Matt Smith Is So Damn Good On ‘House Of The Dragon’

In episode five of House of the Dragon, a cloaked Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) has an unpleasant reunion of sorts with his frequently mentioned wife, Lady Rhea. Daemon, dressed ominously in a black hooded cloak, stands in the middle of a path in the Vale, seemingly waiting for her. He looks like the Grim Reaper, the lead singer of an early 2000s emo band, or, ironically, Jared Leto in Morbius. Lady Rhea sarcastically asks him if he’s come to finally consummate their marriage and torments him. Tense music plays (thanks closed captioning!) as Lady Rhea’s eyes widened. She reaches for her weapon, but her horse freaks out (the technical terms) and she falls off, cracking her neck. We see Daemon try to tame Lady Rhea’s horse, and he picks up a large rock. Daemon’s actions remain unclear. Before the tense music and the horse freaking out, we didn’t see what Daemon did, if anything, so it’s impossible to know for sure. Did Daemon intend to kill his wife, who was a skilled rider? Did he pick up the rock to show her mercy with a quick death, or was he motivated by hate?

As one of the few main characters on such an intimate show that has mostly consisted of the same three Targaryens talking in various rooms, Daemon Targaryen remains a mystery. The narrative consistently and intentionally hides his motivations and actions from the audience, leaving us to ponder his true nature. Is he a villain or just a weirdo? It’s still too soon to tell, but Matt Smith’s striking performance keeps it interesting rather than frustrating. The events in episode five imply that Daemon is dangerous and guilty of uxoricide, and playing a game (of thrones, perhaps?) with his brother King Viserys and niece Princess Rhaenyera.

But in episode four, Daemon was menacing, outrageously emotional, and disturbingly hot. He turned on the uncle charm when he took Rhaenyra for a night out in King’s Landing, they had a streamy little finger bang, and by the end of the episode, Daemon is writhing on the floor getting a beating from his brother. When confronted about his intimacy with Rhaenerya, Daemon’s emotions feel authentic: he doesn’t feel bad about his actions with Rhaenyra because he has genuine romantic feelings for her. Smith plays Daemon so well that the incest scene, as gross as it was, felt weirdly hot, and so well that by the time King Viserys is pissed and kicking him, you feel kind of bad.

Smith is a master at quiet, rousing menace. His face looks completely different depending on his emotion and the lighting. He can embody charm with his body language while his eyes communicate the opposite, or vice versa. He can also be completely charming or completely terrifying. Although a terrible film (and not even so terrible that it is a pleasure to watch), Smith does this in his entertaining performance in Morbius. His character builds and builds from a seemingly normal person into total chaos and as Prince Philip on Netflix’s The Crown, Smith tapped into his dark side.

Essentially, Matt Smith gives House of the Dragon everything while also giving nothing at all. Smith’s presence changes the gravity of every scene, instantly making the show more interesting and infinitely more dramatic and emotional, despite the unknown. Every scene without him feels like a missed opportunity, but a necessary missed opportunity because you need to miss him. A character without clear motivations should never work, but like Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger played with similar success by Aiden Gillen, Daemon Targaryen works because of Matt Smith.