Graphic violence against women is a central plotline in ‘House of the Dragon’

Zoe Leone, Contributing Writer

When the “Game of Thrones” Targaryen-focused prequel, “House of the Dragon” was announced, many fans wondered how the new installment would handle the criticisms of the hit HBO show, including that it had too much gratuitous violence against its female characters. 

Throughout the eight-season run of the medieval fantasy series, both actors and audiences alike spoke out against the numerous abuse, rape and torture scenes the women had faced.

During an interview with “The Hollywood Reporter,” “House of the Dragon” showrunner Miguel Sapochnik assured audiences that gratuitous violence wouldn’t be a feature of the prequel, saying, “You can’t ignore the violence that was perpetrated on women by men in that time. It shouldn’t be downplayed and it shouldn’t be glorified.”

However, the first episode wastes no time in continuing the predecessor’s legacy. When one of the first scenes involves Queen Aemma going into brutal labor, her doctor informs King Viserys that he must choose between saving his wife or saving his child. Viserys, who desires a male heir, gives the go-ahead to save the child, as Aemma lays in bed and cries her confusion.

The scene takes a vicious turn as Aemma is forced into a cesarean section. Her arms are held down as the camera focuses on a knife dragging across her belly, her screams of pain echoing in the room. It’s bloody and painful to watch. When it ends with both the mother and child dead, it leaves viewers wondering what exactly the point of such in-your-face violence was.

The blatant brutality towards the women on the show only amps up from there. There are three more explicit birth scenes, one of which ends with the mother being burned alive by her dragon and another which features Rhaenyra Targaryen pulling her dead and bloodied child from her own body.

The violence is not limited just to childbirth. A 15-year-old Alicent Hightower endures a marital rape as Viserys’ second wife, with the focus of the scene on her dead eyes as her husband takes his pleasure from her. As an adult, we see the same look return to her when one of her advisors offers her an exchange of life-saving information for the chance to masturbate on her feet.

One of the main romances of the show follows Targaryen and her uncle, Daemon Targaryen. While incest is a common occurrence in the “Game of Thrones” universe, the relationship begins when Rhaenyra Targaryen is 15 years old, while her uncle is over double her age and saw the season finale featuring Daemon Targaryen savagely choking her for disagreeing with him.

Several more female characters are tortured, abused or killed for the sake of a male character’s plotline. While it’s true that the medieval world “House of the Dragon” takes place in would realistically be plagued with such violent displays of patriarchy, the sheer volume of graphic instances of it throughout the show leaves you wondering what’s awareness and what’s glorification.

As women, we know the violence we face. So why is it that we’re made to watch it be enacted every Sunday night for ten weeks in excruciatingly gory detail? Why do we have to see the skin being cut and bruised, the blood pouring out, the tears and the screams and the faces contorted in agony?

Sapochnik believes that the violence perpetrated by men against women during medieval Europe is impossible to ignore. But when the show also features characters riding on dragons and talking about magic, it’s rather difficult to believe that historical accuracy is the reason that such graphic violence keeps taking place.

Brutalizing women on screen is used all too often as a way for showrunners and writers to have an easy way to brag about the “feminism” and awareness that their show includes. But feminism is not scenes of women being raped, abused, and suffering. Awareness of gender violence and patriarchy is not to graphically enact it over and over again on a TV screen.

Overall, “House of the Dragon” is enjoyable. The characters and their complexities are interesting. For fans of “Game of Thrones,” it’s enthralling to emerge back into the universe. But as the violence rages on, it’s difficult not to let it become a defining trait of the show.