Is Game of Thrones “screaming for the teenage male”?
That’s what John Doyle, TV critic at the Globe and Mail, thinks. Before the start of season two, Doyle wrote that Game of Thrones is basically about men on horses, magic, and women. Silly stuff for silly boys. I thought his characterization of the show was a little unfair.
Game of Thrones season one was strong. It had interesting characters, intricate plot lines (a good mix of intrigue and blood/gore), and good acting. I really loved it. It was one of my favourite new shows last year.
But I’m starting to see Doyle’s point, at least when it comes to the female characters. I’ll let Doyle say why, because he said it first:
“And the depiction of relationships is only one step away from pornography – slight, bosomy women overpowered by huge, growling guys. Women seem to spend an undue amount of time on their hands and knees. I’d speculate that women viewers feel differently about Game of Thrones.”
After watching the first two episodes of season two, he’s right, I do feel differently. The women on Game of Thrones have a bad deal.
Crazy stuff is going down in season two: Joffrey is king, the Starks are in disarray, the Nights Watch guys are definitely going to find out what’s beyond the wall, and we’re meeting a bunch of new characters with plots for the throne. Right now, five different men claim to be king.
All of these good plots involve mostly men. And the women? Well, we see more sex workers than anyone else.
Catelyn Stark and Sansa Stark have mostly disappeared. Arya Stark and Daenerys get a few minutes here or there. Cersei Lannister is probably the most well-represented woman on the show at this point. But we see plenty of sex workers getting nailed from behind (sorry, but it’s true) and giving blow jobs. And none of it is relevant to the plot.
On Game of Thrones, it seems as if women are used as a device to amuse and gross us out. Every episode we are treated to degrading, overly sexual and weird treatment of women, often a sex worker. We’ve seen incest, abuse and maltreatment. Not once, that I can think of, have we seen sex used in a positive, romantic or interesting way. Women are used to titillate us through pornographic scenes at the brothel, or to horrify us through depictions of abuse. They’re also exploring the oh-so-original-genre of “woman as evil temptress” through this new ginger-haired witch who seduces Stannis in the most recent episode.
The only women who seem to escape the worst abuse and ickiness are the Starks. This is, of course, because they are the women of Ned Stark, the ultimate martyr of the show. And since sluts can’t be good people, it would never do to have them degraded. Obviously!
Women are also used to define the power of men around them. If a character is seen treating a woman in a brothel like garbage, we are supposed to know that he is Rich and Important. And given the way these women pop up around the powerful men as much as the swords and horses, they almost feel like another accessory. One can collect women.
I don’t have a problem with sex workers. I have a problem that the women are being used to titillate and aren’t actually fully realized characters for the amount of screen time that they get.
The real kicker to all this sex is that none of it is necessary. It mostly doesn’t advance the plot. And more importantly, Game of Thrones is fake. It might pull on some aspects of medieval history, but it is a fantasy show. This is not how “it was.” There is no factual, legitimate reason why all the women of working age have to be dumb sex objects. They’re there to titillate us when we get bored with all the dialogue.
You could argue that Game of Thrones is trying to send a message about women. Maybe there’s a point to constantly depicting women being abused at the hands of weak, pathetic men. And not all of the men are bad. After all, we’ve seen Jon Snow and his Nights Watch friend wrestle with whether or not to rescue some of the women forced to have children with their father. We have also seen Tyrion Lannister treat his one preferred companion with a fair amount of respect.
But I don’t know. It doesn’t detract from the fact that there are naked, abused women everywhere for no reason at all. I’m over it. I know we’re supposed to like Theon Greyjoy, but the guy has a storied history of pushing around idiotic whores (I hate that term, but it’s how they are depicted). I find his character, among many others, to be a total waste of space. I don’t think he was the “star of the episode.”
Game of Thrones needs to pull back on the violence against women and the naked women. It needs to work with some of its established strong female characters and move us forward, without all of the sex.
Girl Power — Washington Post: For a different perspective, this TV writer posits that the most recent episode was all about strong women. I think she misses the important point that these women are almost exclusively defined as powerful in terms of sex, as defined by men. So, no dice.