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Why Alys Rivers From House Of The Dragon Looks So Familiar

Contains spoilers for "House of the Dragon" Season 2 Episode 4

If Season 1 of "House of the Dragon" — the prequel and spin-off of HBO's pop culture juggernaut "Game of Thrones" that's proving to be an enormous hit in its own right — put all the pieces onto the proverbial chessboard, they're finally moving in Season 2. There are also some new "pieces" on the board, to continue with that analogy. In Episode 4 of the show's second season, we're formally introduced to the mysterious Alys Rivers, played by Gayle Rankin.

Alys technically also appears in the third episode, "The Burning Mill," where she offers a cryptic, ominous "welcome" to Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) as he takes Harrenhal in the name of Team Black and his wife-niece Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D'Arcy). Alys doesn't introduce herself then, simply telling Daemon he will die in the drafty, damp, and run-down castle — a prediction that will likely come to fruition at some point during this series — and in Episode 4, he wanders into her witchy chambers while experiencing visions in the night. Alys and Daemon have a fraught conversation where she reveals that she's a bastard of the Riverlands (hence her last name) before she convinces him to drink a potion, which may or may not encourage continued visions of people from Daemon's past.

So who is Rankin, and where have you seen her before? The Scottish actress, who attended the prestigious Juilliard School in New York before debuting on the small screen in one episode of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," has been in the industry for just over a decade, but she's still got an extensive resume. From the screen to the stage, here's where you've seen Gayle Rankin before.

The Greatest Showman (2017)

In 2017, fresh off of the success of "La La Land," songwriting duo Justin Paul and Benj Pasek joined another high-profile musical project: "The Greatest Showman," a film centered around the genesis of the Barnum & Bailey Circus directed by Michael Gracey and written by Jenny Bicks ("Sex and the City") and Bill Condon ("Chicago," "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn").

Led by Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, the movie boasts a pretty incredible line-up of stars, including Zac Efron, Zendaya, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and tells the story of how Barnum created the circus after a failed attempt at opening a museum in New York. As Barnum and his troupe gain notoriety, they're given bigger and bigger opportunities — including meeting a sitting monarch.

Since the film is set in the 1800s, the Queen of England in its universe is Queen Victoria, who ruled the United Kingdom from 1837 to 1901, marking one of the longest reigns in history after Queen Elizabeth II. During their meteoric rise to fame, Barnum and his performers are granted an audience with Queen Victoria, who's played by Gayle Rankin. Yes, her appearance in "The Greatest Showman" is brief, but Rankin had a pretty huge responsibility, considering that she was tasked with playing one of the most legendary royals in the history of the British monarchy.

GLOW (2017-2019)

Netflix has played host to a ton of great original shows over the years, though some were canceled far too soon — especially "GLOW," the comedy-drama about women's wrestling created by Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch. The show stars Alison Brie as Ruth Wilder, an actress who's down on her luck (and sleeping with her best friend's husband) and sees an audition for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a staged women's wrestling league. Ultimately, after director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron) chooses his "gorgeous ladies," Ruth adopts the moniker "Zoya the Destroya" and finds herself part of a rag-tag gang of women — including Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), the aforementioned best friend who wrestles under the nickname "Liberty Belle."

So where does Gayle Rankin fit in? She plays Sheila "The She Wolf" as a supporting player in Season 1 and a main character in the second and third seasons. Sheila is what's called a "therian," meaning that she identifies as an animal, and genuinely believes that she's a wolf — which, understandably, makes her formidable in the ring. In fact, as the women try and figure out their wrestling personas, Sam declares that he can't come up with a better identity for Sheila than the one she's already adopted.

Unfortunately for Rankin and everyone else involved with "GLOW," the show was renewed for Season 4 in 2019 — only for Netflix to backtrack on that renewal and cancel the show in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, Rankin's performance as Sheila is a must-watch, whether you already love "GLOW" or it's been in your queue for ages.

Her Smell (2019)

Gayle Rankin plays a supporting role in writer-director Alex Ross Perry's searing film "Her Smell," but the movie truly belongs to star Elisabeth Moss as Becky Something, the lead singer and guitarist of a band who has to get her life in order and rise above her addictions so that she can keep performing — and find stability and peace with her family. Told across five vignettes, "Her Smell" opens as Becky's band Something She — which features Becky, bass player Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn), and drummer Ali van der Wolff (Rankin) — finish a show. At this point, Becky meets with a shaman and experiences disastrous mood swings while Marielle, Ali, and Becky's ex-husband Danny (Dan Stevens) try to rein her in, only for her to completely break down with her infant child nearby.

