Game of Thrones’s sixth season ended up being a vast improvement on the series after the abysmal catastrophe that was Season 5. However, being better is not the same thing as being good, and if Season 6 is any indication, the show still has a long way to go. While many of the scenes throughout the season were fun to watch, the plotlines that we get fall apart the second you really start to think about them. Thankfully, the silver lining to all this is that the misogyny is less apparent. The downside to that, however, is now there’s review after review proclaiming Game of Thrones to be a feminist masterpiece, and I find myself once again questioning: are the other reviewers watching the same show I am?
Spoilers and a trigger warning for suicide and discussions of rape and sexual assault up ahead.
Even if I could forgive the inconsistencies in the narrative, the timeline making no sense, characters teleporting all throughout the countryside, and the racism and ableism, I would hardly call the show feminist. I was happy to see the show attempt to address some of its own misogyny, particularly by having Sansa tell off Fuckface for selling her to the Boltons. But it’s become clear over these past ten episodes that the show writers have no idea why Game of Thrones was sexist at all, and their idea of feminism and strong female characters is annoying at best and straight up insulting at worst. Game of Thrones seems to think that good female characters and story arcs can be achieved by turning all its female characters into either sassy back-talkers or BAMFs dishing out revenge on “weak men”, with no regard to said female character’s prior development or role in the original narrative.
Probably no character suffers more than dear Sansa, who the show clearly hates because she likes fairy tales and sewing. Sansa’s character has changed over the seasons from a sweet naïve girl who believes in charming knights and beautiful princes to a vengeful murderer who smiles gleefully as her rapist is ripped apart by dogs. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me here: there is nothing wrong with abuse victims who want revenge and who hate their abusers so much that the thought of them dying painfully is joyful (note: do not actually murder your abuser). Anger and hatred is just one of many ways in which people deal with abuse—unfortunately for Game of Thrones, that’s not Sansa’s way. Sansa’s not the type of character to seek out vengeance like this. Her strength has always been her kindness and unwillingness to give into hatred or allow her abuse to change her into something she doesn’t want to be. Even when her worldview is proven wrong, she still remains kind and brave in the face of it. Women are allowed to be angry and hateful after undergoing trauma, but assuming that they have to be angry and hateful in order to retain their agency or be a “strong” character is completely insulting.
I enjoyed Ramsay’s death as much as anyone else, and I enjoyed Sansa telling off Fuckface for what he’s done, but these scenes were ruined because they shouldn’t have happened
at all. By changing Sansa’s characterization so drastically, Game of Thrones is once again teaching us that girly things are stupid and weak and that true female empowerment can only come by being vengeful and cruel. This is a message that I entirely resent. Not only that, Jon is crowned King in the North even though Sansa’s the rightful heir. It doesn’t matter that she considers him a Stark—that’s not how succession works. I’m also not quite sure why Sansa didn’t tell Jon about Fuckface and his convenient army that somehow made it all the way north without anyone noticing. Furthermore, becoming Lord of Winterfell is something Jon didn’t want. Stannis offered it to him multiple times and he refused each time. I still have to question whether or not Fuckface is the stupidest person in all of Westeros. What was the point of marrying Sansa off to Ramsay? It’s not like Ramsay needed her to cement his claim on Winterfell. A bunch of Lords still followed him after Sansa escaped anyway, meaning that her rape last season added the extra insult of being pointless.
Sansa’s hardly the only character to suffer such characterization. Ellaria is yet another woman whose entire personality was overhauled so the show could have “strong” female characters. What’s happening down in Dorne? I guess the Dornish really don’t care that Ellaria and her daughters murdered all the remaining Martells because they want vengeance for… the Martells. Like Sansa, Ellaria is yet another female character who, originally in the books, is kind and caring and who isn’t motivated by revenge. But because this is Game of Thrones, apparently female characters can only be strong if they’re doing something that looks cool and powerful. Even if we don’t look at the books, though, Ellaria’s characterization still makes no sense. We see in Season 4 that she’s not prone to violence, only for her to turn around and be prone to violence in Season 5. She wants revenge for Oberyn’s death, even though his death was perfectly legal by Westerosi standards, and even though Oberyn wouldn’t stand for her actions. Oberyn tells us “they don’t hurt little girls in Dorne”. This is a belief he stands by and upholds as righteous. Then Ellaria gets revenge for him by murdering a young girl who has done nothing wrong.
On top of all that, there’s the bullshit going on down in King’s Landing, which was just as strange and poorly thought out. The season ends with Cersei blowing up the Sept and killing everyone with wildfire, except for Tommen and the Septa who abused her. That way we could get a scene of Cersei touching the Septa against her will before handing her over to the Mountain to be tortured. He might have gouged her eyes out or raped her—but hey, girl power! Amirite? While Cersei is hardly a good role model and by no means do I believe that strong female characters can’t be villains, I question that Cersei’s moment of empowerment comes at the cost of subjecting another woman to sexual abuse, especially since it was the High Sparrow responsible for Cersei’s walk of atonement and not the Septa in question. Why can’t we have a single strong female character who isn’t violent? Keeping Sansa’s characterizations more in-line with her book counterpart would have created a direct contrast between her and Cersei. This would have allowed Game of Thrones to explore more nuanced ways of dealing with abuse.
None of this is to mention how poorly planned blowing up the Sept even was. Everyone has to know that Cersei is responsible, and one of the “Little Birds” for some reason even leads Lancel to the wildfire cache just in time to see it blow. Why? It wasn’t like anyone was going to stumble upon it accidentally and ruin the plan. The kid should have been running for his life. Of course, considering that Season 2 established that there’s enough wildfire in King’s Landing to level the whole city, everyone’s pretty lucky that it was only the Sept that went up in flames.
Tommen responds to all this by committing suicide in what was a laughably awful scene. Nothing in his characterization indicates that he would kill himself, and the death felt more like an afterthought than a meaningful moment. Tommen sees the destruction, opens his window, walks out of the frame, and then walks back in to jump. It was almost as if his character forgot that he was supposed to die. Either way, it’s not like Cersei seemed particularly upset that her last remaining child died, even though she walked through the streets naked for him. Furthermore, the timeline is off. Jaime somehow went from being at the Twins to all the way down to King’s Landing in the course of what I can only assume was one day. Did Jaime learn how to fast travel?
This ending also completely fucked over Loras’s storyline. In the books, Loras has boiling oil poured on him while storming a castle, but Game of Thrones’s edgy take was to have him tortured for being gay before being blown up along with everyone else. What this essentially comes down to is Game of Thrones giving into the “bury your gays” trope. Gay characters should not be immune from death simply because they’re gay, but it becomes a problem when queer characters die over and over again. It also becomes a problem when a show reduces a character to his sexuality and then tortures and kills him for it in an attempt to be edgy.
Unfortunately for all of us, Game of Thrones doesn’t just stop there. Not only do we have homophobia to deal with, we also have ableism. Since Tommen’s suicide wasn’t bad enough, Theon’s PTSD makes him the brunt of numerous characters’ abuse. At one point Yara attempts to bully the trauma out of him, makes fun of him for not being interested in sex anymore, and even tells him to go ahead and kill himself if he can’t get over it. Then, because Yara’s being a horrible person to him for no reason, Tyrion starts doing it too. When Tyrion and Theon meet and Tyrion berates Theon for having called him a dwarf and making fun of him back in Season 1, was I the only one confused by that conversation? Yeah, the two characters do meet in Season 1, but in that one scene, Theon’s not being a dick to Tyrion. Tyrion’s being a dick to Theon, and the word “dwarf” never comes up. Theon just tells Tyrion about a sex worker named Ros that he thinks Tyrion might like, and Tyrion responds by making fun of Theon for being a hostage and for his brothers being dead. Did… did the writers not watch their own show?
Finally, Daenerys starts heading to Westeros, but she leaves yet another fucking white guy in charge of Meereen in her absence, when there are literally hundreds of people better suited for the role. Also, somehow she spontaneously has the ability to control all three of her dragons, two of which escape the tunnels under Meereen just in time to conveniently help her win a battle. I assume neither of them care that she locked them up in a dark cellar. Can we go one fucking season without Dany being a white savior? Wasn’t it great how all the Dothraki, a superstitious group who hate witches, just fell in line behind her after she burned their most sacred place down? But hey, she killed a bunch of rapists in the process, so yay?
All of this would be bad enough on its own, but earlier when I said nothing makes sense, I mean that literally nothing makes sense, and I have to question everything that happens. What the fuck were the Kingsguard and Gold Cloaks doing this season? Twiddling their thumbs? At some point in time, will Gilly’s four-year old baby grow up? How did Arya not die after being stabbed multiple times and then jumping into a filthy canal?
I could go on, but this post is already getting too long. In the earlier seasons when the show followed the books more closely, the storytelling was more consistent and the worldbuilding was certainly better. Game of Thrones had never been the epitome of feminism and great representation, but at least it used to make narrative sense. I can’t say that that’s the case anymore. But one thing is certain: Game of Thrones is not feminist. It’s a sexist, ableist, and racist piece of trash, but hey, if it keeps improving, maybe Season 7 could be semi-decent and only a little insulting.
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While agreeing with everything, I’d like to suggest a deeper fault on the writer’s understanding of humans in general. The bulk of the blame may fall at the feet of on a failing faith in humanity. GOT is not alone in an apparent trend toward ‘character destruction’. Similarly to ‘The 100’, and ‘The Walking Dead’, who both also have shown good characters do horrible things, even specifically setting up scenarios where pacifists apparently have ‘no choice’ but to act without an ounce of wisdom or concern for safety, purposely put others in mortal danger in the name of maintaining their pacifism. Then there are the ‘even suggesting people remain good, let alone trying to be a voice of reason equals certain doom’ theme that continues to repeat across the board.
It seems that many dramatic shows are aiming for character complexity and missing that goal completely, instead landing on ‘how can we make good people do bad things’. As you noted that the reactions of characters are not consistent to inherent personalities, I suspect that the writers of GOT and other series have fallen under the belief that everyone will do the unthinkable if only placed in the correct sequence of horrible circumstances.
This assumption, while it has frequently proven common in many real life and historic situations and psychological studies, has also been almost as consistently avoided by others in the exact same real life and historic situations. Yet, still it appears to be emerging as standard (mis)understanding of human behavior and broken definition of humanity.
Especially after the reveal of how the White Walkers were created, I am now leaning toward the theory that the writers are trying to get us to root for the coming winter and all it will bring to their world of irredeemable characters. I certainly feel much less emotionally invested in these currently irredeemable characters and would not be overly upset if the Night King achieves a sweeping victory.. okay I’ll be honest, I am now actively rooting for that.
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