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‘House of the Dragon’ Nailed Rhaenyra’s Complex Relationship with Motherhood

She's one tough mother.

Leo Hart, Harvey Sadler, and Emma D'Arcy in House of the Dragon (2022)

HBO’s House of the Dragon has taken Westeros drama to a new level. The writers of the Game of Thrones prequel ave created an intricate drama of nuanced characters that keeps me tuning in each week. Who knew that a Targaryen family soap opera would fill my heart as it did? One of the best parts of the series is Princess-turned-Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen.

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Rhaenyra is a multifaceted character that pops out of the screen and feels like a real person. The biggest example of this would be her complex relationship with motherhood and how it shaped her character. Motherhood is a complicated, fraught road and isn’t for everyone (which is why it should always be a choice), and it’s something Rhaenyra struggled with.

Young Rhaenyra

In episode 1, young Rhaenyra (played by Milly Alcock) watched her mother struggle with bearing more children. After her mother had several miscarriages and eventually died in childbirth, it’s easy to see why Rhaenyra wanted to steer clear of the mess altogether. During a conversation with her uncle (and later husband) Daemon, he told her bearing children was part of her duty to the realm.

After naming Rhaenyra his heir, her father, King Viserys, pushed her to find a husband and begin having children. As a teenager, her former best friend Alicent Hightower become a mother to perform her duty for the realm and seemed to wither under the weight of it all. Rhaenyra remained free of those pressures as long as she remained unwed and unattached.

However, when the rumor spread that Rhaenyra and Daemon had coupled in a brothel, the need for Rhaenyra to wed reached a peak. She argued to her father that her “purity” should not be an issue and if she were a male heir, no one would be bothered if she had produced several bastards. But Westeros runs on misogyny, and she could not be held to the same standards as her male counterparts. So her father arranged a marriage to Laenor Velaryon and reminded her that birthing heirs was the only way to secure their line.

Rhaenyra, Interrupted

Between the wedding episode and the next episode, there was a 10-year time jump. The first shot of Rhaenyra (now played amazingly by Emma D’Arcy) was her giving birth to her third child. She prided herself on not being “unwell” after pregnancy. When Queen Alicent called to see the new baby, she painfully walked up the stairs with the newborn to show Alicent (and the kingdom) how strong she was. Although she may have had children, Rhaenyra still did not want to be defined by this role.

During episode 10, Rhaenyra learned of her father’s death and the usurping of the throne. The obvious shock sent her into early labor where she delivered a stillborn girl. The entire scene was gut-wrenching to watch. While Rhaenyra struggled with labor, she warred with her own body. The biggest moment of her life, when she would finally get her birthright, was delayed because of her female duty. Her fear came true.

Motherhood: Dragon Style

Rhaenyra and Lucerys House of the Dragon
(HBO)

Despite Rhaenyra’s struggles, she thrives with her family. We do not get to see the moment where Rhaenyra gave in to becoming a mother (probably a mix of duty and the lack of birth control access in the Seven Kingdoms). However, instead of being resigned to her fate as a mother, she excelled on her terms. With her children and husband, she found people who saw her as a person, not just her role as “woman” or “heir.”

On House of the Dragon: Inside the Episode, Emma D’Arcy made a beautiful assessment of the character they play. D’Arcy said, “I think despite her questions about motherhood, what she discovers in having children is that she gets to build a tribe of her own. And actually finds a space where she feels free to be herself and that’s in the family unit that she builds.”

Just as Rhaenyra got everything she wanted, she faced an unimaginable loss that will shape the rest of the series. Rhaenyra may not be a traditional mother, but her journey and struggles resound in the real world. There are some of us that see ourselves not as soccer moms, but as something closer to Rhaenyra the Dragon Mom.

(featured image: HBO)

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.

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