Spoilers ahead. You shall not pass… oops, wrong fantasy.
Sunday night, millions of fans of the HBO Emmy award winning series, Game of Thrones, sat down to witness the long-awaited fate of Westeros. After five relatively and arguably disappointing episodes from weeks prior, fans still had their hopes up for a better ending.
Many were let down. Women included—for good reason.
Since the last episode aired, the internet is scorched by heated opinions from die-hard fans. Many comments accuse the show of misogyny, as it chose a male ruler and killed the most powerful female character.
When you expect a show that has been pretty good at developing strong women to actually crown a woman, you’re pretty livid when it doesn’t happen. If you’re like me—an English major, feminist, and, might I say humbly and hesitantly, “woke” lady—you understand the importance of minority representation in today’s media and pop-culture.
Every good story reveals something about yourself emotionally. This can be done successfully with characters that look like you. Without a character to see yourself in, you can get bored and lost. For so long, women’s arcs in movies and T.V. are under-appreciated. But women found power in Arya Stark’s vigor and braveness, in Brienne’s strength, in Missandei’s intelligence, in Cersei’s recalcitrance, Sansa’s resilience, and Daenerys’s growth. That’s why the initial reaction to the season finale from so many women is sheer disappointment. Why didn’t we get a woman on the throne goddammit??
Game of Thrones season eight is not a place for a woman to find encouragement.
These women came from homes that look similar to what we live in today—a patriarchal society filled with rape, slavery, oppression—and they worked their asses off to change that world into one better suited to the complexity of women. But the result of their work: a council of white men appointing a white boy. It’s no wonder women are initially angry.
Game of Thrones season eight is not a place for a woman to find encouragement. However, in all the claims about the misogynistic tone of the finale, people are forgetting an important fact: the council appointed a disabled king. And I almost forgot, too.
Disabled people are very much underrepresented in the media. The appointment of a disabled man is a great step forward—it tells us that a man does not need physical strength to be a good leader, and also that a man is not weak if he does not live up to the societal standards of male strength.
We’d seen it before, but I think we’ve all forgotten how important it has been—from the Dornish King in season five, in Jaime Lannister when he lost his hand to his captors, and Theon Greyjoy when he was imprisoned, molested, and sadistically mutilated by Ramsay Bolton. To ignore this is a triumph for white feminism, which excludes most other minorities in the fight against patriarchy, sustaining the belief that women’s issues—primarily white women’s issues—are most important.
Plot twist: I actually enjoyed the trajectory of all the characters. I was thoroughly entertained. I was frustrated by how rushed it all was, but mostly enjoyed where everyone landed. Brienne is commander of the Kings Guard, Sansa is the Queen in the North, Arya is off to be the Westerosi Magellan, and Jon is living in the true north as a free man with his cute baby Ghost (still crying about that reunion). And I am happy that Bran ended up with the crown; I think he’d be a great king. However, I am disappointed with the writing that completely disregarded the womens’ chance to use their voices. In the huge rush to get the show over, the biggest disappointment for me was the council of leaders in the dragonpitt and the king’s council in the end which was extremely swayed.
As the council sat in the center, Tyrion Lannister gave a speech before casting his vote for Westeros’s monarch, claiming Bran’s story is the reason his claim to the throne is strongest.
What unites people? Armies? Gold? Flags?—Stories. Theres’ nothing more powerful in the world than a good story. Nothing can stop it. No enemy can defeat it. And who has a better story than Bran the Broken? A boy who fell from a high tower and lived. He knew he’d never walk again, so he learned to fly. He crossed beyond the wall, a crippled boy and became the three eyed raven. He is our memory, the keeper of all our stories.
Tyrion’s opinion that no one has a better story than Bran, is arguably wrong. While Bran, as the Three-Eyed Raven, has Westerosi history behind his eyeballs, he does not have the lived experience of ruling like others. Sansa has experienced the horrors of rape, mutilation, and bondage, and the best training (i.e. Cersei and Littlefinger) in strategy. Bran’s vote was the only one heard. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, the writers and producers of the episode, didn’t even let Sansa assert her claim to the throne.
One argument keeps ringing in my ears like a mosquito: that a show depicting characters, themes, narratives, etcetera, similar to those of Medieval times, is more historically accurate when it crowns a man. George R. R. Martin’s series, A Song of Fire and Ice, from which the show was created, was inspired by European history and the Middle Ages. Martin was fascinated with the palaces, costumes, weapons, kings and queens, monopolies, knights, and wars, and painted them all within a unique storyline that has made us laugh, cry, and throw our remotes at our screens.
However, the show was made in modern day era. Therefore, it still has the potential and the responsibility to include character arcs that echo that of modern day movements; to include the voices of the unheard. What’s more important—historical accuracy or satisfying narrative?
Yes, Sansa Stark did end up Queen in the North by her own accord, but subject positioning tells us that her triumph was not as important as Bran’s. Bran, being a disabled man, is conquering seldom seen territory. Therefore, Sansa and Bran both deserved the crown equally and both deserved a chance to claim it.
As the show winds down to a hopeful, lighthearted tone that alludes to the peace and prosperity of Westeros’s future, King Bran’s council sits down at the table to discuss business. The first to enter, Tyrion Lannister, followed by Ser Bron, Samwell Tarly, Davos Seaworth, Bran, and then Brienne of Tarth. Six intelligent leaders, capable of doing great, good things. Five of which are men.
I love these characters; we’ve been with them for years. We’ve seen their journeys, we’ve watched them struggle. But I’m still confounded with the fact that only one woman presides. It echoes our unjust society today—who has a voice and who doesn’t. Now we’re doomed with the disappointment that the odds are forever swayed.
With every step forward, the show takes another step back. We can’t all win, but women are tired of losing. But a woman not ending up on the throne is not misogyny. Misogyny is when a man doesn’t write in a female character’s chance to speak for herself nor other women.