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Checking In With Game of Thrones, Season 7: Got Sexism?

It’s the end of another season of Game of Thrones, the penultimate season, in fact! And while TMS made the conscious decision not to regularly promote the show over two years ago, we have checked in since then to see how the show has progressed in terms of the concerns we had around its female characters and sexual assault. So, how are the women of the Seven Kingdoms faring these days? Let’s have a look. **SPOILERS GALORE: Do not read if you’re not caught up.**

[NOTE: I have never read the books. I only watch the show. So my opinions are strictly based on the HBO show]

Overall, the past two seasons of Game of Thrones have been much kinder to the women in the story (if anything can be said to be “kind” on this show) than they have been in seasons past. Mostly because the first five seasons did such a good job of brutalizing the hell out of them that they all, in one way or another, snapped and arrived at a place where they each felt compelled to rise up and take power.

However, by the end of last night’s Season 7 finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” I was left with the sinking feeling that these two seasons have been nothing but a brief reprieve for women in the Seven Kingdoms. Then again, with a zombie dragon on its way to torch everyone with blue fire breath (ice breath? What is that?), things aren’t looking great for anyone.

THIS IS NOT MY OTP.

I know that there are plenty of Jon/Dany shippers out there who were thrilled by the fact that Daenerys finally had sex with her nephew last night. By “her nephew,” I of course mean King of the North Jon Snow.

Eeew.

I, on the other hand, was disappointed, but the incest was the least of my concerns. (After all, I’ve been okay with Jamie/Cersei for this long) What bothered me is that, while some fans “saw a relationship coming” (and one has certainly been at least hinted at in the books), all I saw were two people who were really wary of each other at first, then came to respect each other as fellow leaders.

And, not to disparage the performances of Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke at all, because I enjoy them both, but if there was supposed to be romantic chemistry between them before last night’s finale, I never felt it AT ALL. So, Jon showing up at Daenerys’ door at the end of the episode and them getting down to dirty biddness seemed to come out of left field.

That it was juxtaposed with Bran telling Sam that Jon is actually a dude named Aegon Targaryen (and also Daenerys Targaryen’s nephew), made it worse, despite the fact that viewers have known this information for quite some time.

Yes, the incest is totally squick, but what made this really annoying for me, especially with the information being hammered home in this way by Jon and Dany getting it on, is that after having become totally invested in Daenerys’ claim to the Iron Throne, something she’s basically gone to hell and back to claim, it’s looking really likely that she may be reduced to a vessel for a future heir as Jon is put in a position to claim the throne himself.

There was an awful lot of pointed talk in the past couple of episodes about how Daenerys won’t or can’t ever have children, but now it seems that Jon will be challenging that. I have been #TeamDany for quite some time, so I’d hate to see her dismissed in favor of some kind of magical pregnancy or something.

My only hope is that, even if things start to look like they’re going to turn that way, that Jon doesn’t take the throne. Before knowing he had a claim, he believed in Dany and genuinely pledged himself to her. His stepping aside and giving her her place on the Iron Throne wouldn’t feel like he was “handing” her anything, because the only thing that will have changed will be knowledge of his parentage.

But yeah, Dany’s progress and growth looks like it’s going to take a sharp downhill turn, and I don’t like it.

SISTERS. A CASTLE IN ICE. HEY, IT’S LIKE FROZEN!

One of the major problems fans have had this season has been in the wonky relationship between Sansa, who is now The Lady of Winterfell in Jon’s absence, and a newly-returned Arya, who is no one (but also a competent murderer). Now, these two have never had the closest relationship. Sansa has always been more comfortable with the life of a lady, while Arya’s always wanted a different life, one that involves swords and possibly maybe even poking holes in people with them.

With both of them so changed after the events of previous seasons, what with Sansa being constantly traded and raped and Arya being abused by an assassin training school after surviving a rough life on the road, it’s understandable that their relationship would be especially strained being reunited after such a long time. They are essentially two different peoplewomen now, when they were merely girls before.

