House Of The Dragon’s Milly Alcock on why Rhaenyra is a more rewarding heroine than Daenerys

Written by Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is Stylist’s Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.

The breakout star of House Of The Dragon sits down with Stylist’s Christobel Hastings to chat female friendship, playing women who know what they want, and why Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen can claim to be a more rewarding heroine than the Mother of Dragons.

It’s not every day an up-and-coming actor lands a role in the biggest TV show of the year. A show whose epic predecessor dominated the Emmy races for the best part of a decade and produced a platinum-haired protagonist that became one of the most beloved in television history. On top of that, you then find out that you’re going to be playing the most important character in the whole saga. 

Such is the reality for Milly Alcock, the new star of House Of The Dragon, HBO’s hotly anticipated Game Of Thrones prequelSet some 200 years before Daenerys Targaryen took to the skies to incinerate the capital city of King’s Landing, the new series finds the Targaryen dynasty on the brink of a bloody civil war known as The Dance of the Dragons. As the young Rhaenyra Targaryen, the princess whose succession kicks off the battle for the Iron Throne (and the only character whose face is plastered on the House Of The Dragon posters), the 22-year-old Australian actor is quite literally the face of the new fantasy series. So when I meet Alcock in central London before the London premiere of House Of The Dragon, there’s an unmistakable sense that she’s about to become a household name.

House Of The Dragon: Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra Targaryen and Sian Brooke as Queen Aemma Arryn

Back in the days when House Of The Dragon was a mere glint in a dragon’s eye, however, Alcock was oblivious to the significance of her character. “Honestly because the audition process was so quick – it was like three soft tapes, one callback – I didn’t expect my part to be that big,” she tells me solemnly. That was until she read the script and discovered that Princess Rhaenyra was a Big Deal. “Then I read it, and I just sobbed, because I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is huge – she’s incredible. I’m so scared and excited to play her,’ because I really wanted to do this character justice and I didn’t want to mess up this amazing opportunity that’s been presented in front of me. And I’m kind of dealing with all those emotions now with it being done.”

In one of the opening scenes in House Of The Dragon, we find the young Rhaneyra has all the makings of a formidable Targaryen queen, even if traditionalists in the Seven Kingdoms aren’t ready to see a woman take the Iron Throne. The firstborn daughter of King Viserys I Targaryen (played by Paddy Considine) is independent, opinionated and far more interested in flying the skies with her fire-breathing companion, Syrax, than thinking about birthing male heirs. Was it appealing to play a character who rejected convention? “Yeah, I think that I love to play women who know what they want and who are met with challenges that conflict with their wants, especially when the world around them kind of suppresses them inherently.” 

House Of The Dragon: Milly Alcock as young Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and Emily Carey as young Alicent Hightower

Ah yes. Women haven’t always had the best time of it in the Thrones universe, to put it mildly, and there’s been plenty of speculation around how House Of The Dragon will approach sexual violence. After co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik recently raised eyebrows by noting that the series would not “shy away from” showing aspects of sexual violence, writer and executive producer Sara Hess issued a statement clarifying that House Of The Dragon will instead “focus on the violence against women that is inherent in a patriarchal system”. However that plays out, it’s clear that the show is intent on a closer examination of how women grapple with their oppression in Westerosi society, and Rhaneyra’s attempts to carve out agency in a male-dominated world in our first meeting is a breath of fresh air.

“I think that she’s conflicted and I think that all the female characters within it are conflicted because misogyny as an idea wouldn’t have been even a concept in Westeros,” she says. “So I think they’re all trying to navigate this world that’s run by men and kind of have all these struggles but not have a way to explain it and voice it and I think that she learns throughout – the Rhaneyra that I get to play – learns throughout her arc how to deal with the patriarchy and how to conflict that.”

“But I think ultimately these women aren’t just used as they’re notthere just to serve the storyline of misogyny – they also have their own storyline; if you remove that,that is just as interesting as them having to combat the world around them.”

