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Why Olivia Cooke Has To Believe Her House Of The Dragon Character Isn't A Villain

For actors, it's paramount to know where a character comes from to know what motives dictate their actions in the present. If you're playing a villain, while you don't necessarily need to empathize with them, you still need to find some humanity within the character. Otherwise, you may fall into the trap of portraying a one-dimensional marionette rather than a layered individual with plausible motivations.

For instance, Matthew Needham, who plays the cunning Larys Strong in HBO's "House of the Dragon," told Coming Soon that he can sympathize with certain facets of his character, such as the fact that he is "somebody who would rather take stock of the situation rather than inserting himself into it dynamically." Still, Needham doesn't empathize with Larys, despite the hardships he may have been through in the past.

Another "House of the Dragon" cast member who had to grapple with the idea of whether her character is or is not a villain was Olivia Cooke. Cooke plays the older version of Alicent Hightower, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen's childhood friend who marries her father, King Viserys, thus becoming queen consort. To some viewers, Alicent is considered a villain for her role in the events leading up to the civil war known as Dance of the Dragons. However, Cooke is of the opinion that things are not so black or white.

Reluctance to murder is not a weakness

In an interview with Deadline, Cooke made it clear that her "House of the Dragon" character was never a villain in her eyes: "I know she makes morally questionable decisions and her reactions can be quite uncouth, to say the least. But I have to believe in what she does in order to play her with absolute honesty and truth."

To the actress, the dispute between the Greens and the Blacks is not a matter of who's evil and who's good. The actress quotes, as she has in other interviews, a tweet she once read which she believes reflects the plot and characters of the award-winning series: "It's not who's good and evil, it's who's your favorite war criminal."

Indeed, there are no saints in "House of the Dragon," only sinners, and it's up to the audience to decide which sins outweigh others. The morally gray areas and human beings' inherent complexity are some of the most interesting aspects of "A Song of Ice and Fire." Cooke understands this, noting that the internet debate about the "Game of Thrones" prequel series and its characters can sometimes be "a bit too black and white."

Alicent is a complex character, and Cooke's nuanced portrayal undeniably represents that. From Cooke's viewpoint, she "played her as a woman of the patriarchy who completely believes in order and tradition." Of course, for many viewers, that's no excuse for Alicent's actions. It is fair to choose a side in the upcoming Targaryen civil war, but it is all the more delightfully heartrending when you can see the humanity on both sides.