House of the Dragon’s Recastings Scared HBO, Says Showrunner

Ryan Condal, the showrunner of HBO’s House of the Dragon, says that both he and the network were apprehensive about the many recastings that occurred in the series. Due to the show’s ambitious mission to set up the Targaryen civil war, known as the Dance of the Dragons, several time jumps were necessary to set up the events to follow. The jumps in question included: 6 months between episodes 1 and 2, 3 years between episodes 2 and 3, 10 years (and two major recastings) between 5 and 6, and 6 years between episodes 7 and 8, which marked the final jump in the first season. George R.R. Martin, the author of the series’ source material, Fire and Blood, has spoken in support of the time jumps and subsequent recastings, which were a potentially controversial decision.

With a whopping 16 years of ground covered in 10 episodes, the young characters obviously had to experience growth spurts as their stories progressed. The most talked about recasting in the HBO series was the shift from Milly Alcock and Emily Carey (young Rhaenyra and Alicent, respectively) to Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke. Laena Velaryon and a few other characters were also aged up. Later, the women’s children were also recast, with older versions of Aegon, Aemond, Helaena, Jacaerys, Lucerys, Baela, and Rhaena taking over for the young and teen versions of the characters. The ten-year shift and move from Alcock and Carey to Cooke and D’Arcy was the most jarring, though the gamble ultimately paid off with both sets of actors earning acclaim from critics and viewers.

While speaking with Deadline, Condal opened up about the ambitious recastings pulled off by the series. The showrunner said that the decision to recast multiple major characters « scared the hell outta me, » since it’s not a move often employed by television series, but HBO trusted the creators to pull it off. Condal cited The Crown as an inspiration as to how the choice could be executed effectively. See his full quote below:

« It did scare the hell outta me. It [scared] the hell out of HBO, too. But to their credit, I mean it’s really the best network in the world. They were bold and said ‘we’re HBO, we’re buying into this and we’re gonna do this.’ I’m incredibly grateful to them for it. But yeah, it scared the hell outta me. No one else has really done it before. I mean, the closest [analogy] that I have is The Crown, one of my favorite dramas of the last 20 years. I’ve talked about The Crown more in our room than I did about most other shows other than the original Game of Thrones. They did it incredibly successfully. It was the proof that we could do it on a more accelerated timeline because it was so successful. They went from Claire Foy and Matt Smith to Tobias Menzies and Olivia Coleman. You accepted that they were the same characters. The different thing is those are historical characters and you know who they are. But it was proof to me that if the drama was compelling enough and the story was compelling enough, that people would stay and follow the characters and not the actors. And sure enough, that’s what they did. »

The choice to recast so many characters, particularly major protagonists that the audience followed for half a season like Alicent and Rhaenyra, was a risky decision. Though some have described the show as disorienting and many miss Alcock as Rhaenyra, the series’ massive following and huge viewership numbers speak for themselves, proving that the show managed to remain popular among the many changes. The tour-de-force performances from Cooke and D’Arcy, along with the extremely compelling storylines of the younger generation, have allowed Condal and HBO to pull off the ambitious maneuver, largely due to Condal’s strategy of putting the story first.

Since viewers followed Alcock and Carey for 5 hour-long episodes, it’s clear that Condal and the network didn’t take the decision to recast lightly. However, the younger actors offered a glimpse at the lighter, softer sides of the girls, who were childhood friends before becoming such bitter rivals. The changes in their relationship allowed Cooke and D’Arcy to take up the characters at different points in their lives, bringing new darkness and complexity to the characters after the groundwork had been laid by the younger iterations. Luckily, House of the Dragon season 2 will keep the same actors present in the season 1 finale, so viewers that have grown fond of Cooke and D’Arcy’s stirring performances won’t have to worry about getting to know a new face. Additionally, it’s possible that flashbacks are in the show’s future, so fans of Alcock and Carey’s portrayals may get to see them once again.

Source: Deadline