House of the Dragon Set Decorator Answers Our Burning Questions About All Those Candles, Torches, Cauldrons, Chandeliers and Sconces

Ever since the spa that I go to for my pre-press tour facials quietly swapped LED candles into the otherwise very Zen rooms, I’ve had trust issues with candles.

So as I watch HBO’s House of the Dragon for the past season-and-a-half, so many questions form in my mind. I see massive tables populated by dozens and dozens of candles, and I grow skeptical. Are they all the real, waxy deal, lit by a small army just before the director yells, “Action”? What keeps the hearths and cauldrons burning so bright? And how, pray tell, are those high-up chandeliers being set aflame?

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TVLine brought our many burning, wax-melting questions to House of the Dragon set decorator Claire Nia Richards, whose Season 1 work was Emmy-nominated for Outstanding Production Design.

TVLINE | Which of your previous jobs best prepared you for what you’d have to do on House of the Dragon?
I was really fortunate enough to work on [the 2000 Russell Crowe movie] Gladiator, and this took me back to that, quite a lot, actually, because of all the candles and the flame that was around me during that time when we were dressing sets. I was just an art department assistant then, and it was many moons ago, but it still seems like yesterday when I think back to it.

TVLINE | Making sure I have my terminology correct: You work with candles, obviously, plus sconces, chandeliers, cauldrons and good ol’ giant fireplaces. Am I missing anything?
There’s also what we call floor-standing torchères, which is almost a bit of a fancy word for a floor-standing torch.

TVLINE | So it’s a floor lamp, but flame?
Yes, full of fire.

TVLINE | What might people be surprised to know about what goes into this particular responsibility of yours?
We do have to be very health and safety-conscious. When we did Season 1, I was really excited about designing all this flame around us because it felt that’s what the show needed. My first initial encounter with people thinking, “Oh my god, they’re crazy” is when the actors in the small council scene said that they were absolutely boiling, that they just couldn’t take the heat. I was like, “Oh, no!” And when we went into the brothel this season, and we had candles on the walls and torchères with flames, we had to be really careful of the actors with their wigs and long hair that were dancing around the area.

TVLINE | Plus, you have a lot of gauzy fabric draping across a scene like that.
Exactly, so we have to fire-retard a lot. We also had to have new, high-end extractor fans, because the gases from the candles and the flames became a bit too much. We had to think ahead for Season 2 and do something a lot better in terms of extracting those fumes from the crew as well as the cast.

TVLINE | You mentioned the actors “boiling” during a scene. But I was wondering, does the set there in Watford, England ever get drafty and the heat is in fact welcome?
I think it probably is, actually, because we generally shoot from April to October and the studio sets can get a bit cold. They’ve got the lighting on around them, and artificial lights sometimes almost blasting through the windows, so even if they’ve got the candles on, they can get a little cold. I think they still like the flames all around them to keep warm.

TVLINE | So, I’m watching a scene like this past week’s, with Rhaenyra and Alicent at the Grand Sept, knelt at a table with candles as far as the eye can see…. What percent of those candles are real and are being lit just before they call “action”?
I would say probably about 90% of them, because we’ve used them and reused them, and now we’ve sort of layered them. So, that effect is real.

TVLINE | Those are all real wax candles?
Yeah, and sometimes a double wick is used to last longer, or sometimes you can use a ribbon wick to make different effects for the [director of photography]. But yeah, we’ve got people in the background, running around, blowing them out… setting them alight again, blowing them out… because if you kept them on throughout the takes, all day, they’d diminish. I mean we have spent a lot of money on candles.

TVLINE | I was going to say, you should have an in-house factory, because you must go through thousands.
Thousands. We do go through thousands. I don’t know if you remember from Season 1, we had this scene where the Silent Sisters were getting [Ser Vaemond Velaryon] prepared for burial, and all in the background was covered in candles. It was a beautiful scene. I was asked, “Can we light all the candles for rehearsals?” And we had to go back and count all the candles and make sure that we could reset them if they wanted to rehearse for the whole day, just lighting them and putting them out.

TVLINE | So if I walk around the Grand Sept, to a back corner far from the camera, I’m not going to find any LED candles from Crate & Barrel?
Well, we did actually have a stock of those, for the first season. In the Sea Snake’s world, there was a beautiful main room with all of his artifacts from when he sailed around Westeros, and there was a curved section of a wall. We had to try and layer that [with flame], and some of those were not real candles because we wanted to protect the artwork that was behind it. But in the end, they didn’t quite work. In some situations we may have to use the odd few [LED candles], but generally we’re real.

TVLINE | When I see someone carrying a torch, what exactly is that actor holding?
They’re holding flame. We’ll have special effects [crew] on that day, and they come in and light it, and they’ll put it straight out if need be. There’s always somebody on the set, making sure they’re safe.

TVLINE | And a big ol’ fireplace or cauldron, is that gas?
The cauldron and the fireplace would be gas. We make the braziers in King’s Landing, which are the floor-standing ones, mid-height, and those are rigged up by the special effects team. They’ll put fake logs into the fireplaces, and then they can increase it or reduce the flame, however much is required is by the DoP.

TVLINE | I think what most raised my eyebrow during Season 1 was the chandeliers, because you’re talking about dozens of candles, way up high. How is that getting lit?
Those chandeliers are actually flame, and it comes through a gas pipe. That way you can get the real kind of intense fire going on there, and I think they look incredible. This season, especially, from the different angles that they’ve been shot at, they are really, really stellar. I’m so pleased and proud of those.

TVLINE | What opportunities do you get to be creative with flame?
Amazing opportunities, to be honest. All of those wall sconces, the floor-standing torchères, the ceiling candelabras, they’re all thought out in prep time, so I get to do lots of research and merge different ideas together.

For the Red Keep, I would sketch ideas of dragons and use interesting ones for the interior [sconces], which would have the wings of a dragon, and then for the external ones, it was more of a neck that sort of pointed its mouth outwards.

And then in Dragonstone, which is more brutalistic, it was fantastic because I got to do really slatted versions of wall sconces and ceiling candelabras and chandeliers. It looks like fire is erupting from all the voids within the metalwork.

We also did some amazing ones for Corlys’ [castle] in the first season, which were based on fish heads and the body came all the way down the wall.

TVLINE | How involved were you with the painted table?
Oh gosh, yes, I’m very proud of that, as well, because when I first started, I wanted to do something different with it because in Game of Thrones it was really quite bland. I wanted to really bring it to life, so I redesigned it so that the contours would be cut out and we could see through that.

Originally, I wanted to put flame underneath, but I wasn’t allowed because it would’ve been too dangerous for the actors and their clothes. We then came up with the idea of using candles, so from Episode 10 of Season 1, you can see that they light the candles, they roll it under the table, and then the table comes alive. I absolutely love that now.

TVLINE | Showrunner Ryan Condal, in a pre-season interview, spoke about how for Season 2 they tried to lighten up the show after complaints about some Season 1 scenes being too dark. Did that change your job at all for Season 2?
I think we did the same, very much, as in Season 1. We were really passionate about the finer detail in our dressing, and this season it’s been fantastic because you actually get to see that. Now we can add more in. We’ll just keep layering, and the beauty of [the scenes] being lighter is that when they do wide shots, you can see everything. It’s a really fantastic opportunity to be really creative.

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