‘House of the Dragon’ Premiere: One ‘Visceral’ Moment Demonstrates How Little Women’s Rights Have Changed

Game of Thrones fans won’t soon forget the trauma of the Red Wedding, but House of the Dragon introduced another gut-wrenching scene during the Aug. 21 premiere that rivals the GoT moment. The birth of Prince Baelon in the HBO series differs from what George R.R. Martin wrote in Fire & Blood, but it’s still a haunting reflection of women’s rights in the modern day and age.

Viserys (Paddy Considine) at Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke) in the 'House of the Dragon' premiere episode
Paddy Considine as Viserys and Sian Brooke as Queen Aemma | Ollie Upton / HBO

Prince Baelon’s birth in the ‘House of the Dragon’ premiere is more brutal than the books

The Game of Thrones prequel series shows King Viserys (Paddy Considine) in desperate need of a male heir to maintain the Targaryen’s clean line of succession. He strongly believes his wife, Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke), is carrying a male, which he prematurely celebrates with a kingdom-wide jousting tournament. However, during the celebrations, something goes wrong with Aemma’s birth. 

In Martin’s 2018 book Fire & Blood, Prince Baelon’s birth is described simply. “Queen Aemma was brought to bed in Maegor’s Holdfast and died whilst giving birth to the son that Viserys Targaryen had desired for so long,” writes Martin. “The boy (named Baelon, after the king’s father) survived her only by a day, leaving king and court bereft.” 

Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke) in the birthing bed in 'House of the Dragon'
Sian Brooke as Queen Aemma | Ollie Upton / HBO

However, in House of the Dragon, we get a closer look at Aemma’s brutal birthing process and ultimately, her demise. In the premiere, the baby is cut from Aemma’s stomach as she bleeds to death. 

George R.R. Martin compares Prince Baelon’s birth to the Red Wedding in ‘Game of Thrones’ 

Martin spoke with Vanity Fair about the premiere episode of House of the Dragon. Addressing Prince Baelon’s birth, he said: 

“That scene is … you don’t want to use the word ‘enjoyable’ for a scene like that, but it’s incredibly powerful. It’s visceral and it’ll rip your heart out and throw it on the floor.” 

George R.R. Martin, Vanity Fair

The author compared the moment to the Game of Thrones Season 3 episode “The Rains of Castamere,” where Robb Stark (Richard Madden), his dire wolf, and his family are killed on behalf of the Lannisters. “It has the kind of impact that the Red Wedding had,” Martin elaborated. “It’s a beautifully done scene of something horrible.”

‘House of Dragon’ premiere defines a woman’s place in Westeros

The House of the Dragon premiere hit home for many viewers in a world where women’s rights are consistently contested. In June 2022, Roe v. Wade was overturned, restricting women’s constitutional right to abortion. There was also a tampon shortage the same month. Some also had issues accessing birth control in 2022. But hey, at least we’re not in Westeros, where they’ll cut a baby out of you to protect bloodlines.

Aemma and the other women of Westeros get no say in their birth plan, let alone whether or not to keep the baby. “The childbed is our battlefield,” Aemma admits in the premiere before going into labor. “We must learn to face it with a stiff lip.”

As showrunner Ryan J. Condal explained to Vanity Fair, the brutality of Aemma’s death isn’t meant to be “gratuitous.” It’s likely not meant to be a social commentary, either. Instead, the birth drives home how, without modern medicine, it wasn’t uncommon for women and children to die in the process.

“We wanted to dramatize that,” Condal said. The scene also drives the narrative — Viserys has to choose to save his heir over his wife, only to lose both in the end. Regardless, the moment eerily reflects the “battlefield” some women feel they must cross to access things like women’s rights. 

Surprisingly, not many people are talking about the mirror the House of the Dragon premiere holds up to our society. Perhaps that’s because we’re so desensitized to the notion of a woman having very little say in what happens to her body.

Watch House of the Dragon on HBO every Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. 

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