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The Story Behind *That* Childbirth Scene in ‘House of the Dragon’

Emma D'Arcy as Rhaenyra Targaryen in HBO's House of the Dragon

House of the Dragon made an exciting move in handling the last two episodes of its first season by dedicating an episode each to the warring factions of the royal family. Episode 9 was aptly titled “The Green Council” for Alicent and Otto Hightower together with her sons, Aegon, Aemond, and Helaena. In contrast, its last episode was simply called “The Black Queen” for Rhaenyra Targaryen, the declared and favored heir of the late King Viserys. Throughout the course of the finale, we watch a heavily pregnant Rhaenyra deal with the news of not only her father’s death but also the betrayal of her old friend Alicent in order to install her half-brother Aegon on the throne. The stress sends her to early labor, all while for the rest of the episode, we watch the Blacks gather their strength amongst the remaining lords of Westeros and the unclaimed dragons nesting in Dragonstone under the supervision of Prince Daemon.  

The curse of Visenya in House of the Dragon

Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen holding court at the seat of House Baratheon, the castle of Storm's End
(HBO)

Like most royal families, the Targaryens are notorious for passing down names from generation to generation. Try looking up ‘Aegon Targaryen’, and you’ll surely fall into a significant rabbit hole in trying to figure out which one you were thinking about in the first place. Oddly enough, the same cannot be said for the name ‘Visenya’ which is surprising considering that she is one of the three Targaryen Conquerors who took over Westeros. A long-standing fan theory (which I personally adhere to) that explains this is that the name is probably cursed. If you may recall, in House of the Dragon’s first episode where King Viserys and Queen Aemma are talking about their unborn baby, Aemma tells Viserys that Rhaenyra is hoping for a new sister and that she had already picked out a name: Visenya. As we all know, Aemma dies giving birth to the said baby, who turns out to be a boy but quickly follows his mother to the funeral pyre. 

Fast forward decades later, and here we have Rhaenyra on the birthing bed for the sixth time with her first girl, whom she hopes to name Visenya, only for her to die like her brother all those years ago. 

So, why exactly does Rhaenyra lose the baby in House of the Dragon?

Rhaenyra Targaryen returns bloody and triumphant from her hunt in House of the Dragon Episode 3
(HBO)

In the book, it says that Rhaenyra wasn’t set to give birth for “another turn of the moon” but is induced into early labor after a fit of rage following the news of the coronation of her brother Aegon (totally merited). Like in the show, she struggles to push the baby out, but this is where the two narratives diverge: in Fire and Blood, Rhaenyra is in agony for three whole days. The entire time, she is cursing both Alicent and her brother and, eventually, the baby inside of her whom she is begging to get out

When finally did give birth to the baby, it is said that the child had a hole where her heart should have been, a tail, and scales for skin—a monster, as her mother had cursed her to be. Upon her death, Rhaenyra swore yet another vow. 

“She was my only daughter, and they killed her. They stole my crown and murdered my daughter, and they shall answer for it,” she said. The deaths of Visenya and her beloved son Lucerys would ultimately signal the beginning of the Dance of the Dragons. 

Although she doesn’t exactly utter this line in the HBO adaptation, we do witness Rhaenyra wrapping her baby in cloth strips in accordance with the fashion and tradition of the Faith of the Seven, refusing help from any of her maids or the Silent Sisters. Like with the rest of the Targaryens before them, Visenya is given a funeral pyre and burned as her mother and father quietly stand vigil. 

In an interview with GQ, Emma D’Arcy broke down the heartbreaking sequence and emphasized the importance of it.

“She has a fear that begins when she loses her mother,” they explained. “And that’s one of either dying in childbirth, and/or being incapacitated by childbirth by being forced to bear children within this system. Simultaneously, she lives in anticipation of this call to the throne when her father dies. But she’s in the worst-case scenario, in that she is fundamentally incapacitated at the same point as being told ‘your father’s dead, the throne is yours, and you’ve been usurped.’”

D’Arcy further underliner how it was ultimately Rhaenyra taking control over her own bodily autonomy: “The advice Rhaenyra is receiving is to have patience, in the hope of preventing the child being stillborn or preventing harm to the child. And she ignores the advice, seeking instead to get this body out of her. And I think it’s really fundamental, and it will be possibly divisive, but ultimately I think she chooses her own bodily autonomy.  She prioritizes her own bodily autonomy. She literally says in the scene, like “get it out.”

The aftermath

Rhaenyra Targaryen in final shot of 'House of the Dragon'
(HBO)

After Visenya’s funeral, we watch Rhaenyra finally be crowned and later on learn that, much like her father, she advocates for peace—much to the disappointment of her husband (and uncle) Daemon. This all changes, however, after finding out about the tragic death of another of her children: Lucerys. The season rounds off its finale with a muted scene where Daemon delivers the news and the Black Queen turns around to face her allies with tears in her eyes. 

In the same interview with GQ, D’Arcy describes this as Rhaenyra coming full circle in terms of the grief and loss she has experienced throughout her life.

“The way that I made sense of it is that she feels well-educated in grief,” they said. “Then she learns at the end of Episode 10 that she knows nothing about grief up to this point. There’s that idea that you would die for your lover but kill for your children. She understands that now.”

As for that excellent final shot, we all have Matt Smith to thank, apparently.

“When we got on set to rehearse, it has to be known, it was Matt Smith, in a turn of fucking genius, who offered the idea that Daemon should give Rhaenyra the news while we’re both walking away from camera, towards the fireplace,” D’Arcy remembered. “It was a sublime choice, and I could see it instantly. We’ve sort of touched on it, but I think losing a child, losing her son, it reframes grief immediately.”

Regardless of which side you’re on in terms of the Targaryen Civil War, I think we can all agree that Rhaenyra Targaryen needs to catch a break. Maybe a vacation in the Summer Isles, or something to that effect. 

(featured image: HBO)

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Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.