House of the Dragon’s Taboo Sex Scenes are Hot for a Reason

There are many ethical gray areas people are willing to overlook when it comes to sex on TV. Cheating (see: Grey’s Anatomy), illegal (!) power dynamics (ahem, Pretty Little Liars), mostly outdated concepts like arranged marriage and hypergamy (hello, Bridgerton?)—the list goes on. But if the chemistry is right and the sex is hot, the details and the circumstances around the relationships don’t really matter, fans are going to ship them anyway. But incest…that feels like a bit much, right? (Right?!?!)

There’s nothing morally okay about inter-family sex, no matter how hot the actors and how palpable the chemistry. And yet, week after week since August 21, fans have rooted—nay, thirsted—for Daemon and Rhaenyra Targaryen on House of the Dragon, and I, dear reader, am one of them.

In my non-professional, non-TV critic capacity, I think it’s safe to say the actors (Matt Smith and Emma D’Arcy) have the kind of chemistry that makes me constantly just want more of them, a concept I was totally fine with until I realized I was lusting for scenes featuring an uncle-and-niece duo. Was I uncomfortable? Yes. Was I hungry for more? Also yes.

The brothel scene= hot. (In the post-episode recap, Clare Kilner, who directed episode four, touched on how she had to “really think” about how to shoot the brothel scene because as a woman, “my go-to images are ones that I grew up with, which aren’t necessarily from a woman’s point of view.”) When they finally had sex (as consenting adults), fans ate it up. When they conspired to fake her husband’s death and got married in a traditional blood ceremony and looked longingly into each other’s eyes in front of their children by the sea, it was—dare I say it—kinda sweet.

And I am not the only one who thinks so, okay? Ever since this cursed show came out, my social media feeds have been inundated with fan accounts from people equally as thirsty for this twisted uncle-and-niece dynamic, and also simultaneously confused over said thirst. This was honestly kind of comforting to me as someone whose first thought upon watching this show was, “I want them to fuck,” but also, “Lol, help, why do I want them to fuck?”

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This isn’t the first time we’ve seen incest in the Game of Thrones universe. You’ll remember that in the original series, Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen were nephew and aunt, and who could forget Cersei and Jamie Lannister? But this is the first time we see such a vast age gap in a relationship that started when one party (like the main star-of-the-entire-show party) was a teenager.

Rhaenyra was about 16 years old when Daemon took her to the brothel (the night she had sex for the first time, though not with Daemon). In the books, he’s about 16 years older than her, making him 32—not a crazy age gap during the IRL Medieval/Renaissance period, around when the show is loosely based, but absolutely not okay today, especially considering the flirty nature of their relationship even before the brothel drama. In every IRL situation, this (I’m sorry to report) is clearly considered grooming—when an adult fosters an emotional connection with a minor with the intention to prepare (or “groom”) them for sexual abuse. Whatever way you slice it, it’s twisted and wrong on every moral level.

So I did some…investigative reporting. Not to be a downer (it’s a good show!), but why are this many of us collectively horny for an incestuous relationship with such a problematic history…when logically we know it’s wrong…even if it is just on TV?

First, it’s important to understand why incest is so central to the Targaryen bloodline. GoT creator and author George R.R. Martin himself said, “The Targaryens have heavily interbred, like the Ptolemies of Egypt. As any horse or dog breeder can tell you, interbreeding accentuates both faults and virtues, and pushes a lineage toward the extremes.” Their priority was to keep their dragon-riding abilities within the family and preserve the “golden blood of old Valyria” (aka: keep their blood “pure”), so for centuries, they married siblings to siblings, cousins to cousins, and yes, uncles to nieces.

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“It’s my perception that the real reason Dragon ‘gets away with it’ is the world-building involved; we already know we’re dealing with Targaryens and we know this is a central thing for them—a cultural expectation that they have, and that we have about them,” says Good Vibrations staff sexologist Carol Queen, PhD.

Second: This show exists in an obvious fantasy world. It’s not like, say, Harry Potter, where the characters exist in the modern world and co-exist with regular people.

So even though IRL, incest is wrong (“Children resulting from an incestual relationship can sometimes suffer from congenital anomalies when blending familial genetics,” says Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles. “This is one of the primary reasons that incest is a taboo to begin with.” This, apart from the fact that when it does happen, it is often a result of sexual abuse.) Game of Thrones exists in an entirely different world, which allows us to be far enough removed from it where we can accept (and uh, enthusiastically root for) the taboo.

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“The mix of medieval-seeming historical context and fantasy creates a container for us to experience this world in its specificity—that specificity is one of the things that is extremely compelling about the shows—with enough cues that most of us do not flash directly to present-day incest, its specific contemporary contexts and meanings, and its taboos,” says Queen. “It’s not that people think incest is okay. It’s that enough people recognize these elements of kinky fantasy and accept that they have been put into a not-real-life container. So it’s okay to see them and even appreciate them in this context.”

Kinky fantasies are also at play here. It’s okay to be turned on by something (be it in porn, on your favorite Netflix show, or in your own private mental playground) that you’d never actually do IRL. That’s why they’re called fantasies. Everyone has them, and shows like House of the Dragon give people an outlet for safe exploration.

“I do think that there are George R.R. Martin fans (and GoT/Dragon viewers) who experience the sexual and socio-sexual elements of these works in a kink-adjacent fashion,” says Queen, who notes that these fantasies can sometimes be a way to “play with a yearning for deep closeness and belonging,” regardless of whether or not you experienced something similar in your own life. “I don’t actually find it surprising that some adults would play-act this, since our sexuality is so often the seeming cause of breaches in family closeness. I think incest fantasy and role play derives a lot of its power from this.”

Ultimately: Nothing is wrong with you if you find yourself already panting with anticipation for next season’s sex scenes. (Although it’s safe to say Daemon and Rhaenyra will probs be a lil busy trying to take back the Iron Throne, so don’t hold your breath.) It does not have to mean that you experienced trauma or that you’d ever actually play out what you’re seeing on TV IRL.

TLDR: We ship this couple so ardently because Game of Thrones is fake. They are fake. So go forth and thirst freely. Jon Snow is not real. (Sorry.)

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