Previous to the debut of Home of the Dragon, co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik informed the Hollywood Reporter that the season would function a variety of childbirth scenes — all of which the artistic workforce approached like “battles.”
By the point we attain episode six, “The Princess and the Queen,” mentioned princess and mentioned queen have every given beginning at the very least 3 times. In response to the present’s logic, then, Rhaenyra and Alicent are each struggle veterans.
Word: This text incorporates spoilers for Home of the Dragon, Episode 6, “The Princess and the Queen.”
To date, Home of the Dragon has performed out much less like a four-act opera than the overture earlier than the present. We’ve gotten micro variations of the conflicts that may finally erupt into full-blown civil struggle between our two most important factions. We’ve greeted a gentle stream of characters and discovered all their secrets and techniques, foibles, and motivations as they rigorously discover their locations on the nice chess board. Lots of them, particularly on this episode, rotate into place solely to be instantly dispatched via shame or dying. The intermittent bursts of stunning violence have to this point devastated solely peripheral characters, by no means Rhaenyra or Alicent straight.
The only real exception to this rule includes the kind of violence that’s not often framed as violence: childbirth. A kind of brutal childbirth scenes fashioned the bloody core of the present’s first episode, with the dying of Rhaenyra’s mom casting an extended shadow over the Pink Hold. Now, because the season makes its greatest time soar but, we get a harrowing have a look at two extra of these beginning scenes — one with an consequence that implies the present’s household ties are, themselves, acts of violence, and that every level on the dense Targaryen household tree is, in reality, a battle scar.
The magnificent Targaryens
The episode begins with a serious skip some 10–15 years into the long run and features as a midpoint reset for the season. Accordingly, the present replaces its youthful actors with adults. Recent-faced Milly Alcock, who performed a defiant however naive younger Rhaenyra, turns into Emma D’Arcy, whose Rhaenyra is hardened and iron-willed but in addition perpetually exhausted. As Alicent, the wide-eyed, petrified Emily Carey, having gained some sentience via final week’s inexperienced costume maneuver, transitions seamlessly into the still-wide-eyed however always calculating, now completely paranoid Olivia Cooke. Like father, like daughter.
In the course of the time we’ve skipped forward, the key gamers of the Dance of Dragons (the approaching civil struggle) have arrived on scene. (We go into extra element on the newly up to date Targaryen household tree.) In a single nook, you’ve acquired the youngsters of Alicent and Viserys: Aegon (Ty Tennant), a spoiled however typical teenage boy, his reticent youthful sister Helaena (Evie Allen), and their weak however decided youthful brother Aemond (Leo Ashton). The Targaryen youngsters have grown up in a bubble of privilege that few issues have managed to puncture. In a very hilarious second, Alicent tries to impress upon Aegon that his half-sister goes to assert the throne, and he mumbles, “So?” leaving her to spell out for him in capital letters the plot of this present.
Within the different nook are the youngsters of Rhaenyra and her illicit lover, Harwin Robust (Ryan Corr): Jacaerys “Jace” Velaryon (Leo Hart), Lucerys “Luke” Velaryon (Harvey Sadler), and Joffrey Velaryon — whose beginning we witness in a grueling opening scene. The boys all bear the identify Velaryon regardless of being very clearly the offspring of Rhaenyra and her brown-haired beau, not Rhaenyra and her husband Laenor. (To provide you an thought of how sophisticated the Velaryon household bonds are, Laenor insists on naming the new child Joffrey after his personal misplaced lover, Joffrey Lonmouth — the person who met a horrific finish by the hands of Ser Criston Cole within the earlier episode, breaking Laenor’s coronary heart within the course of.)
The illegitimacy of the three Velaryon boys — don’t name them “Strongs”! — already looms over their childhoods and turns each dialog between Viserys (Paddy Considine) and his court docket right into a sequence of entrapments. To date, the king has refused to acknowledge the fact in entrance of him: The questionable parentage of Rhaenyra’s youngsters additional undermines her declare to the throne. The beginning of Rhaenyra’s third son, as soon as once more clearly not a black man with blond dreads, solely will increase the strain between Rhaenyra and Alicent. By the tip of the episode, the encroaching monster of succession has began tangling its claws round every of their youngsters as properly.
