I watched the first two episodes of House of the Dragon last night, and I was so impressed I did something I told myself I would never do: I shelled out for a subscription to another streaming service, HBO Max. Just so I can continue to watch HOTD.
It’s very much like Game of Thrones. It even has the same theme music. Still set in Westeros. Many of the same family names. And it has even more dragons, which I always felt were the most thrilling non-speaking “roles” in the original series.
It never crossed my mind that the new series seemed at all “woke,” a catch-all term that Republicans and white supremacists — very often the same thing these days — use to describe books, school curricula (and now fantasy TV series) as having too many consequential Black people and powerful, non-submissive women.
Imagine my surprise to wake up this morning to read two articles in major news sources that examine whether HOTD is too woke.
The better of the two pieces is a New York Times op-ed written by Jeff Yang, a comic book nerd who is co-author of “Rise: A Pop History of Asian America From the ’90s to Now.”
Will a slightly more sensitive Westeros give us enough to talk about? It’s hard to tell so far. The new series certainly didn’t open with anything quite as gasp-inducing as a pair of twins having sex in a tower, then throwing a child out of a window, as “Thrones” did. And there’s some validity to complaints about how much time “House” spends on “tense bickering at a big table.” But to suggest that a less raunchy Westeros is necessarily less compelling does a disservice to the original series by assuming that sexual brutalization and normative whiteness were its core appeal.
It’s also a rather patronizing assessment of the show’s fans, many of whom weren’t there for the full-frontal nudity and titillation. I’d argue that the success of “Thrones” had more to do with the complex dynamics of its political and family intrigue, its top-tier acting and its immensely detailed world-building — all of which “House” has already offered in abundance.
George R.R. Martin, the author of the source books, who was involved in creating both HBO series, has defended the treatment of race and gender in “Thrones” as grounded in historical reality. He told Entertainment Weekly in 2015: “The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism.” To a fan wondering why there seemed to be no Asians in the series at all, he responded on his personal blog in 2014: “There weren’t a lot of Asians in Yorkish England either.”
Of course, there weren’t ice zombies, giants or, ahem, dragons in Yorkish England, either. Given that the land of Westeros is a wholly imagined fantasy, it could’ve been anything its creators imagined it to be — and in “Game of Thrones,” a white male author and white male showrunners imagined it as a place where people of color are mostly servile, silent or absent.
But as [HOTD] showrunners Mr. Sapochnik and Mr. Condal note, “House of the Dragon” arrives in a very different era. Mr. Condal put it bluntly in an interview with Entertainment Weekly: “It was very important for Miguel and I to create a show that was not another bunch of white people on the screen.” Mr. Sapochnik cited the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements in an interview with Jeremy Egner of The Times: “It’s a radically different world from what it was 10 years ago,” he said. “We have to reflect the changes in the world before us — not because somebody told us to, but because we actually feel like there’s a point.”
Why is ANY of that controversial? I mean, I get why it annoys misogynistic racist incels. But why must those of us who live in a world that is not exclusively white and heterosexual and male explain to so many others why fantasy milieus ought not be mostly made up of white heterosexual males?
That this “controversy” is happening to both HOTD and the new Lord of the Rings series (see this, yesterday) is a sign that the forces of racist heterogenity are experts at banding together and making noise, thereby getting the attention of the mainstream media. But the only review that matters will be how many people watch these two series, and the LOTR series on Amazon had the best opening in the history of the streaming service.
I suspect this will all soon be background noise; resentful caterwauling from a bunch of misogynistic racist incels on Gettr and TruthSocial, while the two series go on to be as hugely popular as their opening days suggest they will be.