‘House of the Dragon’: Elliott and Luke Tittensor on That Brutal Duel

‘House of the Dragon’: Elliott and Luke Tittensor on That Brutal Duel

This interview contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 2 of “House of the Dragon.”

“One soul in two bodies.” That’s how Ser Arryk Cargyll (Luke Tittensor), sworn member of the Kingsguard of Aegon II Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney), refers to himself and his identical twin, Erryk (Elliott Tittensor). But Ser Erryk is now a member of the Queensguard, knights dedicated to the service of Aegon’s half sister and rival for the Iron Throne, Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy). With this week’s episode, their lifelong unity comes to a bloody end.

In Episode 2 of “House of the Dragon” Season 2, Arryk is dispatched by his vindictive commander, Ser Criston Cole (Fabien Frankel), to infiltrate Rhaenyra’s stronghold, Dragonstone, and assassinate her while posing as his own twin, one of her personal protectors. The ruse is exposed in horrific fashion when brother attacks brother; Erryk triumphs and saves his queen but kills himself rather than live with the pain of the act. As an allegory for the senseless squandering of human life in Rhaenyra and Aegon’s so-called Dance of the Dragons, it is a hard one to miss.

Yet, when it comes time to thank the actors for a chance to pick their brains about their brutal final duel for the fate of Queen Rhaenyra, I catch myself referring to their brain, singular. It speaks to the effectiveness of the Tittensor twins’ work as the doomed knights that their “one soul in two bodies” mentality is catching.

The brothers are self-effacing about having landed these pivotal roles, though. “I’m not sure how big the pool of identical twins that they had to look in was, but when our agents came knocking about the job, we already had the long hair and the beards,” Elliott said in a joint video call on Thursday. “In their eyes, we were pretty much ready to step into it.”

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

I’m never quite sure whether to offer my congratulations or my condolences in interviews like these.

LUKE TITTENSOR We’re happy about it! To be involved with a project of this kind, and then to be able to portray a twins relationship in such an amazing world, a world that we’re fans of … These sorts of jobs in this industry are few and far between.

How early did you know this was where your characters were headed?

ELLIOTT TITTENSOR Once we got the job, we researched the material up to the point of our deaths. We didn’t want to go past that, just because we didn’t want to spoil the rest of the show.

LUKE We did a bit of back research, maybe starting off at Aegon’s conquest ——

ELLIOTT And then up to our point. After that, we wanted to leave it as a bit of a mystery, didn’t we?

“House of the Dragon” is a civil war story, and civil wars are often described as wars of brother against brother. Your characters make that theme literal.

LUKE Our relationship and our death were very much a symbol — not just of what’s to come, but the theme of the whole piece, really, which is family against family.

Does taking on that symbolic weight add pressure?

ELLIOTT No, because that symbol is built within our relationship naturally, being identical twins. That’s a unique relationship — unique only to identical twins, who are split-embryo. Even a twin who’s not split-embryo … not to sound disrespectful, but they’re more like a brother and sister born at the same time. An identical twin is a beautiful phenomenon of nature.

But you’re playing identical twins in the act of killing each other.

LUKE I think it helps. You’re aware of what they’re up against because of all these years of being a twin. If that was a scene between me and Criston Cole, it would probably be a bit harder. Doing it with Elliott made it easier to get there and sit in that head space. It’s naturally grounded, something you can latch onto.

ELLIOTT It’s already rooted in your psyche. But it wasn’t something that drained the psyche too much because the scene took three days, and the emotional side was the last day. You definitely feel the baggage of going through something like that, so it was nice that the really extreme stuff was confined to just one day.

What was the physical process of the fight like?

ELLIOTT For the dance of the fight, we did 30-plus hours with the stunt team to make sure we got it right. We were very intent on making sure we could do the whole thing and didn’t have to use the team for any shots, because we knew the emotional side was going to pierce through. It was just concentrating on making sure that the dance was right.

You’re calling it a dance, but it looks like two people hacking at each other with sharpened metal sticks until one of them can’t move anymore. It’s brutal.

LUKE Our swords have knuckle dusters over them, so you can’t really do a lot of fancy twizzles and spins like a really slick swordsman. That made us think they’re guys who are a bit heavy with their swords, who get up close and personal. We and Rowley and Ben [Rowley Irlam and Ben Wright, two of the show’s stunt coordinators] tailored the fight to how we thought these two guys would fight. They wanted to make it feel ——

ELLIOTT More realistic.

LUKE Like two brothers having a scrap at home: a bit rough, a bit dirty, a bit messy. Rhaenyra is trapped in a cage with two lions trying to take chunks out of each other.

In the cloak-and-dagger sequence leading up to the assassination attempt and the duel, the similarity between the brothers is a source of suspense.

LUKE What [the filmmakers] were trying to do narratively was confuse the audience. When Arryk stands at the door, there’s a moment of you thinking, “Is that actually Arryk, or is it Erryk?” You’ve seen us do a bit of a Scooby-Doo moment. That’s a little bit of a trick with twins.

But in the end, being brothers neither saves nor dooms them. Their senses of duty and honor drive them, and ultimately kill them.

LUKE When the Kingsguard swear that oath, they agree they’re not going to have any wives, any possessions — they basically give up their rights and liberties. It’s a position that requires a lot of sacrifice, and it also requires a certain type of person to actually want that job. They’re like a military order sworn to the Church to go on crusades. Erryk and Arryk take this very seriously.

ELLIOTT There’s a beauty within the polarities of that archetype. There’s a hero’s loyalty and sacrifice, but the downside — I mean to the extreme — is that you’re so blinded to your feelings by your oath and your honor that you’ll kill your own brother. [The twins] show the negative side to what could be deemed a positive trait. Double-edged sword, isn’t it?

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