The series premiere of House of the Dragon reminded fans of just how graphic and shocking Westeros could be. After it aired, showrunners Ryan J. Condal and Miguel Sapochnik spoke with The Los Angeles Times about their approach to this particular sequence. Fair warning: there are spoilers for House of the Dragon ahead.
Game of Thrones was infamous for its bloody battles, body horror and fiery acts of dragon warfare. If it follows the book closely, House of the Dragon will likely surpass its predecessor in this respect, but for now, the show is setting up the political knots that will string it along. However, the pilot episode still gave us a spectacle with a violent jousting scene cut together with an equally violent childbirth scene. Of course, the childbirth is more significant to the overall plot, but Sapochnik said that it was important to cut it with a fight to drive home the point that the birthing bed is the "battlefield" noblewomen needed to navigate in this world.
"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,'" he told The L.A. Times. "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."
For those that need a refresher, the scene shows Queen Aemma (Sian Brooke) giving birth surrounded by attendants, but ultimately the procedure fails. Grand Maester Mellos (David Horovitch) convinces King Viserys (Paddy Considine) that it is too late to save his wife, but that a primitive Cesarean may save his child. Desperate for a male heir, the king approves this procedure, then helps hold his wife down as Mellos cuts into her. The audience then learns that the child died anyway.
Sapochnik said: "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. It is the story's inciting incident and needed to be strong and unflinching."
Sapochnik also acknowledged that this scene was even more impactful in light of the Supreme Court overturning the Roe v. Wade decision in the U.S. recently. He said that he and the other creators discussed the fact that "a father gets to choose" in this fictional world, with "the idea being that Queen Aemma doesn't get to choose her fate even though she's right there. King Viserys and the grand maester never think to consult her, and so she is powerless over a decision about her own body."
Sapochnik and others did extensive research on birthing practices before the advent of modern medicine, including the earliest forms of Cesarean. Brooke spoke to reporters as well, saying that it took about a day and a half to film this scene. She said that she spent much of this time "pinned to the bed with my legs akimbo." She noted that an additional day was spent rehearsing this scene and ensuring that all the actors involved were comfortable.
Finally, Sapochnick described the meticulous process of editing this scene when all was said and done. He said that his goal was "not to shy away from what was happening but also not to sensationalize it." He said that he and the editors carefully trimmed the scene so that it would be impactful but not "gratuitous," and that in the end some on the team thought it was almost too tame. He also talked about "shifting away from Viserys' experience of the birth onto Aemma's, until we felt we'd found the right balance that neither glorified nor shied away from the point we were trying to make."
The scene definitely struck a nerve with viewers on social media, many of whom admitted that they had practically forgotten how brutal this franchise could be. Things will only get more gruesome from here. House of the Dragon airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.