Spoilers for House of the Dragon episode five, “We Light the Way,” below.
The good news is that Laenor Velaryon — seasoned warrior, son of legendary explorer the Sea Snake, and heir to the Driftwood Throne — got married on the latest episode of House of the Dragon. The bad news is, well, it was a Westerosi wedding, and you know how those go.
Forced into a marriage with heir to the Iron Throne Rhaenyra Targaryen as a means of uniting the Seven Kingdoms’ two most powerful Houses, Laenor, who is secretly gay, sees his lover Ser Joffrey Lonmouth beaten to death by Rhaenyra’s jealous ex-boyfriend, Ser Criston Cole, at their wedding welcome feast. But rather than collapse, as you might expect anyone to do, Laenor soldiers on and says his “I do”s. For actor Theo Nate, who bids Laenor goodbye as the role is aged up and handed off to another performer, John Macmillan, next week, this speaks to his character’s innate well of courage.
“One of the things I love most about Laenor is he’s brave, mate,” says the young British actor. And whether it’s his famous father, his royal wife, or his dragon, Seasmoke, standing beside him, that song (of ice and fire) remains the same.
You got to do some real serious fantasy stuff during your time on the show. I mean, you rode a dragon into battle.
Oh, mate, I loved it. It was one of the best things I’ve done. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been to Ibiza or Magaluf or somewhere like that, but you have these bulls in the bars you can jump on and ride them, like a rodeo-type thing. It’s a bit like one of them: You jump on and it’s been programmed for a minute long, and it’s got all the dips and twists and turns, and you strap in. And they have a giant leaf blower and a guy just blows wind in your face. I can’t lie: I thought it was amazing. I’d do that all day.
What’s it like to walk into a production on this scale?
It’s a weird one. I was — still am — a massive Game of Thrones fan. I say that all the time but then I realize I weren’t as big a fan as I thought, because the fans of the books are just so, so, so much more clued up. [Laughs.]
When you’re on the outside, it’s massive. But on the inside, I didn’t realize the scale of it. When you’re shooting scenes, it just felt like the job. My agent still says to me, “You don’t realize how big this show is, do you?” And I’m like, “No.”
You play a gay character in a world that isn’t necessarily accepting of gay people.
Laenor’s actually making a stand, to be his own man and to stay true to himself at all times. In the end, he does have to go along with getting married, but there’s nothing he can do about that. He’s made the best of a bad situation, essentially.
That’s something that he and Rhaenyra have in common: They’re both very ballsy. They know what they want, they go for it, and they get the best they can hope for.
What was it like to shoot their massive wedding feast?
It was two weeks and they were my first days on set, so that was a baptism of fire. It was a bit weird because the whole world was kind of in semi-lockdown, maybe just coming out of it. I’d gone from being in the house, essentially by myself, to being on set in front of I don’t know how many cast and crew and extras. It was like live theater because the audience was so vast.
My heart really went out to Laenor in that sequence. Not only does he see the man he loves beaten to death before his eyes, but he has to go through with the wedding immediately afterward.
It’s a horrible feeling, isn’t it? I had chats with the director, Claire Kilner, about it: There’s one thing seeing it happen, and there’s another thing being unable to prevent it, even though he tried. On top of all that, nobody helped. Everyone just kind of watched it and — move on, brush it under the carpet.
But he really is, mentally, very strong; even in episode three, he comes up with the plan for how to end the two-year war he’s been in, then basically ends the war on the back of his own dragon. And in many ways Rhaenyra helps him through as well. They’re in it together, really.
Is that what he sees in Rhaenyra? It does seem to be more than a marriage of convenience.
We spoke about that bit of rebellion in them, that bit of fire. Initially, when we first started rehearsing the scene on the beach [where Rhaenyra and Laenor agree to maintain separate love lives during their marriage], it was a thing of Milly’s character trying to win me over, because Laenor doesn’t spend a lot of time around females. He’s always in battle, always at war, and even in his spare time he spars with Joffrey and stuff like that. And Laenor doesn’t have romantic feelings for women either.
So we played with him not really knowing how to approach it, and Rhaenyra trying to bring him out of his shell: “Look, we’re going to be okay. It’s going to be fine. It won’t be ideal, but it’s the best we can do.”
What about Laenor’s relationship with his father, Lord Corlys Velaryon? The Sea Snake is a famous warrior and seafarer, and Laenor did not shy away from that aspect of his life at all.
No, Laenor’s the Sea Snake’s biggest fan. He wants to be just like him! They’re very similar in many ways, apart from the one fact the Sea Snake can’t seem to get past. Laenor’s got nothing but admiration for him.
He seems to admire Daemon Targaryen as well.
That was definitely something I played with: I’m a real fan of this guy, purely because he’s brave. Laenor likes people who are outgoing, who stand for something. When it comes to Daemon, same as the Sea Snake, Laenor sees that side of himself, the side of Daemon willing to risk his life to win a war. That’s something Laenor admires.
Actually, Laenor’s got a line on the beach when he’s speaking to Joffrey: “I thought I was going to die in battle before my father married me off.” So that’s who he is: He was prepared to do that.
Had you read George R.R. Martin’s source material, Fire & Blood, before shooting?
No. The weird thing is I actually bought the book when I got the role. Then I thought to myself, “Wait a minute, if I get too invested in this …” It was six months from getting the role to the start of shooting, and I didn’t want to turn up on set and be rigid in mind. You’ve got to be flexible because you’re working with two or three different directors at any one time. You do as much research as you can, but I didn’t want to go in with my mind fixed on, “This is who he is, this is how it has to be played.” I wanted to feel free in the role.
Like Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, your part has been recast with an older actor starting next week. How does it feel to hand the reins over to someone else?
I tried not to think about it too much. For me, I always had in my mind that I was only doing episodes three and five, so I wasn’t really focused on what comes after. Otherwise, you’d be a bit gutted, wouldn’t you?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.