House of the Dragon: Why the sexist central conflict in the Game of Thrones prequel makes no sense

Warning: This article contains spoilers for House of the Dragon and Game of Thrones.

The new show, which is a prequel to the hugely popular Game of Thrones, will feature storylines dealing with rape and abuse of women.

This has reopened old wounds over the predecessor’s inclusion of graphic rape scenes – including some that aren’t even in the source material – and raised questions about how much the new HBO series continues the brutal treatment of women.

Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) stands in front of the Iron Throne in House of the Dragon (HBO).

People often defend misogyny in Game of Thrones in one of two ways. They either argue that in a medieval society it is realistic for women to be treated this way – cruelly in conflict or raped by their husbands – and only able to wield some power through their sexuality and subterfuge.

Or they reference the complex, fully formed, and often flawed female characters in the books and TV show. Cersei, Arya, Sansa, Daenerys, Margaery Tyrell, Lady Olenna, Missandei, Ygritte. These are all “strong” characters whose desires and actions are both complicated and understandable. From this list, two women survive: Arya and Sansa Stark.

At the end of Game of Thrones, Arya, the traumatized assassin, becomes an “explorer” of distant lands. While Sansa becomes the boss of the north. Those are wins for women, right?

I couldn’t get rid of the bitter taste in my mouth when Daenerys Targaryen, a rape survivor, was stabbed to death by Jon Snow while kissing her. Of course, because of her genocidal – and some would consider a little out of character – actions in the previous episode, she had to be slammed like that. Her character complexity dissipates in the season eight finale, when she shows absolutely no remorse for killing innocent civilians whom she sincerely claimed to be defending for eight seasons.

In a scene not in the books, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is raped on her wedding night in Season 1 of Game of Thrones (HBO).

But that’s all right, because female characters in the Game of Thrones universe are just as complex and flawed as male characters, and if you wanted a happy ending, you weren’t paying attention… right?

Which brings us to Rhaenyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy), a kind of echo of her descendant Daenerys. In House of the Dragon, she is very publicly proclaimed heir to the Iron Throne by her father, King Viserys (Paddy Considine).

But there’s a problem: she’s a *gasp*… woman! No woman has ever sat on the Iron Throne until now, and a major council meeting involving Rhaenys Targaryen (Eve Best) previously set the precedent for skipping women in the line of succession.

Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) after killing Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) in Game of Thrones (HBO)

But is there any reason why a woman would not be allowed to rule in this universe? Coming back to the idea that Westeros is like medieval Europe, with a restricted role for women, there are a couple of big differences. First of all the dragons. These fire-breathing weapons of mass destruction are the only reason the Targaryen house holds so much power that simply cannot be challenged.

And in this world, women can ride dragons. Just as good as men it seems. When Aegon the Conqueror – the first Targaryen king – brought Westeros to his knees with Balerion the Black Dread, it was Vhagar and Meraxes, along with his two sisters Visenya and Rhaenys.

In Game of Thrones, Daenerys becomes the leader of the highly patriarchal Dothraki tribe because she is a dragon rider. Women in the Targaryen family have as much power as men. Then why would it be so absurd for a woman to sit on the Iron Throne? What is the reason George RR Martin?

Aside from the odd conflict surrounding Rhaenyra’s claim to be queen, her story unfolds in the source material Fire & Blood is brutal and tragic. (Spoilers ahead). She suffers the deaths of four of her children – one in childbirth and three during the conflict known as The Dance of the Dragons.

Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) with her dragon Syrax in House of the Dragon (HBO)

After a brief stint as queen ruling over an impoverished and starving populace who hate her, Rhaenyra’s story ends when she is eventually betrayed and eaten alive by her half-brother Sunfyre’s dragon. It is said that before her death she became paranoid, ugly and fat.

The conclusion? Women shouldn’t rule, look what happens! George RR Martin and some fans will argue that this is just the cruel world of Westeros, no one gets a happy ending in this story. Which of course is partly true.

The Dance of the Dragons ends horribly for pretty much everyone involved. War ravaged every part of Westeros, with the powerless “little folk” suffering the most. The real villain of this story, of course, is the confusing system of hereditary patriarchal monarchy. And the only person who ever tries to challenge this to “break the wheel” is turned into a mass-murdering extremist in Game of Thrones.

I guess it all boils down to that. In a boundless fantasy world where we have dragons, white walkers, and people who can change their faces, why did it have to be one that is so unrelentingly violent towards women and unable to comprehend them as equals with men? We get enough of that in the real world.

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