We are now six episodes into House of the Dragon (Sky Atlantic). During those episodes, Lord Larys Strong (Matthew Needham) has appeared on screen for a total of approximately 10 minutes. That’s less than three per cent of the series to date.
Despite this, he is already, without the faintest shadow of a doubt, House of the Dragon’s best character – and Needham its best actor.
In fact, after the events of this latest episode, I don’t think it’s too early to say that Lord Larys is one of the most disturbing psychopaths in the entire Game of Thrones canon. And, given the competition, that’s quite some achievement.
Not least because we didn’t actually meet Lord Larys until last week, in episode five, when he subtly let slip to Queen Alicent the truth about Princess Rhaenyra’s illicit sexual affairs – thus immediately souring the relationship between the two women, and indeed the relationship between Alicent and her husband, King Viserys, because, in his effort to cover up Rhaenyra’s illicit affairs, he’d sacked her father, Ser Otto Hightower.
In this week’s episode, however, we discovered that Lord Larys is not merely some slippery gossip-merchant. He’s a monster. A monster to rival Ramsay Bolton in sheer murderous depravity.
First he freed a group of prisoners on death row on condition that they let him cut out their tongues (so they can’t grass him up in future). Then he dispatched them to have his brother (Ser Harwin Strong, the secret father of Rhaenyra’s children) and his father (Lord Lyonel Strong, the King’s chief adviser) burned alive inside his family’s ancestral home. As far as we know, his brother and father had never wronged Larys personally. Larys had simply decided to have them brutally killed, because he believed that doing so would benefit Queen Alicent – and therefore, in some as yet unspoken way, him as well. (“I feel certain you will reward me when the time is ripe…”)
Horrendous enough. What makes Lord Larys (and Needham’s performance) all the more chilling, however, is that outwardly he doesn’t seem dangerous at all. Quite the opposite. He is small, weedy, seemingly frail (he walks with the aid of a stick), impeccably polite (note the daintiness of his table manners during his dinner with Alicent), constantly smiling and solicitous (at least to Alicent), and a maker of downright twee small talk (“It seemed a sin to let such a pie grow cold”). Then there’s his voice: a dreamy, meandering murmur, barely louder than a whisper, which rises and falls with a gentle sing-song lilt. I’d be interested to know whether Needham is a fan of Blue Jam, Chris Morris’s nightmarishly surreal BBC radio comedy: the voice Needham uses for Larys sounds uncannily like the one Morris used for his Blue Jam monologues.