Friday, October 21, 2022

House of the Dragon is called adult epic fantasy because it dares to show humans with realistic behaviors.

The Targaryen Civil War coulda/shoulda ended here by burning the usurping cabal alive.

As House of the Dragon heads into its season finale, I want to say that although I don't think it is as great a series as Game of Thrones was, its been quite successful in blazing its own story. It would be simple to say that it's just a retread of "dynastic succession." I suppose you could say that this was (afterall) the crux of what Game of Thrones was all about: powerful people squabbling over who gets to be the one in charge and with unlimited power. We'd all like to think that someone with no checks on their power is benevolent. But more often than not, this isn't the case. They are a tyrant that rules with an iron fist, and people who are subjected to that power live horrible miserable lives.

The thing that I've enjoyed so much about House of the Dragon is that it's so real. Yes, there are dragons, which cannot and do not exist in our shared reality. And yes, there is magic too. But what is so real about the show is that it never shies away from how gross human beings really are. We are a miserable species, and the sanitized version that we used to get in the United States has convinced many of us otherwise through media filled with Disney musicals and to the lack of ever seeing a dead body unless it has been prepared by funeral homes for public viewing. In the United States, religion has forced and shamed sexuality into backrooms, public nudity including breastfeeding is shunned, and for the most part we pretend that certain "genitalia" simply do not exist. It's a thing we don't ever talk about. It's all clean, sanitized, tucked away, and there are messages on repeat saying, "no one wants to see your tuck them away." Shame, shame, shame.

House of the Dragon doesn't do any of this, and it owns its truth of just how gross, disgusting, and horrible people are not only to themselves but to one another. For much of the history of mankind, this is how humans have been (and they still are but no one wants to call people out on it for fear of being called hateful). And I've learned that a tiger does not change its stripes, even if it is plucked and trimmed and cleaned up like a Kardashian on parade. That's just a smoke and mirrors show, and one that psychologically convinces people to put others up on pedestals when we really shouldn't be doing that as much as humans do. Putting people onto pedestals makes them into something we look up to. It makes them into something to be admired.

However, our society could be far more enduring if we admired things that helped large groups of people to flourish instead of elevating undeserving people onto pedestals. What would the world be like if we could banish ideas that a person is "out of your league" and replaced them with "you should be grateful that someone likes you?" A lot of culture, particularly white culture, teaches that we need to find our best selves so that we can rise to the top. It's all about self empowerment. By contrast, indigenous people have a culture that emphasizes finding the best traits in yourself that will best serve your people and help your tribe flourish. It's an entirely different way of looking at things, and it explains a lot about why capitalism, particularly the brand we have in America, is so brutal. It also explains why people I know in real life really struggle with feeling gratitude toward anything. In my personal friend group, people don't like to thank others, because it makes them feel "lesser." It makes them feel like something has been done for them that they could not do themselves. That's a huge problem when your pride gets in the way of letting another person know you appreciate them. But that is America today.

So House of the Dragon is unapologetically grotesque, and I love it. But it isn't off-the-deep-end grotesque. Nope, it just shows people as how they really are. There's a scene in the penultimate episode where Queen Alicent, in order to get information she needs from Larys (the spymaster), must allow him to jerk off while he stares at her naked feet. It's so gross and so undignified. Surely, foot fetishes are uncommon, and this couldn't be a real world scenario. Think again. This kind of fetish is wildly common, and there are all sorts of people you interact with everyday who see sweaty, even stinky feet as a sexual object. Did you know that part of ancient wine-making involved people mashing grapes in vats with their bare feet? What made the wine ferment was the yeast between the toes, which is probably the grossest fact I know from reading articles about wine-making.

What about the multiple scenes of women dying in childbirth? Yep, we've just sanitized it all and thanks to advances in medicine, we've managed to make it possible for women to increasingly survive childbirth. But sex, childbirth, and bodies have always been grotesque, no matter how you size them up and clean them up and try to tighten this and prune off that. And incest is more common than many people want to admit (surely this doesn't happen in my neighborhood!), and people hating and plotting against other family members, and backstabbing at jobs and the list goes on and on. Ask any lawyer about how families tear apart when parents die and siblings argue over money. What about parents that end up having children that abuse them? This happens a lot too. 

