“House Of The Dragon’s reliance on sexual violence is making me nervous for the new series”

The showrunners for Game Of Thrones’ prequel series House Of The Dragon have said they won’t be shying away from depictions of sexual violence. But it’s this fact that will make many women – including one Stylist writer – nervous to watch the new show. 

Content warning: this article contains mention of sexual abuse that some readers may find distressing.

The countdown is officially on till the premiere of Game Of Thrones’ prequel series, House Of The Dragon. After months of hushed whispers, rumours and teaser trailers, the anticipated series will be landing on our screens in August.

Game Of Thrones was HBO’s biggest hit of all time and so the focus is definitely on this spin-off of the well-known franchise to see how it will compare to its predecessor. Fans of the series, including me, have been excitedly bracing ourselves for a fantastical world of dragons, familial in-fighting and all things House Targaryen in House Of The Dragon.

One thing many women were hoping for, though, was that this new series would not rely on many of the ‘shock factors’ of the series that came before it. Is it too much to ask of a fantasy series to not depict deplorable scenes of sexual violence against women? Apparently so. Showrunners for the new series, Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal, have revealed in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that the production will “pull back” on the amount of sex in the series, while adding glimpses of how sex is a nonchalant aspect of Targaryen life.  

Emma D’Arcy as Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen in House Of The Dragon.

Violence against women is still very much part of the world, though, according to its showrunners. In the interview, Sapochnik revealed that the duo’s approach is done “carefully, thoughtfully and [we] don’t shy away from it. If anything, we’re going to shine a light on that aspect. You can’t ignore the violence that was perpetrated on women by men in that time. It shouldn’t be downplayed and it shouldn’t be glorified.”

When speaking about the criticism aimed at Game Of Thrones for its depiction of sexual violence, HBO and HBO Max content chief Casey Bloys commented: “Shows are a product of their time, and there’s a lot more awareness now about what we’re portraying and why – and who’s having the conversations about it.”

For male showrunners to conclude that their series will continue to portray such themes, regardless of previous criticism, all in the name of historical accuracy is merely an excuse. 

There may be “awareness” this time around but this insistence on “shining a light” on violence against women is completely baffling. In a world that has to face up to its lack of safeguarding, increasingly frightening realities around the protection of women’s rights, the repeal of Roe v Wade, and stories of murder each day, the fact that a fantasy adaptation thinks it is necessary (and important) to showcase such gender-based violence is questionable. 

Olivia Cooke stars as Alicent Hightower in Sky’s House Of The Dragon.

Throughout its eight seasons, Game Of Thrones gave us shock deaths, bloody battles and a lot of sex and violence. The series is based on the A Song Of Ice And Fire novels by George RR Martin, which are equally as graphic but more prolonged, in the manner that books are, and so somewhat less distressing. 

But the series honed in on not just one, not two but multiple instances of graphic sexual abuse across its seasons. There was the graphic death scene of Ros in season one, Daenerys’s rape by Khal Drogo in Thrones’ first ever episode, Cersei Lannister’s rape by her brother Jaime in its fourth season, and Sansa Stark’s rape in season five.

Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

As a Game Of Thrones fan who enjoyed the series – but certainly not its demand in representing women in such a way – these new details about House Of The Dragon have filled me with dread. To put it bluntly, I don’t want to watch a series in which rape scenes are not only a prerequisite, but also expected.

And I’m not the only one. Expectant fans have taken to Twitter to air their concerns over the new series and also to question why it can produce dragon-filled plotlines but not scenes with consensual sex. 

The notion of historical accuracy really does need to be questioned.

We were sold this series as a spin-off focused entirely on the sinister Targaryen clan and the female ascent to the Iron Throne. Instead, it already looks like female viewers of the series can expect scenes that will make us squirm and, once again, feel deeply uncomfortable.

Really though, in a fantasy world of dragons, why must such a TV series so confidently insist on depicting sexual violence against women? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see once it airs but something tells me this series has not learnt from its past mistakes.

House Of The Dragon premieres on Monday 22 August on Sky Atlantic and streaming service Now, with episodes being released weekly.  

Image: HBO

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