As King of the Seven Kingdoms, Viserys Targaryen looms large in the first season of House of the Dragon. Although Paddy Considine was lauded for his performance, the King himself faced ridicule and judgment throughout the season. From the first episode, the audience comes to see Viserys through Daemon’s eyes. We see Daemon acting as a voyeur of Viserys’ council meetings, watching him surreptitiously during Aemma’s funeral, and then sharing his views aloud when critiquing Viserys for being “weak” before being banished. As Viserys’ health continues to deteriorate, the audience's reactions mirror Daemon’s, from disgust and derision to laughter and eventually wonder and appreciation. These reactions reflect broader cultural attitudes toward disability.
Early on, Daemon critiques Viserys for being “weak” in spirit, a trait which is later manifested in his inability to heal wounds, becoming gaunt, undergoing numerous amputations, and finding it exceedingly difficult to walk. Each time jump aligns with notable advancement in his disabilities, sensationalizing his condition and causing a notable reaction each time viewers see him. Abjection is the feeling of hate or disgust which occur immediately and viscerally when one is confronted by some Other that they associate with death or degeneracy (Young, 1990). This reaction encourages people to attempt to separate themselves from the reminder that they too may fall ill or die, and thus we see Daemon setting himself apart from Viserys, outlining a distinction between himself, a strong and true Dragon, and Viserys.
We see this Othering occur further in the jokes made at Viserys’ expense. Fan reactions to Episode 5 repeatedly show audience members laughing as Viserys attempts to cut his food during the wedding, complicated by the loss of his fingers. Jokes about both his appearance and his function pepper the season – after all, time has been “especially cruel” to have Viserys aging at such an advanced rate compared to the rest of the ensemble.
Of course, we see a different reaction when the King makes his final stand, forgoing pain relievers and taking his seat upon the Iron Throne to support his daughter in the debate over her son Lucerys’ inheritance. During this scene, any distaste or disappointment evaporates as he shows care and even reverence to his brother who is fighting through pain and exhaustion to stand up for Rhaenyra. Similarly, audience members show no disgust; they make no jokes when Viserys drops his crown. Rather the heroic music swells, and audiences cry, touched as they watch him “fight through” his condition, a prime example of “inspiration porn.”
Each of these audience reactions is driven by the text, with editing and other characters’ reactions guiding viewers at home to respond in certain ways. Yet with Viserys gone, it remains to be seen how season 2 will frame disability in the stories of Aemond, Larys, and other notably disabled characters.
Grue, J. (2016). The problem with inspiration porn: A tentative definition and a provisional critique. Disability & Society, 31(6), 838-849.
Young, I. M. (1990). Justice and the Politics of Difference. NJ: Princeton University.
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