Rankin's Ali keeps trying to support Becky through her lowest lows, backing her up on drums as the two open for new hit act The Akergirls, but Becky's addictions and violent tendencies often get the best of her. At one point, she even physically assaults Ali during a performance. The final scene sees Something She reunite happily, eleven years after the movie's opening disaster, and Ali, Becky, and Marielle all perform together, with Becky finally choosing to step away from the spotlight after a farewell show. Despite the movie's focus on Becky, Rankin's role as Ali is vital, considering that it's their relationship that partly helps the singer overcome her darkest impulses.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Perry Mason Season 1 (2020)

In 2020, legendary fictional detective Perry Mason returned to the small screen thanks to showrunners and creators Rolin Jones (who currently serves as showrunner on AMC's "Interview with the Vampire") and Ron Fitzgerald ("Weeds," "Friday Night Lights"), who revived the iconic character on HBO. In its first season, Perry, played by "The Americans" star Matthew Rhys, is joined by Tatiana Maslany, John Lithgow, and Justin Kirk — who play a religious leader, a lawyer, and a district attorney, respectively — as they investigate a missing person's case, which is where Gayle Rankin comes in.

The Season 1 mystery centers around Charlie Dodson, a young child who's kidnapped and subsequently murdered — and Rankin plays his grieving mother, Emily, alongside Nate Corddry as her husband, Matthew. As the mother of a boy whose murder is, at first, unsolved, Rankin has a tough role to play as Emily, but she imbues her character with weight and gravity, even as Perry suspects that she might be personally involved in Charlie's mysterious disappearance. "Perry Mason" was eventually canceled after its second season, but Rankin was certainly a highlight of its debut outing.

Kindred (2022)

At the end of 2022, FX and Hulu joined forces with playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins to adapt "Kindred," an influential science fiction novel by acclaimed writer Octavia Butler, which utilizes some fairly tricky time jumps to tell its complicated, layered story. In the present — which, in the series, is 2016 — Dana James (Mallori Johnson) uproots her life and moves to Los Angeles to be closer to family. But everything changes when she's intermittently pulled into the past ... specifically, the 1800s in Maryland, where she's an enslaved woman living and working on a plantation. 

Whenever Dana is sent back in time and across the country, she's under the control of Thomas Weylin (Ryan Kwanten, "True Blood") and his wife Margaret, played by Gayle Rankin, who own the plantation and all of the enslaved people within. Unfortunately for Dana, Margaret is a controlling and domineering force, especially when it comes to her son Rufus (David Alexander Kaplan), whose well-being she prioritizes above all else. This also might be related to her icy relationship with Thomas, who's still grieving his first wife and often overlooks Margaret as a result — though it's her marriage to Thomas that helps boost Margaret's social status, as she's not from the upper echelon of high Maryland society.

Rankin certainly isn't likable on "Kindred," but we certainly wish we'd seen more of her performance; unfortunately, the show was canceled in January 2023 after a single season.

Cabaret (2024)

It can be hard to get a ticket for Broadway shows these days, but even if you don't live close enough to New York to catch a musical on the Great White Way, you might have seen some of Gayle Rankin's wild, over-the-top, and raucous performance as Sally Bowles in the 2024 revival of "Cabaret." Written by legends John Kander and Fred Ebb (who also penned musicals like "Chicago" and the song "New York, New York"), "Cabaret" is set in Berlin during the Weimar Republic, shortly before Nazis overtake Germany and incite World War II. In this acclaimed revival, Rankin stars as flapper and cabaret headliner Sally Bowles, alongside Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee.

The reason that people might recognize Rankin from her role in "Cabaret" is largely because the revival — which transformed Broadway's August Wilson Theatre into a real-life "Kit Kat Club," allowing the audience to feel more involved — staged a massive performance at the 2024 Tony Awards. That number garnered a ton of attention thanks to Redmayne's wild (and, to some, off-putting and strange) performance, which also featured Rankin. Redmayne's interpretation of the Emcee aside, Rankin's performance as Sally was so strong it earned her a Tony nomination for best actress in a leading role in a musical. Alas, during the June 16 ceremony, she ultimately lost to newcomer Maleah Joi Moon, the star of "Hell's Kitchen."

You can catch Rankin's performance as Alys Rivers on "House of the Dragon," which airs new episodes on Sundays on HBO and Max at 9 P.M. EST.