Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
King Viserys I Targaryen was not a great man. He was a rather reluctant monarch who tried to maintain the peace forged by his grandsire, Jaehaerys I, but failed to live up to his greatness; instead his ineffective leadership helped sow the seeds of division in his house. He could have been an utterly forgettable, perhaps even unlikeable character. In House of the Dragon, however, Paddy Considine achieved the greatness his character could not – bringing Viserys to life with nuance and pathos, making us empathize and understand him in a way the pages of Fire and Blood never could.
Author George R.R. Martin seems to concur, as Considine recounts that he received a text message from him saying “Your Viserys is better than my Viserys.” Throughout the season, Considine showed us Viserys’ love for his family, his desire to be a good man and a good ruler, and his concern for the legacy he’d leave behind. And in his emotional final episode, he showed us the heavy price he paid.
From his first appearance in the series premiere “The Heirs of the Dragon,” we see Viserys as a man who deeply cares for his wife and daughter, even if his decisions regarding both sometimes lead to disastrous consequences. In the case of his wife Aemma, his choice to try and save their son led to her brutal death, and in the case of his daughter Rhaenyra, his choice to name her heir puts a huge burden on her shoulders and sets up brutal conflict to come.
Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter at the beginning of the season, Considine shared his feelings on taking the role. “I got the first three scripts and it was a really rich, beautiful and conflicted character. A beautiful character. I’ve been waiting for a role like this, if I’m being honest.” He went on to describe Viserys as “a great scholar and I think the responsibility was given to him because he was peaceful like Jaehaerys. He’s a good man, but a bad king in that he tries to please everybody…He’s a very human man with huge emotions and responsibilities that weigh on him physically and mentally.”
Viserys also cares for his brother Daemon, despite the dysfunctional relationship between the two men. In a preseason interview posted to the Game of Thrones YouTube channel, Considine explains the complex feelings that exist between the brothers. “Viserys does love Daemon, massively, they just can’t articulate it between each other. Daemon, in Viserys’ eyes, is a fuck up. He’s always bringing trouble to his door. You know, but a part I think of Viserys envies Daemon, because part of him wishes that he could go off and do what Daemon does.”
We see the conflict between the two throughout the season, as Daemon continually lets his brother down and gets exiled for his transgressions. Viserys, however, is always ready to welcome him back with open arms. In a beautiful moment as Viserys struggles toward the Iron Throne to affirm the legitimacy of Rhaenyra’s sons, Daemon steps up to help as Viserys’ crown topples to the floor. He supports his ailing brother as he sits the throne for the final time, and places the crown gently on his head. Considine does a masterful job of conveying Viserys’ love and gratitude, and of giving Daemon the acceptance he always wanted.
The physical decline of Viserys over the season is a perfect metaphor for the degradation of his reign as king. Never a strong ruler, he allows himself to be manipulated by those around him, resulting in a rift in his family that can’t be healed – despite his last ditch effort to repair it. Unfortunately in his final episode, he’s too weak in mind and body to enforce any real reconciliation between the opposing sides.
As Considine tells Vulture, “Ultimately, the character is a very, very tragic character.” He explains that Viserys believes he deserves what happens to him, saying, “He chose to put his wife through a terrible procedure, and that breaks his heart and he never recovers from it…the minute that he burned her on her funeral pyre, he just never lived properly again.” He adds, “When the illness strickens him and he gets worse — if you notice through the story, he’s not the one asking for a cure…He just accepts this thing for what it is. I think in some way — and this is probably a Paddy choice, a deep-seated Catholic-guilt Paddy choice — he’s being punished.”
Regarding Viserys’ final words – which weren’t in the script – Considine gave some insight into his decision to include them in an interview with The New York Times. “I always had an idea in my head, whether it was useful to the story or not, that the last thing Viserys sees before he dies is the person who comes to collect him from this mortal life. When he dies, he sees Aemma, and he says, ‘My love.’ I just kind of improvised that line, and reached out a little bit, because this to me is a tragic love story, in many ways…The narrative I had in my mind was that he never really gets over Aemma, that he’s devastated for the rest of his life.”
Considine posted to Instagram following his character’s final moments to express his gratitude to the fans, and for the opportunity to bring Viserys to life on screen.
Thank you, Paddy, for giving us the Viserys we never knew we needed. You made the story of House Targaryen all the richer for it.