‘House of the Dragon’ Boss on That Shocking Season 2 Premiere Scene

‘House of the Dragon’ Boss on That Shocking Season 2 Premiere Scene
Film

[This story contains spoilers for House of the Dragon season two, episode one.]

You know a George R.R. Martin sequence is brutal when it has a nickname. There was, of course, The Red Wedding and The Purple Wedding in Game of Thrones. But an event from Martin’s Fire & Blood book that House of the Dragon that fans have been anticipating is sickly titled “Blood and Cheese” and transpired at the end of the show’s season two premiere.

Blood and Cheese are the lowly assassins Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) hired to infiltrate the Red Keep and murder Prince Aemond (Ewan Mitchell). But in a twist, the duo instead stumble upon Queen Helaena Targaryen (Phia Saban) and her toddler twins Jaehaerys and Jaehaera. They demand Helaena tell them which is Jaehaerys, and they kill the child in his bed.

Dragon made a few changes from the book, one of which added a twist to the sequence and kept Daemon from seeming quite so evil. In the book, Blood and Cheese were ordered to kill a young prince, while in the show they were specifically ordered to kill King Aegon’s (Tom Glynn-Carney) brother Aemond — which makes sense as a more direct revenge play given Aemond killed Luke (Elliot Grihault) in the first season finale. Daemon was asked by the assassins what they should do if they couldn’t find Aemond, and his answer wasn’t shown on camera — leaving some mystery moving forward as to his backup orders and leading to the episode’s very suspenseful sequence showing the assassins roaming through the Keep as they hunted for a target. Another tweak was that, in the book, Helaena has two young sons, and Blood and Cheese make her choose which they kill (she picked the youngest, and then they killed her oldest instead). In addition, the show featured Helaena’s gift/curse of prophecy, which had her fearing “the rats,” referring to the Ratcatcher assassin.

Below, showrunner Ryan Condal opened up about adapting the disturbing sequence.

How did you go about adapting the Blood and Cheese sequence, taking the roadmap George laid out, and trying to potentially improve upon it for the show?

It was less about trying to top the book, it was just more about the practicality of where we were. As long as the period of history season one covered, it was still a compressed time period — the book covered 30-plus years, and we crunched it down to 20. One of the side effects is you have Rhaenyra and Daemon’s children are much younger than they were in the book, as are Helaena and Aegon’s children. They haven’t been together long enough to have two generations of kids. So Maelor does not yet exist, and we only have the twins. So working from that place, we just wanted to try to make Blood and Cheese a visceral television sequence. We decided to tell it from their point of view and make it like a heist gone wrong. Whereas in the book, it’s depicted purely from Helaena and Alicent’s perspective. Blood and Cheese come upon Helaena, and she’s sort of the third act of their story. The idea was to build suspense and dread as they’re looking for Aemond, who Daemon names as the target, and then you put two criminals into a situation with gold in front of their faces and things can go wrong.

We’re also left with the question of what Daemon said, exactly, when he was asked what they should do if they can’t find Aemond. I tend to think people who follow orders like their lives depend on it are probably pretty good at following orders, but it sounds like from your answer that things indeed went wrong.

We intentionally cut away from that moment because I love Matt Smith and the look that he gives them just haunts me. He certainly gave them some kind of instruction, and to some degree, we hear them arguing about it in the room, that he said we need to bring a head. A son for a son. You can imagine Daemon maybe said to them, “Don’t leave empty-handed.” But we left it open to interpretation.

I loved how much time was spent walking through the castle, and Ramin Djawadi’s score during that was so tense. We’re teased again with Helaena having some degree of prophecy. Her reaction was also very muted, especially when she went down the stairs. I was wondering, “Is she in shock? Or is it the opposite of shock as she knew this was going to happen, to some degree?” How much are we supposed to assume that she knew?

Helaena is not magical, but she’s tuned into a frequency that other characters are not, as we set up in season one. We’re playing with this idea of their various talks. As Viserys talked about, there are dragon dreamers in every generation of the Targaryens, and Helaena, because she’s seen in this world is odd, a lot of people don’t necessarily pay attention to the things that she says. But I also think she doesn’t have a clear interpretation of them. It’s not like she’s seeing these things and knows exactly what they are. A lot of times she doesn’t realize what it was until the event happens. I think that’s part of the burden of this gift — if you can even call it that — and what she’s burdened with. So I think she just perceives the world differently. What you’re seeing in that sequence is a very human response. It is shock, and she goes from a panic of thinking she’s going to be chased out and then she gets to the bottom of the stairs, and she’s wondering, “OK, where do I go? Where do I go now?” She’s running for her life, and trying to figure out where to go next.

At the top of the episode, we’re also introduced to Lord Cregan Stark (Tom Taylor). As fans, we have such a fixed idea of what Stark men are like. How does this iteration of Stark stand out from the ones we’ve known from the original show?

I have to credit Tom Taylor, who has become one of the most talked about people on the internet because everybody loves a Stark, and everybody is so anticipating his arrival on the show, and he’s done a great job with it. The thing that most appealed to me is that I love the Starks. I desperately wanted to go back to The Wall, but I wanted a good reason to include in the story. The thing that appealed to me most about Cregan and the character that George wrote in the book is that he was a young Stark. The Starks we’ve known like Ned Stark have been the graybeards who have been through life and many winters. This guy is essentially Robb Stark’s age, and he’s in charge of the entire North. And I thought that was an interesting character to meet and depict. Jace (Harry Collett) is a bit younger than him, but they’re from a similar generation. And these two guys are up on that wall talking about a treaty that’s going to affect the entire realm and showing how young men in this time are the ones who generally decide where and how the future is going to play out.

House of the Dragon airs Sundays on HBO.

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