On 19 May 2019, shortly after Game of Thrones aired to the eager masses one final time, there was a moment when all of the oxygen appeared to leave the room. Regardless of your views on the reception the finale received, it would be fair to say that a little piece of us all died when Jon Snow plunged his dagger into Daenerys Targaryen’s heart.

It brought the curtain down on a series that had taken the world by storm, made global megastars of Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington, picked up 59 Emmys on the way, and turned fantasy writer George RR Martin’s unending quest to finish his A Song of Ice and Fire book series into a matter of global importance.

But, at least in television form, the game of thrones had been won. Or lost, perhaps. The show’s over, folks, it’s time to shuffle off to the snowy north. Winter is here – and it’s bloody freezing.

Fans weren’t satisfied. All 19.3 million of us who tuned in to watch that series-record final episode needed – no, demanded – more. Anything to fill the gaping hole left in our Monday evening viewing: another departure from the realms of men to the land of Westeros, where dragons exist and the night is dark and full of terrors.

Thankfully, the baying mob didn’t have long to wait. By October 2019, House of the Dragon received a straight-to-series order, promising to take us 172 years prior to the birth of Daenerys Targaryen to a time when her ancestors ruled the Seven Kingdoms and embarked on a brutal and bloody war of succession, known as the “Dance of the Dragons”. Let the games begin again.

House of the Dragon's Tom Glynn-Carney on the cover of Square Mile magazine
House of the Dragon's Tom Glynn-Carney on the cover of Square Mile magazine

But for each of us rabid fans foaming at the mouth for their next Game of Thrones fix, there is another who sits in blissful ignorance at this seismic cultural phenomenon that stopped our lives for eight seasons.

As Drogon melted the Iron Throne with his fiery dragonbreath, one individual who wasn’t watching was a certain Tom Glynn-Carney.

The actor had no real desire to watch Game of Thrones and, like many who have avoided the far-reaching tendrils of bingeable TV series hype, was unmoved by the fanatic insistence of his friends to give the show a chance. That was, at least, until he was cast as Prince Aegon II Targaryen in the brand-new spinoff. All of a sudden, he became very interested indeed.

“I feel like such a philistine saying it now, but I’d completely missed the Game of Thrones boat. When I landed the role of Aegon, I felt like I needed to do my due diligence and go back and understand this world.

“I absolutely fell in love with it – I think I did all eight seasons in about three weeks. Saying it out loud, I don’t even know if that’s humanly possible, but I mustn’t have slept much,” the actor tells me.

“I’m not usually one to be taken by fantasy. I’ve never seen Lord of the Rings and all that sort of stuff, but I became absolutely obsessed. It was a big eye opener for me because I felt like, ‘Oh, these big fantasy projects can be made to feel really human.’

“All the actors in it were fantastic and the writing was so good that it felt bizarrely relatable even though there were dragons and this medieval setting. I normally gravitate towards naturalistic drama, but it completely opened a new door for me in terms of a genre, both as a viewer and an actor, because I haven’t really stepped foot into that arena before.”

I gravitate towards naturalistic drama, but it completely opened a new door for me

Glynn-Carney talks with a soft Mancunian accent and a borderline permanent mischievous grin spread across his handsome face that belies his sincerity. Maybe it’s a Northern thing, but he’s a genuine charmer. As an example, just a few minutes earlier, he’d run all the way from the Tube to his hotel room to join our Zoom call just a few minutes late. I can think of many an actor who would blame their previous engagement and turn up at their own convenience. But here he was, a tangle of blond hair, deep breaths, and profuse apologies, putting in the effort. Bless your socks, mate – it didn’t go unnoticed.

In a matter of sheer coincidence, we are speaking almost five years to the day that the finale of Game of Thrones first aired (a fact I’m ashamed to admit I only realised after our conversation) on the precipice of the much-anticipated release of House of the Dragon’s second season.

After a warm reception to its opening few episodes, House of the Dragon navigated a mid-season decade timeskip – including an actor merry-go-round that saw a number of young characters replaced by adult counterparts – to ultimately convince even the most dubious of Game of Thrones fans that this wasn’t your average prequel. By the explosive season finale, teasingly ending on the brink of war, viewers were hooked. An impressive 9.3m tuned in for that episode, HBO’s largest recorded figure since the Game of Thrones finale itself, with expectations once again rising to sky-high levels for what’s next.

