This Sunday was the last chapter of the first season of The House of the Dragon (HBO), the prequel to Game of Thrones, which follows the beginning of the end of the Targaryen clan, and is inspired by the medieval fantasy universe of GR Martin. Against all odds (the first chapters were characterized by a tiresome and predictable script), HOD was able to take flight and build its own story, detaching itself from the original storywho had left a very high stick.
This series not only exceeded the expectations of the followers, but also “corrected” some of the biggest criticisms that a large part of them made to the original story. Among the most requested: the lack of diversity in the cast and the excessive hyperviolent scenes and male gaze(that is, they seek to satisfy the desire for a stereotypically masculine and heterosexual gaze). In other words: too many naked women -with ultra-hegemonic bodies- that have nothing to do with the plot. In addition to explicit violations and an infinite number of dehumanized prostitutes, who are portrayed as slaves, exploited, murdered and mistreated gratuitously and grotesquely.
In that sense, HOD came to “fix” some of these shortcomings and give their fans more than what they asked for: greater dynamism (which is achieved with time jumps of several years in the plot), diversity, gender perspective and obviously more dragons. He included black characters in the story (a decision that was strongly resisted by the racist and conservative wing of the fandom), and raised other views regarding the experience of women: the arcs of the two most important figures, Alicent Hightower and Rahenyra Targaryen, are the search of both to stop being commodities within a patriarchal systemto begin to recognize their own voices and reclaim their power.
Contrary to GOT, HOD does not have epic and unforgettable battles, nor -so many- scenes of bloody mutilations, nor a whole possible range of torture and gore murders. Nevertheless, extreme and visceral physical suffering finds its place in birthing beds, where it is the women who fight against themselves in completely disturbing and desperate stark scenes, which surely made more than one want to overtake them. It is clear that in Westeros giving birth is as dangerous as going to war and, in almost all cases, women are seen as incubators who have to expose themselves to the danger of mothering as part of their civic duty.
The love between friends is stronger?
As we already saw in GOT, HOD also confronts two powerful women. But, this time, she explores the nuances and complexities of friendship, envy and betrayal between them, who were childhood friends and close and loving allies during adolescence. Although the series wants to show us Rhaenyra and Alicent as two opposite poles, -which respond to two differentiated archetypes of women-, their mutual affection can operate as a vulnerability between both, although it also opens the door to possible alliances. Despite the fact that, on this chessboard, they occupy opposing sides, both have to defend the position of not annihilating each other among the men, who want to settle the matter by killing one or the other.
Perhaps the most complex character in the series is Alicent Hightower, who is constructed as the quintessential antagonist: a cold bitchobedient, straight, envious, rigorous and spiteful. And devoted to her children. However, throughout the entire narrative, we see how she goes from being a teenager who accepts her duty as wife a king much older than her, -for whom she does not feel any attraction-, to a political figure of extreme relevance capable of pulling his own strings.
Despite her political growth, she eventually discovers that the men who are supposed to be her allies are plotting behind her back. Even her father insists on de-hierarchizing her until the last moment. It’s interesting when Reyhnis, “the queen that wasn’t”, reminds Alicent that despite her agency, power and cunning, she is ultimately still part of a patriarchal game where she is nothing more than a pawn.
Rhaenyra -for her part- she began the series stating that she did not want to live locked up in towers, being a machine for giving birth to babies for the dynasty, and ended with two husbands, five children and six pregnancies. The last chapter gives us an image of her making strategic decisions while ripping a dead baby from its entrails.
Her husband, who is also her uncle, has a strong attraction and devotion to her, but he also wants the crown and finally shows her that, despite her being the queen, he has the (physical) power. Will he still be her ally in the next season?
It’s clear what lies behind Rhaenyra’s gaze in the last shot of the series, as she discovers the tragic outcome of her second child’s life: a deep drive for revenge and vulnerability; he maybe he recognizes that it was not a good move to have exposed him to negotiate with a Baratheon and he feels, in part, responsible. As he crumbles in anguish and hatred, he transforms into a dragon ready to burn everything.
And we already know what happens when the Targaryens are blinded by fire and ride on dragons that are treated as commodities even though they are not just weapons of mass destruction: they are sentient, complex beings and it will not be so easy to bend them. However, those who never achieved this autonomy are the children who are continually forced to insert themselves into a dangerous and warlike system of which they are victims.
And, finally, as always, there is the people, the “people on foot”, the “common people” who, once again, are characterized as a gray amalgam of drunk, half-naked, ragged and dirty people, lying on the sidewalks begging, with less agency than a flock of sheep. Perhaps next season we will see how the popular will, as Lady Mysaria said, can have infinite consequences for the monarchy.