However, many fans saw Arya’s behavior toward Sansa, which often bordered on the psychotic, as too far-fetched. That down beneath it all, they’re sisters, and for Arya to come home and suddenly want to kill Sansa, or Sansa suddenly believing her “adviser” Littlefinger’s insinuations about Arya, when Sansa’s been wisely wary of him all this time, was bad writing.

Even before last night’s finale, I didn’t have trouble with the sister relationship, or how it was presented. Not everyone is super-close with their sister, and it makes sense that the years apart (and their harsh experiences) would strain their relationship further. They each watched their father die and could do nothing to stop it. It makes sense that their helplessness would make them defensive and lash out at each other for closure on their family pain.

That realistic depiction of their sisterly relationship, coupled with the fact that Arya could’ve killed Sansa when Sansa found her bag-o-faces, or at any other time, but didn’t, made me feel that there was more to their behavior than mere sibling rivalry. Since Arya’s return to Winterfell, she was keeping a close eye on Littlefinger, following him in the shadows and not trusting him for a second.

It briefly looked as though Littlefinger was successfully playing the sisters against each other, “allowing” Arya to find the letter Sansa wrote to Rob years ago about supporting Joffrey as king, and “planting suspicions” in Sansa’s head about Arya’s murderous motivations. Now, we know that the sisters were actually setting him up and, with the help of Bran filling in the blanks with his see-all, Three-Eyed Raven powers, were able to bring him to justice, giving GoT fans the most satisfying character death since Ramsay’s.

I especially love the fact that, in charging him, Sansa brought up the fact that Littlefinger had pit their mother against her own sister, and then murdered their aunt by pushing her through the moon door. As I heard that, I thought about all the other ways in which he’s not only betrayed the Stark family at every turn, but the fact that he was a brothel owner who, while he never abused the prostitutes who worked for him physically, he certainly did mentally and emotionally, and adhered to the idea that “the customer is always right” far too rigidly.

Oh, and then there was the fact that he loved both Catelyn Stark and her daughter Sansa really, really creepily and inappropriately.

He just really had problems with women. And these two Stark women, each powerful in their own way, had a problem with him, too. So they executed him in a way truly befitting a heartless schemer. As this really great piece over at Vox puts it, Sansa has “never seemed more queenly than when she sat before the lords of the North and meted out justice; Arya never more knightly than when she carried out the execution, killing not for herself but for her family.”

CERSEI HAS RUN OUT OF FUCKS TO GIVE ABOUT LITERALLY ANYTHING.

Most people who give any fucks at all would probably stop plans for war when faced with the likelihood of zombie hoards attacking with a zombie dragon. Not Cersei Lannister! When faced with zombie hoards, Cersei Lannister doubles-down on her plans to rule Westeros, because she has zero fucks left. She has run out. Somewhere in her big-ass castle, there is an empty box of fucks that someone forgot to throw away.

Joking aside, at this point, although she says things to the contrary, she doesn’t even care all that much about her family at this point. Despite the “you and me against the world” thing she had going on with her brother/lover Jamie, when push came to shove, his seeming lack of loyalty overrode any feeling she had for him and, while she didn’t have the Mountain kill him, she was this close to doing so, and as he left, she seemed to be totally okay with that.

Touch her belly though she has, she doesn’t even actually seem to care that zombie hoards wouldn’t be too great for her future child. While she cites the child as the reason why she no longer needs Jamie, every single one of her decisions has been bad for her baby, and she doesn’t really seem to care. In fact, she purposely used her pregnancy, doing the stomach-touch thing, to convince Tyrion of her sincerity when she pledged her forces to fight the whitewalkers.

At first, as I watched this season, I thought it sad that the woman who is the most ambitious, the least motherly, and the least bound to romantic feeling is also the woman who is doing the most terrible things. However, by the end of this season, I see that she stands in really nice contrast to Arya.

