Eve Best talks to ET about Princess Rhaenys finally taking action, interactions with Queen Alicent and what's to come in the finale.
Known as the Queen Who Never Was, Princess Rhaenys has suffered loss after loss during season 1 of House of the Dragon, leaving her "treading water in a really choppy sea," Eve Best tells ET, explaining that "nothing really surprises" her character as the battle of succession for the Iron Throne (or even Driftmark) continues to take bloody twists and turns.
But after spending most of the season on the sidelines, that all changed during the penultimate episode, "The Green Council," which saw Rhaenys taking action after watching Queen Alicent (Olivia Cooke) use King Viserys' (Paddy Considine) death to claim that her own son, Aegon (Tom Glynn-Carney), is the rightful heir to the throne, defying a long-standing pledge to make Princess Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) queen after her father dies.
This all led to one of the most surprising and satisfying moments of the season -- and a departure from George R.R. Martin's novel, Fire & Blood -- with Rhaenys making her escape from King's Landing on the back of her dragon, Meleys, and disrupting Aegon’s coronation. However, in a shocking sign of restraint, Rhaenys doesn't let Meleys breathe fire and torch the queen and her entire family. Instead, the creature rattles them with a thunderous roar before the two fly off toward Dragonstone.
Rhaenys is not only taking a stand against the Green Council, but she "is saying, 'F**k you all,'" Best explains. "I think when getting on her dragon and flying out of that arena, she just puts her huge two fingers up to the whole lot of them." She adds that after a "slow burn," Rhaenys "explodes in this most magnificent way. And I love that."
While speaking to ET, Best explains why Rhaenys ultimately sided with Rhaenyra when it came to Driftmark, the princess' confrontation with the queen, and what's at stake for her going into the finale, especially following the loss of her husband, Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussiant), the episode prior.
ET: Going back to episode 8, and the sudden fight over the throne of Driftmark that once again displaced Rhaenys from the throne. Was she surprised that everyone wanted to put somebody else in the spot?
Eve Best: I kind of feel like at this point, she's treading water. She's trying to stay as calm as possible, but underneath, her whole body, she's just swimming as fast as she. Her legs are going crazy and she’s just swimming, just trying to stay afloat ‘cause things are just escalating.
And with each loss, after loss, after loss, and what happens with Vaemond [Corlys' brother played by Wil Johnson], I feel nothing really surprises her. But she’s also in fight or flight mode, and when things kick off about the Driftmark throne, she’s absolutely determined not to side with Rhaenyra until the very last moment. The moment that the king walks into the throne room, she recognizes that there’s nothing she can do.
She's pragmatic and the only thing that she can do is just cut her losses. It felt a bit like being in a bear pit where everybody's become animals and all of your muscles are tense and you’re ready to protect yourself at any cost to make sure that you stay alive.
Like you said, Rhaenys is pragmatic and, in the end, decides to agree to Rhaneyra's proposal for Driftmark. What is her thought process during? Is that merely, like you suggested, just to keep herself and what remains of her family alive?
I think it's a momentary decision of self-protection. I think she smells the winning team in that moment. And as purely as a smart chess move, she makes a split-second decision to side with Rhaneyra for the time being. [However] I don't think that she has let Rhaenyra off the hook. I don't think that she suddenly had a total change of heart, but it’s simply the most, in the context, the smartest chess move to play. She senses that, of course, the king is going to protect Rhaneyra.
Of course, in episode 9, things are suddenly changing, with the queen making moves following the king's death. And this is really the first episode where we see your character and Alicent interact. And I was curious, how would you describe the relationship between those two and what does she think of Alicent at this point?
Well, that was really interesting because actually it was the first time that Olivia and I had connected onscreen and had a scene together. It was actually the first time that I think Rhaenys had a scene with Alicent at all. And I think up until that moment, Rhaenys has taken Alicent for granted and not really paid her very much attention and assumed that she was pretty insubstantial and not really a force to be reckoned with.
I think in that scene, it's like she meets Alicent, she literally meets Alicent for the first time. But she also recognizes who this woman is for the first time and I think she sees her for the first time and acknowledges her as actually somebody of greater substance than she had assumed. Alicent also sees Rhaenys, and what she says to Rhaenys, "that it should have been you, everybody knows that you should have been the queen," I think takes her breath away. It's the first time in her life really anybody said this to her in such a clear and direct way, and I think it strikes her heart.
But, then Rhaenys ultimately decides to flee King's Landing. Is she fearful for her life? What makes her realize that she needs to get away from here?
It's clear that her life is probably in danger and it's really necessary that she gets out. But I think there's something else going on, which is deeper, which is about just getting out of the whole thing, getting out of King's Landing and getting out of Westeros, getting out of that pit.
Her whole life, she has played the game. She has swallowed the horrendous injustice that happened when she was a young woman, when she was passed over from the crown. She's swallowed all of that and taken it on the chin. She's played the game and she's held everything together. Not for one moment, has she betrayed any of those feelings that were going on inside and has smoothly navigated her way through this appalling, sort of increasingly disgusting mess.
Well, I know you have talked about filming the dragon scene prior to the season premiere, but seeing this moment was so impressive and exciting. And I was so happy for your character to finally have this massive moment. But in that scene, she could have torched them all but ultimately doesn't. Is that a moment of restraint on her part?
Yes, absolutely, because the point is that she could. She could have, in that moment. And it was the boldest move of the season, and it's also the most powerful thing that anybody does in the season. It's the moment that she proves herself to be a true ruler of greatness, because she has all the power on the back of that dragon and she could destroy all of them with a single word. She only has to say, "dracarys," and they're all gone. And everybody knows that.
So, she chooses not to and she chooses to do the right thing and she chooses to let them be because ultimately it's not her battle. And that's such an extraordinary moment. I think it’s a moment of mercy. It’s also a moment of justice from the character who’s been carrying around a massive injustice her whole life.
Going into the finale, what's most at stake for her?
Well, I think now, because she has made this huge gesture, she has outlawed herself. So, what's at stake for her now is that she's now sort of on the run. She still knows her husband is alive, that his life is in the balance. She hasn't yet been reunited with him. She knows hevs alive. And the absolutely utmost important thing in her heart is whether or not he’s going to survive. And also, with her grandchildren, Baela [Bethany Antonia] and Rhaena [Phoebe Campbell], I suppose she’s compromised them by outdoing herself in such a way.
Also, I think the thing that really is key about what she does in episode 9, when she gets on the dragon, is that it's the first time in her life she has taken action. She has plunged into the fray and she’s now identified herself as a soldier, as a warrior. Up until now, she's been on the sidelines, she's been a commentator, she's been a political mover, a sort of graceful kind of sidekick and she's had to play a very, very careful game. And with this huge gesture, getting on that dragon and flying out of there, she has become a samurai.
House of the Dragon airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO and HBO Max.