Spoilers for the show’s finale follow.
I really thought I had said all I had to say about “Game of Thrones,” which concluded on Sunday with a finale that killed off one of the few likable characters left on the show. (Yes, Jon Snow might not ACTUALLY be dead, but Kit Harington’s been pretty emphatic about being gone, so ultimately who cares? RIP your flowing locks and disco-fabulous black-fur cape, bastard of Winterfell. You tried, and you looked good doing it.)
I’ve been recapping the show all season (for another outlet), which has required me to think about and pay attention to it in greater detail than ever before. Often, that’s been viscerally hard to do — never more so than in this season’s penultimate episode, which featured a girl (Shireen Baratheon, played by Kerry Ingram) being burned at the stake on orders from her megalomaniacal father (Stannis Baratheon, played by Stephen Dillane), who looked vaguely guilty while we all gaped in horror and disbelief as a screaming, crying little girl was dragged to a pyre, tied to a stake and had a fire lit underneath her, all the while calling out for her father. I’m sorry to have to even write that sentence, but there you have it.
There was the predictable fan outrage about the killing, which wasn’t in the books. There was also a backlash to that outrage from both critics and from the author himself that focused on how important it is to represent violence against women accurately (and often).
Because, they argue, it happened/is still happening in the real world.
I would never argue against that claim, though I will give a LOT of side-eye to anyone who tries to make the case that “Game of Thrones” is somehow socially conscious because it’s educating people who would otherwise be ignorant about the reality of violence against women. There are zero viewers who are coming to this show with that goal, and zero who are walking away from it newly galvanized to become anti-rape activists because of its relentless portrayal of sexual assault.
But I read a comment yesterday that really set off my bullshit meter and clarified for me why it’s so infuriating for so many viewers to be confronted, over and over, with the glaring difference in treatment of male and female characters — even in death — on this show.
David Nutter, who directed the finale, “Mother’s Mercy,” addressed why we didn’t actually see the killing of Stannis, who was confronted by Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie)– one of the few women who hasn’t been physically abused on this show, though she’s had plenty of self-hatey dialogue about being so brutish and unfeminine. Brienne, a warrior, has sworn to kill Stannis as vengeance for assassinating her beloved boss, Renly. She’s got a clear shot at beheading him — he’s just sitting there wounded — and she’s been waiting a long time for this. Also, who do we ALL want to see dead more than Stannis, who just burned his own daughter to death to superstitiously, maybe, help him win a war?
All we see, though, is Brienne raising her sword, and then — scene change. “It would have been gratuitous,” Nutter commented Variety about Stannis’ execution. “You really got a sense that Stannis had nothing else to live for. Brienne’s lifelong mission had come to an end. It’s a situation in which Stannis was ready to die and prepared to die.”
Give me. A fucking. Break.
That would have been gratuitous, would it? In an episode that also featured a lengthy sequence with, as Deadspin’s Rob Harvilla put it, “a sobbing naked lady being railroaded through town and pelted with shit for 45 minutes straight as leering extras shouted bitch, cunt, whore and so forth at her as the Flying Nun trailed behind chanting shame, shame, shame and ringing a giant bell.”
There was also the sequence — in this VERY SAME EPISODE — in which two little girls were brutally whipped by a Very Bad Man, who then had his eyes gouged out of his head by a third, more aggressive little girl (that would be Arya Stark, played by Maisie Williams, one of the few other people left to root for here), who is punished for said gouging/killing by being blinded by her male boss. Not gratuitous, all of it!
And this, I think, leads me to why I won’t be returning for Season Six.
Because the moment we might finally get to see Brienne of Tarth — again, one of the only female characters on this show who’s physically capable of fighting back against the nonstop threat of violence from men all around her, all the time — get a little vengeance on, we’re denied.
Because the men who are directing this show — and as our Melissa Silverstein pointed out, it was ALL MEN writing and directing this season — are officially too drunk on Going All Medieval to deliver anything near evenhanded treatment of male and female characters. Yes, it’s a patriarchal (fictional) world, but that doesn’t entitle you to luridly linger on every woman’s suffering. In fact, doing so makes the behind-the-scenes of your show also a patriarchy.
Because if the show actually gave a shit about the parallels between how women are abused on the show and how they’re abused in real life, they’d be working with female directors and talking about how to depict sexual violence without pornifying it.
Because the show has consistently added rape to previously rape-free plot points in the books (see: the marriage of Daenerys and Khal Drogo; Cersei and Jaime’s controversial sex in the chapel; Sansa and Ramsay’s wedding night).
Because the amount of how bad you feel after watching an hour’s worth of rape threats, actual rape, flaying, eye-gouging, throat-slitting, poisoning, beheading and horse-immolating on this show isn’t worth the eventual payoff of finding out who will sit on the Iron Throne, which looks like the world’s least comfortable place to park your ass anyway.
So I’m joining the ranks of those who’ve sworn off the show. As Cersei said, “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.” She’s right. But I don’t have to watch it being glorified on HBO every week.