Spoilers for House of the Dragon episode seven, “Driftmark,” below.
Running into your past self on the set of a major television production can feel a bit disorienting. Just ask John Macmillan, who plays the adult version of House of the Dragon’s closeted warrior Ser Laenor Velaryon. Sometime prior to Laenor’s escape from Westeros in this week’s episode, Macmillan bumped into Theo Nate, the actor who played the character as a teen, and the “Spider-Man pointing at himself” meme ensued.
“I was cast first, so I didn’t get to see any of Theo’s work,” Macmillan recalls, “but I did meet him in the cafeteria. We both looked at each other and went, ‘Are you me?’” The affable actor laughs. “We were like, ‘Yeah, I think they’ve done a pretty good job casting here.’”
As a gay man in a society that accepts such relationships only when they’re tactfully kept out of the public eye, Laenor has been at the center at some of the show’s most heartbreaking moments: Prior to his wedding to queen-in-waiting Rhaenyra Targaryen, he saw his beloved Ser Joffrey Lonmouth beaten to death.
But just when it seems as if Rhaenyra and her lover-uncle, Daemon Targaryen, will kill Laenor to facilitate their own marriage, the show reveals — in a major departure from author George R.R. Martin’s source material, Fire & Blood — that the trio conspired to fake Laenor’s death so he could sail away and live happily ever after with the new man in his life, Ser Qarl Correy.
It’s a tense, exciting bit of business — but to hear Macmillan tell it, so is the experience of appearing the series itself. “I had an inkling it was going to be big because it’s the sequel to one of the biggest TV shows of all time,” he says. “Then people really got into it, and it was like, Oh, how many million people are watching it every episode? Bloody hell!”
By the time you come onboard House of the Dragon, we’ve already seen a younger version of your character for several episodes. How did you handle that?
I had to spend a lot of time trying to imagine what Laenor’s life had been before the wedding to Rhaenyra. Then I spent a lot of time discussing with Miguel Sapochnik, our director, and Emma D’Arcy, who plays Rhaenyra as an adult, what his life had been like in the ten years since their wedding to try and get a sense of the person he was when I take him over.
So what was his life like during those ten years? We didn’t get to see it either!
Initially, the co-parenting situation between Laenor and Rhaenyra and Ser Harwin Strong was a pretty functioning one. But Laenor’s had ten years of a broken heart, with Joffrey, the love of his life, being murdered in front of him at his wedding to someone else, which is as bad a day as anyone can have. And he’s had ten years of not being able to do the thing he loves, which is to be a knight, a warrior, a dragon rider. He’s a master of the air and sea, an incredibly capable and competent martial individual. Miguel and I equated that to being an elite athlete like LeBron James or Steph Curry and not being allowed to play for ten years.
Also he’s had ten years of not being able to live his full self. Laenor thought that if he had Joffrey by his side, he would be able to do his duty to his house and his bloodline and ensure his family’s legacy. With Joffrey’s death, it was much, much harder to manage all that.
I’m glad you brought up his sexuality and his prowess as a warrior, the latter of which is a change from the source material. Both personally and professionally, he’s been told he can’t do any of the things that define his life anymore.
We concluded that, in modern parlance, he’s been very, very depressed and took to drinking quite soon after the death to numb the bad feelings. But you can’t selectively numb feelings, so you kind of numb all the feelings. That’s why, when we find him, he seems to be drinking quite a lot. I think he’s sought solace in alcohol and sex, which is probably not a great mender of a broken heart or broken dreams and ambitions. But that’s where he is. There are no therapists in Westeros, so he’s self-medicating as best he can.
But he’s done it. As difficult as it’s been, he didn’t say, “Screw this, I’m leaving.” He’s fundamentally an honorable guy in an incredibly painful, difficult situation. And he was still trying. Even at the beginning of episode six, he wants to be by Rhaenyra’s side when they present the baby to Alicent.
Near the end of this week’s episode, Rhaenyra tells him he’s a good and decent man, and from her smile in that scene, you can tell she really means it.
I found the writing of that scene really moving. Perhaps there isn’t romantic love between Laenor and Rheanyra, but they do have compassion for each other, and they’re friends in many ways. They’ve been married for ten years, and they’ve known each other since they were children. It’s a relationship that’s lasted most of their lives. They do like each other, and they’ve been there for each other as best they can.
That’s what makes his recommitment to Rhaenyra so compelling. He says something like, “We made a commitment to do our duty and explore happiness.” Rhaenyra starts laughing, and they both laugh at the absurdity of their naïveté. But then he says, “Ser Qarl’s returning to the fighting in the Stepstones, but I’m not going to go.” He’s foregoing the two avenues of his life that are extremely important to him: (a) a chance to return to the battlefield and (b) a chance to do it with Qarl, who was the first meaningful relationship he’d had since Joffrey. He decides to let both go in order to do his duty.
I love Laenor. He’s a wonderful guy in a terrible situation. I was thrilled watching him get away. I’ve had so many lovely messages from people; someone told me they whooped when he escaped. Like, they cheered.
I did, too!
I’m so pleased! I remember Miguel saying, “No one gets to be happy in Westeros for very long.” It’s amazing that there’s this moment of relief. The escape was one of the first things I did. It was a really stormy day, and we were out in the ocean in this massive hundred-year-old boat, which was both exciting and terrifying. To see it in the context of the episode was really gratifying.
But, of course, this is Westeros, and there’s no such thing as a completely happy ending. In order for Laenor to get away, that poor Velaryon servant had to get murdered by Daemon so they’d have a decoy.
[Laughs] Oh, God. You’re a very moral, empathetic person. And now I feel deeply ashamed that I did not grieve for that poor member of the working classes who was collateral damage so that Laenor might have a shot at a decent life.
Now that we know Laenor is still alive, are there any plans for him to return to the show?
The honest answer is I really don’t know.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.