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Graham McTavish plays Ser Harrold Westerling in a still from HBO’s House of the Dragon. Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO/TNS

‘He’s a straight arrow’: House of the Dragon’s Graham McTavish on playing a ‘pure’ character rare in Game of Thrones spin-off

  • A star of the Game of Thrones spin-off House of the Dragon, Graham McTavish plays Ser Harrold Westerling, a long-time Kingsguard, in the series
  • McTavish, who also played Dwalin the dwarf in The Hobbit, says his character is not ambitious or corrupt; a rare thing in a story full of betrayal and brutality

Anticipation for the first Game of Thrones spin-off series has been hotter than dragon’s breath.

The opening episode of House of the Dragon, premiering August 21 on HBO, has everything Game of Thrones fans would expect from a sister show – love, betrayal, brutality, battles, sex, shock and, of course, dragons.

But amid the madness, a rare noble character, Ser Harrold Westerling, strives to uphold integrity in the fictional continent of Westeros.

“In a world of vipers, which is the world of anything to do with Game of Thrones or House of the Dragon, he’s a straight arrow,” says Graham McTavish, who plays Harrold. “He’s a moral centre in the story.

Graham McTavish plays the noble Ser Harrold Westerling in HBO’s House of the Dragon. Photo: EPA-EFE/Tolga Akmen

“He’s not corrupt. He’s not personally ambitious in the same way that other characters might be. He doesn’t have that kind of agenda. So he represents something quite pure in a world where that’s hard to come by.”

The new show, a prequel set 200 years before Game of Thrones, centres on House Targaryen and the members of that family that rule over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

HBO’s House of the Dragon and Amazon’s The Rings of Power: your questions answered

They’re the ancestors of Daenerys Targaryen, the silvery blond-haired beauty who was revered as a slave liberator before she went mad and unleashed her dragon to torch her enemies and innocents in the last season of Game of Thrones.

In House of the Dragon, Ser Harrold is a long-time Kingsguard who gets promoted by King Viserys Targaryen early in the season to Lord Commander of those royal bodyguards. He’s tasked with protecting and serving Viserys and his first-born child, Princess Rhaenyra.

“He becomes the principal protection and shadow to everything that the king is involved in,” McTavish says of Harrold. “The Kingsguard, they’re a sort of warrior monk-type.

It always sounds a little boring, but he’s a very interesting counterpoint to the other stuff that’s happening
Graham McTavish on his House of the Dragon character

“They get chosen as children, they’re not allowed to marry, they don’t have relationships, they don’t have any money, they forsake all their land and estates. They are simply focused on looking after, in this case, the princess and the king.”

An intense conflict emerges in the first episode as to who will eventually succeed Viserys on the Iron Throne, with Rhaenyra in the running as well as Prince Daemon, the king’s younger brother.

The Scottish actor, 61, says Harrold is “utterly discreet and utterly reliable. It always sounds a little boring, but he’s a very interesting counterpoint to the other stuff that’s happening.”

House of the Dragon is based on George R.R. Martin’s 2018 Fire & Blood novel. Martin, who’s a co-creator of the prequel show, also wrote the fantasy novels that were adapted into Game of Thrones.

House of the Dragon is far from the first on-screen project McTavish has appeared in that stemmed from fantasy novels. He played Dwalin in The Hobbit film series, and both Dougal MacKenzie and William Buccleigh MacKenzie in Outlander.

McTavish did not focus too much on the pressure of Dragon following the enormous success of Thrones, which was HBO’s most-watched show ever. Nor did he dwell on the feelings of some fans who weren’t happy with the last season of Thrones.

McTavish at the premiere of the HBO original drama series House of the Dragon. Photo: Hollie Adams/AFP

“There is a very loyal fan base,” McTavish says. “They have their views and there are the stories themselves, but at the same time, we also needed to make it our own. So my version or [the other actors’] versions of any of the other characters, they’re down to us and in collaboration with the writers and directors.

“You can’t be so scared of what you’re involved in. It was the same when I did The Hobbit. That came off the back of Lord of the Rings and there was huge expectation. It was the same with Outlander; there was this massive fan base.

“You were very conscious that there was an expectation from those fans of what it should be like. But we always have to park that and proceed independently.”