Tag Archives: Game of Thrones

Wrapping Up Game of Thrones

Okay, Game of Thrones ended. People’s initial posts were on how satisfying it was (mostly rated from “I cried” to “perfectly reasonable” to “better than the previous episode at least,” with most, including me, in the middle.)

Now for the 4th wave feminist take (as that’s the anthology I’ve been editing and wrapping up this week).

One must consider that a week ago many were worried about the inherent sexist message of Jon the good Targaryen killing Daenerys the evil Targaryen whose female emotional instability (or at least it sure looked that way) made her snap and destroy her own people out of brief at her bestie’s death. (And, in a terrible race moment, Grey Worm the safely castrated and incredibly disciplined person of color also went mad with rage and snapped and ignored all rules of combat after their beloved woman of color Missandei was put in slave chains and callously beheaded to motivate them both. Ouch.)

It should be mentioned that in the books Dany still has Dothraki female buddies around and the former slaves come from many races. It’s also notable that her story was begun in the eighties. In context, some characters are warrior maidens, some prefer being princesses, and some use classic behind the scenes rule like Lady Olenna (who officially acts more through her son in the books). In this context, Dany, like Buffy, stands out as chosen one, taking the Aragorn role of destined ruler that most often defaults to male and growing beyond her marriage-bait upbringing to birth the dragons in epic fashion as early as book/season one and grow from there. Will the books follow from her rise to her fall? Perhaps. Since so many characters (Ned, Robert, the Mad King, Viserys, Drogo, Jon, Renly, Robb, Catelyn, Oberyn, Tywin, Kevan, Lysa, Joffrey, Mormont, Littlefinger, and lots of Boltons, Tyrells, and Freys) reached such a moment of epic greatness or stable power and then lost it by not noticing someone was waiting to stab him in the back in the endless game, that would certainly be believable. Dany’s Meereen and Dothraki season one adventures basically went this way too as she didn’t observe how precarious her position was.

So Daenerys’s madness is show canon now (is it fitting with her character? Fans are sharply divided, with most thinking this could have been an outcome with more episodes spent on paranoia and decline but this felt awfully sudden.) In the book she’s symbolically linked with her ancestor Aegon, fourth son of a fourth son and incredibly far down in the succession who nonetheless lives poor among the people with a wonderful mentor (Brienne’s ancestor) and becomes a wonderful king (though the tragedy of his death at Summerhall suggests his ambition for legendary Targaryen dragon eggs may have killed him, his friends, and much of his family–there’s more precedent). Daenerys’s apparent journey as chosen one, rape survivor, white savior, woman who could have brought the lost dragons back, woman demanding to rule khals and westerosi who don’t have female rulers, prince who was promised (but then not really), chooser of her own fate, and all kinds of tropes all over the problematic scale were suddenly squashed or at least abruptly resolved (which, considering the other times this happened, does seem to fit the story). If she was the third wave cool princess and chosen one who got to have all the lovers she wanted, rule the men and be chosen one (while in third wave Buffy style often being a bit racially insensitive and heavy handed though immensely likable), she didn’t get to win. Dany, you can’t just boss everyone into doing things your way because you’re a gorgeous superhero with a big army and nice dresses. We’ve moved past the Queen Victoria colonialism model and now we frown on that. The westerosi don’t appreciate your foreign army or what you’re doing with it. And the part where you’re not listening to your advisors? uh uh. We need someone more like Sansa or Tyrion who’s actually seeing how the people are coping with trying to survive and getting them square meals and medical care. If you can’t listen, the people will overthrow you, or at least the growing educated class will. Here, the show goes heavily Animal Farm or Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, stressing that conquering the world and being told you’re everyone’s messiah (and book six might spend more time celebrating her as the bringer of dawn and defeater of the Night King) will lead to killing those you hoped to protect, even as you’re convinced of your own rightness. Since something similar happens to Jon, who’s stabbed in book/season five for choosing his agenda over the desires of his people (and, wow, he knows exactly how it feels to be stabbed by those you trust). Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, of course, spends lots of time with Brutus and Cassius deciding whether the good of their country means they should betray Caesar, who’s betraying the people and all they fought for.

However, after this, Drogon doesn’t incinerate Jon (the Caesar ending, resulting in more counter-revolutions and feuds). Instead he incinerates the throne and carries Dany away—a heavily dramatic scene. If Drogon is the voice of the gods or the narrators, he’s emphasizing that Dany met justice, and that she and the throne of superconquest need to go. Chosen ones may be cool but, as with Rey on Star Wars, we don’t need a child of destiny and birthright (who ended up being Kylo Ren!); we need someone suited to the job. I had thought melting the throne where one ruler sits would divide the place into seven individual kingdoms, but it seems not.

