House of the dragon - feminist analysis

An analysis of the popular new TV show, House of the Dragon, through a feminist lens; discussing gender and violence, different sides of femininity and power.

The phenomenon and predecessor to House of the Dragon that is Game of Thrones, had long established a legacy of presenting a dark and gritty portrayal of the fantasy genre. Its successor and prequel series, House of the Dragon, takes place nearly 200 years earlier, during the peak of the powerful House Targaryen.

House of the Dragon Through a Feminist Lens

This new show continues the legacy of its predecessor, introducing a world filled with intricate and treacherous politics, breathtaking landscapes and, of course, dragons. However, what sets House of Dragons apart from Game of Thrones is its focus on female characters and the way it explores power dynamics and sexuality.

And although women characters and their struggles were often depicted in Game of Thrones, House of Dragons goes a step further by delving into the narrative, through the lens of its female characters. The conflict and storyline are intricately woven with their experiences and perspectives, bringing their gender to the forefront.

This approach adds depth and complexity to the plot, offering a fresh perspective on the show’s themes and messages. In House of the Dragon, the exploration of power and sex is interwoven with the female characters, further highlighting their agency and role in shaping the story. This series carves its own path by centering its narrative around female characters and their experiences.

The show captivates the audience from the beginning with a powerful scene where the looming words “Rhaenys, a woman, would not inherit the Iron Throne” reverberate, setting the stage for the entire conflict unfolding. This moment serves as a pivotal and cathartic moment in the storyline. Every aspect of the narrative is meticulously crafted to lead to the ultimate succession wars between the remarkable female leads, Rhaenyra Targaryen and Alicent Hightower. Their contrasting journeys and perspectives on life beautifully complement one another, adding layers of depth to the story.

House of the dragon

The dual portrayal of these prominent female characters not only drives the narrative forward but also serves as a mirror, reflecting the duality within femininity and exploring contrasting aspects of womanhood. This exploration adds an intriguing dynamic to the show, delving into the complexities and multifaceted nature of what it means to be a woman.

The duality of their ideologies starts at a young age when they talk about the prospect of marriage. While young Alicent finds the idea of multiple suitors chasing her as being a romantic one, Rhaenyra sees it as being representative of the harsh realities of being a woman by sarcastically stating, “How romantic (it is) to be imprisoned in a castle and made to squeeze out heirs.” 

Their exchange highlights the first layer of complexity in navigating the expectations placed on girls and women. Women who dream about becoming nurturing mothers in a nuclear family may even be looked down upon by today’s so-called performative “feminist”. On the other hand, women who resist these confinements are often deemed undesirable or even criticized for not conforming to traditional notions of femininity. This highlights the pervasive influence of societal norms and both external and internal misogyny, as women are judged based on their chosen paths and aspirations.

The show captures the struggles of womanhood in a traditional sense with its violent imagery. While Game of Thrones is renowned for its graphic and unsettling violent scenes, House of Dragon takes a different approach, depicting womanhood as a battle in its own right. One of the best and most vivid examples of this is the infamous birth scene. This scene left a profound impact on viewers, leading to criticism regarding its traumatic and triggering effects on women who had experienced difficult childbirth. As a result, a warning was provided before the episode to acknowledge and address these concerns.

The scene is combined with the violent and bloody tournament held in the name of the “heir for one day”. The cuts between the bloody birth scene, with screams of the dying mother, vs the bloody tournament scenes, with the violence of men being showcased, create a parallel. Both scenes symbolize death and violence. The contrast between the agonizing screams of a dying mother during childbirth and the brutal displays of violence in the tournament highlights the struggles and sacrifices women endure under a patriarchal society.

The Queen’s death during childbirth, driven by the pursuit of a male heir, reflects the violence imposed upon women in the name of male pride and succession. The contrast between death and birth can be interpreted as the death of women’s bodily autonomy. By portraying these visceral and intense scenes, the show provokes reflection on the challenges and injustices faced by women, shedding light on the consequences of patriarchal systems and the sacrifices demanded of them.

The death of the queen while she’s giving birth to a male heir is a pivotal character moment for Rhaenyra. Her motivations to the realm and proving her worth as an heir makes her the rival for her best friend, now the new Queen Alicent Hightower.

Alicent’s story reflects Rhaenyra as being like a mirror image. While Rhaenyra is born as a royal and does not desire to be an heir, nor wants to get married, Alicent dreams of living in castles and having a charming prince. Neither is bad on its own. However, both of them get the worst end of their respective desires.

Alicent is a complex character, so to call her a villain would be reductive. She is used and exploited as a woman, and her hunger for power simply manifests her frustration. Her father imposes her competition for the throne, and she is used at a young age as a tool for powerful men. She desperately tries to retain her power by winning the throne and becoming a rival to her once best friend. Her story portrays the cruel reality of how women are made to compete against each other in a man’s world.

House of the Dragon undoubtedly revolves around the fierce rivalry between the two female characters vying for the throne in a society that deems the succession of a female heir as taboo. Alicent symbolizes the oppression of women, groomed to be a pawn in the male-dominated politics, yet ironically emerges as the main rival to Rhaenyra  It is up to question to what extent the series captures the feminist struggle as it can be glorifying the struggle women go through by heightened violence.

It begs the question, is womanhood a battle itself as the dead queen suggests, or is it society that pushes women to a war like in both Rhaenyra and Alicent’s story? No matter which view you take it is certain that the show forces us to explore complex interplay between gender, power, societal norms and violence.