People are awful, and they are gross, and it's wonderful. And it's not just poor ugly people. The good looking ones are awful and gross and mean too. They are amoral. I think that's the real beauty of George R.R. Martin. He knows all of this, and he crafts his stories around humans with whom we all can relate. It's anti-Instagram and anti-Tik-Tok. House of the Dragon throws mud and other body fluids on all carefully curated media posts to make cute girls and cute boys look like they are perfect dolls who don't fart, go to the bathroom, or have grotesque desires. It's like George's baseline is a garbage heap, which is how it should be. For example, a man that abuses his daughter with "benign neglect" rather than the other kinds of things at his disposal is actually a good person. Murder is the most horrific crime someone can commit by law. Yet, I'm beginning to think that everyone is capable of it given the right conditions and circumstances. Some will always be better at it than others, just like any other skill. And there will always be "those people" who actually enjoy it. Why? Because humans are terrible, and somehow we've tried to convince ourselves that we aren't.

In the penultimate episode of House of the Dragon we saw Princess Rhaenys (The Queen that Never Was) sneak below the Dragonpit which is filled with people to celebrate Aegon's coronation. Aegon is Alicent's son, and he's a weasel of a person, immature, undeserving, and he will be a terrible king. He'll basically be a tyrant. He's also not the heir. But his mother and the other backstabbing usurpers want the throne for themselves, so they hastily crown him basically ensuring that the country will be plunged into a violent civil war. At Aegon's moment of triumph, she breaks through the concrete floor, scattering small folk and shocking the Greens (Alicent's faction) on the back of her enormous dragon Meleys. Meleys is a swift, ferocious dragon, and with one word, she could end the entire cabal before her and burn them all alive. I would have done this without a second thought. But Rhaenys doesn't for whatever reason, and I think she will live to regret that decision A LOT. Her decision to not do it is very human too. She's in the moment of her power, and chooses to take the high road, forgetting that her opponents will always take the low road, because that's what people do. She chooses not to be a cold-blooded killer, not to be a kingslayer and a kinslayer, and to not have the blood of her nephews and niece on her hands. I know from the story that what awaits Rhaenys is not the same courtesy. But whatever. High road versus low road. I will remember that Rhaenys (in the end) was a decent person, and there are a few of those around. Not everyone can be vile. But it's finding out which ones are vile and which ones are not that makes for a good story.

It's weird to me that all of the things I've talked about above make House of the Dragon "adult" epic fantasy. This is why Game of Thrones is "adult epic fantasy" as well. When we talk about J.R.R. Tolkien's work, the term "Children's Epic Fantasy" comes into play a lot. So that's how I recognize the differences between the two. One is written for adults and one is written for children. And then it gets doubly weird when you meet adults who are obsessed with Tolkien, and you realize that they're arguing over "children's books." However, I wish that the above stuff I've described, i.e., foot fetish scenes, people being gross, murder, incest, and all the things that humans actually do, wasn't considered "adult." Rather, I'd like them to be rebranded. I would say that this story has "real humans" in them, and the other story you are reading has "idealized fantasy humans who are as real as pink unicorns with sparkles." It could come from a desire to interact with adults who truly embrace adulthood, instead of meeting forty-year-olds who act like children and who are married and do crossfit and complain that "adulting is so haaarrrddd." Anyway, I'm looking forward to the season finale, and I'm glad that it's been renewed for a season two. The civil war is going to be awful to watch, but I will thoroughly enjoy watching all these characters perish in horrible ways.


  1. It sounds like this show is already repeating Game of Thrones with the wrong person being put on the throne and a civil war.

    And sometimes I read your entries and can't help cynically thinking you need some new friends.

    1. @PT: I've actually made new friends. They seem to be a little better than the ones I kicked to the curb. But a lot of human traits seem to be shared. My new group of friends see me as a highly skilled individual. So, they ask me to do things for them for free. And then I tell them, "I'm not looking for work" and "I'll pass on the job offer, thanks." And they look puzzled and then I don't see them around as much.

  2. I had the same thought as PT, you need new friends.