Rhaenys dies, Eve Best explains dragon battle

SPOILER ALERT: This story contains plot details for HBO’s “A Dance of Dragons”, season 2, episode 4 of “House of the Dragon, now streaming on Max.

The war had begun in earnest, but with Sunday’s episode of “House of the Dragon,” the Dance of the Dragons has officially begun. “The Red Dragon and the Gold” climaxes with the battle for Rook’s Rest, a small, unremarkable castle on the rocky coast of Westeros. But while the prize may be small, the combatants certainly are not. Rook’s Rest is the first skirmish in the conflict that pits dragon against dragon—not the impulsive, chance encounter that cost Prince Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) his life in the Season 1 finale, but a planned confrontation with deadly consequences.

When an army led by Ser Criston Cole (Fabian Frankel) appears at the castle gates, Princess Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) offers to fly her dragon Meleys on behalf of her daughter-in-law Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy), leader of the so-called Black Faction. There, she is ambushed by Prince Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) of the Greens, who is joined at the last moment by his usurper brother, King Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney). What follows is a victory for no one. Riding Vhagar, the oldest and largest dragon still alive, Aemond defeats Rhaenys and takes control of the castle. He also seizes the opportunity to vent his long-standing grudge against the weak, incompetent Aegon by reducing his own brother—and Aegon’s dragon Sunfyre—to a smoking pile of ash.

The ramifications of Rook’s Rest will play out in future episodes. For now, “The Red Dragon and the Gold” marks the culmination of the tragic arc of Rhaenys, a woman who began the series by skipping the Iron Throne in favor of her cousin and Rhaenyra’s father Viserys (Paddy Considine). Since that original insult, Rhaenys has endured more than her fair share of humiliation and loss, including the death of both her children at the hands of her loving husband, Corlys (Steven Toussaint). Rhaenys has reluctantly aligned herself with Rhaenyra, but she’s hardly an outspoken partisan. The elder stateswoman has been both critical of her younger counterpart and a consistent voice against further escalation. Last season, she and Meleys broke out of the Dragonpit in King’s Landing. While Rhaenys could have taken out the entire Green faction with a single ““Dracary’s,” She chose not to fire the opening shot of the war.

Thanks to HBO

For Best, the transition from her character keeping the peace by any means necessary to volunteering as tribute is a milestone, with the use of dragons being compared to nuclear war. “The point is, ultimately, whatever we find… the bigger picture is we shouldn’t be sending dragons to war, we shouldn’t be going nuclear at all costs,” the actor says. Variety“When she says, ‘I’m going to be the one to do this,’ she knows there’s no life after that.”

Speaking via Zoom, Best discussed the practical realities of filming a dragon battle, how Rhaenys resembles a samurai and the possibility of her character returning posthumously.

I’ve been reading a little bit about the harness setup that the actors use for dragon riding. Can you tell me a little bit about the practical filming of that last sequence?

What you see — cut up, of course — is absolutely the opposite of what’s actually happening. First of all, we’re all on our own. We’re all doing it individually. This particular sequence, because it was so long, the guys each had about a week to shoot their thing. Mine was two weeks, because she’s been through the whole struggle, she’s there.

It was a very complicated sequence. And I was on it by myself for two weeks — it’s about the size of a small house, really — this big, electronic, moving thing. I’m told it’s a bit like a bucking bronco. I’ve never been on a bucking bronco, but I’m told it’s similar. There’s a saddle on it and you have to go up a flight of stairs to get to it. Then you’re strapped into the saddle and the house starts moving. When we did it in Season 1, it moved quite a bit, but it never got really, really violent. But this time, there were some complicated moves. It was quite a complicated choreography that had to be set up — all these spins, and she was upside down. So you’re moving around, my legs are being crushed underneath me as it goes round and round. I’m telling you, it was a really good workout for my thighs and for my core strength. Pilates, eat your heart out!


I was so uncomfortable. I kept asking for more pillows and needed more padding on my knees and felt really ill-equipped to handle all of this. And while it’s moving, they’ve got four guys with huge leaf blowers blowing wind in your face. You can barely hear anything because there’s all this wind noise, and then you’ve got a director somewhere in the distance yelling into a microphone, “Look up! There’s Vhagar! Aemond is coming!” And you can barely think straight. You’re thinking, “I’ve got this really intense moment for Rhaenys and I need to focus,” but you’re just holding on for dear life in some cases.

There was one moment that was a particularly elaborate move. It was when the dragons were spinning around in a spiral. It was supposed to look like she was doing a 360 with Vhagar, and she was upside down for a good portion of it. I think in screen time it was a tiny moment, but in practice it was an entire afternoon to get this machine to do a 180. I started off and I was vertical to the ground, and then they spun it 180 degrees to the other side. God, my thighs and my core were really working their asses off. And then it stopped and they said, “cut,” and the machine was supposed to right itself right away. There was a delay, so I was hanging on to the chair! Everyone had gotten up and had a cup of coffee while I was just hanging on to this thing for dear life. “Drop me! Someone dropped me! Don’t forget me!” There was only a couple of seconds of delay, but it felt like a year. My abs were doing themselves extremely proud that day.

