"...In a show that gave us so many strong female characters (before it broke them down that is) the Iron Throne falls to someone who has a questionable relation with reality, but who is (and that is crucial!) male! And we can’t say that we haven’t been warned. Despite all those so-called “woke” plot-lines with female badasses, this story was above all, about male authority..."
(Note: For those of you who were apparently living under a rock, Game of Thrones (GoT), is a medieval-like fantasy epic, an HBO show adopted from George R.R. Martin's best-selling book series "A Song of Ice and Fire" and by now a global phenomenon and in many respects, a cultural event: more than 31 million copies of the books have been sold so far, which have been translated into more than 25 different languages, while The HBO series is broadcast in more than 150 countries. This is a review - of sorts - of the entire series, and specifically a review of the 8th and final season, which aired on the 19th of May 2019)
The first time I’ve stopped watching Game of Thrones was the 9th episode of the first season, the moment when Ned Stark’s head was chopped off, while his two daughters were watching! It was not merely a brutal scene, but it was also a pretty big indicator that GoT was keen on subverting the traditional narrative of TV shows, and that it was choosing to do it in a manner that was frankly deeply upsetting! Ned Stark was killed off mercilessly despite of the fact that he was the moral compass of the entire show! A just and honourable man, in a place that was populated by dishonest degenerates, and vicious crooks. And here they were, triumphing over him! Here he was, being killed, not simply because he was a decent man, but because he was naive enough (like most decent individuals) to believe in the decency of others! Which made his death, doubly disturbing! Plus he was the central character of the show up until that point! Not to mention, played by Sean Beanwho happened to be the biggest star in the cast! This was Boromir for God’s sake! Sure, he exited from Lord of the Ringsprematurely as well, and he does tend to die in most of his other movies too, but still! His decapitation (and the graphic manner in which it was done) indicated that this was a show that was concerned with shocking us with violence, as well as with unexpected twists, and that the creators of the show had no qualms about getting rid of any character at any given point of their storyline. Then the whole arranged and abusive marriage of Drogo and Daenerys,that was sold to us as a great love story in the end, the incest business between the twins, the endless brothel scenes with Tyrion, and then to top it all up, that horrible decapitation scene were too much! I for one, was out!
As much as I was interested to see how it would all turn out, how Jon Snowwould survive as an outcast after “he took The Black”,or how little Aryawould fare on her own (I’m always rooting for the underdogs after all), I felt that there was something sick hidden beneath the glossy surface, the addictively well-crafted plot and the superb cinematography. This might have been a great story, but watching it, just took a lot out of me! And I wasn’t the only one who felt like that!
Then a couple of years after that, I was asked to write a review of the 3rd season for a feminist publication. I was reluctant but I thought I would take “one for the team”. So I took a deep breath and dived back in. I kept my eye on the Internet buzz the show was causing, and knew that things have escalated violence-wise. I was planning to see a few key episodes, write my piece and be done with it. And then I happened upon the Brienne / Jaime storyline, and I was hooked again – Goddammit! Brienne occupied to my eyes, the same space Ned Stark once did: she was a courageous and fiercely loyal individual, in a world of horrible and disgusting human beings. This time, I wasn’t going to be caught off guard however. So before watching each episode, I would go online and check out what fresh horrors it would contain, so that I would avoid watching that bit (or watch from behind my fingers like a five-year old). And yet, despite having been warned about the Red Wedding, it still caught me off guard. I felt sick and infuriated with myself for going against my better judgement, and being lured back in. It wasn’t enough that half the leading cast was being killed off. It had to be done in that manner! The pregnant’ s woman’ s death was particularly disturbing, not to mention apparently worse on TV than in the books. Which means someone working on the show read that a pregnant woman was to be killed and said: “No, that won’t do! That is not enough, she can’t just be stabbed and die. Her belly must be pierced repeatedly with a sword first!” This was obviously a sick, mean-spirited show! That was the second time I’ve stopped watching it.
The show still existed in the periphery of my vision so to speak, as reviews of it, cast interviews and news stories about it, appeared everywhere (online, on social media, in magazines, chat shows, or friends’s conversations who wouldn’t shut up about it) Shocking details kept coming from everywhere (Jon Snow is DEAD?! WHAT the…? Oh, he is NOT? Resurrected you said? Wow! Arya did what? (Jeez!) Melisandre is how old? Little Bran is what now? Daenerys and Jon Snow are a couple?! And she is his what?) I was tempted, but I kept my course. I didn’t return properly to it, though I would sporadically watch random episodes (one or two, from most remaining seasons, and always after I’ve “researched” where the disturbing bits were, (the raping, the abuse, the slashing of throats and the disgusting rest of it), so that I would skip them. Not always successfully. You can’t always time when you close your eyes…. A tone of nauseating atrocities, sexual violence and pointless, cruel plot twists, still came to my attention... Even when I mostly listened to the show while I was painting(which is when I do all my major TV watching anyway rather than properly sit and watch), a ton of things would still come to my attention and upset me. A TV show shouldn’t cause so much dread, or require that much mental preparation before watching it, and it shouldn’t make you sick to your stomach, once you’ve watch it, surely!