However at what price? The twin scenes of childbirth that function prominently on this episode trace that Home of the Dragon may be engaged in deconstructing the way in which Sport of Thrones dealt with the query of energy — by viscerally returning us to the roots of all energy in Westeros: motherhood.
Each beginning a battle
We’ve beforehand mentioned the affect of Home of the Dragon’s opening episode on our real-world understanding of childbirth in a post-Roe world; that’s, such a world is brutal, unforgiving, dehumanizing, and arguably murderous. The 2 labor scenes in “The Princess and the Queen” every ask an inevitable follow-up query: What toll does giving beginning in such a barbaric world actual on the ladies who must exist in it?
And every scene offers us a dramatically completely different, however rigorously linked, reply.
The opening scene of the episode is an excruciating, drawn-out beginning scene, made all of the extra jarring as a result of we’re additionally adjusting to our first sight of grown-up Rhaenyra. The digital camera lingers on her face all through the ordeal as she struggles to efficiently ship her little one. Eventually, she pops the infant out, and there’s a immediate of respite for her and for us. However hardly has Rhaenyra collapsed again onto the mattress than she will get a summons from the queen.
Alicent desires to see the new child little one herself, instantly. It’s a brazen type of rank-pulling and passive-aggression that tells us all we have to know in regards to the path Alicent’s character has developed within the years since we final noticed her. The digital camera darts over to Rhaenyra’s face, now marked with palpable worry: She doesn’t, maybe can’t, belief Alicent to be alone together with her susceptible toddler.
Rhaenyra decides to name Alicent’s bluff: Although she will barely stand, she staggers to her ft, nonetheless passing afterbirth, and takes Joffrey to Alicent herself. A confused Laenor helps her as she limps via the fortress, doing his greatest to crack jokes. At one level, he comically — however half-seriously — compares her unbearably painful ordeal to getting shot within the shoulder with a crossbow.
That he’s joking about this all whereas she’s nonetheless struggling, nonetheless bleeding, even, underscores the disconnect between the calls for positioned on the ladies of the court docket and the fact of carrying them out. The entire second features as a microcosmic illustration of Rhaenyra’s place in court docket: Even because the inheritor obvious, she’s anticipated largely to be a complete, wholesome incubator. As soon as she’s delivered her youngsters, nonetheless, her position might be supplanted. A previous declare on her sons exists, and it’s not the declare of household or honor or any loftier perfect; it’s the declare of the court docket itself.
Rhaenyra, at all times insistent upon exerting no matter company she has in a scenario with no good choices, chooses to take her subservience to that declare and use it to her benefit: Whereas trekking via the fortress she horrifies and impresses the court docket in equal measure. She is powerful sufficient, barely, to make the lengthy stroll to see the queen, who makes a present of being duly astonished and anxious for her well being. However the efficiency has its limits: Rhaenyra protects her little one and scores a degree towards Alicent, however she is aware of she will’t shield him eternally.
Distinction this lengthy, exhausting scene of labor and extra labor with the temporary and weirdly unintelligible birthing scene that comes close to the tip of the ep. Laena Velaryon (Nanna Blondell) has married Daemon (Matt Smith), who’s one way or the other managed to maintain from murdering her lengthy sufficient for them to boost two teenage twins, Rhaena and Baela. What we do see of Laena on this episode is a noble, proud Velaryon inheritor who’s driving the largest dragon within the realm — Vhagar, as soon as ridden by Aegon the Conqueror himself. She’s clearly come a great distance from the halting little one whose dad and mom pressured her to attempt to woo the 50-something King Viserys.
But none of Laena’s polish nor promise can save her from the horrible obligation of childbirth. Whereas in labor with what would have been Daemon’s third little one, Laena experiences issues that apparently stymie the doctor. He declares that he’s carried out all he can do, the kid gained’t come. Echoing the selection Viserys confronted within the first episode, the physician provides to chop Laena’s womb with the intention to attempt to save the kid — asking Daemon, in fact, not Laena, who’s in agony within the background, unable to finish the supply. Daemon refuses with a slight headshake, presumably signaling that they need to merely let nature take its course.
