Content Warning: The following viewpoint makes mention of sexual assault and violence against women
Judith Topham, Contributing Writer
Like many people, I tuned in every Sunday to watch “House of the Dragon” this fall. I was excited and apprehensive about returning to the world of Westeros after the disastrous end to “Game of Thrones.” However, George R.R. Martin’s world is a rich one and I was invested after the first episode. As the season went on, it was easy to see that while it was still tied to the world of “Game of Thrones,” the writers and showrunners of “House of the Dragon” were trying to keep a certain distance from it. There were a couple of direct tie-ins, but something else carried over they probably weren’t expecting: the unequal treatment of their female characters.
The entire run of “Game of Thrones” was plagued by issues related to its treatment of female characters. In the beginning, vital exposition was paired with sex so often that the term “sexposition” was coined. Sexual violence was included for shock value and was mostly treated as a way to show the man’s cruelty or a starting point for his character growth.
The amount of nudity and sexposition decreases as the show goes on, but a different problem emerges in the writing itself. Sansa Stark is turned into an emotionless woman who distrusts Danaerys because of her beauty and is glad she was raped. Cersei Lannister is delegated to sipping wine on her balcony for the entirety of season eight. Daenerys Targaryen turns insane on the whim of the writers and has to be put down by her lover.
The same problems carried over into “House of the Dragon.” While we don’t witness it, Aegon, the male heir to the throne, rapes one of his maids. The maid is not important; the scene is about showing how deplorable of a person Aegon is and how he’s not fit to rule. There are multiple traumatic birth scenes that made me feel the same disgust as when Ramsay was raping Sansa. The visceral feeling of watching a woman endure unbearable pain was uncomfortable to sit through, especially when there was such a focus on how they were at the mercy of their husbands.
The main problem with “House of the Dragon” is in its main characters: Alicent and Rhaenyra. In a show that is supposedly about the relationship and power struggle between the two women, we rarely see any of it in action. We see them as friends, enemies, and cautious allies on the brink of reconciliation. What we don’t see is how any of this happens. They are never given the chance to investigate their dynamic with the nuance it deserves.
The other problem with the two characters is their lack of agency. Rhaenyra is never allowed by the writers to prove her worth as heir to the throne. She is married off by her father and groomed by her uncle. Her only true choices in the show relate to her control over her sexuality, which are some of the first fractures in her and Alicent’s relationship. It is so tiring to have what could have been two complex female characters instead split into the prude and the whore. Alicent only challenges Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne because of her illegitimate sons. She only begins supporting her son’s claim after a misunderstanding, but is immediately upset when she learns that a coup was planned behind her back. She has no drive or ambition the entire season. Instead she just reacts to plans made by her father and council.
“House of the Dragon” needs to do better. Its characters deserve better. It failed them in its first season, but can redeem itself in the future if its writers commit to doing right by their female characters.