'House of the Dragon' showrunners say they showed the pilot's most gruesome death scene to 'as many women as possible' to see if it was too violent

A young girl with silvery-blonde hair wearing a red gown.
Milly Alcock as Rhaenyra in "House of the Dragon."HBO
  • Warning: Spoilers ahead for season one, episode one of HBO's "House of the Dragon."

  • Miguel Sapochnik says the team asked "as many women as possible" if the birthing scene was too violent.

  • "Unanimously, the response was no," he said "Often the response was, 'If anything it needs to be more.'"

The series premiere of HBO's "House of the Dragon" (the first of many in-the-works prequel series to make it to the screen) has an emotional climax involving a traumatic childbirth scene. The series' showrunners Miguel Sapochnik and Ryan Condal discussed the best way to approach that scene without being "excessive."

"We did make a point of showing it to as many women as possible and asked the very question: 'Was this too violent for you?'" Sapochnik said during a roundtable interview with Insider along with Popsugar and Metacritic. "And unanimously, the response was 'no.' Often the response was 'If anything, it needs to be more.'"

In the scene, King Viserys' wife Queen Aemma Targaryen is dying in the midst of childbirth, unable to push her baby boy out of her body due to his position inside her uterus. The Grand Maester (a type of medieval-esque doctor and scholarly advisor to the king) tells Viserys that both Aemma and the baby are going to die. But he says there's a technique that will give the baby a chance to survive: cutting it out of the mother.

Viserys tells the Grand Maester to go ahead and try the procedure, knowing the blood-loss will kill his wife. As the man begins what is basically a Cesarean section, Aemma realizes what is happening and screams in terror and pain while a bunch of people restrain her. Viserys gave her no warning about what was happening with the labor issues, nor did he tell her she was about to die.

A scene from "House of the Dragon" season one, episode one.
HBO

The scene cuts between Aemma's abdomen being cut open, blood pouring everywhere, to a brutal fight between Prince Daemon and Criston Cole happening outside the castle. Eventually Aemma dies, blood soaking the bed beneath her.

Viserys names their newborn son Baelon (after his own late father), but we soon learn that baby Baelon died just hours after Aemma.

Sapochnik tried out different cuts of the scene, aiming to get it 'horribly real' but not 'excessive' while making a point about women's choice (or lack thereof)

The director said they felt it was important to highlight the most traumatic event that "breaks the family apart," referring to the various Targaryens in play. King Viserys is in need of a direct male heir at the start of "House of the Dragon," because the other options are his controversial and deadly brother Prince Daemon (the presumed heir) or his young daughter Rhaenyra (a girl, and therefore disregarded for a line of succession by most counts).

So Aemma's childbirth of a baby boy was meant to be the subject of much celebration. A male heir for King Viserys at last!

But Aemma (and baby Baelon) are ripped away from the king and his daughter, leaving the floor open for political maneuverings and buried family trauma given Viserys' treatment of Aemma in her final minutes of life.

Sapochnik says he took in the feedback he received from women after showing them cuts of the scene, which left him feeling like the lack of choice given to Aemma was "really important" to highlight.

"We shouldn't be shying away from this thing that's happened because it's raising a point that seems to hit a real trigger for women, which is this idea of choice," he said. "She doesn't get to choose. She's effectively murdered by her husband. And that is a good indication of the state of play in this world that we're inhabiting."

A man and woman with silver hair wearing medieval royalty garb stand lovingly next to each other.
Paddy Considine and Sian Brooke costar as King Viserys and Queen Aemma in HBO's "House of the Dragon."Ollie Upton/HBO

The director and showrunner said the team spent a long time making sure they "weren't glorifying it" and that it felt "horribly real" without being excessive or dwelled upon.

Then one of his editors, Tim, had the idea of paralleling the tournament fight at the same time.

"As we stated earlier in the episode, the birthing bed is almost a battlefield," Sapochnik said. "You have 50% chance of survival. And so it seemed like this was an appropriate time to draw that parallel visually between the male and the female struggle. One's fighting on the battlefield, the other's fighting for survival — sometimes from the person closest to her."

"House of the Dragon" season one will continue next Sunday at 9 p.m. ET. Read more of Insider's coverage here.

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