SPOILER ALERT: Do not read unless you have seen the first nine episodes of “Dragon House” on HBO.
Before Paddy Considine’s death in episode 8 of “Dragon House,” King Viserys Targaryen (may he rest in peace) was crumbling. Literally – his body and face were broken.
Viserys’ deterioration happened slowly. First, there were a few cuts from sitting on the Iron Throne, then some missing fingers. In Episode 6, he lost an entire arm after a 10-year time jump. Finally, in episode 8, his eyes and half of his face are gone, most of his hair has fallen out and he looks more like a walking skeleton than the reigning Targaryen king.
Prosthetic designer Barry Gower and his team were behind Viserys’ gradual and terrifying transformation. Gower already has a lot of experience in Westeros; He created the Night King and won three Emmys for his prosthetic makeup on “Game of Thrones.” Additionally, Vecnan won an Emmy this year for his work on “Stranger Things.” He also worked on “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Chernobyl,” “The Witcher,” and more.
For Viserys’ sickly appearance, Gower researched real-life ailments to get the gruesome details right.
“We looked at different flesh-eating diseases,” says Gower. “Necrosis, leprosy, all kinds of horrible references. Many interesting shapes, colors and cuts. For textures, colors, glosses, they can give us a good indication of how dry things are. It is very grounded in the real world of trauma.
“Dragon House” was set nearly 20 years into the future, so Viserys had to eat it slowly. One of the first signs of trouble to come is the “little grape wound on his back,” an unfair wound but indicative of the difficulty of being king.
“At the time, we had about seven different stages, which were defined by the makeup, the hair, the receding hairline, the skin tone and color, the texture of the skin, and then the various small cuts on the body,” says Gower. “We had little silicone molds that you could press on the skin and clean. We had Paddy’s beard and shaved cheek stuff with the hairline, little cuts. With a silicone bald cap, we could push the hairline back and make cuts in there.”
By the time episodes 7 and 8 rolled around, many viewers — and most of the power-hungry royal family of King’s Landing — were surprised to find that the king was still alive. The shell of his former self Viserys is bone-thin, bald and addicted to poppy milk, a popular medical opiate in Westeros. To create this sickly look, Gower explained that they used a skin doublet.
“For one or two scenes, we had a body double that was very thin and had very clear bone structure,” he said. “We shot some scenes with the wounds on his back, the collarbone and the necrosis on his shoulder. Then we shot the same scene with Paddy, and the VFX was able to fit Paddy’s face onto the body of the stuntman.”
Having a body double means twice as much prep time for hair and make-up for both men. In Episode 8, when half of Viserys’ face was revealed to have fallen off, it took five hours to create the prosthetics and wig.
“We didn’t have a lace wig because Viserys’ hair was getting too thin and receding,” says Gower. “We put all the hair in individually and punched it into the silicone prosthetics. Every day he has a newly punched silicone prosthetic. We do Paddy’s makeup on one end of the trailer, then we do his stunts on the other end of the film. And if he does a bald cap with punched hair in the back or 3/4 We can shoot from behind.
When we first see Viserys in Episode 8, a golden half-mask hides the damaged parts of his face. During a tense dinner, he removes his mask so his family can see him for what he really is – a villainous king with not much time left to live. A combination of functional and visual effects helped create open spaces in the eye sockets, cheeks and jaw.
“We knew we couldn’t achieve this final look in practice, because we’d have all these holes in Paddy’s head,” says Gower. “For those scenes, we had full synthetic makeup covering Paddy’s face. We had areas painted green for the visual effects section to remove in post. They also went into the construction of Paddy’s face, making it slimmer and bolder.
The shocking and half-lost face is Viserys’ last stage before dying in his sleep at the end of Episode 8. Gower said the “Dragon House” team wanted viewers to feel “sadness” and “regret” for the king. But don’t be intimidated by the type.
Gower’s next HBO project, however, is set to shock viewers. He’s making creepy, zombie-like clickers from “The Last of Us,” HBO’s upcoming adaptation of the post-apocalyptic video game series. In “The Last of Us”, an airborne fungus has destroyed society, and those infected begin to sprout from their bodies like mushrooms. The fungus takes over the victims’ nervous systems, gouging out their eyes, and forcing them to use echo to eat human flesh.
“It was a bit of a dream,” says Gower. “For a monster creator, that’s exactly what I got into the business for. We were really lucky. The scripts are fantastic. There are some very scary moments. There’s a lot in there for fans. I think it’s fair to say they’ll be very happy.
While he couldn’t say much about the upcoming sequel, Gower praised his “Chernobyl” co-showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckman, who directed the first game.
“From what I saw on set and what we shot, it was very true and accurate to the game,” he said. “I hope the fans will be over the moon and it will spawn a lot of new fans who are introduced to the show rather than the video game.”