Mike Bell, one of House of the Dragon‘s visual effects supervisors, does a deep dive into Viserys’ diseased face, explaining how the show made it look so realistic. Serving as a prequel of sorts to HBO’s Game of Thrones, House of the Dragon chronicles the onset of the Targaryen civil war close to 200 years earlier. The show was a big hit with fans and critics alike with Paddy Considine’s King Viserys serving as a central character for much of season 1. In early episodes of House of the Dragon, Viserys is shown to be dealing with relatively mild symptoms of a flesh-eating disease. By episode 8, however, numerous time jumps see the character withering away, sporting a gaunt appearance with parts of his face have completely deteriorated.
In an exclusive interview with Screen Rant, MPC visual effects supervisor Mike Bell comments on how The Mill, a sister company under Technicolor, pulled off Viserys’ diseased face on House of the Dragon. After explaining that any visual effects involving facial manipulation are usually hard to get audiences to buy into, he reveals that The Mill used several clever methods to maintain Considine’s powerful performance underneath their digital enhancements. Check out Bell’s full comment below:
“Because of the leap forward in time of six years, they really wanted that first time he appears in bed to be shocking, so you see the deterioration. And what was really important was to preserve Paddy’s performance. His performance in episode 8 is so packed with emotion and nuance that you don’t want to detract from that in any way. It’s tough doing CG faces, or doing anything CG to a face. We’re so used to seeing faces that it’s very easy for us to pick out what doesn’t seem right, and it removes us from the situation. It was very decided very early on that they were definitely keeping his eyes and mouth; anything that could detract. We also use as much as we can of what the makeup department did on the day, with the wounds that he’s got on his cheek.
Ultimately, because he’s meant to be emaciated and has lost an incredible amount of weight, shrinking him was a simple methodology; just one that’s long and drawn out. You’re sort of warping and moving him very subtly, then layering it. Also, you’re color grading sections to give it contouring and make his cheekbones feel prominent and tracking minute bits in. Beyond that, when he takes the mask off, that was a 3D build put onto the thinner, more gaunt version of King Viserys. It’s a combination of 2D tracking methods and 3D for the actual hole in the wound in his eye and the missing cheek. Because, obviously, you needed to see inside at that point. You needed to see all the muscles and teeth.
I find on some things, like when people are making actors look younger, it can throw you off. If it’s a recognizable actor, you instantly go, “Oh, some VFX is happening now.” It removes you from the story slightly. Whereas this one, it could be mistaken that he went full Christian Bale. I don’t think it detracted from the scenes at all. And certainly, that episode was packed with emotion, and I think Paddy’s look just enhanced it.”
What Viserys’ Illness Represents in House of the Dragon
While Viserys is shown to be managing his illness relatively well in early episodes with baths and various skin treatments, the disease progresses as time passes. At first losing only a few fingers and sporting some unsightly sores, he eventually can barely walk and becomes a skeletal figure as his body essentially destroys itself. This deterioration mirrors, in many ways, the relationship between Rhaenyra and Alicent, at first played by Milly Alcock and Emily Carey, respectively, but later played by Emma D’Arcy and Olivia Cooke, respectively. While the two characters begin House of the Dragon as friends, the downfall of their relationship is essentially the entire premise of season 1.
Throughout his time on the show, Viserys is constantly trying to maintain peace. He continues to champion Rhaenyra as his successor while also attempting to alleviate Alicent’s concerns about Rhaenyra’s infidelity. As the show progresses, the dynamic between the two characters becomes more hostile until it’s essentially hanging on by just a thread, much like Viserys’ life. When Considine’s character dies in House of the Dragon episode 8, his last words set Rhaenyra and Alicent on a path to violence. Of course, it’s not just the dynamic between Rhaenyra and Alicent that Viserys’ illness represents, but the very health of House Targaryen itself, which plunges into disarray following his death.
While Viserys will not be appearing in season 2, the character’s legacy is sure to live on. Both Rhaenyra and Alicent believe they are fighting to fulfill Viserys’ dying wish, which is sure to lead only to more violence, especially after Aemond kills Luke in the show’s season 1 finale. Although Viserys always tried to be a voice of reason on House of the Dragon and sought to prevent war, his absence means season 2 can more fully explore the escalating conflict between Rhaenyra and Alicent.