Bringing Up Baby: The Terrifying, Transformational Birth Scene Showdown: Twilight vs. Game of Thrones

My grandma tells me that she still has nightmares about the birth scene in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). I’d better tell her to skip Twilight: Breaking Dawn, which opened worldwide last weekend.

Deep breath. Also: Spoiler alerts for Breaking Dawn and Game of Thrones.

Bella Swan lying on a hospital bed clutching her pregnant belly

In this fourth Twilight film, 18-year-old Bella Swan marries Edward, her vampire love, who plans to turn Bella into a vampire (at her request). Vampires can’t get pregnant, so Bella is willing to give up childbearing (and, umm, life) for love. But before Edward gets the chance to vampire Bella, they have sex. Edward’s supernatural strength leaves Bella bruised post-coitus, but she loved the experience anyway. Good sex don’t come cheap, and Bella finds herself pregnant with a half-vampire that sucks her blood from the inside and renders her a malnourished skeleton. She refuses to have an abortion despite the pleadings of Edward, insisting that she’ll die for her baby—and then she does, because her spine breaks when she goes into labor, her baby starts eating its way out of her stomach, then Edward bites open her stomach, takes the baby out, and plunges a vampire-venom-filled needle into her heart (I think that’s what makes her a vampire?)—but it’s too late, because now she’s a white, bleeding skeleton corpse graphically splayed on a table—in desperation, Edward bites all over her lifeless body. Later, Bella opens her eyes. She’s a vampire now. Cut to credits.

I don’t do snark well even under ordinary circumstances, so click here for a funny and astute summary of the film.

As might be expected, many are grappling with Breaking Dawn’s ambiguous abortion messages. On the one hand, characters use the word “choice”—multiple times—to describe Bella’s decision to keep her baby. Her choice is not met with concurrence by her loved ones, who think the baby will probably kill her. (And thus they don’t want her to have it. It’s sad that I had to clarify there.) This is another example of Bella’s allegiance to traditional gender roles, which necessitate a woman’s undying, fatalistic allegiance to man and child. It’s conservatism gone goth, which kinda makes it appealing, no?

Bottom line: Stephanie Meyer, the author of the Twilight books, is anti-choice. The film’s screenwriter, Melissa Rosenberg, is pro-choice, and she wasn’t convinced she should write the adaptation until her sister-in-law pointed out that the decision to have a baby is a choice, too. “It is a choice to have a child,” Rosenberg said in an interview. “And having not made that choice in my own life, having actually done the opposite, that had not really occurred to me.”

Bella Swan examines her belly in front of the mirror. Someone has modified the photo so that the belly is saying Hello?

So I guess that’s why the characters in the film keep talking about Bella’s choice, huh? Weird stuff happens when you superimpose choice language into an anti-choice plotline. (Because of how it’s only a “choice” when abortion is an option, too.) It’s true that while the books create an anti-choice moral universe, nothing in the film itself suggests that Bella’s options would have been limited even if her life wasn’t in danger. But regardless of all that, everyone can agree that Bella’s choices weren’t appealing. Or, as Alex Cranz at puts it—“ ‘So women should choose eh? ‘WELL HOW DO YOU LIKE THIS CHOICE?’ was the feeling I was getting from the movie.”

Which brings me to Game of Thrones, in which Daenerys “Dany” Targaryen experiences a birth situation that is (no joke!) eerily similar to—and just as bad as—Bella’s.

Deep breath.

Dany is married to Drogo, the leader of the Dothraki people, and together they have conceived a child. Drogo is injured in battle, and one of his prisoners, a witch/midwife/healer, pretends to cure him. With Drogo on his deathbed and his people in open rebellion, the witch/midwife says she will save Drogo, but that the cost of life is death. Dany volunteers her own life (and, presumably, her unborn child’s), but instead the witch kills a horse and kicks Dany out of Drogo’s convalescent tent, explaining that she’s about to work some dark magic. Outside the tent, Dany goes into labor just as the men around her start slaughtering one another. Dany is dragged into the tent, passes out, and awakes to discover that the midwife has murdered her child and transformed Drogo into a permanently brain-dead lump. So Dany decides to burn Drogo plus midwife at the stake, but then she grabs her dragon eggs (long story), walks into the fire, and discovers that she is the last of the remaining dragon leaders (again, long story). She emerges from the fire with three newly hatched dragon babies. The Dothraki people bow down to Dany as their first female leader. Also, the midwives’ curse rendered Dany barren, so she won’t be having any more (human) babies.


