, I just thought, ‘Who’s turned this down?’”

In reality, the 50-year-old actor was not only the creators’ first choice but the perfect fit to play a wise man with a good heart, who as king is ultimately undone by both virtues. “He’s torn all the time between who is and what his duty is,” said Considine. “That was one of the great things about playing him, is the juggling act I had to do.” What is remarkable about the performance is while Viserys must play naive, the actor’s subtle performance slowly reveals he knows more than he lets on, with an empathetic understanding of each family member’s motivations in squaring off and threatening his hope that his daughter Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) will peacefully assume his throne after he’s gone.

“I always thought that Throne was a little bit supernatural,” say Considine in the video above. “It will reject you if it doesn’t like you.” In the case of Viserys, this is quite literal, as one of the swords nicks his hand, which sets into motion two decades of painful decline, his flesh slowly rotting until he is left disfigured and bedridden. In the video above, the actor discusses how he approached the physically demanding role and breaks down his remarkable last three scenes, in which his character gathers the will to get out of bed, take the throne, and make one last attempt to set his house in order before dying.

A Clash of Colors

House of the Dragon - Costume Design - Craft Considerations
House of the Dragon - Costume Design - Craft Considerations

While the focus of Season 1 is largely on the Targareyans in King’s Landing, “House of the Dragon,” like “Game of Thrones,” is a story about the Seven Kingdoms. This meant the story and culture of the different houses, each rooted in its distinct climate and environs, would need to be told through their clothes.

“The colors of the families were very important,” said Temime. “The clash of colors reflected the clash of the family.”

In the video above, the costumer breaks down how the health and wealth of the seafaring Valerians is juxtaposed with the black and dragon red of the Targareyans. The growing conflicts of Season 1 are personal as well as familial, as Temine walks the viewer through how she tracked the story of Alicent (played by Emily Carey as a teenager and Olivia Cooke as an adult) and Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock as a teenager, followed by D’Arcy), the two friends who become pitted against one another in a conflict that seems destined to bring war in Season 2.



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