Feminism / TV

‘Game of Thrones’ Season 2 Trailer: Will Women Fare Better This Season?


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.

8 thoughts on “‘Game of Thrones’ Season 2 Trailer: Will Women Fare Better This Season?

  1. I think Game of Thrones is sexist. I mean Ned Stark is dead yet Lady Stark lives. Daenerys lives whilst her brother and and husband are dead. Cersei roams free whilst her husband is dead and her brother is imprisoned. Honestly out of ALL the shows you could critique for being sexist, you choose to bash on Game of Thrones? Is the fact that Tyrion is humiliated and imprisoned by Lyssa Arryn not sexist towards men? And the poor stableboy impaled by Ayra, is that not brutal and unnecessary violence towards a playful young male. Of course I don’t believe any of these are true, they’re just tools to give your own argument a bit of perspective.
    A show set in that time era is always going to have brothels. We see both male and female prostitutes walking around Littlefinger’s whorehouse. I just don’t get how in a show with such a plethora of strong, independent women (who I think are great by the way), you still manage to find something to whine about. I know it’s a cliché but honestly, how can anyone win with you?

    • Did you actually read my post? I didn’t “bash” the series at all. In fact, I bestow a great deal of praise on it. As I said, because it’s such a stellar show, my expectations are even higher. I think the series would be even stronger without the sexism and misogyny.

      I agree, ‘Game of Thrones’ contains strong, intelligent, powerful badass female characters. But having strong female characters doesn’t inoculate a show from sexism. Yes, male characters face abuse too. But sexism is all about power. In a patriarchal society, which we live in, men hold systemic control, masculinity is valued, and rape culture normalizes and glorifies violence against women. With female characters objectified for the male gaze (the two sex workers have sex in the brothel for Littlefinger), raped (Daenerys does not consent on her wedding night), beaten, burned (Mirri Maz Duur), deferential to men (Catelyn Stark and Cersei Lannister defer power to their sons), these societal rules have been portrayed (so far) in ‘Game of Thrones.’ And as I said, fantasy is not history.

      Just because I enjoy a show, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement and that it’s beyond critique. But thanks for your condescension (accusing me of “whining”) and man-splaining.

      • You’re clutching at straws here darling. So what you’re saying is that ANY form of violence (mental, physical, sexual) towards women in a series is sexist? You’re just clutching at any example you can find, never mind the fact that men endure far worse physical and mental atrocities during this series.
        I read your previous article about Game of Thrones and you’ve essentially just repeated yourself here haven’t you? It’s a desperate attempt at garnering a bit more controversy, as your last article was so “popular” wasn’t it? Ever wonder why? Because people (male and female alike) are astounded by your bashing (yes you are bashing) of such a perfectly gender balanced series.
        There is absolutely no winning with you, whatever I write you’re just going to snap back with something along the lines of, ‘WELL, MIRRI MAZ DUR WAS BURNED ALIVE, SO IT’S SEXIST AND UNFAIR TO ALL WOMEN.’ You don’t hear people branding Viserys’ brutal death as sexist. Because in a series set in this time era, in this style, there’s going to be violence, and yes, some of that violence is going to be directed at women. That’s just how human nature works.
        I’m not replying to you again, you’re blatantly one of those feminists who stubbornly won’t listen to anything apart from the unreasonable voice in your head which deems anything and everything to be sexist towards women.
        There are plenty of sexist shows out there, but Game of Thrones certainly isn’t one of them. Good day.

      • Nope, again you misconstrue what I say. Just because I don’t agree with every single point you made, doesn’t mean I didn’t listen to your assertions.

        Just because I think sexism plagues Game of Thrones, doesn’t mean I think every TV series/film suffers from it. Mad Men has assloads of sexist behavior yet I find it to be one of the most feminist shows on TV. Gina Carrano got the shit beat out of her in Haywire (which I thought was a really good movie) and I didn’t accuse it of sexism. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (LOVE the films & books) features a violent rape yet I don’t think that film is sexist. The TV series The Killing revolves around a brutally murdered female teenager and again, no sexism.

        It’s not just that violence against women occurs in Game of Thrones. As I wrote in the comments of my other post (which I didn’t want to assume you had read), while male characters exist along a spectrum between privileged and cruel treatment and everything in between, all of the female characters are treated poorly or at best less well than the men simply because of their gender.