House Of The Dragon: Emily Carey as young Alicent Hightower and Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra Targaryen

The force of misogyny is inescapable in Westeros, though. Not only does it hamper Rhaenyra’s attempt to consolidate power as the first Queen regnant, but the show also examines how it irrevocably corrodes her relationship with her best friend and the daughter of the Hand, Alicent Hightower (first played by Emily Carey and later Olivia Cooke). In their youth, the girls are a true case of opposites attract; Rhaneyra adventurous and free-spirited in all the ways Alicent is cautious and reserved. But as they grow older, their bond turns into a bitter rivalry.

“Their relationship, I believe, explores themes of internalised misogyny, that these two women are forced to compete,” she says. “They’re forced to compete at the hands and approval of men, and ultimately the demise of their relationship is brought down by choices that are made by men about the trajectory of their lives.” The dynamic between Rhaenyra and Alicent in their younger years, Alcock says, reminds her of Stephen King’s 1986 coming-of-age drama Stand By Me. “They’re so close, it’s like your childhood family friend. It’s like you’re never gonna have friends again like you did when you were 12 and seeing that fall apart is really heartbreaking.”

The sweetness of their bond certainly adds a lighter note in the first episode as we encounter the bloodthirsty ways of the King’s brother, Prince Daemon (Matt Smith) and a gruesome, medieval c-section that makes a strong claim to be one of the most horrific childbirth scenes you’ll ever witness on TV. The presence of two young women walking arm-in-arm through the considerably older, male cast is also striking, and Alcock, who says she feels like Carey’s “big sister”, believes that experience inevitably brought them closer.

“I feel very protective of her like Rhaneyra does,” she says. “We Facetimed before we started shooting and just kind of gawked over this experience, and ultimately, she is like an Alicent to me in the sense that nobody else would be able to understand the experience of shooting this show and being a young woman on set because, when we were shooting on set, it was us and all of the small council men that were all older, so it was really lovely to have a younger woman to fall back on. And that’s why that bond translated so well – because we literally living it.”

House Of The Dragon: Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra Targaryen

Rhaenyra might have fire in her belly – pun intended – but out of the white wig, Alcock is very modest about her acting abilities. There’s no denying she’s the breakout star here, though. I point to one scene in which the princess lies with her friend in the castle grounds, studying history and discussing her father’s obsession with producing a male heir. It’s an intense energy that verges on the intimate and perfectly captures the all-consuming nature of teenage friendships.

“Young women, they’re tactile, you know?” she says. “Female bonds especially. It’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll come to the bathrooms and pee and chat and you have a shower, I’ll sit outside.’ You know what I mean? Girls just don’t care; they’re very open and I adore that about women.”

If Rhaneyra and Alicent are chalk-and-cheese, her relationship with her uncle Daemon is something else entirely. The pair share something of the same playful spirit, although the resentful, power-hungry prince, who considers himself next in line to the throne, definitely errs on the side of madness as he goes on his merry way holding orgies and decapitating criminals on the streets of King’s Landing. In true Targaryen style, there’s also an uncomfortably flirtatious dynamic, and while Smith is a brilliantly creepy uncle, Alcock also succeeds in walking the line between childlike naivety and self-possessed sexual maturity. 

House Of The Dragon: Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen and Milly Alcock as young Rhaenyra Targaryen

“I mean, I adore working with Matt. I absolutely adore him,” she says, her face lighting up at his mention. “He’s so generous as an actor and also as a person. He’s incredibly professional, he’s incredibly open, and I really felt like an equal, even though in my eyes, I was like, ‘You’re Matt Smith, you’re a phenomenal actor.’ And he was just so easy to work with and in scenes within our relationship where it gets a bit cloudy as to how we walk the line, he always made me feel incredibly comfortable. It was very safe and fun and I learned a lot.”

