Despite being one of HBO's biggest hits, Game of Thrones was often criticized for how it handled depictions of sexual violence. Critics and fans alike thought certain scenes, such as Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) on the night of her wedding to Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), were overly brutal and unnecessary. The show's history of gratuitously portraying sexual assault and violence has left fans wondering whether the prequel, House of the Dragon, will do the same.
Sara Hess, a writer and executive producer for the series, spoke to Vanity Fair about how House of the Dragon will take a different approach, despite comments from co-showrunner Miguel Sapochnik suggesting otherwise.
"I'd like to clarify that we do not depict sexual violence in the show," she said. "We handle one instance off-screen, and instead show the aftermath and impact on the victim and the mother of the perpetrator."
Hess' statement is somewhat contradictory of Sapochnik, who told The Hollywood Reporter that "violence against women is still very much part of the world" in which the prequel is set.
"[We] don't shy away from it," he said. "If anything, we're going to shine a light on that aspect. You can't ignore the violence that was perpetrated on women by men in that time. It shouldn't be downplayed and it shouldn't be glorified."
House of the Dragon is not based on real-life history, of course. It is based on the fictional world created by George R.R. Martin in his novel "Fire and Blood."
Clarifying Sapochnik's statements, Hess said, "I think what our show does, and what I'm proud of is that we choose to focus on the violence against women that is inherent in a patriarchal system."
"There are many 'historical' or history-based shows that romanticize powerful men in sexual/marriage relationships with women who were actually not of an age to consent, even if they were 'willing,'" she continued. "We put that onscreen, and we don't shy away from the fact that our female leads in the first half of the show are coerced and manipulated into doing the will of adult men. This is done not necessarily by those we would define as rapists or abusers, but often by generally well-meaning men who are unable to see that what they are doing is traumatic and oppressive, because the system that they all live in normalizes it."
"It's less obvious than rape but just as insidious, though in a different way," she concluded.
House of the Dragon premieres on HBO and HBO Max on August 21.
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Kirstie Renae is a writer, blogger, and Austin-based actress with a penchant for binge-watching TV with her dogs. Follow her on Twitter @KirstieRenae.