10 years of war, scheming, sending ravens, praying to the old gods and the new, we have finally reached the final season of Game of Thrones. There have been countless deaths of names we’ve since forgotten, more rape and violence we wish we could forget, and character development that has made us love some of even the most hateful characters. For feminists, the experience has brought mixed emotions.
Throughout the running of the show, no other aspect of the show has risked its viewership more than the level of violence and sexualisation of women. Prior to his appearance in season 6, actor Ian McShane described Game of Thrones as “only tits and dragons,” but is he wrong? Ask anyone who doesn’t follow the series and they’ll tell you the they watched the first episode and all the sex and violence turned them off the show. Writer and feminist, Meghan Murphy, made it past season one, at least;
“I stopped watching GoT early in the second season, after Joffrey forces one prostitute to beat another unconscious in a horrifically sadistic and gruesome way. I’d already been having a hard time digesting the women’s-bodies-as-wallpaper theme in the show, never mind the sexualized violence, and watching this misogynist man-child force a woman to beat another bloody pushed me over the edge.Just because you like it, doesn’t mean is feminist by Meghan Murphy
The show sometimes does literally jump from a scene with naked women to a scene with dragons. But does that mean we ignore the instances of nuance; the intelligent quips shared between male and female characters; the steady rise of the underdog played out with characters like Sansa Stark -once the captor and sex slave of the brutal, Ramsey Bolton – now the Lady of Winterfell and the “most intelligent person” Arya has ever met?
The creator of the world of Westeros, George RR Martin has not gone without defending his choice to include so much violence against women. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he talks about giving an honest portrayal of medieval life.
“I’m writing about war, which is what almost all epic fantasy is about. But if you’re going to write about war, and you just want to include all the cool battles and heroes killing a lot of orcs and things like that and you don’t portray [sexual violence], then there’s something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today. It’s not a strong testament to the human race, but I don’t think we should pretend it doesn’t exist.”
The creators of the HBO series, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, have also been criticised for adding brutal scene which were not depicted in the book. The scene Meghan Murphy described of young King Geoffrey forcing one prostitute to beat another unconscious was not present in the source material written by George RR Martin. However, there are plenty of events in the book which were decided to be too gruesome/sexual for television. In a Buzzfeed article written in 2013, an argument was made that Weiss and Benioff had added some feminist values where they were non-existent in the books.
There is so much rape in A Song of Ice and Fire. There’s the rape of Dany on her wedding night, who is 13 in the first book; Gregor Clegane is — to use an anachronistic phrase — a serial rapist; rape is constantly mentioned as part of post-war plunder; Jon Snow is surrounded by “rapers” in the Night’s Watch who have been sent to the Wall — and I’m leaving many instances out. I guess it’s realistic in the world Martin has created in which the worst-case scenario is pretty much always what happens? It’s wearing to read, regardless. But if we were to see all of these rapes, say, after a battle, or even to hear about them as often as they come up in the books, Game of Thrones would be an unwatchable nightmare.
9 Ways “Game Of Thrones” Is Actually Feminist by Kate Aurthur
The actresses pictured above, Leslie and Clarke, play two strong female characters which drive fans to defend Martin, Weiss, and Benioff. Rose Leslie’s roll is that of wildling Ygritte, an independent, fierce character born beyond the wall which separates civilised society below the wall from the ‘free folk’ beyond the wall who don’t live by the same patriarchal rules as those below. The free folk live in a truly feminist society, every person is equal – there are no class systems. When Jon Snow and Ygritte form a relationship, it acts as a somewhat comic relief to see how ridiculous some of the things we do and thing simply out of custom are.
There are many more characters in both the books and the TV series who embody female intelligence, strength and power. Young Arya, now the greatest assassin, in Winterfell at least. Mighty Brienne, the female Knight.
“All my life men like you have sneered at me, and all my life I’ve been knocking men like you into the dust.”
— Brienne of Tarth
In the current and final season, the two most powerful people claiming their right to the throne are women; Cersei and Daenerys. Both women started with no power and very little respect from their male counterparts. Cersei, pawned off by her father, was the political wife of a King who didn’t love her, having countless children with other women. Daenerys was also sold as a wife for political gain by her brother and raped by her husband on their wedding night. All of the male characters mentioned are now dead – and these women have risen to power.
George RR Martin has been asked on numerous occasions about how he writes women and in an interview given at a Masterclass in Switzerland, he answers that question.
I don’t write women. I don’t sit down and say OK, now I’m going to write a woman. They are very different from each other. The way Cersei reacts to a situation is very different to how Brienne is going to react. They have different worldviews. They have different beliefs. They have different upbringings that shape them in fundamentally different way. The fact that they have certain genitalia in common should not be the dictating thing in how one writes them. I write individuals.To watch the full interview click here.
He goes on to explain how tries reflect the diversity in the world we live in, ethically, religiously, and with regards to sexuality. “Sometimes successfully, other times not.”
Despite the ample portrayal of feminine strength in the books, there is still reason for certain feminists to feel triggered.
What do you think? Are you an avid fan? Or like many others, do you feel the violence and sexualisation of women makes for a very misogynistic and painful viewing experience?