Originally published at Bitch Flicks.
When I wrote about HBO’s Game of Thrones last year, I had no idea that my critique would ignite such a fire storm.
In the 2 years I’ve been blogging, my post “Here There Be Sexism? Game of Thrones and Gender” holds the rank as my blog’s second most commented post. Readers commenting had visceral reactions to my criticizing the TV show, based on the beloved series by George R. R. Martin, and its depiction of gender and its treatment of women.
Now, while I know the TV series is pretty faithful to its source material, I haven’t read the books yet. So I can’t speak to how the books depict the female characters, only the TV show. But should I have to read the books in order to enjoy the show? Nope, I don’t think so. A TV series or film should be able to stand on its own accord. But people keep telling me to wait until season 2 as the books get even better regarding the gender roles.
Last week, HBO aired its trailer for the much-anticipated Season 2. The trailer is narrated by Varys (Conleth Hill):
“Three great men: a king, a priest and a rich man. Between them stands a common sell sword. Each great man bids the sell sword kills the other two. Who lives? Who dies? Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall. A very small man can cast a very large shadow.”
Ugh. A dude…talking about more dudes. Yet another dude-fest.
In the very 1st teaser trailer that premiered in December, narrated by Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), Robert Baratheon’s brother who’s gunning for the Iron Throne, again it’s the voice of a dude we hear.
But Game of Thrones boasts a lot of strong, intelligent, powerful women. Luckily in the trailer, we see and hear my two favorite badass female characters. Caring yet steely Dragon Queen Daenerys Stormborn (Emilia Clarke), whose transformation in Season 1 truly was the best part of the show for me, assertively proclaims:
“I am Daenerys Stormborn and I will take what is mine with fire and blood.”
Gender-bending, spunky, sword-wielder Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), says:
“Anyone can be killed.”
Daenerys and Arya stand out as my fave characters period, regardless of gender.
Aside from them, no other women speak. Although to be fair the only other man who speaks is Golden Globe winner Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister (he’s seriously amazeballs). We see assertive matriarchs Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). But of course there’s a bit of misogyny in the trailer with King Douchbag (er, Joffrey) pointing a crossbow at Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), threatening her life.
Misogyny and sexism tainted Season 1 of Game of Thrones with rape, abuse and objectification. While it pissed some people off, nudity on a show doesn’t really bother me. What did irk me was all the brothel scenes that focused on the male gaze and male pleasure. Aside from Daenerys and Arya, even the strong and powerful female characters are ultimately deferential to the men around them. It implies women’s lives revolve around men. So many films and TV series focus on men and their perspectives with women as secondary characters rarely talking to other women.
Luckily, Season 2 will see an influx of new characters, including lots of female roles. Huzzah! The “Red Priestess” Melisandre of Asshai (Carice van Houten), female warrior (!!!!) Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), noblewoman Lady Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), Ygritte (Rose Leslie), the Ironborn captain (double !!!!) Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) named “Asha” in the novels. Wait, a sorceress, warrior and ship captain?? More women in leadership roles?? Sounds promising!
But with so many new women, why did I only see 1 new female face in the 2nd trailer? Why do the trailers revolve around the men??
Now, I love Game of Thrones. Really, I do. It contains complex characters, compelling plots and political intrigue. But as stellar as the show is (and it truly is), doesn’t mean it’s inoculated from sexism. In fact, my expectations are higher because it’s so good. As I previously wrote:
“Throughout the first season…women are raped, beaten, burned and trafficked. I suppose you could chalk it up to the barbarism of medieval times. And I’m sure many will claim that as the show’s defense…or that the men face just as brutal and severe a life. I also recognize that there’s a difference between displaying sexism because it’s the time period and condoning said sexism.
“But this IS a fantasy, not history, meaning the writers can imagine any world they wish to create. So why imagine a misogynistic one?”
I can’t stress this enough. This is fantasy, people, NOT history. So why create a sexist world rife with misogyny?? Medieval fantasy, even while incorporating accurate historical elements, is not synonymous with history. As Blood Fiend astutely writes at The Book Lantern:
“I want to read more fantasy. Really, I do. But I’m unable to read it when women are constantly oppressed and seen as lesser beings in a world based on fantasy. Writers, you can create a world with any rules you choose. Yet, you continue to write sexist worlds to have your characters overcome the sexism. Can a girl fight monsters without having to deal with sexism? Does every girl have to disguise herself as a boy to fight in a war? This has nothing to do with cultural or social constructs. In your world, you don’t have to have those.”
I might not be so hard on Game of Thrones if misogyny didn’t surface in almost every movie and TV show. In most films and shows, women’s lives revolve around men. Women talk to men and if they happen to talk to another woman, it’s about men. Too many films and shows sexualize women and show women subjugated by men via violence. Even when strong, intelligent, capable women exist (as in Game of Thrones), they are continually depicted as not possessing dominion over their bodies, families and lives.
If writers and directors utilize sexism to provide social commentary, that’s one thing. And not every movie or TV show must convey a profound message. But the media continually relies on and perpetuates sexism. While a fantastic series, Game of Thrones suffers from sexist tropes and would be even stronger without them.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope Season 2 is more of a lady-fest. And it sounds like it might be with the progression of Daenerys’ reign and the addition of so many new female characters. But with rampant sexism inherent in media, including in the 1st season, I’m not going to hold my breath.
Game of Thrones Season 2 airs Sunday, April 1st at 9pm, EST on HBO.