‘The House of the Dragon’s Red Keep Weirwood Tree Has a Real Person’s Face

Movies


The Big Picture

  • House of the Dragon exceeds expectations with immaculately designed sets that capture the feeling of Westerosi life.
  • Showrunner Miguel Sapochnik’s mother served as the model for the face on the weirwood tree in the Red Keep.
  • Weirwood trees are a defining feature of Martin’s fantasy world and play a significant role in House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones.


HBO’s return to the world of Game of Thrones wasn’t an endeavor taken with any wasted effort. House of the Dragon was an immersive adventure back into Westeros with all the foes and falls from fame that audiences have always loved in George R. R. Martin’s sprawling fantasy world. The production design and set locations for Game of Thrones were some of its most notable strengths, ranging from intricate European castles and flying shots of jaw-dropping landscapes to meticulously crafted keeps and corridors.

In this regard, House of the Dragon had incredibly high expectations to meet. Not only were they met, but they were certainly exceeded. House of the Dragon features immaculately designed sets that both capture the feeling of Westerosi life, providing ample opportunity for references to long histories and even the occasional cheeky Easter egg. Amusingly, one such creative decision involves the weirwood tree in the Red Keep and the mother of one of the show’s own showrunners.

House of the Dragon

The reign of House Targaryen begins with this prequel to the popular HBO series Game of Thrones. Based on George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, House of the Dragon is set nearly 200 years before Game of Thrones, telling the story of the Targaryen civil war with King Viserys.

Release Date
August 21, 2022

Creator
Ryan J. Condal, George R.R. Martin

Main Genre
Drama

Rating
TV-MA

Distributor
HBO


Showrunner Miguel Sapochnik’s Mom Was the Model for the Red Keep’s Weirwood Tree

Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra in the Red Keep in 'House of the Dragon'
Image via HBO

Showrunner Miguel Sapochnik was a veteran of the Game of Throne series, having directed some of the show’s most iconic episodes like “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards.” Sapochnik took a more active role in House of the Dragon, serving as showrunner for the first season before stepping down, but remains an executive producer for future seasons. In the behind-the-scenes looks at the production of the series, The House that Dragons Built, the production team discussed many of the aspects of designing iconic locations in Westeros. When it came to King’s Landing, one such area of focus was the godswood in the Red Keep.

In the fourth episode of The House that Dragons Built, Sapochnik requested that his mother be used as the model for the face on the weirwood tree in the castle. The tree is stunningly crafted, with the sculptors using molds from the weirwoods made for Winterfell in the previous series, in addition to heeding the showrunner’s request. Amusingly, Sapochnik recalled that his mother wasn’t particularly impressed by her inclusion, citing more confusion at the “weird face” on the tree rather than elation at being included in House of the Dragon.

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What is a Weirwood Tree?

Sapochnik’s mother wasn’t just referenced in an un-important design aspect in the show, as weirwood trees are one of the most defining features of Martin’s fantasy world. Weirwood trees are a type of tree found throughout Westeros that is recognizable because of their striking red leaves and unique white bark. Of these many trees, there are some that are known as heart trees, which are weirwoods with mysterious faces carved into them.

Heart trees lie in the center of godswoods, which are wooded groves often within castle walls that are set aside as places for prayer and solitude. Despite the expansion of the Faith of the Seven, weirwood trees stand as continued reminders of the Old Gods of the Forest, the religion of the First Men in Westeros that is mostly still present in the North. In-universe, the carved faces on heart trees are believed to have been left by the Children of the Forest.

House of the Dragon spends plenty of time underneath a weirwood tree, as Rhaenyra (MIlly Alcock) and Alicent (Emily Carey) and Rhaenyra and Daemon (Matt Smith) have several important conversations underneath the red leaves and mysterious face of Sapochnik’s mother. Whether Sapochnik’s family continues to be the design basis for these trees in future seasons of the series will be as much a mystery as the carvers in Westeros themselves, but that’s just one of many exciting aspects about returning to Westeros that House of the Dragon is able to explore.

House of the Dragon is streaming on Max in the U.S.

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