Eve Best Reflects on Rhaenys’ ‘Heroic’ Act on 'House of the Dragon' (2024)

Spoilers below.

The last time we saw Rhaenys Targaryen facing King Aegon on her dragon, she did not attack. She might have burst into his coronation ceremony riding Meleys, but instead of burning him into a crisp right there and nipping war in the bud, she fled. The next time she faces Aegon, however, Rhaenys does not retreat. In fact, she and Meleys fight back until their dying breaths.

In House of the Dragon season 2, episode 4, Rhaenys—in a dignified performance from Eve Best—flies into battle on behalf of Queen Rhaenyra and the black alliance. As the rider of the largest dragon with the most war experience, Rhaenys volunteers to use her firepower against Criston Cole and the green army on Rook’s Rest. But she doesn’t know that she was lured into a trap: Aemond is hiding in the trees with his enormous dragon, Vhagar, ready to strike; and Aegon has impulsively ditched the throne to fly into battle with his own dragon, Sunfyre.

The Targaryens battle in the air, leading Aegon and his dragon to fall from the sky. But when it seems like Rhaenys might fly back to Dragonstone in victory, she straps tighter into her saddle and tells her dragon, “Attack, Meleys.” It’s a noble moment that Vhagar soon cuts short by grabbing Meleys by the neck. When Rhaenys realizes her dragon is on her way out, she lets go, and the two of them crash into the castle below.

It’s a bold ending for Rhaenys, dubbed The Queen Who Never Was, who had been on the sidelines ever since she was skipped over in the line of succession in favor of a male heir. Speaking ahead of the episode’s broadcast, Best jokes about the potential outcry from fans (or at least those who hadn’t read the source material, George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Blood). “They better be jolly upset,” she jokes.

Best known for her past roles in The King’s Speech and Nurse Jackie, the Tony nominee and Olivier Award winner had a feeling the end was near. Her contract on House of the Dragon was only for two seasons, and after reading Rhaenys’ story in Fire & Blood, she knew it was finite. But she saved some surprises for herself the first time she and the cast read through the script together.

“In fact, I chose not to read it before the read-through because I just thought, I just want to see. I wanted to respond to it in the moment, as a punter, and also just see what my instinctive response is,” she says.

Speaking on Zoom from central Italy, Best chats with ELLE.com about Rhaenys’ battle and why this is her best onscreen death yet.

What was your response when you read through the script for this episode for the first time?

I was shocked! I was devastated, actually, on her behalf. And obviously, on my behalf, very sad to be leaving at this moment. In my career so far, I’ve died a lot of different ways. I’ve been burned, strangled, hung, bitten by a poisonous snake. It’s sad. But I’ve never fallen off a dragon. I don’t think that can be beaten, actually. It’s pretty sensational.

When you sign up for the job [on Game of Thrones or House of the Dragon], you know that it’s kind of written in that there’s likelihood that you’re going to go at some point. Because that’s the nature of the beast.

I was looking back at all the other deaths in the Game of Thrones that I could remember, and the deaths so far in [House of the Dragon] as well. And I thought, actually, hers is a pretty fantastic way to go. She goes out guns blazing as a 100 percent, wall-to-wall hero in every possible way. She’s their best fighter. She’s their best woman. A lot of the Game of Thrones deaths can be really humiliating, unpleasant, [and] disgusting. And this is a really heroic, very noble death.

I said to Ryan [Condal, the showrunner] at the end of last season, “In season 2, she’s got to be a samurai. She’s got to just be full samurai.” And I think that’s exactly what we got. It reminds me a bit of that wonderful film The Last Samurai, actually. That nobility, that courage, that absolute clarity and spiritual purity that those fighters have, I think she had definitely come to that place by the end.

Eve Best Reflects on Rhaenys’ ‘Heroic’ Act on 'House of the Dragon' (1)

Earlier in the episode, there’s a debate over who should be the one to go and fight Cole’s army. Rhaenys says, “Obviously, it’s me,” which is interesting because in that scene and throughout the season, she’s been standing up for Rhaenyra and against the men who think they know better than her. What’s going through her mind when she volunteers?

She knows that it has to be her. It’s the voice of, effectively, the grown-up in the room saying, “All right kids, it’s okay. You can stand down. This needs to be taken care of. And actually, the truth is you all know. And in particular, Rhaenyra and you ought to know if you are a good and effective leader.” It’s almost her last moment of teaching.

In fact, we changed that line right at the last minute. It was just, “Send me,” which still feels like a request or a suggestion. But what [writer and producer] Sara Hess suggested was, “You must send me,” which is absolutely final, which is actually an instruction, which is a moment of great teaching, of: This is how you are a good leader. You don’t go in yourself. You don’t go in because you are emotionally still very involved. There’s no way that you could be neutral in those circ*mstances. Plus, if you are lost, the whole thing is over. This is my instruction to you as a mentor and a guide and a friend, actually. This is what you need to do.

