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How Game of Thrones' final season has failed its female characters

Contributed by
May 15, 2019

As beloved as Game of Thrones is, it really knows how to completely whiff the landing. The lack of women in the writers’ room — only two women are credited over a handful of episodes in the entire series, and only one female director out of 19 — appears to be the root of many of the show’s issues, and when said problems are brought to the surface, they are completely unavoidable. The past few episodes of this season might take the Please God Consult Just One Human Woman While You’re Writing cake.

Showrunners and head writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have given us characters who should be strong, complex women, and the strength of the performances and George R.R. Martin’s worldbuilding can almost make us believe they are. However, so many times, these characters feel as though they are being written through the male lens of what "strong" women are imagined to be, rather than a true representation of feminine strength that can only come from the presence of greater diversity in the writers' room.

At the very least, we can continue to depend on Arya Stark, the show's most consistent female character, but it can be argued that she is the one who is actively working to strip herself of her womanhood, and that is an aspect that remains troubling for some. While it made sense for her to reject Gendry’s proposal (get ahold of yourself, young man) and go on a quest to King’s Landing and kill one of the warring, green-eyed queens, and perhaps even for her to decide against doing so, the rest of the main female characters have not fared as well.

Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones

Credit: HBO

Sansa

While Sansa is being set up as the voice of reason, showing the most political acumen of any of the main players, one particular moment was downright painful. During her feast conversation with the Hound in "The Last of the Starks," a reunion that many fans have been waiting for, Clegane mentions that if Sansa had just left King’s Landing with him, she never would have been hurt by men like Ramsay Bolton and Petyr Baelish. Sansa’s response felt like the ultimate male writer misunderstanding of What Makes A Strong Woman: “Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would have stayed a little bird all of my life.”

Now, it’s safe to say that the trauma that Sansa has endured has had an impact on her. No one could have experienced what she has over Game of Thrones’ eight-season run and emerge unscathed. But to credit these abusive men and almost thank them for the horrors they inflicted upon her because they turned her into the steely and competent woman that she is today is beyond the pale. Ask any woman who has been abused — that’s just not how this works.

Sansa has done the work to become the leader that the North deserves, and to have her chalk it up to a lifetime of abuse is horrific. By assuming that the only way for a “silly” girl to grow up into a powerful woman is to have the world beat it out of her, the writers are discrediting the fact that Sansa’s strength is her own, born from overcoming the experiences that life has dealt her, not because of the men who did it.

Everything that occurred in King's Landing proved Sansa right, so we'll see where she ends up in the final round of the game.

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Credit: HBO

Missandei

The horrors done to Missandei are some of the most grievous of the show's crimes. The way that Game of Thrones handles race has been problematic since the start, but to force the only significant woman of color back into chains and then have her be executed to further the character arcs of two white women is an undeniably terrible look.

The part that rankles the most is the fact that her death was ultimately so worthless. Missandei has been one of Dany’s closest allies and advisors for seasons, so it makes sense for Dany to seek vengeance. However, she made it quite clear in the war council that she was probably going to torch King’s Landing anyway. Missandei didn’t need to die to be that catalyst.

Similarly, viewers already know that Cersei is evil and ruthless. We have seen her cruelty displayed again and again. We don’t need her to execute Missandei in front of her queen and her lover to drive this home. Her death seems purely for shock value and does nothing to further her or anyone else’s arc. Sure, all men must die, but not like this.

daenerys-game-of-thrones

Credit: HBO

Daenerys

The theory that Dany will follow in her father’s footsteps has been a favorite of many for pretty much as long as the books have been around, and this season proved those suspicions correct. While I myself have had similar thoughts while watching, her behaviors have been wholly out of character, seemingly only to make this narrative fit. Even as someone who isn’t Dany’s biggest fan, the writers seem determined to make her unhinged and sloppy at every turn.

