House Of The Dragon Finale: Director Greg Yaitanes Breaks Down The Episode’s Three Key Scenes

House Of The Dragon S1 finale

by James White |

Birth! Death! Dragons! More Death! With House Of The Dragon's season finale wrapping up its initial run with some incredibly traumatic and climactic moments, we thought it only appropriate to talk about the episode with someone who knew the ins-and-outs of the whole thing.

Who better, then, than director and executive producer Greg Yaitanes, who has been with the show since the start and directed three of this season's biggest episodes – The Rogue Prince, Second Of His Name and Monday's epic finale, The Black Queen.

Empire had him break down three key scenes from the finale, offering his take on their meaning, how they were brought to life and his personal input.

Obviously, those who have yet to watch the episode should BEWARE OF SPOILERS, but otherwise, read on…

Birth Pangs

House Of The Dragon S1 finale

The first season of House Of The Dragon was crammed with more births than an episode of Call The Midwife, though in the spirit of that show, they were either hugely traumatic in themselves (such as Queen Aemma, played by Sian Brooke, dying horribly in childbirth in the first episode, Heirs Of The Dragon), or with traumatic after-effects, including Emma D'Arcy's Princess Rhaenyra refusing to show weakness after giving birth to son Joffrey, and staggering through the palace still bleeding and exhausted from the effort when Queen Alicent (Oliva Cooke) demands to see the child. The Black Queen is even tougher for Rhaenyra, who gives birth to a stillborn baby. It's a scene that haunts Yaitanes.

"Miguel [Sapochnik, showrunner alongside Ryan Condal] had given each of the births in the season a different theme. And he handed me a notecard for this one saying, 'This is the battlefield. This one is war.' And it is the most described birth in the book, so the actual description and movement and dialogue of it is directly from the source material. It's a traumatic labour, and as a parent, watching someone go through that and have a stillborn child...It was emotional for all of us working on it."

Like the first episode's birth scene, this intercuts with others – in this case, Matt Smith's Daemon making plans for war against his wife's wishes, and Rhaenyra's dragon, Syrax, snarling.

"After I cut the scene together, I put in storyboards of her dragon, Syrax, having almost a sympathetic experience with her," explains Yaitanes. "Intercutting that connection, each fuelling the other in a way, and with Rhaenyra feeling that she's being torn apart by the inside and the outside. She puts that blame on her father's death and the Greens [aka Team Alicent]."

As for Daemon, his disconnection from his wife is planted earlier in the episode, as the news of Viserys' (Paddy Considine) death reaches Dragonstone. "They both grieve entirely separately," says Yaitanes. "She goes into premature labour. He disconnects from everything and starts to think what's next. We made very sure in that scene when the news comes of Viserys to not have them physically touching. They could have been near each other but they weren't. They don't really share the frame very much. And then if you notice, as the episode goes, the physical divide keeps increasing." Trouble in Dragonstone, indeed.

Return Of The Sea Snake

House Of The Dragon S1 finale

One couple who are much more in tune are Lord Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint) and wife Rhaenys Targaryen, played by Eve Best. With Corlys finally out of his blood fever coma (after having his throat slashed and going overboard in a naval battle at the Stepstones – a scene that Yaitanes says was originally going to open Episode 8), he realises that his driving ambition has brought nothing but pain and tragedy to his family. A heart-to-heart between the pair sees him looking to leave battle, while she gently reminds him of the stakes.

"One of the things I love to get into is partner relationships; they are something I really connect to," admits Yaitanes. "And especially here, getting into the guts of real partnership between them as a couple. You see that they are there to check in with each other." It certainly changes Corlys' mind, and, after a dramatic entrance to the war room containing The Painted Table, he throws his support and forces behind Rhaenyra.

His arrival was one where Yaitanes experimented with different ways of shooting. "There's a very fine tone to what makes the show the show, because it is a drama that presents as fantasy. You can tip off the tightrope if you're not careful," Yaitanes explains. "I had to have restraint to not do some kind of more Marvel-esque entry for his reintroduction. I love his character. I adore Steve and I love Corlys. I did one version where people started to stir and look and to see something as they're mid-bicker and the cane came down. I did the one where like, somebody sees and then somebody else sees and it's like the turn and you start getting the thing. And then it's, 'boom! There he is'. I did multiple things." Thanks to Yaitanes eventual choice and Toussaint's inherent screen presence, it really works.

A (Lethal) Dance Of Dragons

House Of The Dragon S1 finale

The episode ends in epic style. When Rhaenyra sends young son Lucerys (Elliot Grihault) to Storm's End to secure the support of Borros Baratheon (Roger Evans), he arrives to find Aemond Targaryen (Ewan Mitchell) already there, having provided House Baratheon with an offer from the Greens. And when Aemond decides to bully the younger lad, demanding he carve his own eye out in repentance for losing his own all those years ago, it leads to a terrifying chase on dragonback through clouds and canyons – between Aemond, on the hulking Vhagar, and Lucerys on the
far smaller Arrax. It represents the first fully ridden dragon-on-dragon clash in Game Of Thrones screen history. So… no pressure?

"I felt a huge responsibility," says Yaitanes, who used toy dragons and shot videos of himself working out the moves with cinematographer Pepe Avila del Pino. It was a technique that took him back to his childhood. "I went back to exactly how I used to be as a kid, which is that I used to play with my toys, my Star Wars figures. And I would get down and I would do camera angles when I would play with my X-Wings and TIE Fighters. It was that sense of play in terms of choreography, because it was written more around the emotional beats and when the dragons were getting out of hand.

"I did not feel storyboards would be the way to accomplish that technically. And I wanted to work that out. So I played with my toys! My fiancée was crying laughing at me last night [watching behind the scenes featurette The House That Dragons Built, which features the toy dragon home movies], saying, 'Oh my God, you're not even wearing your shoes!' [VFX house] The Third Floor took these videos and then actually made a CGI master of the whole thing." There was one other, even more surprising source of inspiration for the director. I watched How To Train Your Dragon, because Roger Deakins was the visual consultant on the first movie," admits Yaitanes. "The shot design on that is actually a great reference for people flying on dragons!"

The dog...er... dragon fight ends with Vhagar, refusing to obey Aemond and chomping Arrax in two, mincing Lucerys in the process. Whoops! So how does Yaitanes think Aemond is feeling after that? "I think if we stayed with him for the flight back to King's Landing, he would be processing all of this. I think he's in shock. It's putting nukes in the hands of kids. The dragons are weapons of mass destruction. If you liken it to teenagers in a 50s movie playing chicken: 'What did you expect was going to happen?'"

Having lost *checks notes* her father, a newborn child and now her favourite son (sorry Jace, but we're all thinking it) in the space of a couple of days, Rhaenyra is, of course, somewhat naturally agonized. And ready to fight back. We watch as Daemon informs her of Luke's death and the finale wraps with Rhaenyra staring down the barrel of the camera at us, her eyes filled with grief and fury.

"There's actually another minute to that shot that was cut, which is Daemon getting the news of Luke's death," says Yaitanes. "And then we walk with Daemon for a period of time, and watch him process, and see how he's going to bring that news. Then it was actually Matt's idea to take her away from the table and bring it by the fireplace, to symbolically have the fire."

"It was actually the second-to-last take we used," Yaitanes says. "Emma, they nailed it. It was everything. I think I whispered into Emma's ear, 'Alicent's killed your son.' In her eyes, we see war." Bring on Season 2.

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