The premiere episode of House of the Dragon brought us back to Westeros, and wasted no time in reminding us how brutal a place it is. Game of Thrones featured plenty of shocking deaths, but somehow House of the Dragon found a new way to blindside us with Aemma Arryn, the queen of the Seven Kingdoms who dies in childbirth after her husband King Viserys elects to forcibly perform a caesarian section on her, knowing that she’ll bleed out but hoping that the baby will survive. He does not ask her her opinion nor tell her what is about to happen.
Director and showrunner Miguel Sapochnik told Insider that his team spent a long time making sure they “weren’t glorifying it” and that the scene felt “horribly real” 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,” he said. “She doesn’t get to choose. She’s effectively murdered by her husband. And that is a good indication of the state of play in this world that we’re inhabiting.”
Although the writers couldn’t have planned this, this scene aired just two months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that women did not have a constitutionally protected right to abortion as set out in the 1973 case Roe v. Wade. Suddenly, after 50 years, it was much less clear if women in the U.S. had the right to control their own health care. I wonder if that’s not part of the reason the scene hit so hard and made so many waves.
Aemma Arryn is “effectively murdered by her husband” on House of the Dragon
Getting back to the scene itself, it’s as extreme as anything we saw on Game of Thrones, and Sapochnik and his team spent time fine-tuning it. “We did make a point of showing it to as many women as possible and asked the very question: ‘Was this too violent for you?'” he said. “And unanimously, the response was ‘no.’ Often the response was ‘If anything, it needs to be more.'”
The final element was cutting the birth together with a brutal fight between Daemon Targaryen and Criston Cole. “As we stated earlier in the episode, the birthing bed is almost a battlefield,” Sapochnik said. “You have 50% chance of survival. And so it seemed like this was an appropriate time to draw that parallel visually between the male and the female struggle. One’s fighting on the battlefield, the other’s fighting for survival — sometimes from the person closest to her.”
House of the Dragon airs new episodes every Sunday on HBO and HBO Max. If the premiere is any indication, this is going to be a dark, weighty series.