We talk in broad terms about what we can expect from the next instalment of the House of the Dragon, with Glynn-Carney careful not to be too loose with his tongue: “I’ve got two heavies here, behind the camera! My lips are sealed, mate.” I daren’t push too hard in case I should find myself somehow complicit in fictional regicide, speaking of which…

For the uninitiated, House of the Dragon is a fantasy drama that revolves around the themes of family, power, honour and hubris. It follows Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, the eldest child and named successor of King Viserys I, as she wrestles for the throne against the king’s first-born son Prince Aegon II and a conspiracy led by his mother, Queen Alicent Hightower. It’s a deliciously messy affair that swiftly descends into a barrage of murder and betrayal. And, yes, duelling dragons.

The first season ends with Aegon II crowned Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, but his ascension to the Iron Throne proves the spark that lights the powder keg under the Targaryen dynasty. War is an inevitability. Feeling the heat yet, Tom?

There’s that smile again. “I think I’m more nervous than excited. I think at this point I know that there are a lot of fans waiting with bated breath, for sure. So yeah, that does feel like a lot of pressure, especially this time being so much more involved in the main plot line. I do feel the pressure, but it’s a good pressure and I’m very lucky to be able to take on a role like this and be a part of this world, which has such a devoted fan culture.”

He adds: “I didn’t really have a great deal to do in season one, so it was very much like an introduction for my version of Aegon. It felt like I was just dipping my toe in. I mean, I knew how much of a machine it was and I knew how many eyes were on the project, but you can’t really think about that when you do something like this.

"You can’t dwell on the scale because you’ll freak yourself out, which I do on a daily basis anyway, so I needed to avoid that. But this time there was no hiding from it, knowing the plot and how pivotal Aegon becomes to the story, it was like, ‘Right, OK, here we go. We’re playing with the big boys now.’ It feels like I’m going through a period of graduation, but yeah, I’m welcoming it with open arms and very lucky to be surrounded by so many brilliant actors, creatives, crew members and writers. We’ve all got the same goal. We want to make something spectacular, and it’s a gift to be a part of that whole narrative.”

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, but the 29 year old is ready to embrace the privilege of pressure. However, Glynn-Carney isn’t thinking too deeply about the wider implications of his elevated role, instead he’s focusing on giving definition to Aegon’s character – something that has afforded him the chance to dig into his dramatic playbook.

As he explains: “I’ve been really lucky when it comes to creative freedom. Ryan Condal and the team have been so welcoming to any suggestions that I’ve had or a way that I’ve wanted to play a particular scene or a line. I think because of the nature of the character, because he’s such a livewire and so unpredictable and dangerous and hilarious and pathetic and all those things, you need that freedom to be spontaneous.

“This season, I wanted to really dig into who Aegon was. My goal was always to bring lots of levels to him and not to play him as this out-and-out villain psychopath. There’s a deep complexity to him that stems from various levels of trauma and his upbringing and his own mistakes and all these separate threads that weave together to make the tapestry of this human being.”

I bring a lot of myself to the role as well… which is bizarre to say about a dangerous nutter

I ask him about approaching a body of work as daunting as George RR Martin’s and whether it changes the way he prepares for a role. When the character’s history and personality is laid out for all to see in written form, is it challenging to fashion your own identity for the individual? The actor’s response is typically open: “I pay very little attention to all that. And that’s me being brutally honest. I think if I did pay more attention to it, I’d become too analytical and get caught up in the lore and the way the book is written. I want to make Aegon available to everyone and make him feel fully lived in. I work mainly off instinct and I bring a lot of myself to the role as well… which is bizarre to say about a dangerous nutter! But yeah, I try not to get too caught up in how people perceive him already. This is my version of Aegon and you’re stuck with him, I’m afraid.”

While the best is certainly yet to come for our little usurper, there’s a fabulous moment during episode nine of the first season where Aegon, learning of the death of his father King Viserys, turns to his brother Aemond in desperation, and implores, “I have no wish to rule, no taste for duty! I’m not suited!” Glynn-Carney’s face contorted into a twisted vision of horror. Aemond, so deftly played by actor Ewan Mitchell, chillingly replies with crackling intensity, “You’ll get no argument from me.” To this viewer at least, it’s one of the scenes of the season, a small window into the mindset of two of the series’ most important characters; one crumbling under the weight of the crown, the other rising to snatch it for himself.

I share my admiration with Glynn-Carney and he chuckles at the mention of his on-screen sibling. The pair have bonded as brothers not just in front of the camera, but in real life, too – for all they are markedly different personalities.

