WARNING: Significant spoilers ahead for the first episode of House of the Dragon (“The Heirs of the Dragon”). No, I don’t care. You’ve had four days.
And people wonder why Millennials aren’t having more children. If I hadn’t already known that I am completely unsuited to motherhood, that C-section would’ve put me off childbirth for life.
Set 172 years before the birth of Daenerys Targaryen, House of the Dragon takes us through the beginning of the end for House Targaryen. Their doom apparently begins with the ineffectual King Viserys, who has been vastly unlucky in his children. His wife Aemma is heavily pregnant, but, having previously lost five children, very understandably doesn’t want to try again if this one doesn’t survive. Though they have a healthy teenaged daughter named Rhaenyra, Viserys is currently considered heirless, unless you count his younger brother Daemon, which nobody really wants to do. His luck seems like it’s about to change when Aemma goes into labor, but both mother and child die following a horrific C-section. Racked with grief and rage, Viserys banishes Daemon from court after learning that he has been celebrating the death of the child; Daemon leaves King’s Landing on the back of his dragon, taking his mistress with him, and Viserys names Rhaenyra his heir. There’s a lot going on here, which made the episode feel rather busy the first time around, but it’s more cohesive on second viewing. As usual, the dragons are the best part. (And also Rhaenyra. I like Rhaenyra.)
I think the producers mean well. That’s the best I can say for a show that really, really wants to think of itself as breaking down a fictional patriarchy. To be completely fair, this is only episode one, so maybe it’ll even succeed. I don’t have enough data to say one way or the other, but right now it’s very heavy-handed. As of this writing, we have been loudly informed that the Targaryens are a Patriarchy (didn’t we already know that?), and this message has been repeatedly reinforced throughout the episode. Viserys is named successor to his grandfather, King Jaehaerys I, despite a stronger claim by his cousin Rhaenys (who is, as Rhaenyra points out, a woman); Rhaenyra is not considered an appropriate choice of heir, to the point that she is not even mentioned as a potential successor except as an extreme last resort; Aemma is forced to undergo a C-section when she is unable to give birth; and Alicent Hightower, companion to Rhaenyra and daughter of the Hand of the King, is instructed by her loving father to “comfort” the grieving Viserys in the aftermath of Aemma’s death. I’m trying to imagine my own father pimping me out to his boss for the purposes of cementing our alliance, and I am failing magnificently, thank fuck. I have a bad feeling that Alicent is going to become the mother of Viserys’s next batch of children, though I’m also holding out hope for a Rhaenyra/Alicent romance because damn, that chemistry.
All of this is secondary to the main reason I hopped onto my blog for an unscheduled post, the main reason being that I’m mad as hell about the aforementioned C-section. FOR FULL TRANSPARENCY, let’s get the bloody obvious out of the way:
- I am not a doctor.
- I don’t know what the characters could have done better, or even if Aemma could have been saved. I feel like a breech birth shouldn’t be an automatic death sentence, but it would probably depend on how stuck the baby is, especially in a time when medical knowledge is almost nonexistent. I don’t know what the consequences would have been if nature had been allowed to take its course, though I have to think it would still have been better than what actually did happen.
- I don’t know how I would have chosen. There’s no good answer.
In any case, I’m not mad about the lack of medical knowledge or the paucity of acceptable options. I’m mad because a C-section was performed on a laboring mother without her knowledge and very much against her will. I am angry that she died in agony while the Maester and his assistants butchered her alive with something that looked like a box cutter. I am angry that she spent her last breaths begging to be allowed to live. I am so angry that Viserys receives any sympathy at all in the “Inside the Episode” analysis. In total fairness, the stated purpose of the scene was to document the things that women have suffered at the hands of men, in the specific context of childbirth. Fine, fair enough. I could’ve moved on if the producers hadn’t then gone on to say that Viserys was placed in a terrible position. I hate that his decision was based on the reasoning that Aemma was dying anyway and would therefore be unable to “generate” – the producers’ word – another potential heir. Right, let me just push this button on my belly and generate a new heir for you. It may be a small thing compared to a forced C-section, but this seems like an odd way to phrase oneself in a show that acts like it wants to tear this shit down. I won’t say Viserys made his decision lightly, but all the same I have no sympathy when he wasn’t the one getting his guts sawed open with a fucking box cutter. The decision was his, and his alone. He unilaterally decided that his unborn heir was more important than his wife, and in the end he didn’t even have the decency to tell her what they were going to do before they went ahead and did it.
I’m also perturbed by the current role of Daemon’s mistress, Mysaria, played by Sonoya Mizuno. I was so excited to see a Japanese actress in the casting announcements, and I was so looking forward to seeing what her character would be doing, and……..she’s a prostitute. I am so fucking tired. Again, this is only the first episode, so I haven’t completely lost hope. Wikipedia claims that Mysaria is a “foreign-born dancer” (which I’m assuming is a polite euphemism for “exotic prostitute”) who goes on to become Daemon’s most trusted ally, and you’d better believe I’m going to hold the show to that. She’d better become something more than a glorified trophy mistress. We haven’t seen that much of her yet, but it’s not great that I only know her name because I saw it on Wikipedia. Now, she is seen bonding with and then riding Daemon’s dragon at the end of the episode, so that’s a good start, but I wish she hadn’t had to get her foot in the door by sleeping with him.
Leaving aside all of the above, my most crucial question ties into the show’s central premise: are the Targaryens heading towards civil war because a woman is in charge, or are they heading towards civil war because none of the menfolk can accept a woman being in charge? The result might be the same, but there is a difference. How the show answers that question, or whether it addresses it at all, remains to be seen. I have no idea which way it’s going to go, though given that the men are firmly in charge again by the first episode of GoT there doesn’t seem to be much room for hope. Still, it could be good, at least for a little while. Or it could be more of the same.
Overall, and even though it’s not obvious from the post I just wrote, I was intrigued by the episode, and I’m going to keep watching the show because I’m trash and I need a GoT replacement in my life. I didn’t go into this expecting it to surpass GoT; I really just want warrior women and dragons, and maybe less female suffering would be nice. There’s no point to all this pain if it doesn’t lead somewhere, as I suspect that it won’t. The ultimate message as of the end of episode one seems to be “Patriarchy is bad,” and, while I agree, it’s not enough just to say it. Show me Rhaenyra setting fire to the patriarchy, and then maybe I’ll start to believe you. We don’t need to be lectured about the evils of the patriarchy, we don’t need to be flooded with images of women getting royally fucked by the men they trust. Maybe this is new material to some people, but most of us have seen this show a million times before. It’s not trendy or new, or even particularly innovative. It’s a tale as old as time, and we already know how it ends.