Women in Westeros Still Can’t Catch a Break


Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Gabriella Madden

No continent in the fantasy genre has as many strong, compelling women as Westeros does. The setting for the HBO hit series “Game of Thrones” and its prequel series “House of the Dragon” that’s currently airing has been known for its complex and enthralling female characters, from Rhaenerya to Daenerys. But way back in the “Thrones” era, there were some scenes that have drawn considerable outrage among viewers for how brutally some women are treated by their male counterparts in the show. “House of the Dragon” was supposed to be the remedy to this issue, but a grueling scene in the pilot divided fans more than any civil war in Westeros ever could. 

“House of the Dragon” has two central female leads: Rhaenyra Targaryen, played by Emma D’Arcy, and Alicent Hightower, played by Olivia Cooke. The central plot of “Dragon” revolves directly around Rhaenyra and Alicent, following them from their friendship in their youth to their bitter civil war as adults. There’s a pivotal moment in season one, episode seven, “Driftmark”: after an incident involving all of their children where Alicent’s son, Aemond, loses an eye. Alicent pulls a knife on Rhaenyra and laments how Rhaenyra got to choose whatever she wanted to do with no consequences, and how she and her children can get away with anything. Alicent was forced to marry and have children young, and now her son has paid the price. Rhaenerya fires back that Alicent has long hidden her manipulative and cruel tendencies under her own “cloak of righteousness”, and now everyone can see her for who she is. It’s a tense and loaded scene that had viewers on the edge of their seats.

The show elevated its nuance with that scene. Instead of just another bloody, violent fight between foes, or a drama-filled catfight, it chose to shed light on just how much harder these women had to work to receive just a shred of what their male peers got. For Rhanerya, she always had to deal with people threatening to rescind her claim to the throne, solely because they wanted a male heir instead of a woman. She’s prone to rumors, insults, and much more to discredit her claim at any move. Alicent had to endure growing up earlier than a girl ever should. She expects a reward at the end of the tunnel for all the sacrifices she made.

The layers of these two women have been some of the most talked about and praised aspects of the show. Seeing these two women, with all their faults, hardships, goals, and ambitions be at the center of the narrative and essentially leading the war is so refreshing in a fantasy world and genre that has so often been male-dominated. These two women are just as multifaceted as the men, as well as powerful and dominant. 

On the other hand, the violence against women, something that had long been critiqued in “Thrones”, hasn’t gone away. In the pilot episode, there’s an extremely gory scene in which Aemma Arryn, Rhaenerya’s mother, is essentially murdered during a botched C-Section which she had no choice over. This scene drew strong reactions, especially from female viewers who had watched the previous series and had hoped there would be change. Viewers felt physically sick over the scene, especially as Aemma was only killed for the benefit of a man, her husband Viserys who so desperately wanted a male heir.

Twitter discourse soon followed, with some viewers arguing that violence against women is “period-accurate” for the middle ages. Others argued that because the show is a “fantasy” show, it should have no issue with changing the amount shown. There’s no right answer to this, because this is a “Game of Thrones” prequel. Violence that’ll make you sick is guaranteed. However, it’s extremely hard to watch and potentially very triggering for some viewers who are victims of domestic violence to watch scenes like this. 

The second season of “Dragon” is currently in pre-production, with filming expected to begin in early 2023. After the season finale, social media has been abuzz with anticipation and speculation over what will come next, and hopefully the writers are listening to the feedback: keep up the amazing representations of women in power, and keep giving us more dragons.