How House of the Dragon’s controversial incest scene compares to George RR Martin’s book

·3-min read

Warning – Spoilers ahead for ‘House of the Dragon’ episode four

Viewers were shocked with an incestuous scene in the fourth episode of HBO’s blockbuster Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon

Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock) and her uncle, Prince Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith), are seen being intimate with one another in a brothel.

While the pair did not go all the way, the incestuous scene was enough to make some viewers uncomfortable, even though sex within the same family is something Game of Thrones never shied away from.

How similar is House of the Dragon’s incest scene to the source material?

The two shows are famously based on material from the fantasy author George RR Martin, but, are HBO directors taking creative liberties in order to get a reaction from their audience?

The short answer is: no. Martin never shied away from scenes that would shock readers in his material, drawing inspiration from the brutality of the Middle Ages.

Milly Alcock and Matt Smith in ‘House of the Dragon’ (Ollie Upton / HBO)
Milly Alcock and Matt Smith in ‘House of the Dragon’ (Ollie Upton / HBO)

House of the Dragon is based on his 2018 book Fire and Blood, which tells the history of the Targaryen line.

The second half of the book is divided into the accounts of three chroniclers: Septon Eustace, Grand Maester Munkun, and Mushroom the fool.

Eustace recounts that Daemon seduced Rhaenyra and “claimed her maidenhood”, the discovery of which prompted Viserys to confine the princess to her chambers and banish her uncle from King’s Landing.

However, it is from Mushroom’s more “salacious” account that House of the Dragon took its inspiration from for episode four’s unsettling scene.

According to Mushroom’s account, Rhaenyra yearned for her knight, Ser Criston Cole, however, being noble, Cole was true to his vows and never made any vows nor reciprocated the princess’s affection.

It was through this unrequited love that Daemon influenced Rhaenyra to allow him to teach her how to “make him see you as a woman”.

Milly Alcock and Fabien Frankel in ‘House of the Dragon’ (Ollie Upton/HBO)
Milly Alcock and Fabien Frankel in ‘House of the Dragon’ (Ollie Upton/HBO)

This differs from the TV adaptation somewhat, which shows the sexual tension between Daemon and his niece rising slowly over the episodes, while there is less indication that the princess might be interested in Cole romantically.

Martin writes: “At night [Daemon] would smuggle [Rhaenyra] from her rooms dressed as a page boy and take her secretly to brothels on the Street of Silk, where the princess could observe men and women in the act of love and learn more of these ‘womanly arts’ from the harlots of King’s Landing.” It is from this account that the events in House of the Dragon are mirrored exactly, and it is in the brothel where the incestuous scene takes place.

Furthermore, when Rhaenyra’s father King Viserys (played by Paddy Considine) is told about the encounter, he confronts Daemon who tells him: “Give the girl to me to wife. Who else would take her now?” This line is lifted almost exactly for the script used in the scene between actors Smith and Considine.

Many of Daenerys’ ancestors aside from Daemon and Rhaenyra practised incest and polygamy – you can read all about the Targaryen family tree here.

House of the Dragon airs weekly on Sundays in the US, with the UK premiere arriving 2am the following morning on Sky. The episodes are then repeated at 9pm on Mondays, and will be available to stream on Sky and NOW after their initial airing.