According to Ryan Condal, one of two co-showrunners for HBO’s soon-to-premiere Game of Thrones spin-off series House of the Dragons, the decision to race-swap the members of House Velaryon was done in order to avoid featuring “another bunch of white people on the screen”.
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Making their first proper appearance in the second novel in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Clash of Kings, House Velaryon of Driftmark are said to be the oldest of the Targaryen’s allies, finding themselves united in their dealings in Westeros by their shared Valyrian ancestry.
Given this shared heritage, in Martin’s original novels, the members of House Velaryon are described as physically resembling their Dragonrider-counterparts and are said to traditionally bear pale skin, golden silk-like hair, and purple eyes so striking that, as seen in A Feast for Crows, even Cersei finds herself captivated by their depths.
However, with their casting of Steve Toussaint, Savannah Steyn, John MacMillan, and Wil Johnson as the various members of House Velaryon in the upcoming spin-off series, Condal and his co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik have inverted the family’s appearance – replete with a swap of their lineage’s hair color from gold to silver – to depict them instead as a wealthy clan of Black nobles.
The sole exception to this swap appears to be Rhaenys Vlearyon, who will be portrayed by actress Eve Best. However, her depiction of the dragonrider appears to lack her book counterpart’s raven-colored hair – which eventually finds itself merely streaked with white rather than fully colored over.
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Speaking to this decision during a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Condal explained that House Velaryon was explicitly race-swapped because “It was very important for Miguel [Sapochnik] and I to create a show that was not another bunch of white people on the screen.”
“We wanted to find a way to put diversity in the show, but we didn’t want to do it in a way that felt like it was an afterthought or, worse, tokenism,” he added.
Condal further asserted that the idea to depict House Velaryon as black was inspired by Martin’s own admission that he had played with a similar concept during the development of his fantasy intrigue series.
“Once we had that idea, it just felt like everything fell into place,” Condal asserted.
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This ‘idea’, as described by Condal, was first touched upon by Martin amidst a 2013 discussion on his blog regarding the Game of Thrones’ series accused lack of representation.
Replying to a fan who had expressed a personal desire to see more non-white characters in the HBO adaptation, Martin recalled, “Right from the start I wanted the Targaryens, and by extension the Valryians from whom they were descended, to be a race apart, with distinctive features that set them apart from the rest of Westeros, and helped explain their obsession with the purity of their blood.”
“To do this, I made a conventional ‘high fantasy’ choice, and gave them silver-gold hair, purple and violet eyes, fine chiseled aristocratic features. That worked well enough, at least in the books (on the show, less so).” The author continued, “But in recent years, it has occured to me from time to time that it might have made for an interesting twist if instead I had made the dragonlords of Valyria… and therefore the Targaryens… black.”
“Maybe I could have kept the silver hair too, though,” he said. “No, that comes too close to ‘dark elf’ territory, but still… if I’d had dark-skinned dragonlords invade and conquer and dominate a largely white Westeros… though that choice would have brought its own perils.The Targaryens have not all been heroic, after all… some of them have been monsters, madmen, so…”
“Well, it’s all moot,” Martin concluded. “The idea came to me about twenty years too late.”
House of the Dragon is set to premiere on HBO on August 21st, 2022.
What do you make of Condal’s reasoning behind he and his co-showrunner’s decision to race-swap the members of House Velaryon? Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments down below!
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