Fandom-esque | ‘House of the Dragon’ learns from its predecessors, hires intimacy coordinators

Fandom-esque is a biweekly blog about the fandoms of the pop culture sphere and their latest ongoings in TV, film and more.

By Diana Velasquez, Senior Staff Writer

“Game of Thrones,” based on the books by George R.R. Martin, was the show of a generation — in both positives and negatives.

It brought the fantasy genre to the forefront of pop culture, and after “Game of Thrones” finished its 8th season, shows like “The Witcher,” “Wheel of Time” and “Rings of Power” all struggled to achieve a similar cultural and monetary foothold.

“Game of Thrones” also made HBO a ton of money. It’s their most viewed show by far, averaging 46 million viewers in the last season. HBO’s second most-viewed show is “Euphoria,” with 16.3 million viewers on average — which is quite a gap.

Now, almost everyone is aware that despite the success of “Game of Thrones,” the show didn’t end on the best note critically. Critics and fans absolutely abhor Season 8 in comparison to the rest of the show. Whereas several episodes from Season 6 “Battle of the Bastards” have a 9.9/10 rating on IMDB, the last episode of Season 8, “The Iron Throne,” totes a measly 4/10.

It really was a bitter ending, and unless you want to hear my rant about the butchering of Jaime and Danerys’ characters, don’t bring it up to my face. I’m not going to defend showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for their poor writing, and they’ll likely never be hired for a big show ever again, thank God, but it would have been helpful if they had completed source material to rely on.

Wink wink, nudge nudge, George.

But one thing I can criticize Martin, Benioff and Weiss on is the sex. 

“Game of Thrones,” both the books and the show, had a hell of a lot of it and I’d say at least half of the sex shown was violent and oftentimes nonconsensual.

“House of the Dragon,” HBO’s new fantasy cash cow, clocking in at an average of 29 million viewers, is changing that.

“House of the Dragon” is based on another book by Martin, written as a sort of textbook history of the Targaryens, the dragonlords who reigned over Westeros for almost 300 years. The book details Targaryen history from their first king, Aegon the Conqueror, but the show focuses on the Targaryen civil war fought about 150 years after Aegon’s conquest.

The civil war bubbles up on two sides of the Targaryen family. On opposing sides of the war there are the Greens, led by Aegon II Targaryen (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his mother Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke), and the Blacks, led by Rhaneyra Targaryen (Emma D’Arcy).

For anyone who was an avid “Game of Thrones” watcher, it was immediately apparent that “House of the Dragon” treats its women differently. In “Game of Thrones,” you could throw a stone and hit a scene where some poor woman had her boobs out for no reason. There were prostitutes and brothels and all kinds of pointless sex scenes happening in the background of important conversations for no sane reason.

“Game of Thrones” also made significant departures from the book canon to make sex more violent. Two good examples of this are the marriage of Daenerys Targaryen to Khal Drogo and Ramsay Bolton’s rape of Sansa Stark.

While in the books, Daenerys is 14 years old at the start of her marriage, their consummation has as much of an equal power dynamic as you can get in that situation. In the show, Daenerys is raped on the first night of her marriage.

As for Sansa, in the books her role in the Bolton/Stark succession struggle is non-existent. Ramsay marries a young servant girl that resembles Arya Stark and crowns himself Lord of Winterfell. In the show, the writers put Sansa in her place, and though Ramsay eventually gets what’s coming to him, Sansa’s abuse is borderline impossible to watch.

“Game of Thrones” had no intimacy coordinators on set. Gemma Whelan, who played Yara Greyjoy on the show, revealed in an interview with The Guardian in November 2021 that the policy for sex scenes of the show was more of an on-the-fly kind of situation. According to Whelan, there was no coordination, only a vague idea of what the sex would look like, and pressure was put on the actors to make it look good.

The power of intimacy coordinators cannot be understated. One, even though these scenes are simulated, sex scenes without proper direction can be uncomfortable for actors and even traumatic if not handled in a careful way. Two, sex scenes that intimacy coordinators handle often look better on screen.

It’s no accident that shows like “Bridgerton,” which has become infamous for its steamy but refined sex scenes, have become so popular on streaming services. “Bridgerton” harps on the success of its intimacy coordinators, and their methods are often brought up in post-season interviews. 

“House of the Dragon” has taken the hint and corrected “Game of Thrones’” faults not only by hiring an intimacy coordinator for the sex scenes in the show, but curbing themselves from depicting more violent scenes explicitly.

In episode 4, “King of the Narrow Sea,” Rhaenyra has two formative sexual experiences as a teenager. Her uncle Daemon Targaryen takes her to a brothel to seduce her, only to then leave her there after she encourages his affections. She then returns home to sleep with one of the Kingsguard, Criston Cole.

Actress Milly Alcock described her experience with those scenes in the post-episode interview as “really funny” — due in part to the structured sex scenes director Clare Kilner and intimacy coordinator Miriam Lucia orchestrated for her and the denizens of the brothel. 

Emily Carey, who plays a young Alicent Hightower, had a less exciting sex scene in this episode where she sleeps with her much older husband King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Constantine). Carey, who was only 18 at the start of filming, admitted in an interview with Newsweek that she was concerned that “House of the Dragon” would have similarly violent sex scenes to “Game of Thrones.”

Once that notion was put to rest, she said Lucia was extremely helpful on set, especially when she worked with Constantine who is 30 years her senior. Overall, she confirmed that it was an experience she wouldn’t have wanted to go through without a specific coordinator.

Not only are the actors better supported in these scenes, they just look better. With female directors at the helm, the audience is given insight into the “female gaze,” something that’s been severely lacking in high-profile dramas like “House of the Dragon.” I for one have had my fill of useless brothel scenes and could use plenty more female pleasure.