Dany kneeling next to the body of Drogo

Dany offered her life in exchange for her husband’s life, and when that failed, her husband and unborn child were taken from her. In the end, she becomes barren and ascends to lead her people. Which is great, maybe? But why must she trade her fertility for political power? In many ways, Bella’s plight in Twilight and Dany’s in Game of Thrones espouse rather opposite messages. Yet in both cases, the dramatic climax of the story is predicated on questions of fertility, and a tragic childbirth was the test they needed to pass before their ultimate transformation, which left each incredibly powerful yet infertile: Vampire Bella and Dragon Dany.

Deep breath.

Some have argued that reality television represents a backlash against feminism. I’d argue that reproductive ultimatum scenarios represent a backlash against reproductive choice. Contemporary television and film is intent on portraying women who A) lack reproductive choice, B) trade fertility for power, or C) undergo a traumatic childbirth. Bella and Dany are extreme examples, but even humdrum childbirth scenes emphasize fear, urgency, and the explicit or implied necessity to submit to medical intervention.

Dany from Game of Thrones with a dragon on her shoulder

In Rosemary’s Baby, Rosemary is a victim. Her doctor and her husband have conspired to impregnate her with the spawn of the devil. When she goes into labor, she is forced into a bed and drugged. She doesn’t remember the birth itself, nor is it portrayed onscreen (lies, grandma!), which is parallel to the experiences of real women on maternity wards in 1968, who were commonly drugged with a memory-robbing concoction called Twilight (really!) Sleep.

Rosemary’s enemies are clear. External forces, at least, can be identified, fought against, and reviled. In Game of Thrones, Dany lives in a world with limited options, and escapes only by sacrificing her fertility and transforming into a super-human creature. In Twilight, Bella proves her worthiness and nobility by sacrificing her life for her unborn child. Many say that Bella and Dany are “strong” and even “feminist” characters, but I’m not convinced. The very parameters of the narratives they work within limit their choices, their battles, and the routes that lead to their supposed triumphs.

by Katherine Don
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22 Comments Have Been Posted

Daenerys “Dany” Targaryen

Is Dany really barren, though? I didn't see that explained anywhere in the television storyline. I haven't read the books, so I cannot confirm this with that source, but the Game of Thrones wiki does not seem to mention it either. If she's not, I'm not sure the argument fits her.

But even if she is barren, I still don't think the argument fits. She is nothing like Bella in trading her fertility for power. I see the three dragon hatchlings as an extension of her power AND fertility. (Remember, this is a mythical place, so this extension isn't so far fetched.)

Okay, well reading that line

agree that Dany was already powerful


Sorry: I mean the writer

I haven't seen the latest

I haven't seen the latest Twilight film, and I gave up on reading the books somewhere around book three, so I can't really comment on that, but I have read A Song of Ice and Fire and watched the show religiously and I disagree with some of the points you made.
Now, while I do agree that pop culture often presents women with the "choice" between power and what is traditionally considered "womanhood" (marriage, child rearing, reproductive ability and all those 'womanly' things), I don't think that Daenarys really fits that stereotype. For one, Dany DIDN'T offer her own or her child's life in return for Drogo. The witch tricked her into thinking that she was going to sacrifice the horse. And furthermore, in the books, it's not really clear whether the witch actually wanted to kill her baby, she does at some point state that "the stallion who will mount the world (Dany's son, long story) will trample no nations into dust", but the witch's intent was made explicit in the tv show. In the book, the witch tells Dany that, under no circumstance, is she to enter the tent where the magic is being performed because it might harm her and her baby. When the fighting breaks out, in the show, she is carried into the tent by ser Jorah, when she goes into labor, I think that it's the same in the book. The point is, the witch's position is not clear, not really, and from the book, we can't tell whether she harmed the baby on purpose or not, just that, ultimately, she's not sorry about it.
That said, I believe that it can be claimed that Daenerys is a feminist character, or rather that she is growing into a feminist character. The world she inhabits is patriarchal like our own, and to boot, her family is endogamous and habitually marries brothers to sisters. She starts out as a little orphan girl (in the books she's 13) who has no one except her crazy brother and a bunch of older men deciding her fate. When she gets married off to Khal Drogo, her journey begins. For some reason, the TV show completely pissed on the relationship between her and Drogo and on her own development as a powerful woman. But the point is, that she gains her initial power by being married to a powerful man, but that power sticks, and she learns from it, and considering that she is a teenage girl (on the show she's 16), that is no easy feat. The transformation she undergoes after she burns Drogo and the witch is a kind of rite of passage, and from that moment on she becomes "mother to dragons" and later on in the story, *SPOILERS*
she becomes "mother" to thousands of freed slaves. The point is, that although she has been rendered barren by the witch (although this is debatable, and might not be true), her rise to power did not begin with her CHOICE to sacrifice her fertility or her life.
Now, I'm not saying that this isn't problematic, but when viewed in the context of the imaginary world where the story takes place, Dany's choices, dilemmas and actions after the birth of her dragons are transforming her into a feminist character. I just hope that this is better dealt with on the show than her relationships with her brother and husband were.

