Best’s masterful acting brings unparalleled authenticity to House of the Dragon’s fantasy world.
Since the series’ debut, one of the most thematically resonant characters in House of the Dragon has been Rhaenys Targaryen, portrayed by Eve Best. Dubbed the “Queen Who Never Was,” Best’s Rhaenys has been crucial to the show’s critique of patriarchal power and tradition. And yet, little attention has been paid to the incredibly nuanced performance of Best in this critical role. In Episode 8, “The Lord of the Tides,” Best navigates a wide range of complicated emotions and meaningfully delivers dialogue dripping with subtext, proving she is truly the show’s standout performer.
Episode 8 opens with Rhaenys’s line, “It’s been near six years since I last saw my lord-husband, Maester. I must know, will he live?” Not only does this line of dialogue introduce the show’s newest time jump, it also crucially demonstrates Rhaenys’s emotional state since the end of the last episode, in which her son, Laenor (John MacMillan) appeared to be murdered.
It is a testament to Best’s delivery that this line is so effective as she does not actually appear on-screen while delivering it. Therefore, it is through Best’s careful reading that it yields such resonance. Best’s punctuation of “six years” expresses her longing to be reunited with her husband, Corlys Velaryon (Steve Toussaint). The deliberate beat she takes between “I must know” and “will he live?” suggests she is frightened to learn the truth of her husband’s condition. This line is especially impactful considering she is still in mourning over the presumed loss of her son. Through a single line of dialogue, Best unravels a multifaceted network of emotions and sets the tonal stage for the entire episode.
Best’s Portrayal of Rhaenys Relies on Subtlety
Best first appears on-screen as the Maester Kelvyn (Haqi Ali) concludes the news of Corlys’s injuries. Rhaenys listens to the Maester’s message intently, and through Best’s performance, it is clear that Rhaenys’s external strength masks her internal anguish. Shot in profile, Best looks forward, but down, not making eye contact with the Maester. As the news of Corlys’s suffering continues, Best turns her head down to the left, as her chin quivers ever so subtly. With this gesture, Best expresses Rhaenys’s attempt to maintain composure. Significantly, instead of immediately turning to face the Maester, Best then turns to the right, stalling for time before she can utter her next question. With attention to even the smallest of movements, Best demonstrates her dedication to and respect for Rhaenys’s complex psyche.
Additional scenes throughout the episode further exemplify Best’s layered portrayal. When Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) comes to Rhaenys to discuss the impending succession petition, Best uses her masterful expressiveness to convey the underlying grief that subtends her politicking. Through a series of unbroken stares, Best demonstrates the skepticism Rhaenys has for Rhaenyra, whom she believes ordered the assassination of her son. When she does look away, her sorrowful eyes express her continued mourning over the loss of Laenor. Her suspicion and grief work in tandem, as evidenced by the moment when Rhaenyra tells Rhaenys she had nothing to do with Laenor’s death. Best, looking away, raises her left eyebrow slightly—even when Rhaenys is remembering her son, she leaves room to doubt her current opponent.
Later, Rhaenys is called to testify in front of King Viserys (Paddy Considine) regarding the petition. As her previous scene ends with Rhaenys accepting the inevitable power grab by the rival Hightowers, she is surprised to be asked to speak. But Rhaenys cannot call attention to her surprise, or she might appear weak. Therefore, Best simply raises her head somewhat as grin twitches across her face. After Rhaenys’s remarks, her gaze lingers briefly on Rhaenyra, signaling their renewed alliance. Best’s subtle look, even when framed in a medium-long shot, communicates copious amounts of information without any dialogue.
No matter the scene, Best commands the screen with rich complexity, always imbuing her performance with depth and dimensionality. From her nuanced line delivery to her masterful control over even the smallest of expressions, Best brings unmatched authenticity to her fantasy character. Though much attention has been paid to the incredible performances of the show’s protagonists, Episode 8 truly solidifies Best as House of the Dragon’s preeminent performer.