Does House of the Dragon treat women any better than GoT?

Home » Film & TV » Does House of the Dragon treat women any better than GoT?

by | Aug 24, 2022 | Film & TV

Probably not judging by the first episode.

The build up to the release of this prequel series to Game of Thrones has been a strange affair. The legacy of Thrones is a prickly thing, initially beloved and admired for it’s complexity and caharacterisation, the show went went notoriously off the rails when the show runners completely dropped the ball in the rushed and narratively jarring final season. Ad to that the issues throughout the show of gratuitous sex scenes and sexual violence towards the female characters and we have a decidedly mixed legacy. The backlash to both of these things has been reflected in the marketing of this new series that returns to Westeross,  at every turn the producers are trying to reassure us that the relationship between House of the Dragon and women won’t feature quite as much rape and gratuitous nudity. It’s being pitched as virtually a feminist tale, and one that has a far more diverse cast. On first viewing that is just one character that isn’t white, blonde and blue eyed.

So the first episodes have aired, and it really doesn’t seem any different does it? Admittedly the central plot device is that the king chooses as his heir his daughter, not the done thing in a medieval patriarchy – they’re just there to produce babies. This neatly sets up the ensuing internecine strife as the reckless uncle, played with glee by Matt Smith, flounces off on his dragon to plot his revenge at the episodes end. But the essential flavour is still there, extreme bouts of violence and plenty of nudity. One scene in particular felt just like a throwback; Matt Smith, as a moustache twirling Daemon Targaryen, celebrates the death of the kings baby in a brothel with his henchmen, calling a halt to the fucking to deliver a salutation to the dead babe. One guy busy taking a prostitute from behind leans around mid thrust to listen.

The fundamental problem here is that we expect this from a series adapting Martins books, there simply isn’t the surprise and shock that greeted GoT when it first aired. Severed bollocks, caesarians without anaesthetic, axes to the face and characters delivering exposition whilst enthusiastically fucking a sex slave are just par for the course.

There are no surprises now, we expect that characters will be killed off in grisly and inventive fashion, we know that everyone is basically an arsehole or an over entitled arrogant prick. The aristocracy will kill tens of thousands in their petty squabbles for power and wealth. Big fucks small once more. Also there are no real heroes, even the likes of Jon Snow in GoT stand by whilst thousands are slaughtered, when he eventually has an epiphany and kills the mad queen (notably the only queens in the show are psychopaths), the system basically carries on as before – a small group of powerful people choose the next ruler, oh and it’s a King, despite Sansa being by far the best choice. Which, I suppose, reflects modern society quite neatly.

Will the female characters fare any better in House of the Dragon? Probably not, as the get out clause is always that ‘ the show depicts a feudal patriarchy so it’s accurate’. The reality is also that it reflects the white male gaze that created it in the first place – something that an awful lot of fantasy fiction suffers from. That problem also attached itself to the showrunners of Game Of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, feted by studios during the success of Thrones early seasons, and then rapidly hung out to dry after it became clear their creativity kind of dried up once they went beyond Martins material from the (still unfinished) series of books.

That Marriage Offer

In episode two we have the prospect of King Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine) taking his Master of Ships Corlys Velaryon’s (Steve Toussaint) 12-year-old daughter, Laena (Nova Foueillis-Mosé) as his bride. Which is nauseating, fortunately he refuses this offer and instead announces his plan to marry Alicent Hightower (Emily Carey). Who is 15.

Hmm, so the show runners and Martin’s defence of this is that “You can’t ignore the violence that was perpetrated on women by men in that time. It shouldn’t be downplayed and it shouldn’t be glorified.” By ‘that time’ they mean the middle ages, where Martin has taken his main inspiration from. Trouble is, GoT and House of the Dragon are not historical dramas, they are fantasy, it’s all made up in the mind of GRR Martin. Now surely the point of really good sci-fi or fantasy fiction is that it can deal withissues affecting us in the real world? So yes, absolutely we should explore the horrific inequalities between the sexes, especially in the light of the hard right christian cults banning of abortion rights in the US. But marrying children isn’t such an issue these days, nor is it fantasy escapism that any civilised/sane person would indulge in.

An important note here is that the characters in GoT were aged up to avoid precisely this yuk factor.

One can argue that GRR Martins novels and adaptations reflect modern society in their moral vacuum of the never ending thirst for wealth and power. Indeed Martin himself states that his stories serve to show how little has changed in our society since the middle ages. But contrast all of this with the new Amazon Rings of Power Tolkien adaptation coming in September – the trailers boast a diverse cast with female characters of depth and interest. Plus there is a strand of hope running through them that the deeply cynical and nihilistic world of Westeross could do with. Admittedly Tolkien was useless at writing female characters – but the adaptations have managed to redress that balance and deliver character led drama that sparkles.

However – if this sparks debate and encourages conversations about misogeny and abuse in the real world, the here and now, then it is invaluable.

House of the Dragon is airing the first season now on HBO Max and NOW TV in the UK


Written by Iain Hazlewood

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