How House of the Dragon will honor its strong female leads

House of the Dragon
House of the Dragon /

Less than a month remains until the highly-anticipated Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon. This past week, The Hollywood Reporter published a fantastic deep dive into the series, highlighting how House of the Dragon’s rose to become the first Game of Thrones successor show, the amount of dragons featured in the series, how it makes diversity a priority, and more.

Game of Thrones reshaped the television landscape over the course of its eight-season run, which means there’s quite a lot for House of the Dragon to live up to. One thing that made the original series so beloved was its huge cast of relatable characters, including numerous memorable female leads. From Daenerys Targaryen to Arya Stark to Cersei Lannister to Sansa Stark to Brienne of Tarth, there were plenty of amazing women at the forefront of Game of Thrones.

House of the Dragon will continue that tradition; this story is rooted in the fraught relationship between its two female leads: Rhaenyra Targaryen (played by Milly Alcock as a teenager and Emma D’Arcy as an adult) and Alicent Hightower (played by Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke). Cooke’s Alicent Hightower in particular has drawn comparisons to the original series; just like Cersei Lannister, she’s a shrewd politician who uses her role as queen to seek prominence for her family.

House of the Dragon
House of the Dragon /

“I fucking love that comparison because Cersei was my favorite character,” Cooke told THR. “Alicent’s got a very dark side to her, but she’s also just striving for what she thinks is good, even though it’s just misplaced.”

Rhaenyra Targaryen, on the other hand, is torn between two worlds. Though she is proclaimed the heir to the Iron Throne by her father King Viserys, the lords of Westeros are resistant to the idea of a woman ruler. The conflict between Rhaenyra’s ambitions and what’s expected of her by the wider society play a large part in her journey, and is part of what drew D’Arcy to the role.

“Rhaenyra has an ongoing battle with what it means to be a woman and is a fundamental outsider,” D’Arcy explained. “She’s terrified of getting locked into motherhood and is aware of how her position would be different if she were male. I’m a nonbinary person. I’ve always found myself both pulled and repelled by masculine and feminine identity and I think that plays out truthfully here. She can’t attend court in a way that comes easily to other people.”

House of the Dragon will confront the self-destructive nature of the patriarchy

Though Game of Thrones premiered just over a decade ago, the world has changed quite a bit in the intervening years. We got the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, film and TV sets started using intimacy coordinators, and in general there has been a lot more conversation about equity and inclusion, with an accompanying ugly backlash. The producers behind House of the Dragon are keeping these shifts in mind. “Shows are a product of their time, and there’s a lot more awareness now about what we’re portraying and why — and who’s having the conversations about it,” said HBO and HBO Max programming president Casey Bloys.

One of the show’s themes can be perfectly summed up by Rhaenys Targaryen’s (Eve Best) line from an early trailer: “Men would sooner put the realm to the torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne.” That idea, that the patriarchy would rather destroy itself than see women rule, is at the heart of the conflict. “It wasn’t something where we said, ‘We must make the show about this,’” explained showrunner Miguel Sapochnik. “But rather it’s something where we realized that’s what we had in front of us.”

Cooke talked about how that theme played for the actors as they sunk into the story: “There are times where Emma [D’Arcy] is on one stage and I’m on the other and we’re both surrounded by [male characters] being idiotic. And we know if all these men just fucked off, and it was just us two, the realm would be fine. It’s the meddling and the peacocking and egos that completely muddy everything.”

House of the Dragon won’t shy away from sexual violence, but will portray it more “thoughtfully”

For as much of a phenomenon as Game of Thrones was, it also had its share of controversies, including a lot of conversation about how it portrayed sexual violence. Author George R.R. Martin’s books draw on real-life history in medieval Europe, and he never balked at depicting things like rape or gruesome deaths if it was what the story demanded. Discussions about the show’s treatment of sexual violence reached their peak in season 5 when Ramsay Bolton assaulted Sansa Stark on their wedding night.

Sapochnik said that House of the Dragon “pulls back” on the amount of sex compared to Thrones, but that it will also seek to frame what sex there is in a slightly different manner, highlighting how it’s a casual part of the Targaryen lifestyle. Sexual assault does still exist in this world. Sapochnik said it was approached “carefully, thoughtfully and [we] don’t shy away from it. If anything, we’re going to shine a light on that aspect. 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.”

This sounds like a good change. While Thrones did have meaningful sex scenes, it also had a habit of using nudity to titillate or shock, especially in earlier seasons. It sounds like House of the Dragon is picking up where Thrones left off.

House of the Dragon will explore the “battlefield” of childbirth

Though House of the Dragon is a story filled with literal dragons and war and politicking, at its heart it’s a family drama. The Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons is about two sides of a family tearing the kingdom apart because they can’t agree about who should sit on the Iron Throne.

Unlike Game of Thrones, season 1 of House of the Dragon will span decades and feature multiple time jumps. That means we’ll be seeing quite a few births and deaths that happen over the years, sometimes at once. There’s a line from the THR feature that made my eyes widen, where longtime Game of Thrones reporter James Hibberd claimed that “the first season [of House of the Dragon] does for giving birth what Game of Thrones did for weddings.” Cue traumatic flashbacks to the Red Wedding, Purple Wedding, Sansa and Ramsay’s wedding, and so on.

Quite a few babies are born over the course of this story…and there are quite a few instances where neither mothers nor children survive the process. THR claims that one female character in the show says that “the child bed is our battlefield,” which puts Rhaenyra’s fears about being locked into motherhood into perspective. It also reflects the difficulties of giving birth in the age before modern medicine, when women and children both had much higher mortality rates.

“In medieval times, giving birth was violence,” Sapochnik explained. “It’s as dangerous as it gets. You have a 50/50 chance of making it. We have a number of births in the show and basically decided to give them different themes and explore them from different perspectives the same way I did for a bunch of battles on Thrones.

These comments are enough to make anyone nervous. There are going to be some heartbreaking moments this season. We’ll be able to see them all when House of the Dragon begins its run on August 21 on HBO and HBO Max.

Next. House of the Dragon planned to run 3-4 seasons long (for now). dark

To stay up to date on everything fantasy, science fiction, and WiC, follow our all-encompassing Facebook page and sign up for our exclusive newsletter.

Get HBO, Starz, Showtime and MORE for FREE with a no-risk, 7-day free trial of Amazon Channels