House of the Dragon premiered on Monday and the hour-long episode had all the sex, gore and drama we have come to expect from Game of Thrones. Including women being graphically brutalised during birth, proving this season has learned nothing from its predecessor.
Remember when House of the Dragon writers tried to convince us the show would be more sensitive in its treatment of women? Because Game of Thrones was so traumatising and needlessly brutal? Yeah, well, we were lied to.
Around halfway through the episode, Queen Aemma goes into labour to birth King Viserys’ heir, who he is convinced is a boy. Things go wrong very quickly after her baby is in breech position. Viserys is told that both Aemma and the child may not survive the birth. However, the doctor offers to perform an emergency caesarean to save the child — at the expense of Aemma’s life.
Up until this point, Aemma and Viserys seem to have a loving, mutually respectful marriage. For most people, the answer is obvious: save your damn wife. But Viserys chooses his son and heir — so ultimately, his ego and bloodline — over Aemma, who he apparently loves. And then he has her pinned down while her stomach is cut open.
The House of the Dragon birth sequence is possibly the most harrowing and graphic display of violence to be seen in the Game of Thrones franchise. I’ll save you a description but know we saw everything. It was fucking traumatic and the scene went on for a long time.
Aemma was alive, conscious and under no anaesthetic for the caesarean that she didn’t consent to. Viserys stroked her hair, kissed her forehead and told her everything was fine while she screamed and begged for them to stop. It was agonising watching. She did not survive the birth. Neither did the child. She died for nothing.
Watching Queen Aemma die during childbirth -after the deliberate choice to value her life less than her unborn child & sacrifice her life for birth – when #RoeVsWade is overturned & womens lives are treated the same as this fictional queen’s life had me sobbing #HouseoftheDragon pic.twitter.com/It63qbjyUd
— M.H 🌻 🕊 (@HoustonMH1757) August 22, 2022
The scene is clearly meant to be a commentary on women’s rights, especially given Roe v Wade in America and the current conversation around forced birth. Aemma’s caesarean is paralleled with a violent jousting competition where men have their skulls cracked open and are killed for entertainment. Women’s battles vs men’s.
The key parallel, though, is when the king’s brother Daemon loses his jousting battle: he chooses to yield and survives. Aemma is given no choice, because unlike men, women don’t get to choose their battles.
None of this is problematic and honestly, it could have been a solid depiction of the patriarchy and how women are treated as subservient to men. Women’s bodies are just vessels of men’s bidding, and no matter how “loved” a woman is, her life will never be worth that of a man, or even an unborn child. Sure. Great metaphor. But why did the scene need to be so graphic?
I REALLY DIDN’T need that “birth” scene in House of Dragons. I don’t care that the creators think birth is a “battleground” to be intercut with men killing each other in gruesome ways. It was gratuitous & over the top. I hope the rest of series isn’t this bad. #HOTD
— Kat Good (@katgood09) August 22, 2022
To me, the long, endlessly traumatic scene at its core was proof of the same mistake Game of Thrones, and now House of the Dragon, kept making: the assumption that women need to be brutalised for us to sympathise with them.
It reminds me of the controversial rape scene of Sansa Stark back in the day. The scene was not canon to the books and was added, like the rape scene of Daenarys in season one of Game of Thrones, to make Sansa more sympathetic. To shock us. To give these women a tragedy to rise above, to make us root for them. The other tragedies in their lives, like losing all their loved ones, are apparently not enough.
But the thing is, we don’t need these scenes to see these women as sympathetic, or as heroes, or as women who have suffered. We don’t need women to scream and beg and sob to care about them.
The House of the Dragon birth scene could have cut after Aemma started crying and begging for them to release her, and we would still be devastated at her death. It would still have the same affect and feminist point re: women’s autonomy.
There was no need to give us such a triggering depiction of women’s suffering, especially because like, we know. WE KNOW. These things are happening right now, in real life, with real women experiencing them.
Okay, so scene with Viserys making the choice was incredibly triggering. If you have any ptsd from birth or birth trauma, once Emma goes into labor you need to skip because I am not okay. #HouseoftheDragon
— Margaery Tyrell (@Margaery_Tyrell) August 22, 2022
For some people, it’s not fkn fantasy.