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Blood, Cheese, and Grief

July 5, 2024 at 9:33 am
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I made a visit to London last November.   Checked in with the editors and publishers at Voyager, my British publisher, saw friends both old and new, caught some plays on the West End (CABARET and THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE among them), had lunch with the playwright and director on our own play-in-progress… and headed out to Leavesden Studio to tour the HOUSE OF THE DRAGON sets.  That part was spectacular.   I have visited real castles that did not look half as imposing as the Red Keep and Dragonstone did.  And they were HUGE.  I could easily have gotten lost, just like Blood and Cheese did.

I also got a sneak peak at the first two episodes of season 2:  “A Son for A Son” and “Rhaenyra the Cruel.”

What a great way to start the season.     The directing was superb.   GAME OF THRONES veteran Alan Taylor directed the first episode, and Clare Kilner the second.   Both of them did a magnificent job.  And I cannot say enough about the acting.    Emma d’Arcy has only one line in “A Son for a Son,” but they do so much with their eyes and their face that they absolutely dominate the episode; her grief for her slain son is palpable.   Tom Glynn-Carney brings Aegon alive in ways we have not seen before; he’s more than a villain here, he shows us the king’s rage, his pain, his fears and doubts.  His humanity.    Rhys Ifans has been splendid as Otto Hightower every time he has been on screen, but he exceeded himself in “Rhaenyra the Cruel.”  His scene with King Aegon and Criston Cole after the ratcatchers are hanged just crackles with wit, tension, drama, a performance that cries out for awards attention.  Matt Smith, Olivia Cooke, Fabien Frankel, Eve Best, and the other regulars were wonderful as well.  The Tittensor twins were terrific as the Kingsuard twins, and their climactic swordfight is right up there with the Mountain and the Red Viper of Dorne, and Brienne’s fight with Jaime Lannister.

And Phia Saban gave a wrenching, powerful, heart-breaking performance as Helaena Targaryen, Aegon’s doomed, haunted queen and mother to his children.

Saban’s performance is especially noteworthy; very little of what she brings to the part was in my source material. .   Last season HOUSE OF THE DRAGON essentially recreated King Viserys, giving him a much different backstory and far more depth than the jolly party-loving king I created for FIRE & BLOOD.   I talked about that last year, so I won’t repeat myself, save to say it was very well done, and DAMN but Paddy Considine was glorious in the role.   (He should have won an Emmy).

The HotD team have done the same thing here with Helaena.  In the book, she is a plump, pleasant, and happy young woman, cheerful and kindly, adored by the smallfolk.   A dragonrider since the age of twelve, Helaena’s greatest joy in life is to take to the skies on the back of her dragon Dreamfyre.  None of the strangeness she displays in the show was in evidence in the book, nor is her gift for prophecy.   Those were born in the writers’ room… but once I met the show’s version of Helaena, I could hardly take issue.   Phia Saban’s Helaena is a richer and more fascinating character than the one I created in FIRE & BLOOD, and in “Rhaenyra the Cruel” you can scarcely take your eyes off her.

The show added a brand new character as well.   The dog.

I am… ahem… not usually a fan of screenwriters adding characters to the source material when adapting a story.   Especially not when the source material is mine.   But that dog was brilliant.   I was prepared to hate Cheese, but I hated him even more when he kicked that dog.  And later, when the dog say at his feet, gazing up… that damn near broke my heart.   Such a little thing… such a little dog… but his presence, the few short moments he was on screen, gave the ratcatcher so much humanity.   Human beings are such complex creatures.  The silent presence of that dog reminded us that even the worst of men, the vile and the venal, can love and be loved.

I wish I’d thought of that dog.   I didn’t, but someone else did.   I am glad of that.

“Rhaenyra the Cruel” has been getting great reviews, for the most part.   A lot of the fans are proclaiming it the best episode of HotD, and some are even ranking it higher than the best episodes of GAME OF THRONES.   I can hardly be objective about these things, but I would certainly say it deserves to be in contention.   The only part of the show that is drawing criticism is the conclusion of the Blood and Cheese storyline.   Which ending was powerful, I thought… a gut punch, especially for viewers who had never read FIRE & BLOOD.   For those who had read the book, however…

Well, there’s  a lot of be said about that, but this is not the place for me to say it.   The issues are too complicated.   Somewhere down the line, I will do a separate post about all the issues raised by Blood and Cheese… and Maelor the Missing.  There’s a lot to say.

For the nonce, I will just say that I really really liked “Rhaenyra the Cruel.”   I liked it in London the first time I saw it, and I liked it even more on second watching.   I hope you did as well.   Maybe it even made you cry.

Current Mood: melancholy melancholy