On Sunday night, Dragon’s House describe one of the more disturbing scenes in Game of Thrones history: a bloody medieval C-section that ends with the death of the mother. This fantasy series is known for pushing the limits of what can be shown on television and it certainly hasn’t shied away from portraying violence on screen in the past. (Remember The Red Wedding, The Mountain Crushing Oberyn Martell’s Skull, Drogo Melting Viserys’ Head, Shireen Baratheon Burning… Shall I continue?) But there’s something special about this birth scene. horribly different in a way that others don’t.
About the setting: The scene features Queen Aemma Arryn, the pregnant wife of King Viserys Targaryen, pregnant to give birth to a child her husband is certain to be a boy. (With their oldest child a girl, he was desperate for a “legitimate” heir, and Aemma’s past stillbirths and miscarriages didn’t help.) When Aemma confronted Faced with complications during childbirth, the woman said he couldn’t save both her and the baby. Although Viserys seemed confused by this decision, he was not surprised when he decided to save the baby on Aemma’s behalf without Aemma’s knowledge. What comes next is brutal: The Queen screams as the nurses hold her down on the bed and the doctor cuts into her uterus to manually remove the fetus — which we get a clear view of bird eye. The camera goes on here, showing the blade running down Aemma’s stomach as her blood spills onto the bed sheets. There were almost bloody hands opening and reaching into her to remove the baby from her body. (To Viserys’ relief, it was a boy, but the child died a few hours later.) That’s a lot. It too much.
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So… why is it there? In terms of plot, the death of Aemma and his heir eventually opened the door to the Dance of the Dragons civil war in House Targaryen, which this show will cover. For context, it proves a point Aemma had told her daughter, Rhaenyra, earlier in the episode: that while men fight war, childbirth is women’s battle. That’s accentuated by a very clear parallel, with Aemma’s labor scene interspersed with a scene of knights mercilessly fighting at a tournament elsewhere in King’s Landing.
Like Vanity Fair pointed out, Aemma’s death in childbirth in George RR Martin’s Fire & Bloodup there Dragon’s House is based on, is unique two sentences long. Why present it in such gory terms on screen?
The presenters’ justification was that they wanted to be real about the horrors of childbirth in the medieval equivalent of Westeros (a fictional world). “Any minor complication, anything, can lead to very tragic consequences for the child and the mother,” co-host Ryan Condal. VF. “We wanted to dramatize that. We think you’ll see a lot of violence of all colors in Westeros, but there’s a particular kind of violence to childbirth, even the birth goes well in the end.”
Martin calls the scene “incredibly powerful”. He doesn’t see it as gratuitous but necessary to tell a convincing story. “I want to live by the book. I want to be there. I want my emotions to bond,” he added.
Sure, I guess? The story takes place at a time when women had little place and power in society. And I bought the franchise—dragons, vast kingdoms, imaginary languages, White Walkers, any milk of poppies—but would the torture of women in baby beds matter? Is it the next step to building the world? I don’t get the full picture unless I see someone ripped off during labor? What am I seeing here that I don’t understand?
To bring things back to the present day, the scene also speaks to the subject of timely abortion and one’s right to choose. Like Jezebel put it, in our post-Roe v. Wade world, Aemma’s labor scene “too close to home.” Co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik is aware of this. He told Popsugar that the scene deals with an issue that “really excites women, it’s this idea of choice and she doesn’t get to choose. She was murdered by her own husband. And that’s a good sign of the state of play in this world we live in. “
Sapochnik also says that this moment was heavily debated behind the scenes, and the team knew it would upset viewers. “We tried to show as many women as possible and ask the main question, ‘Is this too violent for you?’,’ he said. “And unanimously, the answer is no. . Often the answer is “No, if so, it needs to be more than that.”
But why? To prove to the men watching that this is what it looks like to us? Does this change anyone’s mind regarding women’s body autonomy, or abortion rights, or the maternal health crisis? And if the scene is supposed to visualize how women are warriors in their own right, do any of the women who watch the scene feel empowered?
Martin said Aemma’s death was supposed to “rip your heart out and throw it on the floor”, with the same impact as the Red Wedding. Both are bloody moments (and feature pregnant women being murdered), but the big difference here is that the Red Wedding has killed off characters we’ve loved for three seasons. In Dragon’s House, one woman was ripped off in front of our eyes 30 minutes after she was introduced.
If the scene is only intended to shock or elicit an emotional response, that leads to a larger conversation about the extent of Dragon’s House want to be like (or maybe even excel) Game of Thrones. With scenes of bloodshed, nudity, oozing wounds, castration, and implied incest, it’s as if the first episode were saying: In case you forgot what a tough guy we are, here’s a reminder. With small captions to Daenerys Targaryen and “Song of Ice and Fire”, it wants to assure you that you are in the world of Game of Thrones while at the same time making a difference with a more feminist activist plot.
The prequel looks like Try to be more self-aware. Okay criticized for depicting rape, nudity, and other forms of sexual and emotional violence against women. Like Dragon’s House begins, it is immediately obvious, that the primary focus will be on women being persecuted and persevering in patriarchy. (It was not until Viserys’ wife and newborn child died, and after his brother disrespected the dead child, that Viserys finally named his daughter Rhaenyra as his heir. he probably should have done it in the first place.)
Sapochnik said to LA time that their aim for the birth scene was to be precise and not to be “sensational”, but with such puzzling imagery, they still created a spectacle. And it will stick with viewers for better or for worse.
Erica Gonzales is Senior Culture Editor at ELLE.com, where she oversees coverage of TV, movies, music, books and more. Previously she was the editor of HarpersBAZAAR.com. There’s a 75% chance she’s listening to Lorde right now.