House of the Dragon’s Season 1 Finale Reveals a Show Reprehensible to the End

S1E10, “The Black Queen”

Queen Rhaenyra from House of the Dragon
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

The following contains spoilers for House of the Dragon S1E10, “The Black Queen” (written by Ryan J. Condal and directed by Greg Yaitanes)

For starters, a content warning: this article is going to talk about miscarriages and infant death. Ideally, you’re reading this after watching House of the Dragon’s “The Black Queen” and already know what I’m going to be talking about, but as a general rule of thumb if I feel uncomfortable writing about something I assume there’s a strong chance someone will be uncomfortable reading about it and provide a warning out of common courtesy.

There’s only one moment in “The Black Queen” even worth talking about: at about fifteen minutes in, following the news of her father’s death, Rhaenyra starts to miscarry out of stress, culminating in an agonizingly long scene where she pulls her dead fetus out of her own uterus. This is, without a doubt, one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen. I felt gross just watching it, appalled that the showrunners decided to go that far, and it hasn’t just killed my interest in watching any of House of the Dragon’s second season, but in watching any of whatever future Game of Thrones spinoffs come as the show’s IP inevitably expands.

A miscarriage is, by all accounts, one of the most traumatizing things that can possibly happen to a woman. Several women in my extended family have had miscarriages, some as far back as 30 years ago, and it’s still difficult for them to talk about. To see such a painful experience be turned into something that feels ripped from a grindhouse or exploitation film isn’t just sickening, it’s downright offensive. There’s tasteless, and then there’s whatever the hell this is.

Daemon and Rhaneyra, left, confronting Otto Hightower, right on a bridge
Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO

This is what House of the Dragon’s showrunners decided you absolutely had to see—by comparison, the death of Lucerys Velaryon at the end of “The Black Queen” is an almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment. On top of all that, it’s a moment that could be removed from the show—or at the very least, shown in a far less excessive way—without losing anything of value from the narrative. It’s shock for the sake of shock, at the expense of once again seeing a woman be put through an unbearably traumatic experience by a franchise that still hasn’t figured out what to do with its women outside of subjecting them to unbearably traumatic experiences.

I suppose I shouldn’t really be surprised; after all, the first episode of House of the Dragon saw a woman being given a C-section against her will that wound up killing both her and her child, and a teenage girl pushed by her father towards an eventual marriage to a man old enough to be her father. But this goes so far beyond anything I’ve previously seen—not only on this show but on any other show or film I can think of—that I find myself unable to move past it. This is what’s going to define House of the Dragon for me, now and forever: the show that decided I absolutely needed to watch a woman pull a dead fetus out of her own body.

The only thing I can really think of that even compares to how this moment makes me feel is, coincidentally, a moment from the original Game of Thrones: the grotesque assault of Sansa Stark at the hands of Ramsay Bolton at the end of “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” from the show’s fifth season. That moment was the point that Game of Thrones stopped being a show that I actively enjoyed or cared about watching, and it’s certainly looking like history is going to repeat itself. Maybe it’s my own changing tastes or personal preferences, but if the price of admission to your show is seeing women be forcibly given C-sections or have pregnancies so difficult they commit suicide or pull their own dead children out of their uterus, it’s not a show I want any part of.

A boy on dragonback flying through a storm towards a castle
Photograph courtesy of HBO

I suppose it’d be…less bad if there was anything else really worth talking about in “The Black Queen,” but everything outside of “woman pulls dead fetus out of herself” is so boring it’s unbearable. Everything feels like it’s just the means to an end: Corlys Velaryon comes back from the brink of death to ensure that Rhaenyra has the support of his house; Rhaenys gives an incredibly lame reason for not simply burning the Hightowers to death; Otto comes with terms and all but looks at the camera while spelling out how Rhaenyra was never going to rule because Viserys wound up having a son after all and Viserys was stupid to think that a woman could ever be fit to rule over men and men good women bad; there’s a lot of talking about war and allies and how Rhaenyra is the only one holding things together because she’s the only one still trying to find a solution that avoids bloodshed…and all of it threatened to put me to sleep.

Even the dragon scuffle (one can hardly call it a battle) that leads to Lucerys’ death, which should basically feel like Jaws but with dragons, is something I struggled to stay awake for. It all just feels like boxes being ticked off to set us up for the Hightower/Targaryen civil war which also feels pointless because, as I once read, no matter how cool it is we all know it ends with Bran Stark on the Iron Throne. If any other part of “The Black Queen” had left any sort of impact on me I’d at least have something else to point to, but as it stands all I can really think of is “man, they really did show a woman pulling her own dead fetus out of her body and grieving so much that she was kissing and hugging the still bloody and gooey fetus” and it just pisses me off.

In a way, I suppose the best thing I can say about “The Black Queen” is that it serves as a fairly effective thesis statement of what House of the Dragon is all about. It’s explanatory with nothing clever to say, exploitative without purpose, boring, and willing to throw any sense of decency or good taste or respect towards women out the window in an almost desperate attempt to keep your attention on screen. It’s empty, meaningless spectacle that leaves you feeling hollow rather than entertained. In short, it’s everything that was wrong with Game of Thrones but with little of what made the original series great. It’s disgusting.

Written by Timothy Glaraton

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  1. Thank you for this. I am SO glad that I chose not to watch this terrible waste-of-time show, I used to be a huge fan but I hated how Game of Thrones ended and swore off any more Song of Ice and Fire media after that. This series sounds disgustingly awful, and I am right there with you in your feelings about these subjects. I appreciate you watching this so I know, in no uncertain terms, to stay far away from this miserable nightmare.

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