The scene then cuts to a shot of Laena, staggering alone down the seashore to the place Vhagar rests on the shore. Her costume is bloody however she’s nonetheless visibly pregnant. It’s unclear if Laena has miscarried, however indicators level to sure; given the selection she makes subsequent, the choice is sort of too horrible to ponder. Laena, sobbing, orders Vhagar to immolate her. When the dragon resists, she begs him, and Vhagar sorrowfully burns her alive in a burst of flame whereas Daemon watches in shocked silence.
What’s the present doing, burning via all these characters?
On its face, this complete sequence feels mishandled: It’s too temporary, the occasions are complicated, and we’ve identified Laena for too quick a time for such an excruciating dying scene to meaningfully affect our understanding of the present. For that matter, she isn’t the one character we’ve barely met who will get burned alive on this episode. (Harwin Robust, Lionel Robust, we hardly knew ye.) All through its center episodes, HotD appears to be introducing us to new potential chess items, solely to knock them off the board earlier than the match has even begun. Is that the “level” of Laena Velaryon? Was she put into place solely to be rendered expendable?
I feel sure and no. Whereas it’s true we’ve solely seen her for just a few moments all through the present to this point, we all know a number of essential issues about her life — starting and ending together with her id as a Velaryon. She appears to have needed to wed Daemon, true, marriage itself was an inevitability, and he or she actually by no means had the choice to say no to motherhood. The psychological affect of being practically trafficked into marriage on the age of 12, of getting her wings clipped upon the appearance of motherhood, of being confined right into a static and restricted position as spouse and mom slightly than highly effective clan chief and noble dragonrider — she carries all of that together with her all the way down to the seashore. Curiously, in Fireplace and Blood, Martin’s model of this scene is completely different: He suggests, via the veil of legend and lore, that Laena walked all the way down to the seashore to aim to trip her beloved dragon one final time, even whereas dying. The present’s model of Laena has extra self-awareness and fewer hope.
These childbirth scenes have drastically completely different outcomes, however each depict the act of childbirth in Westeros as a essentially torturous type of conscripted labor — “labor” used right here in each senses. The responsibility of ladies within the Targaryen clan, above all else, is to provide beginning: to extend potential heirs in order that the road of succession can proceed and prolong the greatness of the Targaryen dynasty. The household lineage of the Targaryen clan is its most necessary asset, however each level alongside that tree is the results of a lady risking her life and placing herself via untold hours of ache and bodily toil, to not point out the numerous miscarriages she may need had as well as.
At our level on the household tree, each Rhaenyra and Laena, even whereas debilitated from the hassle and exhaustion of labor, stay defiant. Rhaenyra chooses to stagger via the fortress, weaponizing her weak spot and turning it right into a present of power. Laena chooses, on her personal phrases, to cease taking part in the sport. She asserts her maintain over the one factor she will nonetheless command: her dragon.
Inevitably, the grim nature of each beginning scenes leaves us questioning the explanation for all of this. Is securing all these factors on the Targ tree even price it? On this episode, we repeatedly see household bonds examined and confirmed to be skinny as cobwebs. Alicent has to remind Aegon to not bully his personal brother; Larys Robust burns his personal father and brother alive for clout. Rhaenyra’s try and safe a long-lasting peace with Alicent via marriage fails fully on account of her stepmother’s mistrust. Being born into the Targaryen clan, or adjoining to it, may safe one a level of energy, however it additionally places them at better threat of being betrayed by these closest to them.
If that’s the very best destiny a lady can safe for her offspring in alternate for the excruciating ache of childbirth, it hardly appears definitely worth the hardship. Irrespective of, the selection isn’t hers; she has to keep away from the chopping block herself, in any case. It may be higher to consider the Targaryen household tree much less like a tree, then, and extra like an unlimited machine, with cogs as a substitute of individuals — a Trendy Occasions for medieval instances. The extra cogs, the extra an inherently violent system retains functioning as supposed, operating on the power and sacrifices of the ladies it immolates.