Docile Dragons

Curator's Note

While the departures in House of the Dragon (HotD) attempt to subvert or eliminate many of the misogynistic representations that plagued Game of Thrones (GoT), the female characters are still prescribed gender roles, barred from claiming agency for themselves, and forced into docility by Westerosi society. Although Rhaenyra embarks on a feminine character arc, displays the sort of female masculinity needed to succeed in claiming her own power, and embodies all the best attributes of the strongest, most autonomous women from GoT, the unseen mechanisms of discipline and ideology in the patriarchal world still subvert her at every turn.

In the Westeros universe of the original GoT, there are many examples of royal and warrior women, but all of them have specific gender-based restrictions or expectations that could only be overcome through the same means that maintain control and power: subversion, excessive force, or violence. By being named successor, Rhaenyra is forced to engage with the traditional discourse around gender as her world expects – demands – a male heir. Although the Westeros power structures use this control over all subjects, there is a special control for female bodies, even amongst characters who are of similar if not the same social standing, that treats them as material.

Rhaenyra is subjected to the changing wishes of her father, used by both her father and her uncle as a pawn in their power struggle, transformed from an independent figure who eschews the expected performative gender roles into a wife and mother for not-her-own political gain, and bolstered by the underlying threat of force from her uncle-turned-husband. Like the Targaryen dragons themselves, the sources of her power are also the forces that discipline her power.

But until the show – and modern society itself – can come to grips with depicting powerful women in a way that affords them agency and strength, affords them a true female masculinity that does not come across as mad or evil, and affords them bodily autonomy in the world and on the screen, it does not seem like Rhaenyra will win the Game of Thrones.

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