***TW: DISCUSSION OF RAPE/SEXUAL ASSAULT***
We are going to be getting ten episodes for House of the Dragon, the Game of Thrones prequel series dealing with House Targaryen. In light of Jane Goldman’s canceled series due to unknown issues with that pilot, I decided to revisit the aired version of the Game of Thrones pilot, the unaired version that has been called “a complete piece of shit” by Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin.
Re-watching the pilot, the seeds of a lot of issues that I have with the series are present, but most egregious—and something that I think speaks to the way race was handled throughout Game of Thrones—are the changes made to the rape scene between Drogo (Jason Momoa) and Dany (Emilia Clarke).
Now to be absolutely clear, in the book A Song of Ice and Fire, the scene between Drogo and Dany where they have sex for the first time is still rape. It is rape because Dany is fourteen years old and did not consent to the marriage, and could not consent to the relationship. It is rape. That being said, there is a larger context to the scene in the book versus the scene in the television show.
In my opinion, the show leaned into all the stereotypes about the Dothraki that exist within the books, but without the larger commentary of how Dany’s elitism and xenophobic mentality towards the Dothraki ended up leading to her own problems and downfall in the end. George R.R. Martin does a good job of knowing the racist tropes within the fantasy genre and playing with them, but the show just enjoyed having these brown people being savages and never worked to be beyond that. This is seen in the fact that as the series progresses, all the ties to that part of Dany’slife are stripped away, and the lives of her bloodriders have no value other than to be stepping stones towards her fight to queendom.
This is the scene, in the books, of the scene between Drogo and Dany:
“His fingers were deft and strangely tender. He removed her silks one by one, carefully, while Dany sat unmoving, silent, looking at his eyes. When he bared her small breasts, she could not help herself. She averted her eyes and covered herself with her hands. “No,” Drogo said. He pulled her hands away from her breasts, gently but firmly, then lifted her face again to make her look at him. “No,” he repeated. “No,” she echoed back at him.
He stood her up then and pulled her close to remove the last of her silks. The night air was chilly on her bare skin. She shivered, and gooseflesh covered her arms and legs. She was afraid of what would come next, but for a while nothing happened. Khal Drogo sat with his legs crossed, looking at her, drinking in her body with his eyes.
After a while he began to touch her. Lightly at first, then harder. She could sense the fierce strength in his hands, but he never hurt her. He held her hand in his own and brushed her fingers, one by one. He ran a hand gently down her leg. He stroked her face, tracing the curve of her ears, running a finger gently around her mouth. He put both hands in her hair and combed it with his fingers. He turned her around, massaged her shoulders, slid a knuckle down the path of her spine.
It seemed as if hours passed before his hands finally went to her breasts. He stroked the soft skin underneath until it tingled. He circled her nipples with his thumbs, pinched them between thumb and forefinger, then began to pull at her, very lightly at first, then more insistently, until her nipples stiffened and began to ache.
He stopped then, and drew her down onto his lap. Dany was flushed and breathless, her heart fluttering in her chest. He cupped her face in his huge hands and looked into his eyes. “No?” he said, and she knew it was a question.
She took his hand and moved it down to the wetness between her thighs. “Yes,” she whispered as she put his finger inside her.”
With this scene, while it is still rape despite Dany saying yes, it shows that Drogo has some sense of respect for Dany being his wife and does, despite the circumstances, want Dany to want this. He is not a mindless savage with no sense of Dany’s personhood. This scene juxtaposes the idea we’ve seen thus far of all of the Dothraki being unhinged, bloodlust-driven people.
Then we have the scene in the television show where none of this tenderness happens, he simply undresses her and pushes her down, while Dany is crying the entire time. It perpetuates the brutality and gives us this image of a tiny white woman being brutally raped by a large brown savage man.
Ever since I read the book for comparison, this change has always confused me. It is not as if the shows changes the “love” that grows to exist between the two characters. Hell, in the second season, it even adds a scene with her having a vision of Drogo and their unborn child, in the House of the Undying. This change doesn’t do anything except play into “where the white woman at” cliches and it does a disservice to the worldbuilding.
As a Black fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, I’ve had to watch the adaptation remove almost every non-white character that existed in the books, watch them race-bend and then kill off a character in the show, who was still alive in later books. Their explanation for keeping Ros and getting rid of Alayaya and Chataya for the sake of simplicity makes no sense when you consider how they had no problem expanding and adding characters into storylines just because they liked the actor.
Plus, they brutalized Ros even more than Alayaya and Chataya, using the characters as fan service and a way to highlight Joffery’s over-the-top brutality. Considering we ended the series with only one named character of color alive, I think that says a lot.
One of the things most exciting about the Jane Goldman prequel series was that it was going to include many more people of color in the main cast than Game of Thrones ever did. By making a series that focuses on the inbreed Targaryens, that means we are going to be getting another series with mostly white people in the main story. Until we get to Dorne and my goddess am I afraid for that happening, because how much will Dorne suffer in adaptation this time?
Game of Thrones was telling us they were going to be pretty shitty at race from the pilot episode on, and I hope that House of the Dragon can go in another direction.
(via IndieWire, image: Helen Sloan/HBO)
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