        But clearly you don’t want to listen to a viewpoint that differs from your own.

      • You must have missed the Mormonts, who are part of Robb’s banners. Shown rather briefly, they’re women, and fighting — and seemingly not treated the worse for it.

        Sister, keep on prickling. This show deserves this level of analysis (and I’d have missed the “mostly men” aspect of the trailers without your insight).
        (also, Cersei deferring to her son? *snicker* Cersei caught offguard, and unable to do anything that wouldn’t undermine her own Authority, as much as her son’s).

        You’re going to love the Queen of Thorns. 😉

  2. If you are hoping for more female dominance, you are going to hope in vain. I just finished reading the entire series so far, and at the end, Dany is still impotent and hemmed in by the “need” for men to help her win back her crown. Cersei (who has morphed into the typical strong female turned stupid by her frustration at being born a leader in a woman’s body) has been forced to walk naked through Kings Landing as punishment for daring to be the regent. Catelyn is insane. Arya is a borderline sociopath, and Brienne and Sansa (who this season we will see systematically abused) are still hampered somewhat by their fairy tale notions.

    And that’s just the “main” female characters.

    I love fantasy. I like this series (Martin desperately needs a better editor though), but I wonder too why we have to base made up existence on our own gender effed up history. Just because the series is based on the middle ages, it has to include the sexism too?

    It bothers me as well that the “bad boys” become the “heroes”. The Lannister boys are the typical bad men with potential to be good men. Potential. We are being fed the old saw of looking beyond actions to see a man’s “potential”. Actual decent men (few in this series) are fatally blinded by their “honour”. Ned Stark. Robb Stark. Jon Snow.

    I didn’t read the comment section on your earlier post but I can imagine what they said and am not surprised that the post inspired rebuke. Not that you weren’t correct but we don’t like to acknowledge sexism even when we can see it. And often, we can’t see it. It’s too much a part of what passes for the norm.

  3. (This is fantasy, people, NOT history. So why create a sexist world rife with misogyny??)

    Most fantasy novels would probably be in your liking, since they include very little if any rape. Well, that’s not exactly true. Basically you have to take into account the fantasy genre. There’s Tolkien, the beginning. Then you have a few Tolkien rip-offs in the 70s and 80s. Then Robert Jordan came along in the early 90s and singlehandedly revitalized the genre with the Wheel of Time, with loads of powerful women whose usual punishment for their failures is imprisonment by other women (there are a few who are raped by men and that can be read as sexist since that tends to only happen to the evil women). Then with the success of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire, you had a boon in more grimmer and grittier fantasy far like Wintersbirth and The Blade Itself. But you also have The Name of the Wind and Sanderson’s work revitalizing the less grim, just as epic fantasy Jordan pioneered.

    The Wheel of Time for instance, a novel I recommend all new fans of GRRM to read if they wanted more fantasy and magic and less grittiness. The late author wrote a blurb in A Game of Thrones. It is as good as Game of Thrones in my view, though exchanging grittiness for more of a fantastical fare. (It’s not hobbits and elves though, but you do have book loving Ogier)

    The thing is, as a writer I think GRRM is the stronger author. But RJ created a world I loved, a world I wanted to live in, a world filled with honorable characters who I would love to fight along with (for the most part), a world filled with strong women who ruled the most powerful countries and societies. A Game of Thrones was my first real epic fantasy book after getting interested in the genre after Harry Potter, and while it kept me glued to the pages, I simply couldn’t love it. Read The Eye of the World afterwards, and became addicted.

    So, I recognize A Song of Ice and Fire is ‘better’ when it comes to writing, characterization, and even world building, but I love The Wheel of Time more (and it’s not bad with any of those things).

    So, finally back to my point, yes, with a fantasy world you can create any one you want to, including ones where things like rape either don’t exist or are rare. But in epic fantasy, those worlds are more the historical norm than GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire, so your point falls flat. The reason why A Song of Ice and FIre became so popular is because it was really the first to write such a realistic and grim world, like our medieval past, where things like rape and horrible deaths are the norm. And for that it deserves praises.

    Lastly, my recommendations if you want to read some good epic fantasies-

    Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
    The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
    Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

  4. Watching the show made me feel a little sick and quite a bit anxious as a woman. Its just fantasy and just TV, right – but the fact that people love the series bothers me… am I too sensitive or is everyone else just more hip?

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