She’s stepping up to sacrifice herself because I think she knows absolutely damn well that this is a kamikaze mission. In this moment, I think there’s an unspoken but very important moment of acceptance and honoring.

It’s very samurai, actually. It’s an honor between the two women, which up until now has always been very complicated. There’s a lot of tension between them. Even though there’s support on the surface and tremendous amounts of guidance and wisdom, there’s still a sort of tension, which is their murky past, the unspoken story of Laenor’s death, and all of that. In that moment, it was very important to me that Rhaenys is actually saying, “We’re good and the slate is clear.”

Wow.

That’s the last thing she says to Rhaenyra. And that’s samurai in a way. She takes care of her husband and she goes out to do the job. There’s just one moment of wobble, because my God, she’s got her hand on the nuclear red button, and she’s going to press it. And she’s got to take on board that responsibility of, A., starting the nuclear war, and B., the fact that she’s sacrificing herself.

Her arc has been this absolute strength upon strength after strength, and digging deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, and dealing with loss after loss after disappointment after grief, as it all builds up. She’s held onto everything, and I think that she’s never let anybody see any of it except for Meleys. In that moment when she’s making the samurai declaration of, “we’re off to battle now,” and connecting with the dragon, it’s just a tiny moment of “yikes,” when you see her vulnerability. And I asked for this. It was very important that there was a connection with Meleys, that you see the dragon respond and they’re taking care of each other in that moment. Because in the end, that’s the relationship. She’s having all these difficulties with her stupid husband who’s gone and got up to his nonsense. And they’re not communicating properly at this point. And Meleys, her dragon, is ultimately her only friend.

That felt incredibly important. And that was part of the greatest loss. Part of the thing that was devastating filming the whole death sequence was seeing Meleys being torn to shreds and feeling that somehow she’d let her down or betrayed her in some way. Just the awfulness of seeing this brave beast, creature, other self being destroyed. That was all in my head, of course.

Eve Best Reflects on Rhaenys’ ‘Heroic’ Act on 'House of the Dragon' (3)

What was it like filming the death scene and the battle scene? Was it all green screens and wind machines?

It’s so bonkers. It’s miles away from what you actually see in the end product. You’re strapped onto this house machine, like a bucking bronco. It’s the height of a small cottage, and you have to go up steps to get onto it. And then you’re strapped in and the steps get taken away and you’re left on this house and it starts to move about. There’s just green screens and you and your imagination. And four strapping young men with enormous leaf blowers blowing wind in your face.

And then, they cut up the sequence. It was quite a long sequence by film standards, although it was very short once it [was] cut together. But it actually took two weeks to film.

Everybody’s doing [their dragon flying scenes] individually because there’s no interaction. They create the interaction through the edit. So you’ve maybe got a tennis ball in the distance, which is supposed to be Aegon. You have to really invent it. But then they chop up each sequence into little pieces. The moves became quite elaborate.

And at one point, I was hanging vertically, and the bucking bronco didn’t right itself straight away, so I was left a kind of prawn on the side of a ship, just panicking, just going, “Help, let me down. I’m too old for this!”

Eve Best Reflects on Rhaenys’ ‘Heroic’ Act on 'House of the Dragon' (4)

And what about filming the fall?

Oh God, and it was my last day of filming on the whole show. And it was also [very close to] the last day of filming the whole [season] as well, because the buck work was always done at the end of shoot. Ryan had come on set and made a big speech at the beginning of the day. The pressure for it to be a big deal was mounting so much.

Then there was this long pause because they have to prep all of the moves on the buck electronically; it takes a long time. And then, they have to prep it with a stunt person to make sure it’s safe. There’s this big buildup of waiting for this moment, which is actually a split-second moment when she falls off the dragon, but it just was a complicated bit.

I thought, well, we’ll do it loads of different ways. In your head, you think it’s going to be this very important and meaningful moment. And then, [we] came to it, and we did two takes and that was it.

And it was over in a flash. Because of the buildup, I was also quite churned up. And I was like, “No, what?”

“Where do I put all this adrenaline?”

Yes! And I was feeling quite emotional because of the buildup of the day and the culmination of all the things. But what became really clear in the moment was the tremendous peacefulness about it, just because it was a physical and spiritual letting go of everything. And it was actually a release and something very freeing.

Like you’re giving in.

Giving in and allowing. It’s absolute acceptance. And the relief. We all know this, actually, that when you stop resisting something, there’s tremendous relief.

It’s also symbolic of you letting go of the character too, since it was your last day shooting.

Yeah, exactly. Everything.

Did you give a big wrap speech at the end? What was it like on set?

I brought some bubbly for the crew and we had a very little celebration, which was really nice. That was lovely. Also, there was still work to be done, so there was not much time to linger. Because I’m sentimental, I want more of that. We did do it a little bit, and it was lovely and sad, and all those things. Part of the job description [as an actress playing a role] is actually that every time, you have to say goodbye and start over again, accept, and just let go.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.

Eve Best Reflects on Rhaenys’ ‘Heroic’ Act on 'House of the Dragon' (2024)
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