Corlys Velaryon is Black in House of the Dragon, a fact that has caused some unfortunate responses but is actually good for the show and makes sense to boot. House of the Dragon is a Game of Thrones prequel, but it’s going to be a very different show in a lot of ways. That certainly goes for its timeline, which begins roughly 200 years prior the story of Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and all the rest. But it will be true in myriad other ways, from its Targaryen-centric civil war plot and dragon vs. dragon warfare, to how the story is told, what it’s adapting (an in-universe history book rather than a novel series), and the people tasked with bringing the show to life.
For one, House of the Dragon has been co-created by George R.R. Martin, alongside Ryan Condal (who is co-showrunner with veteran Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik. Martin has greater oversight and influence than he did on most of Thrones, which itself should help the show succeed. There’s also an enviable array of talent in front of the camera, including Paddy Considine as King Viserys Targaryen, Matt Smith as Daemon Targaryen, Emma D’Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen, Olivia Cooke as Alicent Hightower, Eve Best as Rhaenys Targaryen, and Steve Toussaint as Corlys Velaryon.
It’s the latter of those that has sadly caused a mixture of confusion and consternation, since it means Corlys Velaryon is Black. There are, inevitably, qualms about things like “book authenticity,” though much of the backlash stems from a far less genuine (and rather more racist) place. There should be no arguing with the showrunners deciding Corlys is Black, but exploring the decision further shows that it does indeed make sense, and is a good step for the show and the wider Game of Thrones franchise.
Is Corlys Velaryon Black In The Books?
In what some may proclaim as the biggest “gotcha” of the discussion around House of the Dragon’s casting, Corlys Velaryon is not Black in any of the books in which he’s mentioned, including Fire & Blood. But, at the same time, he is also not not Black. Simply put, Corlys’ skin color is never described on the page, meaning there’s no reason he can’t be portrayed by a Black man in House of the Dragon. Yes, he is of Valyrian descent and, yes, they are largely known for their pale skin as well as silver hair and violet eyes (the latter two attributes Corlys does have in the books, and just wait until people find out what Toussaint’s real eye color is…). But there is no definitive there; nothing to claim ALL those of Valyrian descent have pale skin.
While House Targaryen may have largely interbred, but the same wasn’t true of other Houses. The Velaryons’ ships served as dragons of the sea, carrying them all over the known world, and Corlys’ mother isn’t described. It’s perfectly possible that she too was Black, and that Corlys inherited genetic traits from both his parents. The Velaryons are only briefly featured in A Song of Ice and Fire, with a Cersei Lannister chapter from A Feast for Crows noting they “came from old Valyrian stock, however, and some had the same silvery hair as the dragonkings of old.” Likewise, The World of Ice and Fire book mentions the “great beauty of the Valyrians – with their hair of palest silver or gold and eyes in shades of purple not found amongst other people.” Thus it can be taken these are the two most defining traits, rather than skin color.
Another common complaint around Corlys being Black is the apparent impact it has upon other storylines, most notably the children his son, Laenor, supposedly has with Rhaenyra Targaryen. It’s widely rumored (and almost certainly true) that Laenor is gay and Rhaenyra’s kids are bastards she conceived with Harwin Strong, a Knight, as they all have the same brown hair as him rather than Laenor and Rhaenyra’s Valyrian locks. The point, though, is that the children don’t look like Laenor, so again skin color doesn’t really have to enter into it; if Rhaenyra’s children are white, then it is still only a suggestion of their true parentage rather than outright confirmation.
Why Corlys Velaryon Is Black In House Of The Dragon
Among the many criticisms of Game of Thrones both during and after its run concerns its lack of diversity. Also the show did cast people of color, few were in prominent roles. Those that were often took on parts such as slaves, like Missandei and Grey Worm liberated by the white Daenerys. Again, there’s the argument of the source material – most characters are white, or thought to be – and the show, because it ran for almost an entire decade, lived long enough to span societal and cultural change. Whereas its predominantly white cast (and white, male writing and directing team) may not have been seen as such a major issue in 2011, it was by 2019. Part of that is attitudes changing and progressing, part is that the show probably could have done more.
That’s the opportunity House of the Dragon has taken: a more diverse, inclusive cast and crew that can offer greater representation. Having Corlys Velaryon be Black is part of that, as well as simply casting the right man for the part (Toussaint is a screen veteran, and images of him as Lord Velaryon should be enough to show he’s nailed the character; if not, the House of the Dragon trailer does a convincing job). Speaking to EW, Ryan Condal himself explained the change, saying:
“Long, long ago when he was conceiving of this world, [Martin] himself had considered the idea of making Velaryons a race of Black people with silver hair that essentially came from the other side of the ocean and conquered Westeros. That’s a fascinating idea and that always really stuck with me because it’s such a stark image. I just thought, ‘Well, why couldn’t we do a version of that now?'”
Why Corlys Velaryon Being Black Is Good For House Of The Dragon
Even if there were clear textual proof that Corlys Velaryon is supposed to be pale-skinned, casting a Black actor wouldn’t really matter: as far as his character’s story goes, while his Valyrian descent is certainly important, there’s little to imply that his skin color is. In the absence of any such clear evidence, then the arguments against Corlys being Black really fall apart, but what’s more is that this should be seen as a good thing for House of the Dragon. Representation matters, and fantasy stories should be for everyone; this allows a person of color to play one of the most important, powerful, and simply best characters on the show, which should be something all audiences can enjoy and allows more people to identify with or relate to the series in some way.
Similarly, Westeros and the rest of Game of Thrones‘ world should be diverse, in various different ways (not least because it has a long history of migration). Likewise, House Velaryon has spent over 100 years since leaving Valyria travelling around the world, so it makes sense that the family line would also become more diverse. All of this only serves to make the world of House of the Dragon feel richer, bigger, more populated and like there are more things waiting to be uncovered off screen, which it of course should do, and it takes absolutely nothing away from the story or characters in doing so. House of the Dragon is a show with dragons and incest… Corlys Velaryon can quite easily be Black.