Alcock has been somewhat reserved throughout our conversation, but she comes to life talking about the cast. Alongside learning the fictional language of High Valyrian (“actually really fun!”) Alcock’s overriding memory of filming the show was simply “giggling” continuously. “It’s like you’re in school and you start laughing in assembly, it’s like that feeling of ‘uh-oh’,” she smiles. It’s clear that she feels a lot of love for her castmates, and from seeing the actors chatting and hugging each other in the corridors of the hotel, I’d say the camaraderie is completely genuine. “I cannot stop gushing about this cast,” she says. “They’re just so lovely… they’re so lovely and so talented and so kind, and I’m so fortunate to be able to work with them and I miss them dearly since shooting.”

The cast of House Of The Dragon at the LA premiere on

The support of this little family has been much-needed. Before she got the call confirming that she’d clinched the role of Rhaenyra, Alcock was washing dishes to make ends meet and living in her mum’s attic back home in Sydney. Now she’s far from home and dealing with the buzz around the show without her loved ones nearby has been tough. “It’s pretty overwhelming. Yeah, it’s very hard to process,” she says. Was she daunted by joining a show of this scale? “I think that I had to ignore it because, ultimately, I was there to do a job and I really just didn’t wanna fuck it up.” She pauses. “I cannot put into words how it feels… it’s like your heart is exploding, but it’s like heavy, and there’s like a pressure on it. I don’t know if that makes sense?” I suggest that she probably needs a bit of time to process everything. “Yeah, I just wanna like sit in it and get through it… I don’t know. It’s really hard to explain, but it’s completely overwhelming. And not being with my family is also really difficult.”

If Alcock is feeling any apprehension over the show’s reception, it hasn’t been helped by the fact that she hasn’t yet seen how her character’s storyline plays out. After playing the teenage Rhaenyra in the first handful of episodes, Wanderlust’s Emma D’Arcy steps in to portray the princess in adulthood. “I’ve only read the episodes that I’m in,” she says. “They didn’t give us the whole season! I’ve only seen the first ep as well, so that’s why I’m so scared! I haven’t even seen it.” Did she at least see Emma on set? She shakes her head. “There was no rehearsal process with Emma and same with Emily and Olivia, which was quite daunting because I think that it would have brought a bit of reassurance to where I was heading. But ultimately, I just trusted Miguel from day dot to make the right decision, and it was made very clear quite quickly that it was a choice that we didn’t meet. So yeah, I’m just trusting that it’s gonna be OK.”

House Of The Dragon: Matt Smith and Milly Alcock as Prince Daemon and Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen

In any case, the young Rhaneyra looks set to make an impression, even in a show that’s full to the brim with Targaryens. And while Alcock and D’Arcy never discussed how their versions of the character connected, Alcock says that the show will dig deep into the princess’ power struggles.

“We see Rhaenyra struggle with the potential reality that she’s gonna become heir, we see her wrestle with those feelings and emotions, we see her reject it, we see her fight it, we see her come to terms with it and accept it, and we ultimately see her play the game of thrones,” she says. “But by her own rules, and Rhaenyra knows when she has to do the wrong thing in the public’s eyes to do the right thing in her private life, so I think that she has a sense of self that allows her to make choices that might seem difficult because she knows internally the choice that she’s making and the way that that’s perceived publicly can be quite different to that.”

House Of The Dragon: Milly Alcock as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen

It’s inevitable, of course, that a diminutive blonde like Rhaenyra will draw comparisons to Daenerys Targaryen, and not least because of a flawlessly executed “dracarys” in the first episode which pays homage to Emilia Clarke’s iconic character. But there’s already talk that the new princess will prove to be a far more rewarding heroine than the Dragon Queen, who left fans reeling with disappointment after a murderous rampage in the Game Of Thrones finale. Would that be an accurate assessment?

“I think she is because Rhaenyra is given more screen time to allow you to fully empathise and understand with her,” she replies. “I think she’s very honest about her mistakes within herself, whether or not she verbalises that because she’s trying to protect herself, but I think that there’s a lot of humanity within Rhaenyra and she’s a very forgivable character. But, ultimately, in the show, everybody’s a grey area, which is why I love it. There’s no goodies or baddies; good people do bad things, bad people do good things.”

The first episode of House Of The Dragon is available to watch on Sky Atlantic and streaming service Now

Images: Getty/HBO/Sky

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