In the premiere episode of the HBO drama – which is available for free on the Youcine apk – it shows the serious consequences of men making decisions in women’s lives. The series opens with a contested succession scene. In the year 101 AC, 182 years before Daenerys Targaryen was born, King Jaehaerys I calls the lords of Westeros to King’s Landing to witness the official announcement of her successor. Both his son and brother died, leaving the dynasty without a male heir.
And instead of naming the next in line — his granddaughter Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best), the only child of the king’s eldest son — as queen, Jaehaerys chooses the son of her second son, Viserys (Paddy Considine), to rule. It’s a decision that sets the tone for the prequel premiere episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and also of course, for the fate of the entire Targaryen dynasty.
Seen as “The Queen That Never Was”, Rhaenys accepts her fate with great appreciation. After 9 years, we find three more women whose existences are defined in relation to men, be they fathers, husbands or children. Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock, Episode 1) is the eldest – and, at the moment, only – daughter of the King, who always felt that she let her father down just by being born a woman. She particularly dislikes the court lifestyle and has a dream of riding to glory in battle on her dragon’s back. It truly doesn’t matter, because power is very gendered in Westeros.
As Rhaenyra’s mother Lady Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke) tells Rhaenyra in the episode, “birth is our battleground.” Aemma’s power—and therefore her daughter’s—lies in her ability to become pregnant and have a male heir. But, as Aemma tells her husband just before she goes into labor, “this will be the last.” She has gone through several stillbirths and miscarriages, and her body can’t take any more pregnancies. And so, thus, she ceases to be of value to the kingdom, as illustrated in the bloodiest scene of an episode that is indeed full of them.
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At the same time that Aemma tries to give birth to a baby who is on her buttocks (i.e. is turned with her feet down instead of her head, a common but dangerous complication), the maester pulls the king aside and tells him that it is “time to make an impossible choice”. And now ? Who will live and who will die? What’s more important is: the potential of a boy, or the actual adult woman screaming in pain a few feet away? Very intriguingly and significantly, but no one asks Aemma’s opinion on the matter.
She is very surprised and quite terrified when her husband kneels beside her, ruffles her hair and tells her not to be afraid, and the scene for the maester begins to cut. Aemma will die when the maester performs a medieval C-section on her, cutting straight through her stomach with the anesthesia he could administer “without harming the child.” (It is implied that Aemma was not consulted about this either.) Viserys’ facial expression is one of relief when the maester tells him the child is a boy. So, the sacrifice was worth it – at least, until the boy passed away too.
A close-up shot of the chamber shows blood dripping from the maester’s hands and increasing blood as he cuts back and forth between the violence of Aemma’s surgical murder and the bloodshed of the tournament taking place outside the castle walls – a tournament placed ironically, in honor of the boy. Once the gruesome deed is done, Sapochnik retreats to an overhead shot of Aemma’s mangled body sprawled on the blood-darkened bed, leaving an ominous picture. The gender juxtaposition of the joust, with its spears and screaming machismo, with the blood and pain of childbirth is very intentional: last month, Sapochnik told The Hollywood Reporter, “In medieval times, giving birth was violence. It’s as dangerous as possible. We have multiple births in the series and we basically decided to give them different themes and explore them from different perspectives the same way I did for various battles in Thrones.”
In ‘The House of the Dragon,’ women are reluctant foot soldiers, being sent to the front lines of men’s battles. Later in the episode, Viserys’ decision to make Rhaenyra his heir is motivated more by his anger towards his brother Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) than by believing in Rhaenyra’s abilities. And Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) has obvious ulterior motives to send his daughter Alicent (Olivia Cooke) to the grieving king’s bedside to “comfort” him. (Indeed, a marriage between Alicent and Viserys would actually be quite advantageous – for her father). Both men are putting their reputations and feelings above their daughters’ happiness and safety because they both see these girls as property and can do with them whatever they want.
Even if it takes place in a fantasy context, this vision of women as the property of the men in their lives, who can decide whether these women live or die without them having a say in the matter, is very much present in our world. Nor is it a relic of the medieval era: it is an issue that has become frighteningly tangible in Brazil, the USA for example in recent times, which the repeal of Roe v. Wade has already led to pregnant women being denied life-saving medical care, risking infections, bleeding and death because a group of lawmakers decided to prioritize the possibility that their fetus could survive them.
‘The Dragon House’ shows what happens when women are treated with incubators. This is the norm in Westeros, a kingdom whose customs and attitudes are based on the world equally hateful to women in medieval Europe. In the same interview reported to the ‘Hollywood Reporter’ , Sapochnik valiantly said that ‘The House of the Dragon’ does not “shy away” from portraying violence against women.
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