And, and I believe that this has to be pointed out, the thing is that most characters in this universe who have any kind of power have had to sacrifice something major to get it, or were propelled, like Dany, by circumstances which left them bereft of something that was important to them. The narrative is very complex and, sadly, the show can't fit everything in, but I believe that saying that Daenerys Targaryen is anything like Bella Swan is oversimplifying her (Dany's) story.

Thank you. Exactly what I was

"I don't really think of her

"I don't really think of her particular route to power as being a "choice" so much as something that is presented as being her fate, and the bottom line is I kinda wish that the route to her fate hadn't been her break with earthly love."

I completely agree. When I used the word "choice", I was only implying that she didn't choose to sacrifice her "womanhood" (for lack of a better term). But this is a larger issue really. A couple of months back I read an article, for the life of me I can't remember where or by whom, which was aimed at the Harry Potter franchise, but it was satire, written in the form of praise for the Hermione Granger series by Joan Rowling. What the article did, among other things, was to effectively point out how the Harry Potter series relied heavily notions of 'fate', 'destiny' and dubious genetic predispositions for heroism. I believe that this is a big problem for most fiction today.
Buffy, which is a show I really like, is a prime example of this. It's Buffy's "genetic" destiny to be the slayer. Now, she rises above and beyond this, but the bottom line is that she, as a woman, was endowed with the power she has, by a bunch of men. This is the same trope which dictates that the powerpuff girls have no mother, they were created by a man, but, what I'd like to focus on here is the notion of 'destiny'.
I'm sick and tired of heroes and heroines alike who *must* do this or that because it's their destiny. I'm sick of genetic superheroes who protect the world because "with great power comes great responsibility" or whatever. I'm sick of people being thrown by fate (and Dany is an example of this) into protecting everybody.

And this is why I completely and unquestionably adore Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching novels. Tiffany Aching is THE real, the COMPLETE anti-heroine (of sorts) in that she has no special powers nor any genetic legacy (other than a grandmother who was really good with sheep) to make her a heroine. She's a little girl who DECIDES to do something about the danger threatening her world because she firmly believes that it's her RESPONSIBILITY.
We need more heroes like that. Ordinary people without any superpowers, just deciding that they're going to save the day, because who else will?

R.R. Martin has some interesting issues.

Try reading, though be aware of major triggers even for Martin himself, Meathouse Man.


Dany being barren is still up for debate. First there is no proof that which is actually telling the truth, the reader can choose to believe her or not. Being fertile and your womb 'quickening' are not necessarily the same thing. We never have any proof that she is infertile other than her own assumption, which was unable to be proved otherwise until she started becoming sexually active again in books, which was only recently.


Also there are people who think that Dany has been fertile all along and has actually had a miscarriage (possibly induced by eating poisonous berries) at the end of a Dance with Dragons. Though it is up for debate. Also all the things that the witch listed may have come true, depending on how you want to interoperate them.

We are never given solid poof of her infertility.
Enjoyed the read!


Historically, "quickening" was the word used to refer to a pregnant woman first feeling the baby move. Before that she wasn't actually considered pregnant. If this is the sense in which the word was used, I'm not sure how the statement could be interpreted differently.

Its never proven or confirmed

Its never proven or confirmed that Dany is infertile. What Mirri Maz Duur says might not necessarily be the truth, Dany just takes it to be. She is the one who decides she is infertile and because she doesnt take another sexual partner for a long time there isnt a chance that it can be proven otherwise. Quickening also actually refers to the first time fetus moves, not your fertility. (I suppose she could be fertile but never able to carry to term)

Dance With Dragons Spoilers***

There are also theories that everything that which says comes to pass in DWD and that Dany has a miscarriage while she is wondering (because she has eaten poison berries or has the pale mare) which means she wasnt infertile, only assumed she was.

There is never really any proof, it just depends on how much faith you want to put in the prophesy, especially one of somebody who has reason to dislike Dany and may just want her to think herself infertile.

The twilight vampire childbirth thing was horrible, and there are so many other ways that Bella seems to not have a choice in those books.

