House of the Dragon: Time Jumps, Birth Scenes, and White Wigs…Oh My!
A review of the spin-off show's first season.
by Jess Hagy
Major spoiler alert for Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon Season 1. Also, descriptions of graphic moments from the show.
The long-awaited and highly anticipated first season of the Game of Thrones prequel series, House of the Dragon, has finally come…and gone. So, let’s discuss…
For the few of you who happened to miss the obsession of Game of Thrones and are asking “Who are the Targaryens? Why do we need a whole new show about them? Why are they so important?” Well, (AGAIN - MAJOR GOT SPOILER ALERT) that Jon Snow guy everyone was talking about is actually a Targaryen and they were the ones on the Iron Throne for centuries up until the events that led to the Game of Thrones. Also, they are the ones with the huge dragons which is pretty cool too.
So how did the first season do? It is a very strong beginning to the series and leaves room to hopefully get better and tighten up with its plot and pace. This show is clearly still finding its footing but has some shining and strong aspects that keep it standing, one of them being the performances. Matt Smith and Emma D’Arcy, who portray Daemon and Rhaenyra Targaryen respectfully, really carry this ensemble cast. Both are such dynamic characters with Daemon being the one you hate to love and love to hate and Rhaenyra eventually becoming the one you find yourself rooting for. D’Acry does an amazing job incorporating the experiences, actions, and personality of young Rhaenyra, played by Milly Alcock, into their own take on the older version of the same character. It helps the audience believe that this is the same person. Olivia Cooke’s Alicent is a very solid portrayal though it lacks a connection or growth from Emily Carey’s portrayal of young Alicent from the first few episodes. This could be a fault of the actors or the show’s numerous time jumps. It is hard to keep track of characters who are portrayed by different actors every few episodes.
The series’ source material covers many, many years and a huge family lineage that the first season seemed to struggle to maintain. After the second episode, there was a 2-year time jump. Then, mid-way through the season, 20 years pass leading to the young characters being recast and the older cast remaining the same. If some viewers didn’t have knowledge of the source material, this major jump could be extremely confusing. Luckily, the actors portraying young Rhaenyra and young Alicent look very much like the actors who take over for them. After this decades-long jump, the main ensemble of actors stays the same apart from some of the young children who get switched out, in what feels like, every episode. This made it difficult to follow and care for the kids and their relationships with their parents. Unfortunately, this might backfire in the upcoming second season since the final moments of the finale involve a major event involving one of the children which motivates the actions of one of the main characters, as well as begins the civil war that the show has been heading towards.
What the show did well was depict how the fantasy genre tends to treat women and how this series may be trying to change that. Three moments happen in the pilot episode, midway point, and the finale that seem to bring this to the forefront. The use of very graphic birth scenes occurs throughout the season to show the strength, voice, and power women have or (more often) don’t have in this world. These scenes are at first very jarring to watch but then began to have more relevance within the storytelling. The pilot episode focuses on the birth of a child who is to be the next heir to the throne. The actual birth takes up the bulk of the episode and is extremely difficult to watch. The baby is breech, meaning that they are not in the correct placement to begin pushing, and is very detrimental to the child and mother’s health and life within this period. King Viserys, played by Paddy Considine, must decide whether to allow both his wife and child to die or for the maesters to cut the child out, which is a death sentence to the mother. His wife gets no say in her or her child’s lives and even is confused when they start to perform the very graphic action. She even begins to fight and even screams “No!” once she realizes what is happening. This scene shows that Queen Aemma, Viserys' wife, had absolutely zero choice or say and was only used to bear an heir even though Viserys deeply loved her.
This moment is also mirrored by a bloody brawl between two men, emphasizing the difference between violence among men and then the violence toward women.
The second birth scene that happens this season is slightly different with who makes that final decision. Daemon is faced with the same choice Viserys had to make in Episode One but before he can answer, he notices his wife, Lady Laena, is gone and has already chosen for herself. Her child was also breech and knowing she and the child were going to die, she takes her own life in a very dramatic way.
In the final episode, the birth scene is a very defining moment for the character of Rhaenyra. She chooses to deliver the baby on her own while the midwives who are attending her stand by and watch in shock. (One added note: in Rhaenyra’s birth scene, she is attended to by only midwives who are women. Queen Aemma and Lady Laena were attended by maesters, all men.) It seems that Rhaenyra has learned from those tragedies to take matters, as much as possible, into her own hands. It is, like the first birth scene of the show, extremely difficult to watch. The baby is sadly stillborn, but Rhaenyra survives. Rhaenyra at this moment shows the strength and vulnerability that she has and has to have to be a female in this world. She made her own decisions at that moment and wasn’t going to allow anyone to take that from her. This experience then empowers her later in the episode to fight for and defend her surviving children.
This first season had a strong start with a few pacing issues, while getting a bit lost in what we were to be following. Hopefully, by Season Two, they will have a clearer vision of where they are taking the story and fewer time jumps, please. It’s hard enough keeping all these characters straight. Let’s stick with this same group of actors, shall we?
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