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steve toussaint as Lord Corlys Velaryon The Sea Snake
Image: HBO

Culture

Steve Toussaint and the Casting of House of The Dragon

Why we are excited about Lord Corlys Velaryon, The Sea Snake!

One of the biggest critiques levied at Game of Thrones (and a number of other popular shows) is a lack of diversity.  In spite of its largely monochromatic cast, GOT became a cultural phenomenon.  It’s not uncommon to see fans of all cultural backgrounds cosplaying these characters at conventions. Still, the entertainment landscape has changed and casting that worked even three years ago might not work in 2022.  If Warner Bros. Discovery doesn’t figure it out, there are a near infinite amount of streaming options for people to watch. Co-showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal told The Hollywood Reporter things had to change. After all, a diverse brain trust, staff, and cast doesn’t happen by magic – even in Westeros. House of The Dragon will feature a 50-50 male-female split between directors and writers. 

Another significant change is Lord Corlys Velaryon, a White character in George R.R Martin’s literature being portrayed by Steve Toussaint, a Black actor. He’s no stranger to fantastic fare, with a resume that includes Doctor Who and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The showrunners said it was important that Toussaint’s character be more than a pirate or a slave. Velaryon’s wealth and experience will make him a formidable foe in Westeros’ constant struggles for power. Warner Bros. Discovery is banking that fans will love this character, as there is a Sea Snake spinoff in the script stage. Actually, there are four live-action GOT-based series and some animated shows in the works as well. At this rate, the streamer may want to consider ‘Game of Thrones Max’ as a potential new name.

 Princess Rhaenys Targaryen,
Image: HBO

The change makes Velaryon the most prominent character of color in the franchise’s history. Also known as “The Sea Snake,” he’s sort of the Ferdinand Magellan of Westeros. He completed nine voyages that changed the kingdom’s entire map and made him incredibly wealthy in the process. As you’d expect for a noble of such stature, he married well. His wife is Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, who would have likely become the kingdom’s ruler had she not been, you know, a woman. A recurring theme in this franchise (and medieval history, for that matter) is perfectly capable rulers getting passed over because of some dumb tradition. As with medieval history, choosing a leader because of their gender and not their competence often goes terribly wrong.

Predictably, some of the worst elements of Thrones’ fandom reacted to Toussaint’s casting with behavior best left in the Middle Ages. It brings to mind the toxic harassment actresses Kelly Marie Tran and Moses Ingram got from racist Star Wars fans. Toussaint told THR it was only after racial slurs being slung his way on social media that he realized what a “big deal” this job was.

Despite the negative elements, this is a dream role for an actor. Velaryon is an explorer, warrior, and born leader, but most importantly he is a husband and a father. He hopes for a marriage between his daughter and the widowed king of Westeros, securing his family’s power and legacy for centuries to come. While there are still dragons and big huge battles, HOTD is designed to be a drama about a powerful yet dysfunctional family.

Jerks and social media trolls aside, Toussaint’s performance is drawing positive reviews. One of the many reasons this casting matters is representation. Millions of people will watch the TV show but never read the books it is based on. For them, Lord Corlys Velaron will always be Black and to most viewers, that is no cause for consternation.

The recent death of Star Trek legend Nichelle Nichols illustrates how important it is for young people to see folks that look like them in TV and movies. Generations of young Black women went into science, engineering and into space itself because Lt. Uhura showed them that they could. A new generation will see heroes such as Black Panther and Lord Corlys Velaryon and know they can conquer their fears and foes. That’s entertainment with the power to transform lives.

Written By

Brian Allen has been sharing his love of pop culture since he could pick up a pencil. Reviews in his school paper blossomed into a career covering TV, movies and games for b5 Media and the TechnologyTell network among others. He now co-hosts the Color of Magic podcast championing diversity in gaming and media. You can read more of his thoughts on Twitter @BrianPsionic.

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