HBO's Game of Thrones prequel began its debut season with a high body count. When House of the Dragon premiered Sunday night, it introduced and then immediately said goodbye to two characters, kick-starting a chain of events that will forever change House Targaryen. Warning: This post contains spoilers for House of the Dragon Season 1, Episode 1, "The Heirs of the Dragon."
Based on George R.R. Martin's book Fire & Blood, and set some 200 years before the events of the main series, House of the Dragon began by introducing viewers to King Viserys I. Head of the Targaryen family and king of all of Westeros, Viserys is afflicted by a major decision: who will succeed him. Already father to Princess Rhaenyra, he holds out hope that his pregnant wife, Queen Consort Aemma Targaryen, will give birth to a boy. However, his hopes come crashing down once Aemma goes into a difficult labor.
Intercut with images from a brutal jousting scene, House of the Dragon tallied the first marks of its death count just midway through its debut episode. Having already experienced a difficult pregnancy, Aemma experiences an even more difficult birth when it is discovered that her unborn child is breech. Unable to successfully move the baby into a proper position, Grand Maester Mellos convinces Viserys that the only way to save his unborn child is a crude Caesarean section. Desperate for a male heir, the king approves this procedure, with Aemma giving no consent. Ultimately, both she and her baby, a son named Prince Baelon Targaryen, die as a result of the birth.
"Each birth in this show has a theme, just as the battles I've filmed in the past have a central concept. The theme of this birth scene was 'torture,'" co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik told the Los Angeles Times of the brutal scene. "The hope and intention of the show – beyond the primary one of entertainment – is to shine a light on how the experience of men and women in this world has parallels to our own past and present.... I know it may sound extreme, but we wanted it to be difficult to watch. We wanted people to remember that no matter what they thought of Viserys, he did this and he could never take it back."
According to Sapochnik, the brutal birth scene was the show's "inciting incident." With the death of his son, Viserys is forced to reconsider his successor, with the only male successor being his brother, Daemon Targaryen. But due to Daemon's volatile and violent nature, Viserys ultimately chooses his daughter Rhaenyra as his successor. House of the Dragon airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.