Guest column by Blair Pennington, senior news and documentary major
HBO series “Game of Thrones,” based on George R.R. Martin’s novels, has been called one of the most feminist TV shows. There are many triumphant moments for the show’s female characters, and many eventually hold positions of power. But these female characters only become heroes after they lose most of their morals.
Perhaps the most striking example of a female character’s fake triumph is Sansa Stark. In season seven, Sansa finally seems to have found a way to participate in the game, and viewers cheer her on as she murders two people, but it comes at a cost: her innocence. Sansa was annoying at the beginning, but I grew to pity her as she was subjected to the will of three different men.
When she later becomes a killer, viewers are strangely proud of her for forsaking the most crucial virtue to the Starks – honor. While she does have every right to want these men dead, she became a calculating liar in the process, even somewhat resembling Littlefinger himself, a master manipulator. While Sansa finally becomes the kind of character she needs to be to survive, the audience is wooed into believing that this is somehow a truer and better version of herself.
Some of the show’s other “feminist” characters are seasoned warriors who don’t let the patriarchy hold them back from fighting their own battles. I remember seeing Yara, the ironborn princess, as some sort of fierce lesbian queen, and I was so excited to see a queer relationship that wasn’t solely based around sex. I was sadly disappointed, then, when Yara, in her first interaction with Daenerys, the mother of dragons, defended the ironborns’ right to rape and pillage. This scene was also extremely sexually charged – it’s clear that the showrunners only used queer female characters for male viewers’ pleasure.
Yara and Brienne, the warrior lady of House Tarth, are regarded as feminist characters because they embrace masculinity. While it would be exciting to see a nonbinary and fully developed character, it is insulting that many of the feminist heroes must take on masculine qualities to be considered heroes at all.
The filmmaking style makes it clear that mostly men were involved in the production. Some feminist theories claim that feminine language in any art form is more loosely constructed and often more experimental. The editing and cinematography techniques that “Game of Thrones” uses are largely traditional and employ a “phallic thrust” progression in every scene, meaning there is little room for the audience to question the direction the scene is going and what the characters feel. On the other hand, feminist filmmaking would allow the audience more insight into the characters’ inner thoughts, similar to the novels.
The television adaptation of “Game of Thrones” is still more progressive than some other shows, but that does not mean the audience shouldn’t expect more. While I am happy to see any female characters take power in a show, this brand of feminism still leaves out people of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and gender nonconforming people. Perhaps if more women were involved behind the scenes, this inequality would be addressed.