Steve Toussaint plays Lord Corlys Velaryon in HBO's "House of the Dragon."
The cocreators of the first "Game of Thrones" prequel show said they wanted a "diverse cast."
Toussaint told THR he didn't think his casting "was a big deal until I was racially abused."
When HBO released photos and character names for its upcoming "House of the Dragon" series (the first of many planned "Game of Thrones" prequels), actor Steve Toussaint was not expecting a flood of racial abuse online.
"I didn't realize [the casting] was a big deal until I was racially abused on social media," Toussaint told the Hollywood Reporter in an article published Wednesday morning. "Yeah, that shit happened. I was just like, 'Oh wow,' and then I thought: 'OK, so this means a lot to some people, but I can't allow that to bother me.'"
Toussaint's character is Lord Corlys Velaryon, the leader of House Velayron in Westeros. In author George R.R. Martin's novels and extended "history" books about Westeros, the Velaryons are described as descendants from Old Valyria — the same place the Targaryens are from. Their distinguishing feature is pale skin and white (or silver) hair.
But in "House of the Dragon," the Velaryon family is played by Black actors.
Last week, Entertainment Weekly reported that Ryan Condal, one of the co-showrunners and writers of "House of the Dragon," was inspired to make this change by something Martin said about his first idea of Velaryon history.
"According to Condal, Martin toyed early on with the idea of depicting the Velaryons as Black conquerors who came to Westeros from the west," EW reporter Nick Romano wrote.
Condal also explained why he and his co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik went the route they did with casting.
"It was very important for Miguel and I to create a show that was not another bunch of white people on the screen," Condal told EW. "We wanted to find a way to put diversity in the show, but we didn't want to do it in a way that felt like it was an afterthought or, worse, tokenism."
Condal elaborated on this point while speaking with THR, saying that he didn't want the Black characters to be "pirates, slaves, and mercenaries like you tend to see in high fantasies."
The few regular non-white characters in "Game of Thrones" were Missandei (played by Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (played by Jacob Anderson), both of whom were enslaved in Essos before Daenerys freed them.
The show faced criticism for not including more people of color who weren't narratively connected to slavery, and for having Daenerys take on the trope of a white savior as she gained power in Essos.
Nearly all of the people of color on the show were also given the backstory of coming from the same place, the Summer Isles, save for Missandei of Naath.
Missandei's death in season eight also led to a renewed conversation about the show's handling of Black characters when she was murdered in chains.
Fans will have to wait and see how this brand new set of characters is given backstories and dramatic arcs of their own.
"House of the Dragon" premieres on August 21.
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