Can ‘House of the Dragon’ Fully Handle the Complexity of Race-Bending Corlys Velaryon?
Game of Thrones faced a lot of backlash for the lack of POC in the HBO series. Especially since the books by George R.R. Martin did feature characters of color whose roles were given to white characters when adapted for TV. House of the Dragon has been correcting that with the inclusion of a Black and Brown characters. Among the most important to the longer narrative is Lord Corlys Velaryon and his family.
Played by Black British actor Steve Toussaint, Corlys Velaryon is the husband of Rhaenys Targaryen and the wealthiest man in the realm. He in many ways plays a similar role to Tywin Lannister whose wealth and military power made him an important ally to the Throne. From the start of his casting, Toussaint faced harassment from fans that were upset about a Black person in the role.
“It seems to be very hard for people to swallow,” Toussaint said during an interview in Men’s Health. “They are happy with a dragon flying. They’re happy with white hair and violet-colored eyes, but a rich Black guy? That’s beyond the pale.”
He highlighted the positives of what it means to have someone like him and his family be at the center of Westeros. “What has been wonderful is for every toxic person that has somehow found their way into my timeline, there have been so many others who have been so supportive and been like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait, this is going to be great!'” Toussaint explained. “Even when we were doing certain scenes, there would be supporting artists who would come up and go, ‘It’s great to have this representation.'”
What makes Corlys interesting as a character is that he is not a passive character, subservient, or there to placate the white cast. He is a powerful leader, an advocate for the claim of his wife, and a proud man. Rarely do we get characters like this given a lot of nuance. It is easy for them to be written off as uppity due to them being outliers. Because we have so many different examples of representation, we can have this kind of character. However, as someone who has seen ahead what this kind of diversity tends to lead to—issues when it comes to later cast—but that will happen when it happens and we shall discuss it then.
Until then, my biggest disappointment is that we have not done the work of already creating Black characters in fantasy that have these qualities and that Corlys feels rare to us. It can be jarring at times to have Black and Brown actors dropped into white characters, because even in a diverse fantasy setting there can be cultural conflicts that don’t need to be racist(TM). Not to mention, we know that Westeros does have biases about Browner people as we saw with Dorne, the Dothraki, and other Brown coded groups.
Right now, when I look back at the fanart about Corlys they are almost all of the white figure in the books. I hope that we will get more of Black Corlys—but more importantly that fantasy writers write complex and interesting POC into their main cast, so that it’s no longer the case that the only way BIPOC actors get these roles is by being cast as a white character.
(image: OLLIE UPTON/HBO)
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