Ryan Condal Teases ‘Explosive Moments of Spectacle’ Coming Up on ‘House of the Dragon’

When it comes to “House of the Dragon” showrunner Ryan Condal, his cast can’t say enough good things. At the Season 2 press junket in New York City, Condal was inevitably the main character in every interview.

“The man’s a genius,” said Bethany Antonia, one of the young actors stepping into the spotlight this season. “He’s like a walking encyclopedia of Westeros. It feels like such a privilege to get to work with him, pick his brains, and see the way that he works. It’s so intricate, so detailed, it’s so brilliant.”

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With many young actors taking on bigger roles than they had in Season 1, and Condal now acting as sole showrunner, the environment had to be exceptionally comfortable and collaborative. Harry Collett recalls Ryan discussing beats and concepts with him before the scripts were fully written, or being called into a trailer to look at new material because of Condal’s “pure excitement.”

The two of them discussed Collett’s major scene in Season 2, Episode 1, between Collett’s Jacaerys and mother Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) after they learn of his brother’s death.

“He was thinking whether it would be better if Jace walks in in silence or with the dialogue of him trying to tell Rhaenyra he has basically completed the job,” Collett said. “We thought it’d be stronger if Jace said something or tried to say something, and then just broke down.”

The actor spent an hour sitting in darkness before filming the scene, also listening to music, imagining losing a sibling of his own, and writing in his “Jace journal.” It’s just the beginning of a season full of difficult and emotionally challenging scenes, but “People are so joyful on set that you’re trying not to be happy, in a way,” Collett said.

Costar Ewan Mitchell attributed the on-set cohesion back to Condal, whose expertise and enthusiasm through the other departments.

“The world of ‘Ice and Fire’ and ‘Fire & Blood’ is just tattooed on the inside of [his] head,” he said. “We’re all armed with the same passion, and it’s all thanks to Ryan.”

“He really knows this world, and he loves this world, he cares about it,” said Fabian Frankel, who plays Criston Cole (“Knows it inside and out,” agreed Matt Smith, sitting beside him). “[You’d] always rather have someone who really cares about something than someone who sort of feels nonchalantly about it.”

Below, Condal shares more about digging into the timeline and characters of Season 2, now with a bona fide success on his hands and one of TV’s most ambitious productions to play with.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

IndieWire: Going into Season 2 you know the show is a hit, so how was it with a little less pressure on that front and now being the sole showrunner?

Ryan Condal: It’s nice. Whenever you’re making television, you work just as hard on something that nobody watches as you do on something that a lot of people watch, and I’ve had both experiences now. I’m thrilled and very honored that we seem to find a resonant note with our audience, so it’s great to be coming back. I think the pressure in making a Season 2 is always less so than Season 1 — Season 1s are so fraught because you have an entirely new thing, it’s all raw clay, and you’re trying to shape it into something. Season 2 you’re coming in with more stuff to work with. You know your cast, you have sets built… the season got a lot bigger so it was no easier to make, but we had this confidence going into it that we had won over an audience, and now we needed to outdo ourselves and try to do it again.

To go off of that, there is a lot of exposition in Season 1, so what’s it like now from a writing perspective to really be able to dig into the Dance of Dragons?

The first season of any show, certainly one in a world as complicated as this, you have to cleverly disguise exposition all the time and hide the vegetables in the applsauce or whatever the right metaphor is. But now that everybody has experienced this history as we’ve laid it out in Season 1, you can experience events much more in the reality and the real time of it, with less backfilling as to why we’re here. That creates a narrative [where] the momentum is moving, the ground is moving beneath your feet, you’re putting one foot in front of the other, the ball is rolling down the hill in a way that maybe it wasn’t in Season 1.

You mentioned the season getting bigger — what are some specific production challenges that you faced?

It’s just an enormously complicated show to make. It was in Season 1. We were on location more in Season 2, we were more cross-boarded in Season 2 which is a challenge because it just means that it’s more days that you’re filming with another unit running — we had two units at once, we had an increase in 40 percent of our tandem days this year. It just makes for a very complicated production to chase around, and as the show grows it becomes moreso. I don’t think there was necessarily anything more intrinsically complicated about making the season, because we set up the system really well in Season 1 and did more of what we did well in Season 1, and maybe improved on the things that we didn’t do so well.

We get to showcase more of the ensemble in these first two episodes, particularly Tom Glynn-Carney and Phia Saban.

That was the thing that was most exciting to me and to us as writers going into Season 2 — we spent so little time with that generation there at the end of Season 1. They really were only in the show for two or three episodes at the end depending on who you’re talking about. The Aegon and Aemond and Helaena and Jace and Baela and Rhaena generation, we met them as children, as different actors, but we didn’t really get to spend time with them as adults. They’re all such phenomenal actors and we were so excited in Season 2 to really tell their stories and make them not only part of the narrative, but the center of the narrative in many cases.

As vaguely or as specifically as you’re comfortable. I would love to hear something that you’re looking forward to this season.

I’m very excited about the new cast. You haven’t met many of them yet… Simon Russell Beale, Gayle Rankin, Abubakar Salim, and Clinton Liberty. I’m really excited to meet all those characters. But it’s a tough task to find actors that are as compelling as the people that we’ve already met and cast in the show, and I think this new host of characters really brings a lot of new layers and texture to the show that’s really exciting.

Do you have a favorite episode or sequence from Season 2 that’s coming up?

[chuckles] I do, but I don’t know if I want to talk about it yet. I mean, I’m incredibly proud of the dramatic work that’s done in this show. Episodes 1 and 2 are a great showcase of that. I bounce back and forth between really enjoying the spectacle that we put on the screen, but also just enjoying those great scenes of two people in a room having having an argument … For me, it’s enjoying the intimate moments and then the really big, explosive moments of spectacle. We have two in particular that are coming later in the season that are the biggest things we’ve ever done and I’m really excited for everybody to see.

I look forward to talking with you about those later. The show is full of heroes, villains, shades of gray. Do you lean towards specific characters, or to Greens and Blacks?

For me, it’s not taking individual sides in the story, because I think it’s overly simplistic for what this is. My hope is that people just watch the show and empathize with individuals on either side and make it complex for them to have to choose Green or Black. You can want to see Rhaenyra on the throne, but you do want to see Daemon anywhere near that level of absolute power with a dragon? You can be questioning whether you want to see Aegon on the throne for all time to come, but aren’t you rooting for Helaena to have a better life, or a simpler life, where she isn’t being hunted down by Daemon and his knives? I think those are the things that become really interesting to follow in the story: who you’re interested in winning and getting out well and unscathed on either side, based on the individual characters that you’ve hooked into.

If you can describe the season in just a few words, what would you say?

“Paradise Lost.”


“House of the Dragon” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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