Spoilers for House of the Dragon episode nine, “The Green Council,” below.
“Am I answering your question? Is that what you wanted to know? Or were you asking something quite different?” Like Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, the thoughtful and skillful character she plays on House of the Dragon, Eve Best is determined to get things right.
Famously passed over for the Iron Throne of Westeros in favor of her less qualified but, crucially, male cousin Viserys, Rhaenys earned the nickname “the Queen Who Never Was.” She’s been a steely presence on the sidelines of the game of thrones being played by the Blacks (led by her niece Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen) and the Greens (headed by Rhaenyra’s frenemy Queen Alicent Hightower), ever since.
But at the end of this week’s episode, she doesn’t just take center stage — she bursts right through it. Erupting from beneath the floor of the massive domed Dragonpit aboard her red steed, Meleys, she interrupts the coronation of Alicent’s son, the usurper king Aegon II, before soaring into the sky. What she’ll do when she lands is anybody’s guess.
Nursing a cold on a phone call from Dublin, Best speaks of the plight of Westerosi women, her relationships with Rhaenyra and Alicent (and the four actors who play them), and, yes, her decision not to holler dracarys and burn the Greens where they stood. Oh, and if you were wondering if riding that dragon was fun, she’s got a succinct answer: “Very much so!”
Okay, so: Why didn’t Rhaenys just torch the royal family and the whole Green crew?
[Laughs long and hard.] I know! The temptation is there, right? In the end, she makes a bigger choice. We see that at the moment with what’s going on in Ukraine; to choose not to destroy is the better choice. That’s an important thing for us all to remember right now.
It’s why she would have made such a great leader. She had, in that moment, all the power. Yet she has respect for Alicent as a woman and a mother. They understand being in the grip of other people who might torch them. They know the only right choice is not to go there. Furthermore, it’s the intelligent choice, on her part, not to torch a whole bunch of innocent people in the room. What’s to be gained? In the end, it’s not her battle.
The escape she makes on the dragon is something that’s been brewing since that very moment she was passed over wrongly, unjustly, for the crown. It’s this yearning just to get the hell out and get away from the whole ruddy lot of things. When she bursts out of that arena, she’s internally saying, “Fuck you all.” It’s more about that than a need for revenge or destruction that the men might’ve jumped onto. She’s breaking her own glass ceiling.
Rhaenys is the cautionary tale for the show’s central theme: The patriarchy of Westeros will not allow women to rule.
It’s a familiar story. When I met Ryan and Miguel, the first thing they said to me was, “The core of the story centers around this line Rhaenys says to Rhaenyra: ‘Men would sooner put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne.’” Snip the word “iron” out of that sentence and it feels very familiar.
What is it like to embody that theme for the show?
I can’t speak to what it’s like to embody a theme, because she’s a person; that’s for the intellectuals outside the story to comment on. But the experience of being that person is unbelievably frustrating when you’re somebody who’s as qualified, as intelligent, as experienced, as good at what would be expected of a leader as she is. She’s clearly the right person for the job in every respect — apart from her sex in this context. That is the one thing that disqualifies her. That is phenomenally frustrating.
And it’s phenomenally challenging to hold that core injustice and not turn sour within, to maintain a surface of ease and grace and find a way of navigating this toxic atmosphere in a useful way. She’s holding inside all kinds of feelings, from resentment to humiliation to frustration to rage. I think it’s something most women resonate with.
One of the most fascinating moments in this week’s episode is when Alicent approaches Rhaenys and is basically like, “Look, it’s obvious you would have made a better monarch than Viserys, I’m sorry that happened to you.”
That takes Rhaenys’s stress away in that moment. Alicent is the first person in her life, apart from her husband, who’s said that out loud. It’s everything Rhaenys thinks in her head. Obviously you can’t go around saying that about yourself. But to have another woman say that, face to face, is very powerful.
To be seen in that way, to be seen for who she is — it’s the first time she feels truly vulnerable, in a strange way. She was, in that moment, transported back all those years to a young woman again. It takes her breath away.
That’s why Rhaenys sits up and actually pays attention to Alicent, and has some respect for her. It’s a very eye-opening moment, to see that Alicent has that clarity and directness. She’s clearly somebody of intelligence and grit. Rhaenys hasn’t seen that in her before.
You mentioned Rhaenys’s husband, Corlys. They have maybe the most equal partnership in the story: She respects his intelligence and achievements, but also openly questions his decisions and willful ignorance.
It’s the only healthy relationship in the whole show. The key thing is it’s not just a marriage but a true partnership. They really do respect each other. They’re able to have arguments and huge disagreements, in particular about his decisions about their children, and she can question his judgment.
And he’s regularly absent, gone off to sea and to fight battles, which I presume is another source of deep frustration. It defines the strength of their marriage that they can weather disagreements and storms.
But the grief they both go through over the loss of their children is a crisis point in their marriage. Straight after that, he leaves, and she’s left without him. Now there’s a big question mark over whether or not he’s going to survive. It’s a very unsettling time.
Rhaenys is a real constant on the show — she’s right there in that opening tableau of the Great Council, and she’s one of the only characters from that scene still on the show. Meanwhile, the younger generation of characters got recast. How did you react to those changes as a performer?
It actually felt pretty seamless. You’re not often filming in story order. The first episode we filmed, in fact, was episode seven, which is right in the middle. So we started with the older cast, then jumped back to the beginning in episode one. One didn’t feel the disjoint at all.
It’s kind of interesting for me, as a character, with Rhaenyra. We had a strong connection early on. Then, as a result of episode seven, the trust between them is broken. It’s almost like it is a slightly different relationship. But with Emma D’Arcy and Milly Alcock, it felt seamless because they share a similar energy. And in terms of face-to-face connections, the only time Rhaenys connects with Alicent is in episode nine. That was the first time Olivia Cooke and I had met onscreen; I hadn’t met Emily Carey’s personification of Alicent onscreen at all.
The way we film is so chopped about, the cast is just another thing that’s changeable. It’s probably stranger for the audience because you’re seeing it in story order.