“Ewan is great to work with. He responds to the way I like to work and I respond to the way he likes to work, and that’s a dream on set when someone wants to properly get stuck in. Aegon and Aemond’s relationship definitely heats up this season – it gets very tasty indeed – but we had a right laugh with it,” Glynn-Carney says.

Tom Glynn-Carney
Tom Glynn-Carney

“It’s funny, I think we are definitely more like our characters in real life than we care to admit. I’m the one with ants in my pants and a little mad, whereas he’s stoic and centred and quietly terrifying. He’s actually an absolute sweetheart, very softly spoken and a wonderful, creative, funny person. But yeah, we’ve gotten under each other’s skin.”

HBO heavies be damned, what can we expect from S2 of House of the Dragon? “You can expect the desperation in everybody to rise to suffocating levels. Every character is frantic and slowly losing themselves in this war for supremacy. They’re going to any length to achieve what they need to achieve – and it seems there is no extreme they won’t turn to. Tactically, the stakes are a lot higher. It feels like season one on steroids. Every episode feels massive, absolutely huge in scale. There’s not a weak episode in it. It feels like it ramps up and ramps up and ramps up as we go – and that’s even with starting at such a high pace. The writers have really outdone themselves by maintaining that level of intensity,” he teases.

“As for Aegon, we definitely see him bear the weight of the crown in a way that maybe people won’t expect. We see a child-like vulnerability in him that I wanted to explore. On the surface, he’s brimming with insecurity, imposter syndrome, and an inferiority complex thing. You put a crown on someone like that, it makes ’em very dangerous and very unpredictable.”

House of the Dragon's Tom Glynn-Carney

Tom Glynn-Carney of Salford, Manchester, found acting at an early age – or, rather, acting found him. His father was keenly involved in amateur dramatics and for much of the blond boy’s childhood he would be dragged along to dad’s rehearsals to watch him perform. In adolescence, Glynn-Carney encountered a teacher by the name of Richard Goodwin Brown at sixth form college who further fed his curiosity for drama. If his father laid the foundations, it was Goodwin Brown who opened the teenager’s eyes to the world of possibility that acting offered – a place where you can change your skin like a chameleon, escape into faraway lands, find a safe haven or even administer a form of therapy.

From there, the road was set. Guildhall School of Music & Drama and a couple of TV spots on Casualty (the bedding ground for a generation of British acting talent) followed, before an unexpected opportunity saw him leave drama school early to pursue his dreams on the biggest stage of all: Christopher Nolan had come knocking with the role of Peter in his second world war epic, Dunkirk.

If Glynn-Carney’s upbeat ‘let the cards fall where they may’ attitude and a CV including a Nolan flick and a Game of Thrones spinoff lead you to the conclusion that the actor has floated through life with the consummate ease of your typical gifted and talented student, you’re far off the mark. In fact, he exhibits the kind of “Why me?” remorse that brilliant artists tend to exhibit in the face of their own success.

Ten years into his acting career, his abiding feeling is one of gratitude for the opportunities he’s been afforded so early in his development. The actor walks me down memory lane: “It was 2016 when I left school early to do Dunkirk. That was my first film and big project that helped springboard the rest of my work. It was a real baptism of a fire. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and was genuinely confused as to why I’d been cast in this huge film.

Tom Glynn-Carney

“Every day, I came out thinking, “Why the hell am I here?”, “Why have you chosen me?”, but I was absolutely gunning for the experience to work with some of my idols.

“Chris [Nolan] was so welcoming and understanding that I’d never been on a film set before, really walking me through my paces; Cillian [Murphy] as well was brilliant with me. You hear the phrase that ‘you should never meet your heroes’, but I met a few of mine on that film set, and every single one of them came up trumps. It was absolutely top.”

As luck should have it, the actor Glynn-Carney most admired should play his fictional father in Dunkirk, the giant of British cinema Mark Rylance. As a kid, Glynn-Carney would watch old Shakespeare performances of Rylance on YouTube. Before long, he was consuming everything he could find on the internet, from soliloquies to his acceptance speeches – “they’re crazy, sort of abstract, pieces of poetry” – but this coincidence took the cake.

“I mean, I’ve obsessed over Mark Rylance since I first wanted to be an actor. I properly idolised him. He had a real access to telling the truth that meant you only ever saw whoever he was playing. I didn’t see an actor, I saw his character. To get the opportunity to work with him at such an early stage in my career was a godsend.”