However, this is the feminist/egalitarian moment. Feminism doesn’t seek to have an army of Amazon women ruling everything. It seeks a seat at the table where decisions are made—preferably half the seats. When one considers that in page one/episode one, the seven kingdoms and the overall country are all ruled by men, with women basically unable to inherit, only take a regency for their sons or whisper in their husbands’ ears, the council at the end is remarkably significant.

In the past (according to the main books and the Targaryen histories by Martin) Great Councils have been held in the past when inheritance was uncertain. During the first Great Council, a thousand lords chose to favor male heirs over female. King Jaehaerys I chose his son instead of his granddaughter Rhaenys. The next Great Council elected seven Lord Regents to rule until the immature King Aegon III Targaryen came of age. The final Great Council appointed the beloved but unlikely to inherit Aegon V. Stannis suggested such a council since he named Joffrey illegitimate.

Attending were Edmure Tully, Lord of Riverrun, (who did have a plot to wrap up as he’s basically been sitting around), as well as Gendry the legitimized bastard of House Baratheon, the forgettable new prince of Dorne (though Arianne and the Sand Snakes in the book are fascinating and striking—would a princess of Dorne been so much trouble?), Robin Arryn and Yara Greyjoy: heads of houses, including Yara whose people have never elected a woman ruler before. Offscreen, she retook her homeland. Sansa Stark, likewise, leads a people who have never had a female ruler. Tyrion, though it isn’t mentioned in the scene, certainly may be the inheritor of Casterly Rock. Thus the great houses now are ruled by two women, Gendry and Bronn who grew up commoners, and Tyrion who was basically disinherited for being crippled. By medieval Europe’s standards, this is massively progressive. In addition there are Arya and Bran (presumably as war heroes as they’re not heads of houses) and more minor heads Yohn Royce, Ser Brienne of Tarth (whose father may be ruling their house and perhaps is there as a war hero), Ser Davos Seaworth, and Samwell Tarly (as either Maester or house head) and four unnamed lords. This last list is not especially book-accurate as the books offer many many lords at this level. On the show, of course, most haven’t been presented or could be assumed to have died out. Visually it makes a nice spectrum of the recent heroes of the Battle of Winterfell and the older lords who survived all the struggles for the throne by staying mostly out of it (in contrast with Littlefinger, the Tyrells, and so on). Presumably the historic councils had a few women, but likely as regents for male rulers instead of ruling in their own right. This time, there were a significant number of women. When Edmure claimed he was the best decision maker as the senior head of house (and one of the few white males intended from birth for the job who was present), Sansa politely asked him to sit down. Her implication was that the younger people who had earned their places as war heroes were more suited to choose. In a year in which many voters are calling for the old white men to step aside and let others lead the US, her comment strikes extra hard.

The council ask Tyrion to choose—of the survivors, he’s arguably been in the center of most of the war, watching the Baratheons, Lannisters, and Targaryens rule. Thus the question is decided by the great observer, but someone who’s usually withheld his full loyalty, unlike Barristan and arguably Varys (who are unavailable anyway). He chooses, not Jon the war hero, but another observer who has turned down every throne including the one he stands next in line for. Tyrion’s insistence that Bran has the best story is rather romantic (though Jon certainly has a better one and others like Arya and Sansa do as well). The scene where Tyrion asks Bran his story is paying out here. Still, Tyrion’s understanding of PR is central here—this is about image as much as capability. King Bran is a disabled pacifist, not a warrior or conqueror. He has no claim to the Targaryen/Baratheon/Lannister throne (and no hint of a mystery parentage), emphasizing that this is a matter of character not birth. Further, the decision to have the Councils continue appointing kings, echoing the Iron Islands, is not democracy (poor Sam—medieval illiterate Europe just wasn’t ready!) but it’s a step closer. Fourth wave is about intersectionality–listening to the common born like Davos, the women like Brienne and the disabled like Tyrion and Bran (plus with his gifts he arguably has the most global perspective of anyone save Dany or Melissandre). Thus the era of entitled white nobles has ended and a new one has begun).

Many criticized the final episode for Bran’s not actually ruling but allowing his new council to take over. Still, the topics under discussion—prostitution and finances—seemed more appropriate for his ministers than for him to dicker over. He is withdrawn and only puts in a token appearance, allowing them to have their fun wrangling, but Robert, knows as a good king, likewise left these meetings to Ned and Jon Arryn before him.

