I’ve been duel-wielding Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire for the last month. It’s been exhausting, but highly entertaining. I’ve instantly connected to the characters on multiple levels. It’s not mindless television and mindless reading, which is a lovely change of pace.
One of the many things that have caught my eye is how legitimately human the characters are, specifically how well the women are written in the books.
Oh, you want specifics? Okay, most, if not all, of the women are written to be completely deadly in their own way.
Possibly the prime example of this is how Daenerys Targaryen is portrayed. At the beginning of the story, Dany is shown to be scared of the littlest thing under the sun. However, from the moment Khal Drago kills Viserys Targaryen, Dany develops an internal power that is just amazing. She is allowed to be a leader, the same way the men are written.
Cersei Baratheon is also written to be a leader, albeit an evil, manipulative leader. Cersei cares only about her family and her power. She is a queen, yes, but there is no frailty in her words. She would cut an enemy’s throat without hesitation.
The interview above is quite famous for George R.R. Martin pointing out that he writes women like they’re people. The quote itself is obvious, yet you would be surprised how many people can’t get their hands around the concept that writing characters doesn’t change just because they’re men or women.
However, there is something that bothers me about the women, and it lies solely with Game of Thrones. Yes, naked women are awesome. But does HBO have to show them every episode?
HBO sends a strange, mixed message with Game of Thrones. All the characters, both men and women, have human qualities about them. Yet the women are used visually as eye-candy more than the men are. Sometimes, the nakedness of the character is a useful tool. Ros uses the fact that she’s a prostitute to gain valuable information until her death (and combine the roles of several characters). Sometimes, it makes no sense. I have no idea why Dany is naked half the time.
There is an article IGN did interviewing Marvel Comic writer Kelly Sue DeConnick where she discusses the Bechdel Test (spelled wrong in the IGN article). For those who don’t know, the Bechdel Test is named for Alison Bechdel. The test was developed by Bechdel as a litmus test for female presence in fiction. Simply put, to past the test the work of fiction must have two female characters have an important, plot-moving conversation about somethinig other than a man.
While both the books and the television show do pass the Bechdel Test at times, the show fails what DeConnick calls the “Sexy Lamp Test.” As she puts it, “if you can remove a female character from your plot and replace her with a sexy lamp and your story still works, you’re a hack.”
Think about it. How many scenes in the show have a male character just rehashing known plot points while having sex with the guest prostitute/wench of the week? How many of those scenes could be removed in favor of more stronger exposition?
That’s probably why show actress Natalia Tena (Hi, Tonks!) has spoken out regularly against the show’s usage of nudity for nudity’s sake (source). Dany actress Emilia Clarke has reportedly stated she does not want to get naked anymore just to get naked. We’ll see how that translates to season four.
That being said, the show and books create great characters. The men are all evil, and the women are all evil. It’s a great balance. No one is frail. They just want to kill each other, and I can get behind that.
Blah, I read the first book and could only get through it because a friend recommended it. Yes, the female characters are great. But Dany’s entire arc in the first book is becoming empowered through largely unwanted/feared/painful sex with a 30-year-old when she’s 13/14. There are dozens of rapes mentioned, and a diversity of ways to sexually abuse/traumatize children portrayed. At the end of the first book, Dany BURNS ALIVE the only character to get revenge against the people responsibly for her being gang raped (the ruling family that ordered the attack on her town). Please don’t recommend this series without mentioning that it could contain some triggers for sexual assault survivors, especially those who were underage.