Besides the fact that it’s physically practical, through all of this you also have to convey Rhaenys’ emotional state.

That was a very, very intense journey for her. That was a challenge, to hold on to that. I spoke to [episode director] Alan Taylor. We had a session where we talked about what was going on with her emotions, because I felt very strongly that there were really important moments that we needed to highlight. In particular, the knowledge that it’s probably a kamikaze mission. It needs to be, because she’s essentially starting a nuclear war and she’s the only character who’s done everything she can to stop it. Because she’s the one who knows from bitter experience, and the whole younger generation is running around saying, “Send in the dragons!” She and Corlys are really the only adults left in the room who know, who’ve been there and seen it — what they’re going through now.

The context of nuclear war was very, very helpful, because that’s the equivalent for us. And I knew that when she proposed, she knew she had to take that responsibility, if anyone had that weight. It couldn’t be Rhaenyra. She had to do it. I think she knows she has to sacrifice herself for the team. Another journalist described her as Lancelot, Rhaenyra’s Lancelot, in many ways. I thought that was very fitting. There’s such a deep reluctance. At the end of season 1, she makes that conscious decision not to start a war, not to nuclearize everybody. Since then, everybody’s been saying, “Why didn’t you nuclearize them?” Everybody takes it personally, and she’s looking at the bigger picture all the time. All the time, she’s standing up, putting the personal aside, and rising above it.

The point is ultimately, no matter what we feel, no matter how attached and devastated we are, the bigger picture is that we don’t have to send dragons to war, we don’t have to go nuclear at all costs. So when she says, “I’m going to be the one to do this,” she knows there’s no life after that. The choice to go, that second return to go with Vhagar — that’s an absolute kamikaze mission. To me, that was the moment where she felt very much like a samurai. It was that last stand of the noble warrior. She could have almost gotten away, and they could have maybe made everyone else deal with it. But she turns around because she knows that’s what she has to do, morally and spiritually.

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You’ve previously described Rhaenys and Corlys as the only healthy relationship on the show. But in their final conversation, we also learn that Alyn the Sailor is Corlys’ illegitimate son. How does that change your perspective on their marriage?

It’s absolute agony, and it’s a secret between them. We talked, Steven and I, and we really felt that they never, it had never been spoken about. And yet, absolutely, it is the biggest sword in her heart, clearly. Up until now he had really been her rock, the ground beneath our feet. And that feeling was suddenly unstable, the feeling that this relationship was suddenly resurfacing because of Alyn and Addam, buried so deeply by her, never spoken by him. He denies it completely, and it is absolute torture for her. I really felt her heart breaking.

The difference between Season 1 and Season 2 was that in Season 1, they had absolutely been a team. Loss after loss, grieving for their children, enduring these devastating, devastating events, and yet they always dealt with it together. This time, a chasm opened up between them. And again, she hides it. I wanted to scream at her. “Just talk to him! Have the conversation! Please tell him how you feel!” Because again, despite the fact that it completely tears her apart, to be reminded of that and to see this — as she imagines — presence of another woman through the illegitimate children, she again pushes that aside and says to Corlys, “You have to acknowledge and accept that he could be your heir — and you have to do the right thing for him.”

And that’s a classic example of her putting her personal grief and her feelings aside again. I think she’s broken and devastated inside. But always doing the right thing. Never letting anyone, except Meleys, see her insides.

This season we’ve seen actors who previously left the show, like Milly Alcock, reappear in flashbacks and visions. Rhaenys is clearly no longer alive on the show, but is there a chance she could return in a similar context?

I would love it if she did. I think she would have to follow him around like crazy. She would have to show up everywhere he goes, give him advice and a piece of her mind. We’ll see. Who knows?

Rhaenys begins the series as a potential candidate for the Iron Throne, and then sacrifices her life as part of this larger struggle. Do you think she feels at peace with the fact that she missed that opportunity at the end of her life?

I don’t think it gives her peace, but I feel like the trajectory of Season 2 was a kind of increasing detachment, letting go and letting go and letting go. She just felt herself getting lighter and lighter until that final moment on Meleys’ back. I think that’s the one moment where she suddenly — she finds peace. Literally, letting go. She’s been carrying her own stuff, and pretty much everyone else’s stuff, certainly before Season 2. The weight of this unimaginable burden, and just letting it go.

It was truly peaceful. Whatever it is, whatever you call it. It’s bliss, or connection.

This interview has been edited and shortened.

Updated: An earlier version of this article contained an incorrect episode title.

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