WARNING: spoilers for House of the Dragon
HBO's Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon aired its finale this past Sunday, and it's gotten the show into some hot water with viewers and critics.
The show, which like its predecessor leans heavily into shock value, ended its first season with a graphic scene depicting a traumatic birth experienced by star Emma D'Arcy's character. The scene was the fourth such depiction all season.
And some viewers have had enough, saying they found the scenes gratuitous and triggering for parents who experienced similar tragedies.
Amid the controversy, D'Arcy themself addressed the criticisms in an interview with British GQ, defending the way birth was depicted on the show and comparing it to the way fight scenes have been similarly graphic.
\u201c.@HouseOfDragon's Emma D\u2019Arcy on Rhaenyra\u2019s unsettling schooling in grief, how they filmed their character\u2019s two very different birth scenes, and who they\u2019d like to spend more time with next season.\u201d— British GQ (@British GQ) 1666688338
Speaking to the magazine, D'Arcy said of the birthing scenes:
"I take real issue with the idea that we shouldn't see women in labor depicted with gritty realism, and blood, and placentas. Especially on a show where part of its [unique selling point] is big, gory battle sequences."
They went on to suggest that part of the objection to the birth scenes may be just good old-fashioned double standards for women.
“What it feels like is that we want women to conform to a certain image."
"Which is interesting, insofar as acting is concerned, because, there's also a lot of fun to be had getting to do the big physical, physically demanding sequences."
"And it's interesting that maybe sometimes that is not afforded to female characters."
But for many viewers and critics, that take doesn't cut it—especially for those who experienced similar tragedies to D'Arcy's character, Rhaenyra.
In this week's finale, she is depicted going into premature labor and tearing her stillborn baby from her body while shrieking in pain. HuffPost writer Taylor Babington—who herself experienced stillbirth—called it "the most offensive scene of birth trauma and death in the show."
In her piece, Babington described how House of the Dragon's four horrific birth scenes—each seemingly more horrifying than the last—affected her given her own lived experience.
"It’s one thing to watch, as we did in the first episode, a forced C-section (which was admittedly difficult, as someone who has had an emergency C-section)."
"It’s another to watch a mother be burned alive during childbirth, as we did in Episode 6."
"It’s entirely something else to watch, in graphic detail, a dead baby flop on the floor [in the finale], their mother desperately grasping, clinging and hoping that breath will fill his or her lungs."
"When this experience has been your reality, watching it unfold on television without any sort of trigger warning is excruciating."
On Twitter, opinions vary widely on these scenes.
Many share D'Arcy's take on the gritty reality some parents face during childbirth.
\u201cRhaenyra\u2019s birth scene was so important and gutting and I wish more shows would show the true struggles women go through with such power and delivery. Emma D\u2019arcy is insane.\u201d— little red dragon (@little red dragon) 1666686195
\u201cI\u2019ve seen people reacting various ways, but I\u2019m a big fan of how much birth they showed on House of the Dragon. \n\nI\u2019m super impressed in particular with how Emma D\u2019Arcy did her two birth scenes, given that she hasn\u2019t given birth herself\u2014v realistic IMO\u201d— Divia Eden \ud83d\udd0d (@Divia Eden \ud83d\udd0d) 1666835701
\u201cone thing i know for sure IS i\u2019ll legit start a hate campaign if emma d\u2019arcy doesn\u2019t get their emmy. joffrey\u2019s and visenya\u2019s birth scenes alone should guarantee them the award, but their portrayal of rhaenyra was just PERFECT even with the shit script, YOU CANT HIDE THOSE SKILLS\u201d— lina \ud83c\udf77 (@lina \ud83c\udf77) 1666447124
\u201cI appreciate Emma D\u2019Arcy\u2019s comments about birth in this piece. I found some of the scenes hard to watch, having had a traumatic birth myself, but what a relief to see childbirth actually being taken seriously\u201d— Lyndsay Wheble (@Lyndsay Wheble) 1666801828
Others shared sentiments closer to Babington's.
\u201cDo not watch House of the Dragon birth scene if you\u2019re pregnant, trying, or had a traumatic birth or a loss.\n\nHighly highly recommend you skip it.\u201d— Mallory Rice, PhD (@Mallory Rice, PhD) 1666584391
\u201c@HuffPostUK Not every bloody birth, though!\n\nWe get it\u201d— HuffPost UK (@HuffPost UK) 1666851249
\u201cHotD is mostly a fail, with the exception of Emma D\u2019arcy, Matt Smith, & Paddy Constandine. No connection to characters and where Got was heavy on r*pe, HotD is heavy on birth trauma. HBO needs to figure out how to represent women in a better way.\u201d— desilou (@desilou) 1666616902
\u201cI have so many things I could say about House of the Dragon, but I will say can we be done with on screen birth violence? \n10 episodes and how many stillbirths/miscarriages? How many women dying in childbirth? This still happens to women (esp WOC, esp esp Black women) everyday.\u201d— mithrandir (@mithrandir) 1666636417
\u201cJoke\u2019s on me, a pregnant person, for thinking that House of the Dragon would max out at three violent birth scenes\u201d— Jill DeVries-Dryer (@Jill DeVries-Dryer) 1666579590
Given Game of Thrones' propensity toward horrifying graphic rape scenes despite outcry from many viewers, it seems unlikely House of the Dragon will tone down its shock value in its second season nor provide any sort of warnings on episodes.
As one viewer stated, Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon rely on graphic rape and childbirth trauma as primary plot points and drama for female characters. It's lazy and not representative of women.
Do better HBO.