Meet King Viserys I Targaryen, Ser Criston Cole and Prince Daemon Targaryen from the Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon.

Game of Thrones has returned, but not as fans of the aforementioned series may expect. When we land in Westeros for House of the Dragon, a different family sits on the Iron Throne. They are the most infamous family in George R.R. Martin’s Westeros history. 

Based on Fire & Blood, Martin’s sprawling account of the Targaryen kings, House of the Dragon opens just as King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) is chosen to take the throne. His predecessor, King Jaehaerys the Wise (Michael Carter), has found himself without an heir. His grandson, Viserys, is chosen over his granddaughter, Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best), though she has the direct blood claim to the throne.

Some years later, King Viserys finds himself confronting his own uncertain succession, having to choose between his sole living child, Rhaenyra (played initially by Milly Alcock and later Emma D’Arcy), and his volatile younger brother, Daemon (Matt Smith). Since this is Thrones, we know that Daemon and Rhaeneyra aren’t the only ones in Viserys’ orbit vying for power. Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), Lord Commander of the Kingsuard, is also aiming for a chance in the spotlight, even if it means going through Rhaenyra to get there. 

Ahead of the House of the Dragon premiere, Shadow and Act spoke with Considine, Smith, and Frankel about tackling this beast of a franchise, their characters’ ambitions, and power versus chaos. 

“[Game of Thrones] was a phenomenon, and I’d never been a part of anything like that before,” Considine said. “So there was a bit of trepidation around it. I’ve known some actors who, or we have mutual friends of actors who’ve been in the first one. It was a profound change in their lives. I’m not sure if that will be my story, but it does cross your mind. As an actor, I just want to play good roles that challenge me.”

For Frankel, whose character shows a bit of his prowess in the pilot, it was a chance to showcase something different from what we’ve seen previously. “I think there’s a feeling of great pride to join an already well-established show,” he said. “We just hope that the fans of Game of Thrones and some new fans who might not have been of age to watch the show when it originally came out will get a chance to see what we’ve done.”

Viserys reigns over the last true period of stability of the Targaryen dynasty. For Considine, it was even more critical for him to truly place himself in the king’s shoes. “I wondered who turned it down before me, but apparently, I was the first choice,” he shared. “But I felt like doing something of this scale is one thing, but doing it with a character you believe in and are fully invested in is different. So, it felt good to me to get involved.”

Daemon is perhaps one of the most intriguing characters in House of the Dragon. He has Lannister energy and delights in Littlefinger antics. “As the season goes on, you’ll see Daemon is interested in many things,” Smith said coyly. “I’m not sure it’s always the throne, to be honest. His energy is such that it’s quite hard to pin down, even as a person who’s played him. It’s not like you fully understand or know him because his ambitions are quite obtuse. So the energy is always shifting. It’s always changing. It depends on how he feels in the morning when he wakes up. Like any madman, you never really know what we’ll get. And that was one of the great things about playing him. It allowed my instincts to go, ‘Oh, I’m going to go over here. Oh no, I’m going over here.’ And a lot of play came with that, which was good from day to day.”

In the House of the Dragon pilot, Viserys makes some questionable choices that may leave a bitter taste in some viewers’ mouths. However, Considine is adamant about his character being seen in his full humanity. “I got annoyed with people that kept perceiving him as weak, like characters in the council and Daemon,” the actor explained. “It got my back up, and as Paddy, it made me angry. Viserys is a dragon too. He’s from the House of Targaryen and might be a good king, but he’s a dragon. The only difference is that he’s not unruly, and he’s not driven by power and chaos. I had to make sure that was very clear. He was a person that you didn’t push too far because there would be repercussions.”

For Smith, the challenge was to ground himself wherever Daemon was in the moment. “I think when you’re telling a story that’s such a long-form over such an extended period, and you’re shooting, not in chronological order, you have to remind yourself of where you are in the story emotionally,” he explained. 

Though he’s a knight, Criston is a character that doesn’t exactly fall on one side of good or evil. “There are seeds sown very early certainly in his relationship with Daemon and then Criston’s relationship with Rhaenrya and Alicent (Emily Carey and later Olivia Cooke)both of whom seem to take some interest in him at the end of the joust,” Frankel explained. “I think that like any great character George R.R. Martin has given us someone who falls on either side of the moral line of where human beings are. I think you’ll have to wait and see.”

When it comes to how strength is perceived, Viserys is forced to confront his sexism and his bond (or lack thereof) with Rhaenyra. It’s a father/daughter relationship that is crucial to the series. “I’ve probably had more to do with Milly, who plays the younger Rhaenyra,” Considine said. “At the end of the day, she’s a teenage girl, and he doesn’t really know how to be a father to her at all. So it’s not an easy relationship. He’s dealing with a teenage daughter at the end of the day. That I can tell you from experience, that’s not easy. So it was bringing those sort of things into it.”

House of the Dragon premieres on August 21, 2022 on HBO.

Aramide A. Tinubu is a film critic, consultant and entertainment editor. As a journalist, her work has been published in Netflix’s Tudum, EBONY, JET, ESSENCE, Bustle, The Daily Mail, IndieWire and Blavity. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can find her reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or A Word With Aramide or tweet her @wordwitharamide.