‘House of the Dragon’ Director on Show’s Biggest Moments and Season 2 Changes

House of the Dragon may have had the toughest mission of any new show last year: Launch a prequel series to the most popular and Emmy-winning drama of the 21st century with entirely new characters, then execute a bold 10-year time jump midway through the season that swaps out half of the show’s core cast. Yet showrunner Ryan Condal and the rest of the Dragon team managed to disprove doubters with their adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s mammoth novel Fire & Blood, which chronicles a 150-year history of the dragon-riding Targaryen family. The first season — starring Emma D’Arcy, Matt Smith, Olivia Cooke and Paddy Considine — spun the Gothic tale of a royal family gradually being torn apart amid power-hungry infighting. The season also racked up eight Emmy nominations, including a best drama nom, and its 10th episode was HBO’s most watched finale since Game of Thrones ended in 2019. The series’ success proved to the network that Game of Thrones could work as an expansive franchise, and it resulted in another prequel series being greenlighted (A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: The Hedge Knight). Director Clare Kilner discusses how the show is evolving as the Targaryen family’s ambitions lead Westeros into a civil war.

Director Clare Kilner talks about the work she’s most proud of on the Game of Thrones prequel and alludes to what fans can expect from the jam-packed second season.

Director Clare Kilner

Courtesy Photo

You directed three episodes of the first season — an enormously difficult task for one of these fantasy epics. What scene are you most proud of?

Episode nine, when [Eve Best’s Rhaenys spectacularly interrupts a royal coronation on her dragon]. That was obviously a huge sequence, and I vividly remember grabbing the mic and screaming to all the supporting artists and actors, “The dragon is coming!” to whoop everyone up. Also, the wedding [between Milly Alcock’s Princess Rhaenyra and Theo Nate’s Laenor] took 10 days to shoot. I worked with a choreographer to devise a House of the Dragon dance. There wasn’t a Game of Thrones dance that I could draw on, so we started thinking about prehistoric birds and how we could use the movements of birds to create this dance. Also, the journey of Rhaenyra and Daemon [Matt Smith] into the Flea Bottom underworld and a brothel.

That brothel scene created a lot of buzz for depicting Westeros eroticism from a new perspective. What was it like staging that?

I’d grown up on seeing male gaze [in cinema] — seeing sex from the male point of view — and I found myself thinking that I don’t even know what the female gaze is. You don’t just want to point the camera at tits. I had to think about what my own gaze was, which was interesting. So for that sequence, I actually drew on the fact that when I was 23, somebody took me to a club in Berlin through these dark corridors and into this room where people were just like walking toward one another and ripping one another’s clothes off and having sex. I thought that this is how it might feel for young Rhaenyra going into this place.

Is there anything that’s unique to the visual language of this world, that are hallmarks of this franchise?

One of the most interesting things for me is the sets are so enormous and you need to do blocking in a different way. If you block people around a table and somebody walks to a window, it takes two minutes to get there. So you really do a lot of incredibly wide Lawrence of Arabia shots to frame these sets beautifully and also to show how small and insignificant people feel in these huge, dark spaces.

I loved the split structure for season one. But the way it played out in real time with the audience was interesting, because some felt like the season spent too much time in the first half on what’s arguably a prologue to the main story, while others were like, “No, the story is moving too fast” — polar opposite complaints. Looking back on it, how does the team feel that gamble went?

I think they feel it paid off. You can’t please everyone, and storytelling is so personal. When you’re on set, you just have to make decisions and own them, and I’m sure that’s true with showrunners as well. We’re really invested in these characters now and understand where they came from — especially with the fighting between [the characters as] kids and what they did to each other — and the effect of that feels very present in this season.

When I was on set for season one, the cast kept saying how much they appreciated working in this prerelease bubble where nobody had seen the show yet and there was no outside feedback. Now that everybody has seen the show, what’s it been like for them going into the new episodes?

I think they’re more settled, because they’ve seen it, too. It’s scary doing a new show that you know is going to be huge and have this global impact. I had no clue when I was making it that I would get emails and Instagram DMs from girls in India talking about wanting to be directors. They’ve come in this season more relaxed, and there’s a sense of family. Everybody knows one another and wants to do good work, and they know their characters so much better.

While the show got many nominations, like the eventual 59-time winner Game of Thrones did in its early years, it struggled to get honors for its ensemble cast. Was it frustrating that Paddy Considine and Emma D’Arcy didn’t get nominated as so many predicted?

I was gutted because I love them and I think they’re great. The awards season is wonderful to get attention for the show and everything, but we’re also just trying to tell stories in the most creative and interesting way and reach an audience, and that’s what really counts.

You have director Alan Taylor coming aboard this season. What has he brought to House of the Dragon given his style and knowledge of the franchise, having directed pivotal episodes of the original show?

It’s very inspiring because there are five directors and they’re all different, and we’re all watching the dailies and commenting on one another’s work. We can’t help it, we’re all a bit competitive. So, Alan helps us up our game. He’s such an accomplished director, and I really love the way he uses depth of field and focus in his storytelling to bring viewers’ attention to certain elements in the frame. I’ve been watching that and going, “How can I evolve in that direction?”

Can you give us a sense of why it made more sense for House of the Dragon to go shorter, with eight episodes in the new season instead of 10?

There are eight wonderful episodes with so much happening in every episode, and we have trouble, at times, bringing them down to one hour. Ryan’s decision was to give it a good opening and a good ending, and they’re jam-packed with emotional and visually exciting events.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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