House of the Dragon’s Matt Smith breaks down Daemon and Rhaenyra’s unique relationship

Emma D'Arcy and Matt Smith in House of the Dragon
(Image credit: HBO)

**Warning: This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 1**

House of the Dragon’s premiere re-introduces us to the world of Westeros where Targaryens are in charge and the fight for the Iron Throne is as contentious as ever. After King Viserys (Paddy Considine) risks everything to get an heir and fails, the choice is left up to him: should he name his younger wayward brother Daemon (Matt Smith) as his heir – or buck tradition to give the title to his only daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock)? 

By the end of the episode, we know his choice, which is about to send ruptures through Westeros. But there’s another complication – what does this mean for the unique bond between uncle and niece duo Daemon and Rhaenyra? After all, 'The Heirs of the Dragon' has just set up the pair’s close, and complex, dynamic.

"I think there's only really two people in the whole kingdom apart from his dragons, that he will sort of concede to," Smith tells Total Film of their relationship. "And one of them is Rhaenyra and the other is his brother. I think, you know, there's a deep affection and intimate understanding of one another, really – more so than he has with any other characters."

Matt Smith and Emma D'Arcy in House of the Dragon

(Image credit: Sky / HBO)

As Smith points out, Daemon clashes with almost everyone else in Westeros thanks to his unconventional, and bloodthirsty, ways – but not Rhaenyra. When Daemon sneaks back into King’s Landing, she’s the one who finds him; they only speak in their secret language of High Valyrian to one another, and when her mother dies, it’s Daemon by her side at the funeral. 

By the end of episode one, however, the pair are now on opposing sides – Rhaenyra as the heir, and Daemon banished. While Smith is keeping his cards close to his chest on how their new dynamic plays out, he did comment on how the time jump may impact them. 

Midway through the show, the series will skip forward 10 years. Smith will continue to play Daemon across both timelines but Emma D’Arcy takes over from Milly Alcock as Princess Rhaenyra. The former Doctor Who actor explains how this added a great element to their characters’ changing relationship.

Milly Alcock plays the younger Rhaenyra

(Image credit: Sky / HBO)

"I loved having two actors play the same part because it did a lot of the work for me," he continues. "Whereas you have to kind of imagine that stuff sometimes, there was just a real, physical, energetic change between the two actors that I found really useful and really entertaining to watch. And I think it really worked as a conceit."

For Smith, the time jump was also a great challenge as an actor. Although, he only reveals the practical problems when pushed on this. "I look quite similar," he says. "I just look older than I should be when I'm young."

While he didn’t reveal any more about how Daemon changes over the years, he did let slip that Viserys has the bigger transition. "He’s got a more interesting journey, I suppose in terms of how [he] looks." But just what this means, we’ll have to keep watching and see…

House of the Dragon is available from August 21 on HBO in the US and exclusively on Sky Atlantic and streaming service NOW from August 22 in the UK. You can read more from our conversation with Smith and Paddy Considine here, as the pair discuss auditioning for the series and their sibling rivalry.

Fay Watson
Deputy Entertainment Editor

I’m the Deputy Entertainment Editor here at GamesRadar+, covering TV and film for the Total Film and SFX sections online. I previously worked as a Senior Showbiz Reporter and SEO TV reporter at Express Online for three years. I've also written for The Resident magazines and Amateur Photographer, before specializing in entertainment.