With her hunger for power, they have her deny Sansa’s sensible advice to regroup out of spite, a decision that costs her Rhaegal and her fleet. While the dynamics of this battle are nonsensical — How did she not see them coming from the sky? Why didn’t she just fly behind them? How did they reload those crossbows that quickly? Aren’t the dragons wildly out of range? — Dany was definitely positioned as a failure prior to this.

The final blow to her character came in "The Bells," which has her make the decision to destroy King's Landing and its inhabitants because ... no one loves her enough? If this season of Game of Thrones is anything it is a testament to the truth that foreshadowing is not the same thing as character development. While there may have been hints of the Targaryen madness in the past, we didn't get to see how Daenerys herself made the leap from "I don't want to be queen of the ashes" to lighting up countless innocents.

To her credit, Emilia Clarke sells the moment, yet the writing all but chalks it up to "b*tches be crazy." Dany has undergone a significant amount of loss just in this short season alone, but one can't help but wonder if a female writer and a few more episodes to allow this turn some room to breathe would have made the shift seem natural instead of merely hitting the beat of a plot point.

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Credit: HBO

Cersei

While Cersei didn’t have a ton of screen time in "The Last of the Starks" (they truly wasted Lena Headey in this final season), the decisions that she made in the final scene didn’t make sense with what we know of her character. Again, it was like the writers were trying to hit plot points but haven’t given the characters enough time to reach the conclusions in ways that make sense.

When Dany and her few remaining Unsullied rolled up to King’s Landing, the Cersei that we know would have torched them on sight. As she showed in the Dragon Pits last season, she has no interest in negotiation. She has climbed to the top of the heap through sheer force of will, and she has no desire to relinquish her ill-gotten gains. Plus, there’s no one Cersei hates more than Tyrion, and she'd never had any intention of listening to him.

After the Battle of the Blackwater, Cersei was ready to poison herself and Tommen rather than potentially bend the knee to Stannis. Where is this Cersei when the Red Keep is finally toppled by Daenerys and Drogon? For the entire course of Game of Thrones, Cersei has consistently held the idea that the men of Westeros will not save her. Not her father, not Robert Baratheon, not even Jaime. She has always done what she had to in order to climb chaos' ladder herself. And yet in her final episode, she sobs in Jaime's arms (despite wanting him dead two episodes before) and begs him to save her. After seven seasons of being the baddest bitch in the game, Cersei goes out a "victim," shoehorned into a storyline that didn't serve the character in any way.

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Credit: HBO

Brienne

After achieving her lifelong dream of becoming a knight, it seemed like something good was actually going to happen for Brienne of Tarth. The consummate warrior, Brienne has fought long and hard, both for the Starks and for her honor. To see her be rewarded for that in the second episode of the season and then survive the Battle of Winterfell was a much-needed salve in a show that often feels like an open wound. However, the second she decided to embrace her more emotional nature, her more traditionally “feminine” side, she was immediately punished.

Brienne and Jaime’s relationship has been a fan favorite for seasons, and the consummation of five seasons of lingering looks and impassioned oaths was the stuff of fanfic dreams. Until it wasn’t. After hearing that Cersei has dealt a terrible blow to Team Targaryen, Jaime leaves the North and heads to King’s Landing, breaking things off with Brienne in a heartbreakingly cruel manner.

It’s unclear how long they had together, because the timeline is unbearably murky, but it is clear that this kind of intimacy was a first for them. Brienne has been denied this kind of love her entire life, and the extent of Jaime’s romantic life began and ended with Cersei. After the brief taste, Brienne is reduced to weeping in her dressing gown, begging Jaime to stay. It makes sense for Brienne to be torn up inside. She has proven many times that despite her often spiky exterior, a soft heart lies beneath, but to make her beg felt like a betrayal. They doubled down on this in the next episode with Jaime pledging his undying love to Cersei, claiming that "nothing else matters," and dying beside her in the rubble.

Brienne of Tarth deserves better than that. All these women all do.

And with only one episode left, I don't think Game of Thrones is going to give them that.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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