How ‘House of the Dragon’ staged Daemon’s Harrenhal invasion


Daemon Targaryen walks through a large doorway in Harrenhal, holding a sword and wearing full armor.

House of the Dragon Season 2, episode 3, “The Burning Mill,” brings viewers back to one of Westeros’ most notorious castles: Harrenhal. And what a return it is!

The episode sees Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) swoop into Harrenhal with his dragon Caraxes, but this is far from the triumphant conquest he envisioned. Castellan Simon Strong (Sir Simon Russell Beale) is all too ready to turn the castle over to Team Black, no fight needed. On top of all that, Harrenhal is supremely spooky, its melted ruins exposing anyone within to the elements.

“The Burning Mill” uses this spookiness to its fullest extent as Daemon first steps foot in Harrenhal. He prowls down long, empty corridors and staircases. Rain and thunder crash in from above, bats burst from the rafters. In the hands of director Geeta Vasant Patel, the castle becomes a maze that Daemon must wander alone, a solitude made all the more isolating following his argument with Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) in episode 2. For both Patel and Smith, grounding Daemon’s Harrenhal entrance in the aftermath of that argument proved crucial.

“When you look at the scene for what it is, it’s very easy to just treat it as if it’s out of line with the timeline. What I wanted to do is make it emotional and concurrent with what had happened in episode 2,” Patel told Mashable. “It’s not just about a man who comes to Harrenhal and is walking around scared. You can put that anywhere in the season. Why [we see it] now is that in episode 2, he’s been tossed aside by Rhaenyra. He has never been this low.”

Rhaenyra’s presence lingers even in this scene. Long before Daemon experiences a vision of young Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), you can hear her faint, disembodied voice calling to him as he seeks out Simon Strong.

Creating Daemon’s emotional vulnerability during the Harrenhal invasion started with his flight into the castle. “If you’re just grounded in reality, this is a man who’s on a drinking binge in a car,” Patel said. She worked with House of the Dragon‘s VFX team to make Caraxes’s movements more reckless, like a “drunken dragon” mirroring his rider’s instability.

Daemon Targaryen walks down a narrow flight of stairs in the darkened castle of Harrenhal.

Matt Smith in “House of the Dragon.”
Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

Daemon’s journey within the castle itself is near-labyrinthine, highlighting both the scale of Harrenhal and Daemon’s own uncertainty. One point of inspiration Patel cited for both her and Smith was the scene in The Silence of the Lambs where Clarice (Jodie Foster) makes her way through Buffalo Bill’s (Ted Levine) house. In both sequences, the camera follows our uneasy protagonist through an unfamiliar place, whipping from doorway to doorway as they contemplate what’s next. There’s no music, just the eerie sounds of the environment.

Harrenhal’s creeping, frightening loneliness serves as the perfect reflection for Daemon at this point in time. “This place represents what’s in his soul right now,” Patel said.

She continued: “As Daemon’s going from corridor to corridor, it’s a metaphor for him thinking, ‘I don’t know where I am in my life. I’ve never been here before. I’m actually scared for the first time in my life, and I’m angry.'”

Daemon takes that anger out on a Strong soldier passing by — the only violence in his takeover of Harrenhal, and a moment that wasn’t in the original script. “In the script, the guy was just running away. But as Matt and I were working through it, we were both thinking, ‘This doesn’t feel like Daemon, where’s he’s at in the story.’ Daemon needs to pummel that guy and take everything out on him,” Patel said.

While the beatdown is a very Daemon move, Patel hinted that a stay in Harrenhal might be a major catalyst for a change in Daemon. “One thing [Matt and I] spent the most time on was the question of, ‘How do we stay Daemon, but also start allowing a shift in him?'” Patel explained. “Since we worked on [the finale] together, we knew where Daemon was going, and we wanted to see how it started in episode 3. Luckily, we both got to work together on the bookends of his experience at Harrenhal.”

New episodes of House of the Dragon air Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and Max.

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