House of the Dragon, the long-awaited prequel series to Game of Thrones, is finally set to debut on HBO on August 21. There have been various trailers, set photos, and other typical pre-release nuggets, but a couple of weeks to go, very few people have seen the show, and the handful of critics who have seen it have mostly shared early reactions rather than full reviews.
The Daily Mail, it appears, is not one of the outlets that got early access, but the tabloid did run a truly bizarre piece last week, which raised very shaky concerns about the new series.
The piece carried a very Mail-like, 36-word headline: “Game of Woke: Non-binary stars, gender-fluid characters and barely any sex and nudity… So what on earth will Game Of Thrones fans make of House Of The Dragon – the prequel to TV’s most risqué blockbuster?”
The story carries two bylines and it doesn’t appear that either author has watched any of the new House of the Dragon show. However, we learn that they’re very, very worried that the new version of the show has gone “woke.” And as is usually the case, their definition of “woke” is very nebulous.
“When the blockbuster fantasy drama Game Of Thrones first aired more than a decade ago, it became known almost instantly for its violent bloodlust and frequent, gratuitous nudity.
“From the very first episodes of George R. R. Martin’s eight-season epic there were graphic sex scenes, stories of rape and incest and even gory depictions of child murder.”
Shame on those young wokesters, depriving us of such wonderful things as rape, incest, and “gory depictions of child murder.”
“But 11 years later, times have changed – even in the fantasy land of Westeros. For House Of The Dragon, the hotly anticipated prequel to the original series has gone fully woke, according to Hollywood insiders.
“Gone are the risqué scenes of full-frontal nudity and violence that shocked and delighted audiences in equal measure. In their place are non-binary actors, a new dynasty of powerful black characters and roles that are ‘sexually fluid’ and ‘androgynous’.“
It’s not clear who these “Hollywood insiders” are, what they know, and whether they’ve seen House of the Dragon. There may not be much full-frontal nudity in the new show, but there also wasn’t all that much of it in Game of Thrones, past the first or second season. Unless you were really, really horny for Cersei’s walk of shame scene. But at any rate, if sex and nudity is what you’re looking for, there are plenty of places out there to find it.
As for violence, the new series, like the old one, is about rival families and factions fighting over the throne, I have a feeling there’s going to be, at some point, some battles and violence.
And once again, if “wokeness” is defined as “non-binary actors” and “powerful black characters,” it just shows once again that anti-wokeness is motivated, more often than not, by little besides naked prejudice.
The Problem with the Show (They Haven’t Seen)
Female Empowerment… Really?
“In this new era, set 200 years before Game Of Thrones, it is two women who battle for the show’s Iron Throne – the seat of power that controls the disparate regions of Westeros.
“And rather than subjecting female actresses to sexual violence, new post-MeToo storylines are instead designed to showcase the ‘power’ of women by featuring gory scenes of childbirth.“
In the original Game of Thrones, the Iron Throne was fought over in the final season by… two women, Daenerys and Cersei. And Game of Thrones once featured a scene of a woman giving birth to a “shadow baby,” while making it established canon that multiple characters’ mothers had died giving birth to them.
Where’s the Graphic Sex?
“A Hollywood executive linked to the new series told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The original show was made before the MeToo era. Graphic sex and nudity had never been seen on television like that before. But this new series had to take on board that we live in different times. The sex is handled very differently and there is far less of it. There is way more diversity. Game Of Thrones had only a couple of black characters, and one of those was killed off in chains.’“
The original series was criticized, all throughout its run, for mishandling sexual assault, and if the producers aren’t doing that in the new series, that’s good. I mean, was graphic on-screen rape really that big a selling point of Game of Thrones? And should the makers of the new show be upset to lose fans who watched it for that reason?
Gender Identity Politics
“One of those vying for the throne is Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen, played by British actor Emma D’Arcy, who in real life classifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them. D’Arcy has described how the character is ‘terrified of getting locked into motherhood’.
‘Rh”aenyra has an ongoing battle with what it means to be a woman and is a fundamental outsider,’ D’Arcy said. ‘She’s terrified of getting locked into motherhood and is aware of how her position would be different if she were male.’“
Again, the only reason for one to object to the inclusion in the cast of a nonbinary-identifying performer is if one objects to nonbinary people altogether (which much of the audience of the Mail, it appears, does.) And it’s not like the tension between royal ambitions and motherhood wasn’t a part of the character arcs of various female characters on the original show.
Men Bad, Women Good
“Former Doctor Who Matt Smith plays her uncle, Prince Daemon Targaryen, a character described as sexually ‘fluid’ and ‘weirdly androgynous’. In fact, one of the main themes of House Of The Dragon is, according to the Hollywood source, ‘men bad, women good’“
That, I’m sure, is totally solid. And it’s not like Game of Thrones didn’t have bad men all over the place.
“It means there is far less nudity and sexual violence than in the original series – although it has not been cut out entirely. Explaining the decision, director Miguel Sapochnik has said that, while the new show ‘pulls back’ on the amount of sex scenes, you ‘can’t ignore’ the violence perpetrated on women by men throughout history. However, he adds: ‘It shouldn’t be glorified.’“
Is “the violence perpetrated on women by men throughout history” not a fact of life, both in real life and on Game of Thrones?
“And referring to the infamous ‘Red Wedding’ massacre in the original series, which killed off several major characters in a legendary bloodbath, the source added: ‘This does for childbirth what Game Of Thrones did for weddings.’“
The Red Wedding included a pregnant woman being stabbed repeatedly in the stomach, did it not?
Where’s the nudity?
“But in today’s film industry, there is a wider problem for production teams to consider that did not exist in 2011, when the original drama first aired – that actresses no longer want to perform in nude scenes that could be considered gratuitous. The Hollywood source said: ‘Since MeToo, actresses have been far less willing to do graphic sex scenes. There was a sex scene co-ordinator on this series to make sure everyone was comfortable. But there’s way less sex.’“
Well, then I guess it’s a good thing Sean Bean’s character is dead, huh?
“Cooke has admitted she ‘wouldn’t feel comfortable’ being part of a series that used ‘egregious graphic violence’ towards women just to ‘tantalise viewers’.
“‘I was lucky enough to read the script before, and it has changed a lot from the first few seasons,’ she said. ‘I don’t think they’d be in their right minds to include any of that any more.’“
Once again: Why would a lesser amount of graphic on-screen rape be considered a bad thing?
“Other notable changes audiences can expect include the introduction of a new influential black family, the House of Velaryon, headed by Lord Corlys Velaryon.
“Known as the Sea Snake, he is played by veteran British Hollywood star Steve Toussaint.
“There is also Asian representation in the form of Japanese-born British actress Sonoya Mizuno, who plays cunning Mysaria.“
Are audiences going to be upset to have to see so many non-white faces?
House of the Dragon, once again, is more than two weeks away. Almost no one has seen it yet. It’s really terrible to make these grand pronouncements about a show one hasn’t seen. But beyond that, “anti-woke” analysis is about the laziest way of engaging with popular culture imaginable.