Brienne has earned her place on the Kingsguard (has Pod? Really? Perhaps character outweighs ability. He’s certainly loyal.)  This too is a feminist shakeup, as there’s never been a woman on the Kingsguard and likely never a female anointed knight, only unofficial ones. She’s one of the few characters to get the dream she’s cultivated from the beginning.

Bronn too got the end he chose for himself—switching sides on a path to the top beside Tyrion who can respect this sort of behavior or at least understand it. One hopes he’ll be more competent than Littlefinger (perhaps Tyrion and Bran have the insight to manage him). Like Tyrion, Davos is a humble observer, now left as the last adult as the younger generation takes over. Since he has kept his lands, his wife, and about half his sons (though lost Stannis and Shireen), he’s gotten much of what he wanted – even his revenge. This wiping out of the entitled old guard born to it and replacing them with “cripples, bastards, and broken things” while giving Brienne a council seat and Sansa her own kingdom is the feminist revision, blending in fourth wave intersectionality to get some new voices into the governance of Westeros. (No people of color apparently remain, but Grey Worm will protect Nath, being their warrior so people like Missandei can grow up in gentleness and safety among the butterflies.)

Arya’s end was more startling since she never foreshadowed this particular dream (not directly anyway). Many saw her as Master of Whispers or defending the family she loved )now with options of three kingdoms) or even taking over the faceless men before leaving Westeros. There’s a trace of Yentl in her ending, seeking a new world she can live in as she likes. However, with all the new options her family and Westeros’s women have broke ground on where they are, leaving just to find another world seems less supported. However, that may be the point—her siblings have all found their perfect places and she wants her own—certainly not as the Lady of Storm’s End.

Jon, wow, he died to quit his job and the wall was collapsed too but back he goes. On the other hand, it looked like he chose not to stand on the wall for all of eternity but instead go join or lead the free folk whom he got to know and love long ago. While he won’t get Ygritte back (and didn’t seem a great match for Val in the books, though anything’s possible) he could of course defy his sentence, marry, have kids (or not) and maybe not officially hold lands up there but have a great time. This would even make him something of a ranger as he always dreamed.

No one got married to unite their houses and end the war a la War of the Roses (though there’s been so much of this in the books I’m betting the books will have some). This is good because it emphasizes women’s roles as the producers of babies and reduces them to marriage bait as a path to peace, as young Sansa and young Cersei (and heck, young Daenerys) were supposed to be. In history, the oldest daughter of basically King Robert married basically Daenerys, the prince from over the sea, and founded the Tudor dynasty to end the war because as a female SHE COULDN’T RULE IN HER OWN RIGHT (their granddaughter was Elizabeth I). None of that here.

Which of course brings us to Sansa. In episode one, everyone was certain she would make an alliance marriage and raise royal sons, since that was the destiny she and everyone like her was born to. She adapted massively (but since in the books she’s still hanging out with Robin and Littlefinger and someone else gets the Bolton plot, she isn’t clearly on this path. She could be, but so far she’s taken zero steps). She frees the North with a single demand, made at the right time. We don’t have the full Stark history, but in their patriarchal society, she’s actually the first Queen in the North ever. Will she marry and have babies or name an heir? Who knows (Queen Elizabeth stayed single and did the latter, while Victoria and Elizabeth II found worthy gentlemen/relatives who didn’t outrank them and made a love match), However, the story emphasized with a full coronation (replacing warrior males Robb and Jon) that Sansa didn’t NEED to get a husband. This makes it more a Frozen ending than a Little Mermaid one, in Disney parlance. Indeed, Sansa specifically has shown she has a good working relationship with her equals Robin Arryn and Tyrion and won’t take any claims to superiority from her Uncle Edmure (or at least they were her equals but now she’s arguably their superior and equal to Bran). She’s queen, on the basis of her birth and EARNING IT WITH HER COMPETENCE and knowledge of her people. Now that’s new in Westeros.

And if we thought this series should end with a WEDDING, we weren’t paying attention….

For more on Women in Game of Thrones, I’m the author of just that

Women in Game of Thrones: Power, Conformity and Resistance 

Along with Winning the Game of Thrones: The Host of Characters and their Agendas , Winter is Coming: Symbols and Hidden Meanings in A Game of Thrones: (A Deeper Look Into Game of Thrones Book 1)  and others.

