House of the Dragon is about to take its biggest risk yet
What happens when viewers grow too attached to temporary cast members?
It seems safe to say that House of the Dragon is a certified hit.
The Game of Thrones prequel series has raked in impressive viewership numbers, received generally positive reviews, and was renewed for a second season shortly after its premiere. The series has also introduced viewers to characters they’ve been able to love, hate, and root for. House of the Dragon has done such a good job of humanizing its two leads, in fact, that it’s already facing a major problem just four weeks into its run.
While the series has already made several time jumps, House of the Dragon is on the verge of making its biggest leap into the future. When the clock turns forward the show will say goodbye to several cast members, including its breakout star.
Two Upcoming Exits — Few of House of the Dragon’s cast members have received as much attention as Emily Carey and Milly Alcock. Carey, who plays Alicent Hightower, has done a lot to humanize a character whose relationship with King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) might have otherwise made her easy to write off as just another manipulative schemer.
Alcock, meanwhile, has received the kind of attention for her performance as Rhaenyra Targaryen that actors like Emilia Clarke and Jason Momoa did for their work in the early seasons of Game of Thrones. As the show’s central character, Alcock has brought weight to many of the series’ most emotional ms.
Despite that, Carey and Alcock are about to be replaced as their characters age. Olivia Cooke will take over for Carey, while Emma D’Arcy is expected to make their debut as an older version of Alcock’s Rhaenyra Targaryen in House of the Dragon’s sixth episode. Given how integral both Carey and Alcock have been to the show’s success, it’s hard not to wonder whether the series will be able to pull off the replacement.
The Problem With Time Jumps — That question will be answered over the coming weeks, but it’s worth noting that both Cooke and D’Arcy received praise for their performances in many early reviews. It seems safe to assume that Carey and Alcock are leaving their roles in safe hands.
That said, it’s hard not to feel like something will be lost when Alcock and Carey make their exits. Up to this point, the HBO series has done a decent job of managing the minor time jumps that have taken place between its initial episodes. With a 15-year jump just around the corner, however, House of the Dragon is about to take its biggest narrative risk to date.
A time jump of that size would be a big risk for any show to take halfway through its first season, regardless of which cast members were being replaced. The fact that it happens to be two of House of the Dragon’s best performers being put on the chopping block makes the show’s commitment to its time-hopping structure seem even more ill-advised.
The Inverse Analysis — There are good arguments for why House of the Dragon needed to tell its story the way it has. But there are also cases to be made for why House of the Dragon might have been better off by either immediately focusing on D’Arcy and Cooke’s versions of Rhaenyra and Alicent, or by shrinking its midseason time jump so that Carey and Alcock could continue to play their roles for a while.
At this point, what House of the Dragon should or shouldn’t have done is academic. And a show of its popularity will almost certainly survive its forthcoming transition.
But it’s hard not to feel like the House of the Dragon creative team may have simply underestimated just how lucky they got when they cast Carey and Alcock as Alicent and Rhaenyra.
New episodes of House of the Dragon air Sundays on HBO.