“Maybe it really is all cocks in the end,” Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) muses toward the beginning of “The Dragon and the Wolf,” the Season 7 finale of “Game of Thrones.” It’s perhaps a more telling moment than we realize, when you look at the writers and directors the show has employed over the last seven seasons.
It’s not breaking news that the series, executive produced by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, has tended to favor men behind the scenes, but in case it’s been a while since you looked at the statistics, here is a complete list of women who have been credited writers or directors on an episode of “Game of Thones” since Season 1.
Jane Espenson (writer):
- Season 1, Episode 6, “A Golden Crown” (teleplay by credit shared with David Benioff & D. B. Weiss)
Vanessa Taylor (writer):
- Season 2, Episode 4, “Garden of Bones”
- Season 2, Episode 6, “The Old Gods and the New”
- Season 3, Episode 2, “Dark Wings, Dark Words”
Michelle MacLaren (director):
- Season 3, Episode 7, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”
- Season 3, Episode 8, “Second Sons”
- Season 4, Episode 4, “Oathkeeper”
- Season 4, Episode 5, “First of His Name”
That’s three women over seven seasons of television — with the three most recent seasons completely bereft of a female presence. This should go without saying, but for a show that has produced 67 episodes to date, these stats aren’t great, especially as more producers and studios become more conscious about behind-the-scenes diversity, and the difference it can make in terms of telling more human, more nuanced storytelling.
One easy reason for understanding the lack of women writers employed by “Thrones” is that its writing staff has always been notably small. In fact rather than add writers as it’s progressed, things have contracted to the core team of Benioff, Weiss, Bryan Cogman (who was with the show beginning in Season 1) and Dave Hill (who joined in Season 5). The four men, it’s been reported, will share writing duties for Season 8: Hill writing Episode 1, Cogman writing Episode 2, and Weiss and Benioff writing the remaining four.
Beyond that and the women mentioned above, the only other additional writer has been George R.R. Martin, who scripted an episode each season for the first four seasons. And to be fair, there are women involved with “Game of Thrones” on a producer level: executive producer Carolyn Strauss (who was previously president of HBO Entertainment), as well as executive producer Bernadette Caulfield, who began her career as a production manager before becoming a prominent part of the production team.
However, Caulfield and Strauss are not driving the storytelling, which has become less character-centric and more focused on narrative tricks. As Variety’s Sonia Saraiya wrote in her season finale review, “The defining flaw of Season 7 has been that character work previously grounded in years of material has been pushed, far too quickly, to new and more convenient attitudes, so this is not exactly a new problem… What’s the point of storytelling, if the end result is just pulling the rug out from under the audience a few times in quick succession?”
What’s most troubling is that as the female representation behind the scenes has dried up, the show’s female characters have gained in prominence, with Daenerys, Sansa, Cersei and more becoming key members of the ensemble. Yet their storylines lack fleshing out, their relationships underdeveloped in favor of narrative fakeouts, and issues hugely personal and sensitive to women, such as pregnancy and infertility, get only surface-level treatment on screen.
While the writers for Season 8 may be set, there’s still time to bring in new voices — especially when it comes to the directing staff. Typically “Thrones” directors are brought in to block shoot two episodes at a time, but if reports are true that each Season 8 episode will be “feature length,” it would make sense to employ a new director for each episode — maybe inviting back MacLaren, or hiring Mimi Leder or Lesli Linka Glatter or any number of notable female directors who have risen in the ranks lately.
It’s never too late to rethink hiring decisions; just look at how “The X-Files,” following concerns over the announced writing staff for Season 11, reversed course and not only added women writers, but announced that two women would also direct as well. If Benioff and Weiss aren’t sure who to hire, they can just give Ryan Murphy or Ava DuVernay a call — two producers who have made a sincere effort to improve behind-the-scenes representation by actually hiring women and people of color as directors.
However, if Season 8 stays true to form, we can at least look forward to the four in-development spinoffs/prequels which HBO currently has in the works: Two of the individual projects are being written by Jane Goldman (“Kingsman: The Golden Circle”) and Carly Wray (“Mad Men,” “The Leftovers”), in partnership with Martin. The “successor shows” won’t involve Benioff and Weiss, and are being developed to function separately from “Thrones” — meaning that there’s a chance yet for fresh narrative voices in Westeros.