Women are abused by House of the Dragonalmost as much as they were in Game Of Thrones. The series continues to perpetuate toxic portrayals with pervasive violence against women, while hiding behind a pseudo-emphasis on female characters.
Historically, Game Of Thrones marked the small screen for many completely legitimate reasons in terms of direction and narrative construction, but never shone in its representation of women. The series has even been singled out for its sexism. In question, scenes of repeated sexual violence, female nudity far superior to male nudity, the perpetuation of old patterns of power: in short, the universe of George RR Martin and its transposition on HBO were full of toxic clichés concerning women.
We legitimately hoped that House of the Dragon does better in this area. In particular because the showrunners had themselves affirmed that they would not stage explicit sexual violence. Unfortunately, after 5 episodes, the finding is not really positive.
Attention, for the purposes of this decryption, the rest of the article contains spoilers on the first 5 episodes of House of the Dragon.
Does the House of the Dragon series hate women?
From the first episode, House of the Dragon opens after about twenty minutes on a scene supposed to be founding: a delivery by cesarean section, forced, without consent, on the decision of the king – Viserys – at the expense of his wife Aemma, who then dies in childbirth in pain. The violence of the scene is total, slow and unbearable. The brutality is not only pictorial, it is deeper. It is in this relationship of power – the physical violence imposed on a woman – that House of the Dragon settles down.
This episode was only the beginning of a series of sequences where male domination permeates form and content:
- Episode 4 depicts a scene close to marital rape: we see Alycent forcing herself into sexual intercourse with Viserys. The camera insists on making it clear to us, Alycent takes no pleasure, does not desire the act. She even seems to be taken in disgust.
- The same episode relies on the glamorization of an incest under control between an older man and a teenage girl; when Daemon seduces his niece Rhaenyra into purposely taking her to a brothel. The act is entirely guided and chosen by this older man, although it does not go all the way. The toxic representation goes even further: it is exactly after this scene that the young girl seems to become aware of her sexual desire and that barely a few minutes later, she then seduces the knight Criston Cole. In hollow, it would be thanks to her charismatic uncle that Rhaenyra would have discovered her sexuality. And it brings to mind the problem of Sansa’s treatment in Game Of Thrones : the screenwriters had made him affirm that “ without Littlefinger, without Ramsay and the others, I would have remained a little bird all my life “, while this one was manipulated by one, raped by the other.
- Also in this episode 4, the tradition of Game Of Thrones does not change: the nudity represented in the brothel is 90% female, while the majority of men remain clothed.
- Episode 5 opens with a totally gratuitous feminicide: Daemon murders his wife with stones. The reason ? This disturbs his projects and, as he indicated in a previous episode, he does not like it. She is a weight in his eyes; she therefore deserves death.
Daemon is, meanwhile, glamorized throughout the series: his character may be as violent as evil, the series manages to portray him as an attractive man.
And that’s already a lot for a mid-season: the imbalance in power relations is explicit and women are clearly mistreated by the series.
Violence against women is trivialized as a narrative tool
House of the Dragon uses the same mechanics as Game Of Thrones : to shock with a violence that would be justified by a medieval realism (this universe being, like many works of fantasy, based on a medieval context). Except that this realism is false. Many medievalists have “debunked” this idea. Game Of Thrones and House of the Dragon do not represent the Middle Ages strictly speaking.
This is explained by Justine Breton, specialist in both medieval history and fantasy, for example, at the microphone of France Culture in 2020: “ The author of the literary saga George RR Martin and then the creators of the series have appealed to this claim of realism and authenticity, often to clear themselves of accusations that may have been made to them; especially when they had to deal with criticism in the face of sexism, the representation of female characters, very often naked, or even in the face of the violence that was staged, etc. Very often, they leaned on this idea of realism: ‘It is not us, it is the Middle Ages which was like that and we are only transmitting this image’. But actually, it is not a true image of the Middle Ages, which is no more violent than our time. »
In short: the violence of the universe of Game Of Thrones is a narrative choice and not imposed by the medieval context. This means that the same goes for the use of violence against women as scriptwriting tools. The finding is quite worrying, still in 2022, for one of the most watched TV series in the world.
Sex and violence in a universe of gritty fantasy, It’s a thing. Sexist and sexual violence is another. Useless, therefore, to invoke the fear of any “smoothing”. That misogyny is also structurally present in the smallest screenplay springs is only the perpetuation of an imagery that we would like to get rid of. And yes: fiction plays a role, by definition, in imaginations, which in turn have an impact on society.