House of the Dragon is, yet the prequel has already stirred some controversy. It revolves around a confronting scene depicting Aemma Targaryen, wife of King Viserys Targaryen, giving birth. If you haven't watched the first episode, note that there are spoilers ahead.
Much of the first episode,, focuses on Viserys' desire to have a son. Queen Aemma begins the episode heavily pregnant, and about three-quarters of the way through goes into labor. Unfortunately, the baby was emerging bottom-first, and the maesters were unable to turn it around. Viserys was given a choice: Sacrifice the mother for the baby or leave it up to the gods to decide who will live.
Overzealous in his pursuit of a son, Viserys chooses to save the baby via unmedicated cesarean. Not only does Aemma not consent to the procedure, she's told nothing about it. Viserys clutches her hand and says it's time for the child to be delivered, and Aemma weakly smiles at him. When she realizes how the baby is being delivered, she shrieks in horror as Viserys meekly tries to comfort her. Some have called it a powerful scene, others have called it a gratuitous depiction of a traumatic event.
In the book on which House of the Dragon is based, 2018's Fire and Blood, Aemma dies naturally during childbirth. The intervention of Viserys and the maesters was creative license by House of the Dragon's creators.
"I know it may sound extreme, but we wanted it to be difficult to watch," co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik told The LA Times. "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."
From what we can tell so far, Viserys is portrayed in House of the Dragon as a good man who makes an average king. Unlike some of the rulers we came to know in Game of Thrones, like Joffrey and Cersei, he isn't needlessly cruel. Unlike King Robert Baratheon, he isn't prone to perverse self-indulgence. But, as Sapochnik says, his decision to sacrifice his wife is a wicked black mark on his character.
"It's not meant to be gratuitous," co-showrunner Ryan Condal told Vanity Fair. "There's this whole idea in Game of Thrones, or in the Middle Ages, or in historical age like this, that the men marched off to the battlefield and the women's battlefield happened in the child bed. That was a very dangerous place to be. ... Any slight complication, anything could lead to very tragic consequences for the child and the mother."
"We wanted to dramatize that."
Speaking to The LA Times, Queen Aemma actor Sian Brooke implied parallels between the scenes depicted in House of the Dragon and the Supreme Court's recent decision to revoke national abortion rights.
"You think you've made this huge leap forward, with women being able to make decisions about their own bodies," Brooke told the publication. "It's quite shocking, that, sadly, there is some similarity between that and centuries ago."