Showrunners Ryan J. Condal and Miguel Sapochnik (who directs several episodes of House of the Dragon season 1) have brought to life the events of George R.R. Martin's Fire & Blood, which depicts how loyalties shift and jealousies ensue once Viserys names his daughter Rhaenyra heir to the throne over his brother Daemon. But the novel, written as a historical record, extends far past one generation - and so too will the series as it goes on.
During a recent round table interview, Screen Rant and other media outlets had to opportunity to speak to Considine about his approach to King Viserys, his familiarity with the world of Westeros, and the struggles he faces in House of the Dragon season 1.
Viserys is obviously a very complicated figure, for both his daughter and the world at large. What felt most important for you to capture in your performance, so that audiences could understand him as this guy who was not as clear-cut as Ned Stark?
Paddy Considine: Yeah, I know what you mean. It's funny, really, because Ned Stark - what Sean [Bean] did - was sort of in my head when I played this, which is kind of weird. It was part of the makeup for me of Viserys.
But he's not a simple man, Viserys. And I think it's the situations around him that create the complications for him. But I think he's a deeply tragic man, in that he's just trying to always do the right thing. It's almost like everything in his life has gone really, really well—and there's almost a naivety to him. He's a peacetime king; he very much loves inheriting that from Jaehaerys, and he's a good student of old Valyria, and all these things. His temperament is good— he's almost like a perfect king. And then I think he starts to spiral when those tragic events transpire.
He loses [his wife] Aemma and his son—he's lost sons in the past, but he loses Aemma—and that's the big devastation. He loses her and then loses Baelon. That's the thing that starts his psychological spiral, if you like. But I think all Viserys ever wanted to do was make the right decision, and you can't do that. You can't please everybody, as a ruler—you can't please everybody as a person, but especially as a ruler. And I think he suffers in that people think his kindness is weakness.
What I found really interesting about him was that he wasn't a king who was hungry for power; he's not a tyrant. He's just someone who genuinely wants to serve the people as best as he can, but that world just will not allow for it. So, there's lots of different conflicts. His hand is forced in many different ways to make decisions, and they're not always the right ones.
Screen Rant: Heavy is the head that wears the crown, of course. But in Viserys' case, his crown was in question from the start of his reign. How much does The Queen That Never Was affect his reasoning as a king, and just the misogyny and rules in play at that time?
Paddy Considine: I don't think it affects his decisions—anything to do with Rhaenys—it doesn't affect his life in that way. That's maybe something she carries more. There's a little look at the beginning that Viserys gives her when he's named heir, and I think that always exists between them as the story goes on. There is a lot of misogyny within that world and in that kingdom, but you can't bring your modern day ideas into a character that lives in an ancient world. That's the way of the world at that time.
And I don't think Viserys names Rhaenyra his heir for any progressive-thinking reasons. That wouldn't be true of the world. But he does it because he trusts her. He loves her and trusts her, and she's the last remnant of the love of his life. But he also has to bestow this knowledge and responsibility on somebody that he really, really loves; knowing that naming someone heir is almost cursing them in some way. Because Viserys has a great understanding of how the game is played, but he's just not a great player.
In that rate, maybe he shouldn't have been king. Maybe he was too sensitive and too human to play that part, but he's just trying to be a good king. That causes problems egotistically, because Viserys at one point says, "How am I going to be remembered? How will I be remembered in the songs and in the histories? They remember tyrants, they remember great warriors; they don't remember men like me." And that's something that he struggles with also. But there is a dragon in him.
I think his hand is forced to make Rhaenyra heir, but it's not something that he does lightly. And it's something that he does with a lot of thought and a lot of compassion. When they have that scene, when he tells her about the future of the world and the secret that he's carrying, he could never tell that secret to Daemon. And Daemon could never be a king.
I feel like Viserys is definitely an archetype of a Shakespearean tragic character. Would you say that, in some ways, working on Shakespearean tragedies informed your take on these characters, or did you lean more on the lore of George R.R. Martin's world?
Paddy Considine: I think the lore. George has since likened Viserys—not before, but since he's seen the show—to King Lear, and I was quite proud of that, because that was an acknowledgement of the work. And George is generous enough. You create this body of work, but if someone's going to adapt it, you've got to give it to them and let them have license with it. And that can sometimes work and sometimes not.
I just wanted to make Viserys the best that he could possibly be, but I wasn't informed by any particular kings or any particular writings other than George's world. But it was all the qualities of Viserys [that] were there on the page. I could see them when I read it, so it kind of already existed in some form within the world. I was just allowed to go in and expand it and grab on what was already there. But that happens, when you live with a character for such a long time. You start to own him a little bit more than just wearing the clothes. I lived with Viserys for about a year, and they start to become a part of you. It was a really great journey living in his skin, but there was no great reference in my head.
You touched on the idea that he sees naming his daughter as his heir almost like a curse more than a gift. He sees power as almost more of a burden on the life he wants than anything else. What's it like to be the only figure who's just trying to preserve what's there and, as you say, be the person who's leading as the cracks are starting to show in the system?
Paddy Considine: Yeah, I thought that was what was interesting about him. Because it's interesting sitting around a council table and knowing what's going on beneath the surface, and how people are conspiring, and how power drives people. And it's just not something that he's interested in. That was another thing when I read the script that stood out to me having watched the show. That seemed to be what drove most people, and it corrupts people.
