A Rape Storyline on ‘House of the Dragon’ Shows How Women Uphold the Patriarchy, Too

Queen Alicent gently silences the chamber maid her son raped, and it's a chilling masterclass in how women in power are often part of the problem.

A Rape Storyline on ‘House of the Dragon’ Shows How Women Uphold the Patriarchy, Too
Photo:Ollie Upton / HBO

Following Sunday’s explosive pre-penultimate (?) episode of House of the Dragon that saw a lord’s head sliced in half for calling Princess Rhaenyra a whore, another nugget earlier in the episode seems worth investigating more closely. Queen Alicent has a meeting with a visibly distraught chamber maid who implies, between tears, that Alicent’s son Prince Aegon raped her—thankfully, off-screen. Alicent’s response is a startling master-class in how women in positions of power sometimes exploit the implicit trust and solidarity between women as she silences the maid.

“I believe you,” Alicent gently tells the girl, and I genuinely believe Alicent sympathizes with her. Then, of course, the queen adds, “But others might not be so trusting. They might think you were trying to besmirch the prince, or worse, that you’re the sort of girl that might have enticed him in the first place. You know what happens to girls like that.” It’s essentially a veiled threat disguised as loving advice.

Perhaps Alicent really does have the young woman’s best interests in mind, and this really is her way of helping—Olivia Cooke, who portrays the queen, confirmed that the oh-so comforting tea that Alicent all but forced the girl to drink wasn’t poison, but was the same medieval Plan B that Viserys sent to Rhaenyra in the fourth episode. But whether or not Alicent truly believes she’s supporting the maid by securing her silence, the queen certainly knows she’s helping herself and her teenage son, with whom she appears to share a mutually loathsome relationship. Similarly, Alicent may be helping the girl by paying her off and giving her tea to avoid an unplanned pregnancy—but she’s also helping herself by preventing the birth of a possible bastard and ensuring that the young woman leaves her family in peace. The entire exchange is anchored in self-interest.

I’m reminded of a chilling scene from Succession, another HBO show, in which the all-powerful Roy family’s token girlboss Shiv Roy weaponizes her gender to confront a young woman set to testify against the Roys for exposing her to sexual violence. Shiv ultimately convinces the woman to not testify, threatening her with gentle, ~concerned~ reassurances that—woman-to-woman—it will be better for her to stay silent.

As we established last week, Alicent, according to Cooke, was written as a “Women for Trump”-like figure. For all the misogyny and gender-based exploitation she’s personally experienced—handed over by her father to be groomed by the king, and married to him as a teenager—she not only accepts this way of life but proudly enforces it, so indoctrinated by her father as to see the miserable life he chose for her as an honor. Her resentment of Rhaenyra clearly stems from the princess’ refusal to respect patriarchal tradition while remaining the king’s heir. “What have I done except but what was expected of me, forever upholding the kingdom, the family, the law, while you flout your duty?” Alicent told her last week.

It’s all connected to the events of this week. Alicent is a woman and survivor of considerable mistreatment and trauma; but with the power she does have, she’s also an enforcer of the norms that allow for gender-based violence, and there’s value in portraying them on-screen.

This storyline marks significant progress since Game of Thrones, where graphic gender-based violence was routine and almost casual. Before airing, House of the Dragon’s showrunners and writers sparked backlash for implying that sexual violence would remain a large part of the prequel show, but they eventually clarified the show would only portray one incident of this, and the rape itself would take place off-screen. Director Geeta Patel confirmed to Entertainment Weekly that this was the rape in question, and thankfully, it was about as thoughtful as a rape storyline can be: We don’t see a triggering, retraumatizing scene of the incident; instead, we witness the maid’s trauma and its impacts on her. And, of course, we’re reminded that patriarchy and rape culture rely on the complicity of women in positions of power, too.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin