Game of Thrones hates womenPosted: January 6, 2014
Disclaimer: This post contains spoilers for the first three seasons of Game of Thrones (but not the later books in the series), graphic images and opinions that may upset you if you take personal offense when someone criticises a show you like.
I get emotional when I watch Game of Thrones. Really, I do. After years of failing to convince the majority of my friends and family that a series of (ugh) fantasy novels were awfully good fun, watching that first episode felt like absolution. When you see the imagination of your socially outcast, misunderstood and unhappy 18 year old self celebrated on screen and watched by millions, it’s hard not to well up a little. I like it. It’s a good show. But it has some serious flaws that are making me increasingly ill.
Basically, Game of Thrones hates women. It despises them. I can think of no other reason why it makes the artistic choices it does.
Some context is needed. The show is based on a series of fantasy novels called A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin, the first installment of which was released in 1996 to immediate success and applause. Well, from the fantasy literature crowd anyway. See, fantasy hadn’t really moved on from The Lord of the Rings, and most books lacked the tone of Tolkien’s trilogy. Tolkien was a philologist who produced well-regarded commentary on Beowulf and knew language inside-out, so Lord of the Rings was less “heroes do cool shit in a crazy world” and more “modern mythology”, like the Epic of Gilgamesh or The Odyssey. The fantasy authors who followed Tolkien generally didn’t have the academic background he did and stuck mostly with the “heroes do cool shit in a crazy world” stuff.
A Song of Ice and Fire turned all that around. It’s a filthy, selfish world where the poor are exploited and the upper class drown in their hypocrisy, a society rotten to its core that views the poor as an inconvenience and women as a commodity. There are no heroes, no noble quest. The reader has to figure out who the ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ are. This isn’t such a big deal in itself, but it raised the traditional fantasy from the straight heroic quest to a more complex drama with many shades of grey. Even the honorable Ned Stark is kind of an asshole if you think about it for a while.
George RR Martin’s Westeros is a terrible place that thinks it’s the best of all possible worlds. Bad things happen. Really bad things. There are some true monsters. And there’s a fair dose of sex in there, too. But it generally avoids being mere trash. There’s historic, narrative and thematic context for most of the sex and violence. Cersei has sex with Jaime, but it’s a power thing: it illustrates how she controls him because she views him as weaker than herself. Tyrion has sex with Shae, but it’s to show how he becomes increasingly attached to a woman he hired to be his prostitute.
So what does all this have to do with Game of Thrones, the big-budget “it’s okay to like fantasy now because the actors are super hot and everyone’s talking about it” television adaptation? Here’s a quick test: what do all these delightful and tasteful images from the show have in common? Try this one.
That’s Sansa Stark, about to be raped by several members of an angry mob.
That’s two women forced to perform by a leering brothel owner while we listen some exposition. Any guesses?
That’s a naked woman on all fours, about to be beaten with a spiked club by another woman who is threatened to do so at the business end of a crossbow. Let’s move on.
That’s a woman hanging by her hands, naked, peppered with crossbow bolts.
Still can’t see the theme? None of these scenes were in the source material. There’s no “Littlefinger tells his backstory to two naked women having fake sex” scene. Joffrey wasn’t a sadistic murderer. Narcissistic and extremely cruel, but not the serial killer from Seven. Sansa wasn’t nearly sexually assaulted in King’s Landing – she disappears in the crowd, and is brought back by Sandor Clegane. It was only on re-reading the series in preparation for finally reading the latest, A Dance With Dragons that I realised just how much gratuitous sex and violence is in the show. The context of the horrible selfish world George RR Martin invented can be communicated far better on screen with some judicious tone-setting than through reams and reams of text, so why does the show pummel you repeatedly with pointless sex and violence? It comes across as incredibly trashy, and I don’t really know what it’s doing there beyond questionable titillation.
But wait! I still haven’t gotten to my favorite part, the part that proves beyond all doubt that the writers of Game of Thrones despise women and take great delight in seeing them degraded, tortured and butchered. Remember this memorable scene?
That’s Talisa, being murdered by being stabbed in the womb repeatedly while she carries her unborn child. It’s also a moment that isn’t present in the books. Why? Because Talisa isn’t in the books. She was written for the show. Robb Stark’s wife in the books is Jeyne Westerling, a pretty girl from a weaker family he met while on the march. You don’t see much of her, but hey, who cares about that when you can have a SUPER HOT ROMANCE with a sexy exotic girl who gets naked onscreen? But here’s the real kicker: Jeyne Westerling wasn’t even at the Red Wedding. She doesn’t carry Robb Stark’s child, and she isn’t killed in a totally tasteful fashion.
- A new character is written into the show to replace another character that doesn’t really do anything.
- She is blessed with a child (after getting her arse out for us to stare at)
- This character is then placed in a situation that the original character wasn’t
- Character and unborn child are slaughtered, thus making the introduction of her as an important character essentially a complete waste of time.
Am I the only person who sees a problem with this? There’s literally no reason for that all to have taken place, except the obvious, which is that Game of Thrones hates women and wants them all to die horribly.
Maybe you’re wondering why all this matters. Who cares if they took baffling liberties with the source material for sexual and violent purposes? Only this: A Song of Ice and Fire was the series that took popular fantasy above its teenage male trappings and gave it a somewhat mature voice. Everyone likes it now because it’s sexy and glossy and popular and mainstream, but it wasn’t before. It was just a book that none of my friends wanted to read because they were afraid it would make them a loser or something. I always thought its popularity would be a great victory for geek culture, a result of a growing awareness that not everything that isn’t on television and billboards or talked about incessantly by your cool friends is necessarily bad. But in the end, it’s a step backwards, because the version of it that got everyone hooked is still kind of trashy and misogynistic and gratuitous.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, women are exploited because that’s the world they live in. In Game of Thrones, they’re exploited because that’s the world we live in.