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HBO’s ‘House of the Dragon’ Has Its Most Brutal Moment in the First Episode

Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon (2022)

HBO’s House of the Dragon, the first Game of Thrones spinoff series to hit the network, wasted no time reminding us that once upon a time, Targaryens ruled land and sky as dragon riders. The only serious threat to their reign was themselves, and while a previous generation may have been able to delay the inevitable, the reality of that threat is coming.

Spoilers ahead for the first episode of House of the Dragon!

In the ninth year of King Viserys’ (Paddy Considine) reign, the realm is in a precarious peace. King’s Landing is turning slowly into a shit-show, and he has yet to have the male heir to secure his life. Viserys does have a dragon rider for a daughter, Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock); a pregnant wife, Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke); and ten full-grown dragons. As the show slowly unfolds, we see how Viserys is ruled by his advisors, including Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans), who is trying to keep Westeros stable against the charismatic chaotic charm of Prince Daemon (Matt Smith), de facto heir apparent.

During a celebratory joust in anticipation of the birth of a son, Queen Aemma goes into labor. We find out in a prior conversation that Aemma has been pregnant at least six times and has suffered the loss of stillbirth and miscarriage five times. She tells her husband that she has mourned all the dead children she can. If you didn’t already know the source material, this moment of bodily autonomy marks Aemma for death. The child is in breach, and Viserys is asked to choose between the life of his wife and that of his potential son. He chooses his son.

The most chilling part of the episode is the death of Queen Aemma. Watching it sent chills down my spine, and I found myself even more disturbed when I watched it for a second time.

She calls childbirth the battlefield of women, and watching her die like this while the men fight in the joust shows the difference. In the end, Aemma is reduced to just a royal womb, unable to fight back or defend herself fully. She can only be torn apart in the hope that a male heir is born as a result. Not only is it one of the most violent scenes in the show (and yes, I say that in an episode where we see prisoners get brutalized), but it is also deeply tragic. There is no male heir, and now mother and child are dead for sexist folly. Only death can pay for life, but not in this case.

Rhaenyra is forced to give the signal for the dragon to light Aemma’s funeral pyre, lamenting that she was not herself a son. That would have saved her mother.

The council is divided over who should be the heir, and after Daemon decides to go to a brothel and toast for the “heir for a day,” he tries his brother’s patience too far and is banished. Rhaenyra is made heir. But we know that Westeros has had no queens by the time of Daenerys Targaryen, so we have to watch and wait as the series unfolds to show why that doesn’t come to pass.

A few other thoughts on the ‘House of the Dragon’ Pilot

  • One bad Targaryen wig is … sad but survivable. All the wigs here are terrible, and it is astounding how, with so much money, they don’t have a stylist who could at least understand that if you are going to put Matt Smith in a blonde wig, you need to give him eyebrows.
  • Watching Otto gently pimp out his daughter to the king is gross and only highlights that the adults are all playing the game of thrones. If anyone is a “Littlefinger” type to watch, it’s him. Def a see you next Tuesday.
  • Much of this story is inspired by the real-life events of the Anarchy, the civil war in England and Normandy between 1138 and 1153. I’ll tell you more about that in another article.
  • Alicent and Rhaenyra have a very cute friendship, which makes knowing what is to come even harder.
  • The Joust was cool.
  • Daemon called his wife a “bronze bitch,” and I just want to let you all know it has nothing to do with skin tone and is an allusion to her family being armor makers. Daemon is many things, but he is at least not racist.
  • Viserys is implied to have “dragon dreams,” which is a kind of prophecy in the books, but he canonically did not have it. Also, that “A Song of Ice and Fire” vision is not in the source material either, as far as I can find. However, it feels like something there to allude to the series’ future and the importance of Jon and Dany as Targaryen heirs.
  • Finally, if you caught a hint of something between uncle and niece, remember, that was something people were not opposed to in the Targaryen dynasty.

What did you guys think of this pilot episode?

(featured image: HBO)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.