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Guest Blog Posts

With my monthly column for legendary women and occasional posts on Thought Catalog, I guest blog more than I blog on my own site. The thought occurred that I and others might want to find them all. So here they are:

Legendary Women

Game of Thrones Season Six Wrap Up June 2006

DC Bombshells Rewrite History Mar 2016

“Is it more sexist not to hit you?”- The Women of Deadpool Feb 2016

Comparing Rey Amberle and Wonder Woman Jan 2016

2015 Geek Girl Power Comics Shopping Guide Part 1

2015 Geek Girl Power Comics Shopping Guide Part 2

2015 Geek Girl Power Comics Shopping Guide Part 3

Skye’s Heroine’s Journey 2015

Supergirl Pilot 2015

Joss Whedon’s X-Men 2015

Doctor Who and Missy 2015

CW’s Vixen 2015

The MCU Black Widow 2015

Game of Thrones Season 5 2015

 

Also article and interview about my Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey:

http://www.legendarywomen.org/content/buffy-and-her-journey-heroine

http://legendarywomen.org/content/valerie-frankel-author-buffy-and-heroines-journey-interview

Thought Catalog

Hot Teen Vampires And Werewolves: How Did They Start, And More Importantly, Who Gets The Girl? 22 Mar 2016

Game Of Thrones Season Five Wrap Up: The Book vs The Show And Where We’re Going

One of the big disappointments for me (and I’m not the only one) were the Sand Snakes.

28 Jul 2015

How Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Is Very Joss Whedon

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has returned, and to no one’s surprise, Skye’s new plot expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe while simultaneously transforming her into a superhero.

8 Apr 2015

The “Strange, Young-Old” Peter Capaldi Will Bring Doctor Who Back To Its Origins

More to the point, this Doctor is on a mission to find the Time Lords and restore the balance, returning the series to, perhaps, its mid-series premise of a “secret-agent-man” Doctor taking orders from the higher-ups and interpreting them to his rebellious liking.

20 Aug 2014

12 Game Of Thrones Mysteries That Are Going To Drive You Crazy

Who will win? Who will finally take the Iron Throne?

11 Jun 2014

“The Day Of The Doctor” And The Hero’s Journey

“The Day of the Doctor” is a perfect Hero’s Journey arc…if “The Night of the Doctor” (the brief online minisode available here) is included.

26 Nov 2013

Game Of Thrones Recap: Thoughts On The Season 3 Finale And Beyond

After last week’s WHAM! of an episode, viewers approached with trepidation. However, this episode was mainly wrap-up. Walder Frey gloated, Joffrey gloated, Tyrion and Tywin debated ethics, Tyrion broke the news to Sansa, Arya took a very small revenge.

10 Jun 2013

Other Websites

Hogwarts Professor: Aug 21, 2013 – Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and Alchemy

Denise Derrico’s Key of Dee: Jan 2016  Why Rey Needs a Light-Chakram 

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Filed under Books, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Comics, Doctor Who, Films, Game of Thrones, Heroine's Journey, Star Wars, Superheroes, Uncategorized, Young Adult Fantasy

Thoughts on Game of Thrones Season Five

Okay, I touch lightly on book spoilers…

All the show plots are condensed — trim down minor characters and foolish subplots to have more major characters running into each other. THis seems smart…even bringing Lancel back after a few years needs major reminders for some fans. THe tightened plots are facinating and fun as they heighten tension, and also identify which annoying minor characters really AREN’T needed.

In book four, Cersei sends Ser Aerys Oakheart of the Kingsguard to watch over Myrcella, then a troop to bring her home. This time, rather than introduce new characters, Jamie and Bronn are going themselves. We lose the plot of Jamie traipsing uselessly through the Riverlands meeting minor characters and tidying up Cateyln’s brother and uncle who are still holding onto their castle. But admittedly, without the Starks, they’re not that significant to us. Jamie is certainly riding into a climate where everyone hates the Lannisters, and the plot against Myrcella in book four will likely swallow him up — Sand Snakes hate all Lannisters. Seeing him actually interact with his daughter would be interesting as that moment really hasn’t appeared yet.

Cersei appoints a new High Septon herself, clearly to go after Margaery (though Margaery hasn’t left ny evidence of infidelity). Obviously, the drunk and paranoid queen will fabricate the evidence and get caught in her own trap. Nice touch foreshadowing the Walk of Shame with the previous High Septon, though he really could have had more time in other episodes establishing his existence. Also, Cersei’s childhood flashback shows her panic at a younger more beautiful queen (does she REALLY need more motive to hate Margaery?) but NOT death at the hands of her brother. Is that not guaranteed on the show? That was the most significant moment of the prophecy for me.

As early as episode three, Qyburn is building Frankenstein. He seems a wholly vile creature, despite his kindness to Jamie.

As with the books, Daenerys isn’t doing much. Though episode two did an excellent job of establishing the difficulty of imperialism.

