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Photo: Chantal Anderson

Though it’s been more than three years since the final episode of Game of Thrones aired, the show’s fanbase remains as fervently devoted to George R R Martin’s lore as ever – a fact that Cooke was all too aware of when she first signed up for the project. “Embarking on something like this that already has such a legacy, there’s a huge amount of pressure when taking the role, and I didn’t take that lightly. Everyone’s gonna have an opinion about absolutely every single detail of House of the Dragon, but ultimately it’s not my monkey,” she adds, cheerily. “I know that I’ve done my part to the best that I can do, and that’s the most important thing.”

Bingeing the original show only after she found out she was in the running for the role (“People had told me to watch it before that, of course, but I’m one of those people that has to do things on my own time,” she says), what drew Cooke to House of the Dragon initially was the complexity of her character, Lady Alicent Hightower, and her relationship with Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy). The show charts their friendship’s descent into bitter rivalry as both vie for the throne of Westeros, bringing about a brutal civil war. “It’s centred around two women who are pitted against each other, partly because they are actually stronger together – they are used as pawns in this patriarchal society,” says Cooke. “And it’s so rotten how much it mirrors what is going on right now in 2022. It feels like a very pressing and important story to tell of a sudden.”

Photo: Chantal Anderson

Photo: Chantal Anderson

Given Alicent’s conservative belief system and obsession with courtly protocols, it was fun, Cooke explains, to play someone about as far from her own personality as you could get. “I’m such a staunch feminist, and to play someone who – to put it mildly – believes in tradition, and has been moulded and groomed by her father to be a pawn in his political ambitions, was really interesting,” she says. “Partway through the show, she truly begins to understand her role within her father’s life and how it hasn’t been the most loving or healthy father-daughter relationship. She realises that she has power and she has influence – so what does she actually want deep down in her core? And what has been repressed all these years?”

That the first episodes chart the teenage years of Cooke and D’Arcy’s characters (the younger Alicent and Rhaenyra are played by Emily Carey and Milly Alcock, respectively) also came with another, unexpected silver lining – when the premiere rolled around earlier this week, Cooke wasn’t forced to go through the “excruciating” experience of watching herself on screen in front of an audience. “It was actually amazing to go to a premiere and not have to dread seeing your face pop up,” Cooke says, laughing. “Just to be able to watch it as a punter was fabulous, and to see all my pals’ faces 100 times the size, but not mine. I had a great time!”

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