Can House of the Dragon Survive a Cast Change?
Game of Thrones's biggest twist happened when the show killed its main character near the end of the first season. Sean Bean, who played Ned Stark, continued his fantasy series tradition of biting it early, setting the events of the show in motion. House of the Dragon made a similar casting shake-up in Episode Six on Sunday night, replacing two of its leads after a massive time jump. Princess Rhaenyra went from Milly Alcock to Emma D'Arcy, while Queen Alicent changed from Emily Carey to Olivia Cooke. Shockingly, the series patriarch, King Viserys, also clung to life despite appearing very, very dead when we last saw him. If Game of Thrones's twists taught us that anyone could die at any moment, House of the Dragon is about how far people will go to survive.
Fans of George R.R. Martin's Fire & Blood understand that it was a necessary change. The Targaryen civil war known as the "Dance of the Dragons" begins when both Princess Rhaenyra and Queen Alicent reach adulthood—and I doubt many viewers would've stuck around to watch two teenagers go to war with each other. As much of a bummer as it is to say goodbye to Alcock's Rhaenyra and Carey's Alicent, they paved the way for Episode Six, which are arguably the first real events of House of the Dragon.
Now, the new leading women are taking their characters in very different directions. Before her departure, Alcock was by far the most entertaining actor on screen. She played Princess Rhaenyra with confidence, charm, and a bit of mischief. After just five episodes, fans cast Alcock in the Spider-Verse films and begged for her to return for Season Two flashbacks. "It’s a difficult point at which to meet an audience,” the new Rhaenyra, Emma D'Arcy, told The Independent. “They only get me when they lose Milly, so they meet me in a place of grief, of losing someone they just spent five hours with." We also meet the new Rhaenyra just after giving birth, and things don't get much better for her the rest of the episode. She's losing both her allies and her claim to the Iron Throne. It's not a position many viewers want to see their favorite character in, but it's where Rhaenyra needs to be if she's going to try to earn the kingdom's trust.
The same goes for Olivia Cooke, who took over as Queen Alicent. The character is far from the defiant young woman we saw at end of Episode Five. Alicent spends most of Episode Six in a full panic, powerless behind her husband's apathetic approach to his rule. Running around the castle, with the kingdom's secrets taking over her mind, she's hellbent on keeping her family alive—if Rhaenyra comes to power and decides to kill them all. Nothing has proven so far that Rhaenyra would do such a thing when the time comes, but her father's warning at the end of Episode Five seems to have struck a nerve. Many people will die on their way to the Iron Throne, and both of these women will do whatever it takes to keep their families alive.
Change is hard. And for TV shows, retiring fan-favorite actors is even harder—especially after just five episodes! Hopefully, House of the Dragon will end up proving that the switch was worth it, but the transition from a medieval teen soap drama to a royal war of succession was inevitable. For some, the series becoming more like Game of Thrones and less like following around Westeros's most eligible bachelorette may even be a good thing. Me? I'm just happy we're finally going to see some damn dragon fights.
From: Esquire US