Spoiler Warning: House of the Dragon Episode 1
HBO’s House of the Dragon premiered on Sunday with an episode that filled the fans’ desire to return to Westeros. The show not only contains nods to the mother series, but nostalgia is present in every minute of footage, for better or worse, since the series demonstrates how Westeros continues to mistreat women.
House of the Dragon is based on George R. R. Martin’s Fire & Bloodand the series takes place two hundred years earlier during the reign of the Targaryen dynasty. So it’s a prequel to the Game of Thrones story, based on the series of the same name written by Martin.
House of the Dragon premiere, titled “The Heirs of the Dragon,” has King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) anxiously awaiting the birth of a male heir. He loves his teenage daughter, Princess Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock), but pines for a son to be his successor. Viserys makes a fateful choice that shatters the peace between his deadly brother, Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), and his trusted Hand, Ser Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans).
Women Have No Choice in Westeros
In Westeros, women have no choice but to do what society dictates: get married and have children. It doesn’t matter if the woman in question is a princess or a beggar. For that reason, Rhaenys wasn’t chosen by her father to rule, and for that very reason, Viserys didn’t choose Rhaenyra as his successor until he had no other choice.
In House of the DragonViserys — and his Royal Council, for that matter — took it upon himself to always make it clear that he wanted a boy above all things because he needed him to be his successor, making Rhaenyra feel insignificant. No matter what she did, how smart she was, how bold and how fair, no matter how good a Queen she might be in the future, Rhaenyra would never be enough for her father because she wasn’t a man.
Even knowing Daemon’s cruel streak, Viserys was willing to appoint Daemon as his successor. It is not until he tastes the acid, the poison, and the cruelty of Daemon’s words, that Viserys chooses Rhaenyra. That is, he picks her only as his last option.
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This means that the world created by House of the Dragon is one in which women have no options and must forget about their dreams and longings to become wives and mothers, regardless of whether they want to or not. Exactly like the world that Games of Thrones showed previously, wasting a golden opportunity that House of the Dragon had here not only to make a difference with the original series but also to change one of its worst aspects.
Queen Aemma Meets a Brutal End
Without a doubt, one of the most lurid moments in House of the Dragon episode 1 is the murder of Queen Aemma at the hands of her husband, the same husband who claims to love her with all his heart. Viserys decides for Aemma what to do; he dictates her sentence by deciding who lives and dies without her having a say in her own life.
Aemma is bound without her consent, ripped in half as she screams in agony and begs Viserys not to do it. In the end, she dies in a pool created by her blood. And all because Viserys wanted a son so that he could name him his heir. Viserys murders his wife while she begs for her life just to obtain an heir who is, in his eyes, acceptable. As if Aemma does not matter or have any value beyond the child she can give him. Ultimately, as horrible as it is, a man decides that a woman must die a bloody and agonizing death for the good of the patriarchy.
“I wonder if in the hours my brother lived, my father was happy at last,” an angry, frustrated, and hurt Rhaenyra tells Daemon at her mother’s funeral. House of the Dragon doesn’t clarify if Viserys was happy with his long-awaited heir during the hours he lived, but Viserys deserves nothing less than to be eaten away by his remorse until the day he dies.
House of the Dragon didn’t need to show this bloody scene full of gratuitous violence. The scene and the story would have worked the same if the birth, despite being difficult, had been carried out without great tragedies and, later, the heir had died. It would have been much more interesting since Aemma and Rhaenyra could have had an endearing relationship. But House of the Dragononce again, turned to gratuitous violence against women just for the heck of it.
Otto Trades His Daughter Like Property
Near the end of House of the Dragon episode 1, the audience is undaunted by a scene in which Otto Hightower, King’s Hand, sends his daughter Alicent to King Viserys’s chamber to comfort him for the loss of his wife and son. Although the series doesn’t show the end of the scene, it’s clear what happens by the implication of the moment.
An assault doesn’t have to be violent; it just needs the lack of consent. Otto gave Alicent no choice; he traded his daughter for power and influence with Viserys. And Alicent obeys, but she doesn’t consent. Alicent has no free will in this situation. In fact, in her circumspect way, she makes it quite clear that she doesn’t wish to go to the King’s bed-chamber, but her father forces her to go anyway.
The audience doesn’t know if what is happening is a situation that has already occurred on other occasions. Apparently, due to the attitude of Alicent and Viserys, it’s the first time. Still, it’s clear from Alicent’s nervous tic that Otto forced his daughter to do similar things on previous occasions. That said, everything is wrong in this situation. Otto sells her daughter for some power, and Viserys assaults her. He’s an adult, and Alicent is a kid the age of her daughter, and even so, he doesn’t stop the situation and takes advantage of it. He takes advantage of her.
In a perfect world, Otto would not have sent Alicent to Viserys’s bed-chamber, and he would have sent her to her room as soon as things started to get out of hand. But unfortunately, House of the Dragon is not a perfect world. Not even close. But make no mistake, as Outlander made clear even if House of the Dragon doesn’t show assault or violence, that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. It is. And it’s worrying that the show, already in its first episode, begins to repeat one of the great mistakes of Games of Thrones regarding violence against women shown throughout its eight seasons.
Will House of the Dragon Opt for Updated Storylines?
House of the Dragon uses a resource widely criticized by critics and fans in the mother series: gratuitous scenes. More specifically, the series features a brothel where behavior typical of this type of place can be seen. This resource is reminiscent of Games of Thrones more than ever, especially in its first seasons. And these types of scenes aren’t exactly the best that the mother series had, given that its premise is sexist and degrading.
Once it places the audience in a brothel, the question is whether a scene, either in the foreground or in the background, is necessary for it to work. In the case of House of the Dragonthe scenes and dialogues intended to be emphasized would have worked the same without showing it. Therefore, House of the Dragon doesn’t use the resource to give realism or a purpose to the story, but simply as a claim to capture a specific type of audience, as used by the mother series.
In 2022 and beyond, it would be refreshing to see the writers opt for other storylines. Only time will tell as the show continues.