To Game of Thrones Fans

I'd like to clarify a few things, because the misinformation here is a little dizzying. A few commentators wrote several things that simply aren't true---in the show or in the book--so just to clarify: Dany DID offer her life in exchange for her husband's. Period. The midwife DID decline the offer, telling Dany to get the horse. The midwife DID NOT intend for Dany to enter the tent. It was Ser Jorah who carried Dany into the tent. Dany did not enter the tent of her own will, though, as I said, she HAD offered up her and her child's life in an earlier scene. Regarding the prophesy: It's true that the witch's prophesy could prove false. Either way, the series of events explicitly linked Dany's ascension to the loss of her husband and her child. Perhaps there was one sentence in the article that confused people---"But why must she trade her fertility for political power?" I did not mean she literally made that direct trade. I meant that her ascension to power was juxtaposed--not only in time, but thematically---with her ascension to power. They are linked. I was questioning whether it's empowering when creators of books, movies, and tv series habitually represent fertility as the thing that women sacrifice, or hold onto, or is the thing that is at the root of their power or their not-power. Dany's infertility is also referenced in Dany's dream, not only the witch's prophesy. In her dream (that she has when she's sick after the birth), she has a vision of her child as a grown man. But then he is eaten by fire. At first Dany mourns (in the dream), but then she is seduced by the fire. "She wept for her child, the promise of a sweet mouth on her breast, but her tears turned to steam as they touched her skin. Must wake the dragon." Dany is a character created by a person, and this situation was created to unfold in this particular manner. I'm not sure why people are denying the actual material. Now, whether this is empowering or not is open to debate. I was suggesting that, taken in the context of habitual representations of this trade off, it's not empowering. Within the GoT world, it arguably is---though as I said, I'm not convinced. In the tv series, I thought the story of her birthing, and then her birth in fire, was beautiful. This was not a review, but a comparative analysis of social themes.

The series of events are presented as a fatalistic journey in which the heroine (Dany) disregards common sense during her walk to power. It was made very clear that Dany was acting irrationally in her trust of the witch, who everyone kept insisting was killing Drogo. It is implied that Drogo would have lived had she not done so. It seems that all of these events--Drogo's death, the death of Rhaego--needed to occur BEFORE Dany could become who she is. It is fated to be so. After she finds out about the death of her child: "She should weep, she knew, yet her eyes were dry as ash. All the grief has been burned out of me, she told herself. She felt sad, and yet..she could feel Rhaego receding from her, as if he had never been." She has undergone a metamorphosis that was predicated on the loss of her fertility and her husband. She needed to shed her earthly attachments before becoming "bride of dragons, mother of dragons," as she thinks to herself just before entering the fire. Honestly, I don't think it could have possibly been made more explicit.

to everyone intent on making Dany a feminist / empowered heroine

Rape in GoT

You bring up a point here that infuriated me in the HBO series, that Dany is forced to have sex. I could not understand why the director chose to represent Dany and Drogo in this way. In the book he is tender with her, she is not raped. This discussion actually has helped me understand why they did that. I would also add that Dany's character is very focused on valuing women only for their fertility. After all, when she rises up and takes her power, she does so as a Mother, mother to dragons, mother to slaves.

thank you!

ugh, thank you for clarifying this. HBO pisses me off too, because game of thrones has been sexualized in a way that obviously is at the expense of the women. drogo and dany's first sexual encounter in the book was not portrayed accurately in the show. she isn't given much of a choice either way, but he is still kind to her. definitely doesn't force her down on all fours on a rocky beach. they were also a lot of other book sex/lovemaking scenes that were pushed aside for more gratuitous fillers. they definitely glorify sexual violence in the HBO game of thrones which makes it hard for me to watch at times. i can't stand ros's character. she is a prostitute and a minor character in the book, but a major character in the television series. you can almost always be sure that anytime she steps onto the screen, someone's going to proposition her and we get a monologue in return.

another irritation i have with this last episode is that dany's emergence/rebirth appearance is altered as well. yes she is naked, but she is also BALD. HBO obviously can't handle separating themselves from the projected "ideals" of feminine beauty, so they kept her hair, which not only doesn't make logical sense, but defeats the purpose of a new, more powerful dany.

I couldn't possibly agree

I couldn't possibly agree more about HBO changing the sex scenes, consistently, in a way that made the sex objectifying for the women. Or, ya know, rape. WTF. Also the baldness thing.....good point.


I thought this was a wonderful article and I had a joy reading it. Since reading Bitch, I realized why have always felt troubled by Bella's character and the fact that she willingly gives up her life for a man. Even though she can hardly be said to have a life or a personality for that matter, this is suppose to be a modern day romance and she falls under a 1950's role of a woman. Perhaps these authors do not believe that women can have their cake and eat it too. Makes it even worse that these types of characters are being presented to young women around the world.
I'm scared for women kind.

Ultrathin Bella in Breaking Dawn

<p>Katherine, Thanks so much from the team for this piece! We quoted it in today's rant about the fetishization of Kristen Stewart's (theoretically pregnant) body in Breaking Dawn. Cheers!</p>

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