Emma D’Arcy on Rhaenyra’s Trauma in ‘House of the Dragons’ Season 2: ‘Grief Is a Major Engine’

Losing a child is difficult for anyone, but losing one based on the actions of another family member can be downright biblical. Throw in a dragon for good measure, and you can imagine the complicated emotions Emma D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra must navigate while still seeking her rightful place on the throne. What “House of the Dragon” has always offered in contrast to and in conjunction with “Game of Thrones” is its decades-long investigation of one family’s internal and external conflict. It’s a more intimate and specific narrative that allows for deeper emotional examinations, and that’s what D’Arcy clung to as they prepared for the second season of the hit HBO TV series.

I think grief is a major engine in the narrative this season,” D’Arcy said in a recent interview with Vogue. “That was a key area of investigation for me, because grief manifests so differently in different people. I think there’s something beautiful in the way that [writers] Ryan [Condal], Sara [Hess], and the team constructed this [season], in that so many of the key characters are in quite pronounced stages of grief when we meet them at the start of the first [season], and not only does grief dislocate a person from their community, but it can also make people strangers to one another — like multiple grieving people can be quite profoundly changed.”

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And D’Arcy isn’t only speaking of the grief Rhaenyra feels for her dead father or her murdered son, but for the living family, like Alicent, who once was her closest friend but now feels only like a brutal enemy.

“They’re sort of haunting one another,” they said. “There’s a lot of death in the show, but these characters are also being haunted by the living, by the missing people in their lives.”

Carrying that grief in her performance wasn’t only a matter of emotion but an aesthetic one as well. D’Arcy said to Vogue, “For Rhaenyra, there’s something quite beautiful about the way her costuming this season feels more traditional, in some ways. It’s as though it’s looking to historic shapes, almost like she’s wearing the clothes of the previous generation. In the context of having just lost her father, I find that very moving. It’s like she’s aligning herself with him, but also it’s a sort of coupling with the past. She spends a lot of time looking at the history of her family this season, as though she’s looking for a clue to her own future. She’s aligned with the old Targaryen gods. There’s almost a desire for small-‘c’ conservatism in this conjuring of the dead.”

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