House of the Dragon: were finale birth scenes ‘most unpleasant ever committed to screen’?

Viewers were left disturbed by graphic and traumatic birth scenes in the series finale

Rhaenyra Targaryen
Fans criticised disturbing scenes depicting protagonist Rhaenyra going through a traumatic birth
(Image credit: Ollie Upton/HBO Max/THA)

Fans of House of the Dragon have criticised the show after it featured another graphic and “traumatic” birth scene in its series finale.

Throughout its ten-episode run, House of the Dragon “hasn’t shied away from violence and brutality”, said Radio Times, but scenes depicting the show’s protagonist, Rhaenyra, suffering during a “distressing” birth before delivering a stillborn baby have proved to be particularly controversial among viewers.

Several viewers criticised the use of graphic and difficult birth scenes as a “recurring trope”, said the website, with one Twitter user writing: “That birth scene should NOT have been so graphic. It was unnecessary. There should’ve been a specific trigger warning.”

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‘Traumatic and violent depiction of childbirth’

“If there’s one thing that let the first instalment of the series down, it’s the traumatic and violent depiction of childbirth”, said Dusty Baxter-Wright, writing for Cosmopolitan, who noted that “four separate episodes (out of a possible ten) contained scenes of women in graphic and sometimes gratuitously painful labour, almost always concluding in tragedy.”

Indeed, “an early scene in episode one showed a brutal C-section, resulting in Rhaenyra's mother dying while giving birth” and another disturbing birth scene showed Daemon’s wife Laena deciding to “sacrifice herself to her dragon as opposed to bleed out during childbirth”, said Baxter-Wright.

“Can a show go too far? Is there a limit on what viewers should be expected to endure?” asked Tom Huddleston in The Guardian. While its predecessor Game of Thrones may have “prided itself on pushing boundaries when it came to on-screen sex and violence” House of the Dragon had, until this final episode, “been relatively demure, revelling in sudden violence rather than lingering nastiness”.

That was until “15 minutes into this final episode” where we saw the premature stillbirth of Rhaenyra’s sixth child. The following “graphic images of the dead babe and its mother’s grief feel gruesome in an entirely new and tasteless way”, said Huddleston. “For anyone who’s lost a child, these scenes must have been unbearable; for this parent, it was just very upsetting.”

“The scene was one of the most unpleasant ever committed to screen,” agreed Stuart Heritage, also in The Guardian. “This is a show that moves through time so swiftly that characters can get old and die between scenes,” he wrote. “And yet, when it comes to showing female agony during childbirth, it lingers like the worst kind of rubbernecker.”

‘Birth is a battlefield’

The birth scene in this final episode may have been “graphic”, said Jordan Williams in ScreenRant, but it “aligns with the show’s exploration of women’s expected battles in Westeros.” It is a “devastating moment” which depicts how Rhaenyra is “already fighting a horrifying battle” as the Targaryen civil war is being set into motion around her.

Showrunner Ryan Condal defended the scene, and other graphic birth scenes depicted in the show, in an interview with Deadline earlier this week. Condal said the graphic scenes in the finale were intended to link “the horrific birth that goes terribly wrong in the pilot with another horrific birth that goes wrong in the finale”.

“Birth is a battlefield and now Rhaenyra finds herself at war and this is her going through her own battle,” he said. “She’s having a miscarriage. She knows she’s not far enough along in her term that she’s going to have a viable infant. It’s medieval times. There is no premature baby unit in the maester’s hospital.”

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