Game of Thrones Rant, Part 2: The Dance of Dragons edition

Shireen_Baratheon_Season_4_profile

“Game of Thrones,” what am I going to do with you?

SPOILERS!!!!!!

The last two episodes have had some of the best scenes in the show’s history. In last week’s “Hardhome,” Jon Snow and the Wildlings battle the White Walkers. It had some of the show’s coolest imagery—the four White Walker horsemen on the mountain, mirroring the four horsemen of the apocalypse, not to mention the Night’s King’s badass ‘bring it’ gesture when he resurrects the dead Wildlings as White Walkers.

And then there was Dany’s battle with the Sons of the Harpy in the fighting pits. Pretty much everything that happened from the point the Harpies showed up onward was perfect, but I didn’t think it would equal or potentially top last week’s Hardhome battle…until Drogon, Dany’s long-missing dragon, showed up. The final shot of Dany climbing onto Drogon’s back and taking off, with Tyrion and the others staring in awe, is going to go down as one of the most memorable images in the show’s history.

It’s not often that a show can have two of its best endings in its run two weeks in a row.

But before we got to see Dany fly off into the sunset with her dragon, we had to watch Stannis Baratheon burn his own daughter at the stake. Shireen has always been a memorable supporting character, the one thing that humanized the stiff, uncompromising Stannis. (Also, she’s still alive in the books, though in fairness, as the show is beginning to pass the timeline of George R.R. Martin’s novels we’re probably going to be seeing more and more of that.)

I’m not sure how I feel about it. The scene is horrifying, and it’s meant to be horrifying. That horror is not mitigated or downplayed, with even Stannis’s crazy wife Selyse begging for mercy. It also highlights just how unsuitable Stannis would be for kingship, in a season where he’s actually started to look like a reasonable contender. King Tommen is too young, too green, and too bendable to everyone else’s will. Dany has spent the season imploding in Meereen. And every other contender is dead. I won’t say Stannis was starting to look good, exactly, because Stannis always struck me as a drip. But with his firm command of his people, he was starting to look like a more seasoned, capable leader than Dany or Tommen. But this episode proves that he’s too much under the thumb of Melisandre—not to mention too selfish and cruel—to be an effective ruler.

But the problem is, I just don’t buy it. Shireen is the one character on the show that he’s ever shown any affection toward. He’s continually protected her from his wife’s cruelty, and just a few weeks ago refused to allow Melisandre to sacrifice her. The loss of their supplies at the hands of Ramsay Bolton was a significant one, and Stannis’s rationale in sacrificing Shireen is that it will save all his men—and he’s obviously torn up about it. That said, if he would just give up his claim to the throne, he wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked by the Boltons in the night. Furthermore, does he really think that burning his own child at the stake is going to endear his men to him?

Stannis may be a drip, and he may be a zealot, but nothing up until this point has shown me that he’s far enough gone to sacrifice his own child.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about this one yet. But at least I got a badass dragon flight as a consolation prize.

Why is “Game of Thrones” So Rapey?

Sansa

“Game of Thrones,” why do you have to be so rapey?

Way back in season 1, we had Daenerys and Khal Drogo. After Dany is forced into marriage with Drogo by her throne-seeking elder brother, Viserys, Dany and Drogo have a troubling first night together.

But hey, it’s okay, because those savages just don’t know any better. (Don’t even get me started on the racist implications of Dany’s plotlines throughout the series.) Once Dany and Drogo learn to communicate, and Dany shows Drogo the fine art of having sex face-to-face, they fall in love. Awww. Not. I thought we had gotten over this Luke and Laura-esque nonsense back in the 1980s, but I guess I was wrong.

Fast forward to season 4. Cersei Lannister has finally reunited with her lover/twin brother, Jaime, after years of separation. But Jaime has changed. The show had spent the previous two seasons doing something I thought impossible: redeeming him, a character who had been primarily been known as the man who pushed Bran Stark out a window back in episode 1. He had also been physically mutilated, his sword hand having been cut off by his captors. Cersei has been through a lot, too: war, battles, her daughter being sent to Dorne, and her eldest son’s death. When Jaime returns, we thought it would be all happy happy, joy joy reunion. But Cersei rejects him. Then this happens.