Every character is frantic and slowly losing themselves in this war for supremacy

Like Rylance, the Salford boy viewed the stage as the natural habitat for an actor. While TV and film create an immersive experience for the audience, the truncated nature of shooting and multiple takes pulls an actor out of the character. Theatre, however, is like a runaway horse that you ride in whatever direction it takes you.

For Glynn-Carney, it’s the perfect medium in which to hone his skills: “Theatre makes me feel like I’m staying sharp. It makes my instincts quicker and more accurate. There’s a freedom to fail as well, which I think is key. You stifle yourself if you’re constantly obsessive about getting it right. For me, it’s like going to the gym.

“Theatre, you’re doing it every night and it’s this living thing that changes shape each time you perform. I know actors who don’t want to do theatre who’ve asked me, ‘Doesn’t it get boring doing the same thing, same dialogue, same scene, same actors every night?’ It’s the complete opposite of that. It feels wonderfully unsteady, it’s dangerous, anything could go wrong, but also just the repetition of doing it over and over and over again takes you deeper.

“I think the best performances, they’re always the ones that look loose and easy, like a swan where your legs are going the clappers under the water, but you just look like you’re just floating along. So I’ve got a lot to thank theatre for in that regard.”

The longer I spend in Glynn-Carney’s company, the more obvious his love for the craft comes across. It’s abundantly clear to me that his passion burns bright for his chosen vocation. Few profess to have gotten into acting for the money or the fame, but there aren’t all that many who’d be performing no matter what, regardless of whether it was some small amateur production in the middle of nowhere or the grandest stage of all. Maybe following his dad around in those early years has rubbed off on him, but I get the distinct impression that if you gave the 29 year old the chance to delve into the nuts and bolts of a role and a live audience, he’d be there with bells on. He’s exactly the kind of person that you want to see landing a role in a show as big as House of the Dragon, because you can bet your bottom dollar he won’t waste the opportunity.

House of the Dragon's Tom Glynn-Carney

I ask Glynn-Carney where his ambitions lie, whether he can envisage a day where he takes a step back from acting to pursue other interests. Until recently, he was a member of indie folk band Sleep Walking Animals, but he gave it up as the division of physical and mental effort between music and his first love was too much to handle. Is there a world where he’d put acting on the backburner for any reason? Not a chance.

“I love what I do. I love my work. I love taking on a new character. I love reading new scripts. Yeah, there’s a bit of an insatiable appetite at the moment, but maybe eventually I’ll slow down and if come the day I have a family or whatever, maybe that’s the point where… no, I don’t have any intention to stop, to be honest. It’s one of these jobs where you can just do it forever until you drop dead. And that’s my intention. I want to be choosing the right work and not just taking anything that comes under the door, but the right story and the right creative team and character comes along? Yeah, I’m grasping that with both hands,” he tells me.

“I want to be the kind of actor that is completely varied, has as many different colours to their palette as possible. I never want to feel safe or comfortable. I feel like my best work is when I’m out of my comfort zone, pushing a new boundary to a new level, and I want to disappear into my characters. I want to look back in years to come and my grandkids be absolutely buzzing about the fact that their granddad was an actor and play that role in that film and tell all the mates about it. And I want to leave a legacy. But I also want to just have fun while I’m doing it. I’m very aware we’re not saving lives, but it kind of saves my life, this job, to be honest.”

There’s time enough in our conversation to ask one final question, and the truth is it’s not every day you get to ask King Aegon II Targaryen whether he liked the ending of Game of Thrones, so I tease Glynn-Carney for his god’s honest view on the much-debated episode. But, far from the clickbaity ‘King Aegon roasts HBO for killing off Targaryen descendant’ headline, his response is thoughtful and kind: “I know there were some strong reactions to the finale, but I actually liked it. My main thought was, ‘Do you know what? Flipping heck, give the guys a break!’ I don’t know how you please everyone with writing a season finale of a show that was so adored by so many people and where you’ve run out of books to base the storyline off; success can be a poisoned chalice. But yeah, I’m not afraid to say I enjoyed it. I thought that the ending was quite savagely beautiful.”

And, with that, our time together ends with well wishes and the promise to tune into the season two premiere of House of the Dragon, hitting UK screens on 17 June. There will be plenty of dragons and death and desperation to go around, but among it all, spare a thought for the Salford-born lad who rose from humble beginnings to become king. I don’t know about you, but if you ask me, that’s a story worth telling.

House of the Dragon is on Sky Atlantic and also available from Now TV.