And then the final season came, and the anticipation and the buzz about it being fantastic and all that. Who would sit on that bloody throne? Who was the Night King? Who would die? Who would survive? Would Brianne and Jaime get it on?What would happen to the rest of them? So, there I was again, watching from behind my fingers, more listening than watching, bracing myself for the worst. And Game of Thrones stayed true to its reputation: it did give us the worst!
This is, at its heart, as Ian McShane has put it (and bless him for saying it!) a show that is basically about "tits and dragons". All the rest, (the complex plot lines that are taking a cue from Medieval European history; the characters we are rooting for; the occasional witty dialogue (especially Tyrion’s sarcastic observationsand Lady Olenna’s leathal oneliners - a magnificent Diana Rigg who is written like she is channelling Kathrine Hepburn in “The Lion In Winter”); then moments like that “Chaos is a Ladder”exchange between those masters of political intrigue Little FingerandVarys,which was admittedly an impressive piece of writing; and as twists go, that bit with Hodor’s death, in which we get to see from where he got his name, (one of the most heartbreaking moment of the entire series, but also a pretty damn clever one as well!); the stunning locations; the spectacular Art direction that created entire worlds from scratch; the cinematography; the costume designs which are works of Art in themselves; the attention to detail; the superb cast; or the cinematic quality of the whole production) are secondary. Outstanding (sure!) but secondary! Or at least means to a goal that is anything but noble! What the show is really about in the end, is violence, gore, rapes, naked women and above all, misogyny. Which might mean that what we have in GoT is a case of wasted potential. And the last couple of episodes of the finale season, proved it!
This has been a pretty controversial ride, full of wonderful moments and a ton of disgusting ones as well! The show takes inspiration from trusted sources (ancient Roman as well as Medieval history, Celtic mythology, the Goddess tradition, even Homer, and so on – which is why every plot-line seems vaguely familiar. “Taking the Black” is of course referencing monastic life, (specifically in the traditions of the “Avaton”, especially in the Greek Orthodox Church, specifically at Athos - a secluded and forbidden to women entire community of monks), the unsullied are referencing the Janisaries, a highly disciplined infantry of the Ottoman Empire, which consisted of slave soldiers who were taken from their homes as kids and trained at war, when their lands were occupied; the character of Varys, is referencing eunuchs in the Ming Dynasty in China who served at the Court, or possibly the ones in the Ottoman courts and harems; Lady Olenna is basically Eleanor of Aquitaine, the vows taken at GoT weddings (that refer to the female trinity of Maiden/ Mother/ Crone) are referencing the Goddess tradition, as well as Greek mythology and the rites of Persephone (Persephone: Daughter / Demeter: Mother / Hecate / Crone); little Shirren being sacrificed by her father, is referencing Homer’s Iliad (Agamemnon sacrificing Iphigeniah to appease the Wind god); the god of Fire may be referencing the Zoroastrian religion; Cercei’s sexualised humiliation and the whole Sparrow arc is basically referencing all woman-hating Patriarchal religions (old and contemporary) and especially the kind of thing that was taking place during the Inquisition; The Wall is referencing the Hadrian Wall build by the Romans; the green fire used in the siege of Blackwater Bay is referencing the “liquid fire” used in the Siege of Constantinople by the Turks; the Red Wedding was probably inspired by the brutal massacre of the “Black Dinner” event of 15th century Scotland; while the sadistic teen king Joffrey was probably based on the British prince, Edward of Lancaster, etc, etc)
The writer mixes it all in a pretty clever and efficient way, that is pretty fascinating for all of us, history geeks. Yet, what stays with you in the end, is the violence and the mean-spiritness of it all: the loathsome villains, the graphic depictions of rape as entertainment, the misogyny, the torture scenes, the underlying theme of incest, the use of women’s naked bodies as fan-bait, the beheadings, the throats that are being slitted (and they must have been hundreds of them), the mutilated corpses. And it’s Theon being tortured and castrated; it’s Sansa being raped; (or Cerseibeing raped; or Daenerys being raped… etc etc..); it’s Arya turning basically into a serial killer, making pies made from her enemies’s body parts with the toes sticking out; it’s Daenerys eating a horse’s raw heart to ensure that the baby in her belly would be (what else?) a son; it’s Ned Stark’s headless body; it’s a ten year old boy (TEN year old!) breastfeeding his mum standing up; it’s Sansa’s dog being choked by her father because a drunken king said so; it’s the sadistic teen king Joffrey torturing and killing - in the most shocking of ways – whores (good luck getting THAT out of your mind…); it’s that Ramsay doing all those other sadistic things and then being mauled by his dogs; and it is also the skinning of (so many, MANY!) animals too, (for someone who has trouble watching people cut cooked meat in their plate - let alone eating it - imagine what watching Tywin Lannister skinning an entire animal, did to me even when seen from behind my fingers (I will never look at the actor Charles Dance in the same way again, let me tell you); and it’s The Mountain gouging someone’s eyes with his fingers and splitting their skull in half; It’s Ellaria Sand forced to witness her daughter’s death and then to live the rest of her life watching her corpse rot in front of her eyes in her cell; it’s the whole Red Wedding, in which half the leading cast was massacred; and it’s innocent peasants being killed randomly just because they are “too weak to survive”; it’s adorable little Shirren (one of my favourite characters of the show) being sacrificed (burned to death at the stake!) by her own father to appease the god of whateverfuck and make him a king… And in the final season (episode 5), it’s the little girl and her mother, being burned to death, after we were fooled to identify with them, and actually think they could survive! All of which prompt us to shout to our TV (and not for the first time) while addressing the writer of the book, the directors, the producers, the whole bunch of them (and occasionally even the actors who could stand being part of such horrific things):WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU???!!! What kind of mind thinks of such things?!
