Another final blog post and another academic year gone. Given that I’m studying abroad, I have twenty-nine days left of my junior year, which is good because I’m not quite ready to be a rising senior. But instead of ruminating on the constant progression of time carrying me inexorably toward graduation, I’ll dedicate my last blog post to everyone’s favorite topic: Game of Thrones.
Let’s rewind to four years ago, when I was an innocent junior in high school. My AP Psychology teacher, Mr. Page, was basically the coolest guy at High School East. Mr. Page loved the book series A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin’s ridiculously involved fantasy epic. Influenced by Mr. Page’s chill intellectualism, I decided to read the book series as well. I was instantly hooked. Sure, the books could use some editing, and the dialogue is plodding, but the world of Westeros is so enticing. However, I began to get a little bored by the fifth book. The plots of each character were stagnating—Daenerys, for god’s sake, get the hell out of Meereen—and I was more than a little turned off by the constant violence and sex (and violent sex).
By the time I finished A Song of Ice and Fire and had convinced by mom to read every book as well, HBO was gearing up for the second season of its wildly popular adaptation, Game of Thrones. My mom and I started watching the show, and we were instantly hooked once again. The show was the perfect medium for the story: it streamlined the overburdened plots and introduced some excellent new dialogue, spoken by phenomenal actors. The production value and scale of the show was awe-inspiring. I still had complaints, particularly regarding the objectification and brutalization of women as a plot device in nearly every episode. But there were so many strong women that I convinced myself it balanced the unnecessarily naked female extras and the excessive number of rape scenes. I held in my criticisms and continued to enjoy.
I confess, I fell into the trap of fans of the book series, which is to act smug when talking to non-readers who loved the show. “Oh, so you love Robb Stark? No, no, that’s very interesting, just wait until you get to a certain part of season three…” But while I enjoyed the novels, I wasn’t too offended when the show diverged from the source material. There were even a few changes that the show made that I felt improved upon the books. My beef wasn’t with the show changing the books, but with the nature of the story itself.
By season five, I felt just as annoyed by the show as I had by the fifth book. Game of Thrones now focused more on plot than on characters. The ever expanding list of locales and storylines made the show hard to follow from an emotional perspective; the writers seemed so caught up in the plot’s epicness that they forgot to personalize it. I was tepid about season five, and then the infamous rape scene occurred.
Sansa Stark has never been my favorite character, but something about seeing her brutalized by the sadist Ramsay Bolton on screen convinced me to finally stop watching. Here were all of my complaints with the books and the show, visualized: A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones have been praised for their gritty, realistic approach to fantasy. How do we know it’s realistic? Because women are constantly demeaned, maimed, objectified, brutalized, raped, and killed. Women are second class citizens in Westeros, as they are in our world. That’s the reality that the viewer and the reader are supposed to accept, and it seems viable because that’s how it is in this world as well.
I demand better from my fantasy. I demand better writing and better execution of story than both the books and the show are offering. But more importantly, I demand a series in which women are more than just plot devices. I know that there are plenty of empowered women in Game of Thrones. Yet Cersei has been publicly slut-shamed, Daenerys has been raped, Sansa has been raped, Arya has been blinded, and on and on and on. Furthermore, the books are written by a man, and the show is primarily written by men; I hate when men get to define violence against women as the way of the world, fictional or not.
For once, I’d like a series that isn’t “realistic” because its women are abused whenever they dare to seek power, or even dare to exist. So I’m done with Game of Thrones because I’m done with abetting the abuse of women on screen by being a passive viewer. Many may disagree, but as Ned Stark knew, we all have to make choices about what we can and can’t accept. For me, supporting Game of Thrones with my viewership unfortunately now falls into the latter category.
Have a great summer, everyone! Whether or not you’re enjoying Game of Thrones, try to get outside instead of only lying on your couch having movie marathons. See you next year, dear readers!