But it corrupts Viserys in a different way. It doesn't corrupt his morals, but the burden of it becomes such that he starts to kind of disintegrate. His health starts to disintegrate, and that's in the books too. I think part of that is also mental. It's a metaphor for the fact that he can't—he should never have been king.
I think Rhaenys maybe should have been named, and it was a very male world in which Viserys was named. He's not silly; he understands this. He understands the nature of it, but it corrupts him in a different way. It's not the power that corrupts him; it's the responsibility that destroys him, I think. Slowly, over time. He cares too much. He's too sensitive to play that game, really.
Screen Rant: One of the characters who craves power is your brother Daemon. Can you talk about balancing that relationship between Viserys' love and forgiveness for his brother, and then of course the growing schism between them?
Paddy Considine: Yeah, they're complete opposites. I think Daemon has that destructive gene that the Targaryens have. I think Daemon craves approval more than [he] seeks to be king. In the first episode, it's suggested that Daemon should be named heir and there should be a bit of caution around him. And Viserys says, "Daemon is not interested in being the crown." And what Viserys is saying is, "He couldn't sit around a table with you guys every day. He couldn't sit here and put up with your bullsh*t day after day. It would drive him mad. He would end up killing one of you—something disastrous. He couldn't sit in that room."
Craving power and craving the throne are two different things. And at some point Viserys even implies, "You want that, don't you? I know what you want; you want that." And it's not what Daemon wants, really. I don't think he does want that. I think some part of him wants approval. I think he'd like his brother to be by his side, but he's too much of a liability for Viserys to deal with. And I think Viserys says, "As long as Daemon is occupied and happy, I don't care how many whorehouses he visits or what he's doing. As long as he's doing his thing, I don't care."
But Viserys is constantly making excuses for Daemon and defending Daemon. And he says to him, "I'm your only ally. You don't show up to the council. There's a seat but you never show up. I'm your only ally in that room. And you betrayed me with these words." Viserys is deeply hurt by Daemon. It's a very difficult relationship.
We were speaking to the younger cast members before this roundtable, and they talked about how they shared a scene with you directed by Miguel [Sapochnik]. What was it like having Miguel as a collaborative partner as an entry point for this new world?
Paddy Considine: You've got to have somebody you can trust on something like this. It's a big ol' production, and you have to make it as intimate as you possibly can. And Miguel was the person. I'm bit like that; a bit of a lost kid myself. I need a touchstone. I need somebody that I trust, and he was the guy.
I enjoyed being directed by Miguel. Miguel gives great notes, and I respond very well to that. I like exploring. I don't like crap notes. I hate that. And if I'm onto something, I don't want the note of somebody that distracts me further away from where I'm getting in, which can happen too. Miguel didn't do any of that.
I was just listening to an interview with a great British actress—Miriam Margolyes—and she was talking about good directors. Good directors elevate you. That's the difference between good ones and bad ones. Even if they're mad, they elevate you. And that's what I feel the best directors I've worked with do. They elevate me, and that elevates the work. And I count Miguel in there. So, I loved it. I love collaborating with directors who know what they're talking about. It was great; I had a great relationship with him. You need it, otherwise you're directing yourself, and that's not good.
Were there were any details once you got to set that just felt so intricate or fun? Maybe something that the audience wouldn't be privy to, but that you found really nice for your performance?
Paddy Considine: I think, for me, it's the stuff that you're probably not ever going to see. Those costumes are so brilliantly designed and made, for example. There was stuff in the lining—you'll never see it. There's nothing that's artifice. Every part of the costume has a lining of detail in it. Some of the costumes were absolutely fantastic.
For me, it was that sort of thing that goes beyond attention to detail with something. When the care has really been put into something, and you guys aren't even gonna see it. It's not on camera. And I think that's real craftsmanship. I really appreciated that side of everything. And the set design too; props and things like that. There was a lot of really great art there from all those different departments.
Screen Rant: You mentioned having Sean Bean's performance in mind as Ned, and then of course what may or may not be in the books from Viserys. How much of a deep dive did you do into the world of A Song of Ice and Fire? And how much further do you feel the show goes?
Paddy Considine: I didn't sit there and read the book. I just picked out bits of the book, and would pick it up every now and again; just pick out sections and have a read if anything jumped up. My dive was the script and the world, and the show that went before. I didn't suddenly become a scholar of that world. There's a lot of stuff, though, to be fair.
Because when you start a gig like that, there's a lot of work. You don't have time for much else other than to do this job. And there was so much on set anyway. Ryan [Condal] knows that world inside out. Anything historical, any context, he was just incredible for that sort of thing. It was like having George on set himself. And that's what I think is really great about the show as well. This show came about because of Ryan meeting George, and Ryan's enthusiasm and knowledge of this world. So, this one has been closely worked and will be as faithful as it can possibly be to George's work. And I'll sit back and watch it. I might watch this one.
House of the Dragon, the eagerly awaited prequel to Game of Thrones, is based on George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood. Set some 200 years before the events that unfolded in Game of Thrones, this is the remarkable, turbulent story of the House of Targaryen.
Check out our other roundtable interviews with House of the Dragon stars Olivia Cooke & Emma D’Arcy, Matt Smith & Fabien Frankel, Steve Toussaint & Eve Best, and Milly Alcock & Emily Carey, as well as with showrunners Ryan Condal & Miguel Sapochnik.
House of the Dragon premieres August 21 on HBO and HBO Max at 9pm ET/PT.