Note: This article contains spoilers for House Of The Dragon episodes 1-5. Avert your eyes if you aren’t caught up yet!
Once you look beyond the dragons and Valyrian dialect, there are more than a few similarities between the world of House Of The Dragon and our own modern moment. If anyone understands this, it’s Olivia Cooke, who is set to take over the role of Alicent Hightower from Emily Carey in the HBO prequel’s upcoming sixth episode. Alicent’s struggle for autonomy, her seductive dance with systemic power, and her ultimate loneliness all feel resonant in today’s increasingly polarized and isolating world—who isn’t rattling the bars of their cage a bit in 2022?
Universal resonance aside, however, Cooke says House Of The Dragon creators Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal came to her with a very clear image of where Alicent might fall in a modern American landscape. Cooke tells Entertainment Weekly in a new interview that Sapochnik (who will not return for an imminent season 2) and Condal described Alicent to her early on as “like a woman for Trump.” It’s a direction Cooke both understood and felt hesitant to take.
“I just didn’t want to give them any more mental real estate than they already had,” Cooke says of the not-so-esteemed former First Family. “So I tried to find a different route into her, but I could see what they were saying with this complete indoctrination and denial of her own autonomy and rights. I just couldn’t be asked to go down that road.”
Of course, there are many inroads to a woman born into a system that squeezes her of any and all autonomy, and Cooke highlights how important it was to find a “humanitarian hook” into a character who, well, married her best friend’s dad.
“She does some fucking despicable stuff,” she admits. “But then you’ve got to think, she’s trying to protect her son. She’s trying to uphold the patriarchy. She’s trying to uphold the legitimacy of the crown. All these things that she feels are so much bigger than she is. I think that’s why when she can’t control that, she turns to faith more as some sort of tangible element of control, because she doesn’t have any in her life whatsoever.”
So much of that control comes from Alicent’s lot in life to, as Rhaenyra so bluntly puts it in episode 4, “be imprisoned in a castle and made to squeeze out heirs.” Not to mention heirs who, in Cooke’s unsparing own words, are “fucking weird.”
“Alicent has been completely bred to breed, and to breed powerful men. That’s her only function in this life,” Cooke says. “She can tell herself that she’s going to sway and nurture and persuade in a very womanly, feminine way, but it’s all fucking bullshit. Unless you’re fighting the men, you’ll never be heard. It’s learning to live within this straightjacket of oppression. How do I move inch by inch every single day to loosen the straps?”
House Of The Dragon returns to HBO on September 25—check out The A.V. Club’s halftime report on the first season here.