SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched the series premiere of “House of the Dragon,” titled “The Heirs of the Dragon.”
“Game of Thrones” is back, and it’s as violent and stomach-churning as ever — as evidenced in the bloody C-section performed on Queen Aemma Arryn (Sian Brooke) in the series premiere of HBO’s “House of the Dragon.” Aemma, already the mother of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen (Milly Alcock), dies in childbirth while hoping she’d give birth to a male heir for King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine). She appears only in a few scenes, and the last we see of her (for now, anyway), she’s laid to rest on a funeral pyre alongside her newborn son’s lifeless body.
“Probably as every actor, you just think, ‘Oh come on, can I not be in it a little bit more?’” Brooke tells Variety about her role.
To play the pregnant queen, Brooke had to wear two different prosthetic bellies, one for her bathing scene and the other for the gruesome birthing scene.
“They fit above the waist at the top of the ribcage, then went down,” she says. “They were incredibly lifelike, so much so I found myself walking and waddling around. My body must’ve thought, ‘Hellooo? Where are we now? We’re not going back there again, are we?’ They were quite weighty, but being pregnant you do feel quite weighted.”
And it wouldn’t be a “Game of Thrones” show without buckets of blood. During a tournament set by her husband to celebrate his presumed son’s birth, Aemma goes into labor, but the fetus is breech, and not coming out. The grand maester tells Viserys to make an impossible choice: to sacrifice one, or to lose them both. Desperate for a male heir, the king makes the gut-wrenching call for the maesters to slice open Aemma’s stomach, without any anesthesia, to safely remove the baby.
“It was a bloodbath,” Brooke says. “Behind that belly was a whole bag full of blood and fluid. When the incision was made, they would have to time it with pumping this blood out of the belly.”
The blood was “cold and wet, seeping all over,” and when they finished shooting the gruesome scene “it looked like a horror movie,” the actor says.
The fatal birthing scene was shot over a day and a half, and by the end Brooke’s voice was nearly gone after screaming so much.
“I was definitely quite hoarse,” she says. “My children couldn’t really hear me for the next 48 hours, but that’s probably the best thing on their part. For a couple of days after filming, it sounded like I’d been out on a very good night and had a very good time. Sadly that didn’t happen; I was lying on the bed screaming.”
As a mother of two, Brooke tapped into her own experience to film the scene, but luckily times have changed from the barbarity of “House of the Dragon.”
“Thank goodness for modern medicine,” she says. “Going into labor, you do feel like you’ve been in some sort of battle by the end of it, because every ounce of you goes into it. But it’s much worse in those times.”
Even though medical practices have improved, the birthing scene takes on a new meaning in light of the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the restriction of abortion services in the U.S.
“When we filmed it, it obviously didn’t cross my mind because it hadn’t happened,” Brooke says. “Now, you realize how shocking that is, that comparisons can be made between present day, and a woman’s body and the right to choose what happens to her body, and thousands of years ago. I just think the fact that we’re even talking about it, is evident in itself. It’s very poignant what can happen within a year, and how far we can step back.”