The worst of it is that afterwards, we’re still expected to root for Jaime. The very next episode, he gifts Brienne of Tarth his sword and armor and releases her to go find the now-missing Sansa Stark. She names the sword “Oathkeeper.” So much emotion in those final looks between the two of them. If only things were different. If only Jamie could have lived happily ever after with Brienne. It’s not his fault he was a Lannister, and Cersei is, as he said, a hateful woman. Nothing is his fault. Poor Jaime.

SPOILERS for the last several episodes.

Fast forward again, this time to last week. Sansa Stark has married Ramsay Bolton—the son of the man who killed her mother and brother. Viewers of the show already know Ramsay is a sadist; we’ve been shown this over and over again since season 3, when Ramsay castrates Theon Greyjoy and send his genitalia back to his family. So yeah, no redeeming qualities there.

But silly me, I thought, maybe—maybe—we could expect something different. Since season 1, Sansa has been a largely passive character. But in the latter half of season 4 and the beginning of season 5, we got to see a different side to Sansa. She’s finally beginning to realize the power she has, and how she can use that to manipulate people. Her decision to marry into the family of her worst enemy was a calculated one. She wanted to avenge her mother and brother, and she thought that being back at Winterfell would help her do it. She didn’t know Ramsay was a complete nutjob. To be honest, I was kind of hoping she would kill him before it got to that point.

Not so much.

The worst of it is that Sansa’s rape scene isn’t even about Sansa. No, it’s about Theon—because apparently, he needs to see a girl he grew up with be brutally raped right in front of him in order to break Ramsay’s thrall over him. But even that doesn’t work correctly: in this week’s episode, when Sansa—now back to being the damsel in distress—asks Theon to help her get a message to her family’s supporters, Theon betrays her to Ramsay.

Awesome.

As if that wasn’t enough, we have enough near-rape scene this week, when Gilly is attacked at the Wall by two men of the Night’s Watch, and she’s rescued by Sam. Weren’t the Night’s Watchmen supposed to take vows of celibacy? Is there any man in the universe of “Game of Thrones” who doesn’t think he should have free, unrestricted access to women’s bodies?

Well…there is Sam, the chubby Night’s Watchman who’s been protecting Gilly and her baby for the last couple of seasons. So what does Gilly do after Sam rescues her again? She has sex with him for the first time. Naturally. Because that’s totally what I would do right after I was almost raped. Right.

Science fiction and fantasy have a bad habit of raping its female characters. It’s often used either to help a character “power up,” as in Dany’s story: her marriage to Drogo is the first step in becoming the Mother of Dragons and fighting for the Iron Throne. It can also be used, as sci-fi/fantasy author Seanan McGuire puts it, to “put cocky heroines in their place,” which we see in Cersei’s story. But the worst is Sansa. In less than one episode, Sansa goes from being a character with her own distinct point of view to a Woman in a Refrigerator, her trauma being used primarily to serve another, male, character’s storyline.

“Game of Thrones” appeals to me because it has some of the most interesting, complex female characters on television. Although the world is distinctly patriarchal, each of the female characters subverts and manipulates that power structure in some way to gain more agency for herself, and it’s awesome.

But this is also the series for which the term “sexposition” was coined. Violence is a mainstay of the “Game of Thrones” world, but it is only the female characters who are subjected to sexual violence again and again and again—even when these scenes were written as consensual in the books (as Dany’s and Cersei’s both were).

And I have to say, I’m tired. I’m getting to the point where I don’t know if I can, or should, follow this series any longer. I’m invested in these characters and the story, and I want to find out who wins the Iron Throne as much as the next person. But I’m so sick of tuning in week after week just to see yet another female character being raped, and yet another rapist we’re supposed to sympathize with.