Both Arya and Cersei could give two craps about being motherly; they each have grand ambitions, and they each have an appreciation for a very stereotypically masculine kind of power. However, there is more balance in Arya. She is capable of carrying all that inside her while also maintaining a certain ability to care for others, being kind if not exactly nurturing. Cersei is an example of a powerful woman off the rails. A cautionary tale: this is what happens without balance in your life. You become a Cersei Lannister.

SO…ABOUT YARA AND ELLARIA…

Pro: great make-out/almost sex scene between two queer female characters

Con: it’s cut short, and happens just before shit hits the fan and the women are taken away in chains. *sigh*

While Yara and Daenerys is actually my OTP:

I loved how Yara and Ellaria totally just went for it on the boat, Theon in the room or no Theon in the room. That is, of course, until Euron Greyjoy finds them, burns their fleet, and captures the women, one to bring to Cersei, the other to hold onto himself.

So, Ellaria Sand is essentially watching her daughter, who was killed with poisoned lipstick by Cersei, literally rot in a jail cell right now until there is nothing left and will then be killed herself. And Yara is … somewhere. We haven’t seen her since the ladies were brought to King’s Landing, and as of last night’s episode, we’ve been told that she’s still alive, but that Euron would kill her if given a chance.

So, not only has Yara been used as queer-bait this season, but now she’s being used to further Theon’s journey, allowing Theon to fight the Ironborn for her, allowing him to rescue her. This is, of course, after he didn’t save her from her uncle the first time. And this is of course after he stood by helplessly watching Sansa be raped by Ramsay, which put all of the focus on him in that scene, then allowed him to help “save” her from Ramsay later (while also saving himself).

I actually think Theon is a fascinating character, and I appreciate the fact that after everything Ramsay put him through as “Reek,” that he wouldn’t just “get over it.” He’s a man suffering from PTSD, and so when people on the show see “coward,” I see dude suffering after abuse, and I see how portrayal of this can be hugely important.

Now, if only the portrayal of the aftermath of female abuse were as nuanced. If only his recovery didn’t constantly require female sacrifice in order for him to “prove himself.” The women of Westeros are constantly beaten and raped and manage to find a way to take power without needing men to be sacrifices (they’ll kill men on their own, sure, but men are never a “quest” or a “goal” for them). They are never allowed grief or trauma. Instead, they have all gone stoic in order to survive, which would be admirable if it weren’t every. Single. Woman. On this show doing it.

Have one woman respond that way, it seems like a choice. Have every woman respond that way, and it just seems like you don’t know how to write women. Or any humans, for that matter.

Granted, this is basically how it works in real life: the double-standard of women going through hardships being expected to get over it, suck it up, and push through if they expect to get anywhere, whereas men have the luxury of suffering, of being heroes in a narrative that suggests they’ll win a beautiful woman in the end, whether romantically or not. Women get the flu, and are still expected to get dinner on the table. Men get a cold, and they call out sick from life. Still, I wish the writers on Game of Thrones would’ve chosen different.

Yara and Ellaria are/were amazing characters whose potential has been squandered.

So, has the treatment of women on Game of Thrones gotten better? In some ways, yes. There are now two queens duking it out for all the Seven Kingdoms. Winterfell now has a woman at its head, and a woman at her side supporting her. And there hasn’t been a sexual assault this season! (Thank God for small favors!)

But there’s also the fact that, once again, queer women were thrown under the bus in order for all this to happen. There’s the fact that Dany’s leadership is being undermined via romance and potential baby. There’s the fact that Cersei has not only stopped being a woman, but has basically stopped being a person.

There may not have been as much gratuitous nudity or sexual assault this season, but sexism is embedded into the DNA of the show. Hell, it’s embedded into the DNA of the source material. I don’t know that it can ever not be sexist in some way or other. But then again, so is the world.

I’ve never stopped watching Game of Thrones, but I certainly don’t do so for “escape.” I do so, because it reminds me to be ever-vigilant of those who would subjugate women for their own ends.

(image: screencap/HBO)

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