If you were uncomfortable with or disgusted by the violent forced birth scene in the season one premiere of House of the Dragon on Sunday, you might be the problem.
In a roundtable interview with Insider published Monday, co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik justified the scene’s brutality by claiming they “[made] a point of showing it to as many women as possible and asked the very question: ‘Was this too violent for you?’” Apparently, per Sapochnik, “Unanimously, the response was ‘no.’ Often the response was ‘If anything, it needs to be more.’” Sapochnik explained his own reasoning for advocating that the scene be as “horribly real” as possible (without being “excessive”): “We shouldn’t be shying away from this thing that’s happened because it’s raising a point that seems to hit a real trigger for women, which is this idea of choice.”
In case you weren’t among the 10 million who tuned in for House of the Dragon’s premiere, the show follows the early years of the Targaryen dynasty 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones. The current king, Viserys, hopes his pregnant wife Aemma will birth his long-awaited male heir. But when the delivery is afflicted with complications and Viserys must choose between saving Aemma’s life or the male baby’s, he chooses his son, ordering nurses to restrain his wife as they cut her open to “save” the baby that will die the next day. Throughout, Aemma is screaming in pain and horror as she ultimately bleeds to death.
It wasn’t a particularly pleasant scene to watch, especially for audience members who believed the show’s writers when they suggested House of the Dragon would scale back its predecessor’s on-screen depictions of violence toward women. To be clear, writer Sara Hess was explicitly referring to “sexual violence,” meaning apparently, graphic forced birth scenes of a woman being physically cut open at the behest of her husband are A-OK!
Apparently, we should be grateful for this cut of the scene: Paddy Considine, who plays Viserys, told Insider “it was a lot more brutal and a lot more emotional than it ends up in the final episode.”
“Those were hard days filming,” he reminisced. “It was tough to shoot. It’s all make believe, but it was tough.” Trust me, Paddy—it was also “tough” to watch!
Violence against women is a complex issue to explore on-screen, and there’s certainly value in thoughtful and victim-centric storytelling. To Sapochnik’s credit, he points out to Insider that Aemma being denied “a choice” in the scene is “a good indication of the state of play in this world that we’re inhabiting.” Two months ago today, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and states have been rushing to enact abortion bans ever since.
The world of Game of Thrones is—as you’ve surely realized by now—a patriarchal setting, because apparently, even with all the freedom in the world to imagine a very different society, male creators still deem sexism and violence against women a necessity. But even for a show steeped in patriarchy by design, the forced birth scene—like the violent rapes and assaults in GoT before it—seemed to play out the way it did for shock factor more than anything.
Sapochnik and Considine’s assurances—that the horrific scene could have been much worse, and, actually, most women wanted more violence—aren’t exactly helpful. The comments feel a lot like being chastised for being ungrateful: Why are you upset?? It could (and should!) have been worse!!
Thoughtful portrayals of gender-based violence and its impacts require more than just deleting graphic on-screen rape scenes. House of the Dragon would probably benefit from its writers being more considerate about the different kinds of scenes, beyond rape scenes, that might cause its women audience members to feel violated and disregarded. Excluding on-screen rape is a step forward, but including a torturous forced birth scene somehow feels like a step back.