This is most definitely not about “historical accuracy” about the “realities of war”, as the writer was quoted to say when asked to explain his reasons for using so much violence and so many rapes as plot-devices. This is about voyeurism. About getting pleasure from writing, and then watching especially women being physically and mentally brutalised and humiliated. And by the way with which Daenerys and Brianne’s storylines end in the finale season, it is also about finding sick pleasure in vilifying, or else humiliating and disempowering strong women.That is why we had to see Daenerys turn from the “breaker of chains”, the woman who freed all those slaves, the one who have been working towards the goal of creating a world without tyrants, into a gruesome villain in the last couple of episode of the series.
In the 5th episode for example, she sentences Varys to death, whom she considers to be her enemy. As much as this was certainly an unnecessary and cruel death, it is obviously also a plot-device used to indicate the beginning of her mental and moral downfall, as the sign that she is turning bad. Interestingly enough, when the male characters are killing off their enemies or condemning them to death for treason, it is seen as justice.Even Jon Snow, executed a number of “traitors”, including that little kid who stabbed him (again, he couldn’t spare them and imprison them instead?) Every single hero has done something atrocious at some point. Even the righteous Ned Stark, executed a guy at the very first episode (not to mention killed with his very hands Sansa’s wolfdog – I’m sorry, I can’t get over that one! Like he couldn’t set it free in the wild instead?) Robb Stark (also one of the good guys) imprisoned his own mother for letting Jamie go! Yet none of these actions were seen as “madness” or signs they were becoming evil. Probably, because they referred to male characters. No matter what any of them did, they were still seen as heroes. Their storyline was not affected by such events! But when Daenerys condemns to death her own enemy, this is seen as a sign of worse things to come. (And worse things did come!)
But then again, it stays true to the spirit of the show to fail female characters and to dehumanise and debase powerful women. So the show built her up for seven and a half seasons as the liberator of slaves, as a courageous and independent spirit who wanted to “break the wheel” and then turn her into a mad pyromaniac / mass murderer who burns an entire city in the finale and plans to enslave the entire world! That’s some fucked up stuff: the fact that the writers, went there, the fact that they needed to degrade her, in this specific manner. Cut her to size so to speak. And it matters! Because she was the only woman who managed to change the odds of her destiny, time and again. Hers was a harrowing journey, which however let her from pain to victory. She turned from basically the sex slave of a barbarian into a queen who commanded entire armies. Her ambition was – sure – unquestionable, but so were her compassion for the downtrodden and the enslaved, and her ability to recognise her mistakes and learn from them.
Of course, it’s hardly suprising. This is after all a show that is more interested in eliciting shock in audiences, in pulling the carpet from underneath our feet rather than building characters that make sense. It first lures you in, with characters you are rooting for, and then once you are invested in them, it either kills them off, or have them act completely against character. And if they are women, well then, there’s got to be some form of comeuppance coming their way: they will either be raped, abased, killed, or turn into villains. Or else into crying little girls. Which was what happened to the mighty Brianne! She went from being an unbeatable, fearless warrior, and a symbol of integrity, dignity and loyalty (in short, a true rarity in a show that is populated by villains and crooks), into a crashed woman begging Jaime (who turns out he was just using her) to stay with her.
What a devastating piece of crap their storyline was! The way we got invested in the Jaime / Briannerelationship, only to see that it was just another pointless dead end. Nothing noble, nothing decent is ever allowed to trump villainy and the baser instincts, in this show after all. We should have known! And yet we