Arya’s training with her old season two friend, which makes more sense than with strangers. Of course, in both stories, all the face-switching ensures that she can’t really be sure who’s training her. It’s a nice return though.

All of Varys puppet princes have been skipped in favor of Varys himself. This is a nice streamline which also gives Varys more to do (in the books, he’s vanished by now). There’s also no sign of Penny (whom some of us thought was sappy) or Tyrion’s obsession with his childhood wife. His meeting with Ser Jorah emphasizes that more characters are coming together.

Some of us really want to see Yara, her father, and all their mess start up.

Brienne in the books hopelessly trails after Arya and Sansa and finds neither. She teams up with lame minor characters and ends at a stalemate with Lady Stoneheart. In a more fulfilling moment on the show, she finds both girls, long enough for them to send her off.  While anything with Jamie/Lady Stoneheart might wait, or be skipped, Brienne may actually accomplish something this time. If Sansa gets Lady Jeyne’s plot, she’ll need a rescue.

In the books, Sansa and Littlefinger stay with little hapless Robin. Littlefinger intends Sansa to marry Robin’s heir, thus uniting Vale and North. He’s technically lord of the screwed-up Riverlands by this point, giving him  enormous amounts of territory if he pulls this off. He’s complicit in dressing Sansa’s childhood friend Jeyne as Lady Arya and sending her to marry Bolton Jr, so he knows that he can finally prove that his Lady Stark is the real one.

The question is, who will win in a fight, Sansa or the Bastard of Bolton? Anyone reading the books would say Bolton, no question. But Lady Macbeth, brought north to be an assassin by Littlefinger, is by this point believable as a savage killer in the night, with poison at least.  Why does Littlefinger want this? Is he trying to mold a perfect lady of cruelty to match him – a mate as viciously elegant as he is? Or is this one more attempt to innocently keep his hands clean? We’ll certainly believe he’s ditching the Lannisters — without Tywin, everyone seems to be abandoning ship.

Now, Brienne hates Stannis (as episode 3 reminds us). She and Podrick (almost the only character with no agenda) are heading to Winterfell, as are Stannis and Co. Sansa, Littlefinger Theon and the Boltons are already there. Currently, Sansa believes Lord Bolton killed Robb and her mother (true) and Theon killed her brothers (technically untrue). Theon of course could take the opportunity to be a hero. Jon is being goaded to attack the Boltons as well.  Will he try to stop Sansa’s wedding? THe Karstark girl hasn’t been seen, though all her family were established on the show. No wildling princess Val. And Melissande is kicking around and keeping little Shireen for some special destiny. No sign of Mance Raider’s baby and wife from the books (ah, streamlining), but Gilly and Sam have more plot to come.

While episodes one and two were quite slow, three had a LOT of foreshadowing. Did anyone catch that Aemon is ill? And a cameo by Cersei’s boy toy Lancel? And that the Lannisters look weak? Quick cameo by Lady Frey-Bolton. And that the Volantine slaves plus a red priestess want Daenerys to save them next? We know what’s coming…

By the way, has anyone noticed that it normally takes weeks to make all these instantaneous journeys? Well, they only have 30 episodes to cover the big books and epic war. How quickly will Tyrion make it across the sea?

I’m the author of five different books on Game of Thrones and many on pop culture if people would like more insights.  amazon.com/Valerie-Estelle-Frankel/e/B004KMCLQK/

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Thoughts on Game of Thrones 4.9 “The Watchers on the Wall”

The hour battle was to my mind, quite unsatisfying. It was attempting the epic splendor of Blackwater, but that episode in itself resolved many plots as Joffrey, Sansa, Cersei, Tyrion, Pod, Stannis, Davos, and more all were tested in battle, with an uncertain outcome. In this episode, did anyone really think the Wildlings would destroy the Wall and everyone on it? Even the Watch seem rather confident. Also, there were very few main characters – no one liked Janos Slynt, so having him revealed as a coward does little. Ygritte and Gilly each get plot resolution, and Jon and Sam are tested in battle, as are many unimportant minor characters. But really, that’s it. There’s an hour of violence, and at the end, Jon says nothing was accomplished and another similar battle will happen the next night. So really, what was the point?

If the season is retelling all of book three there’s a LOT left for the final episode (no spoilers ahead): Jon Snow must deal with Mance and the Watch must defend the Wall again (as set up at episode’s end).

Other plots that need wrapping up include Arya and the Hound, Bran and his quest north (the episode is called The Children [of the Wood] after all), Tyrion and his family who must sentence him to death now.

Other characters like Margaery/Tommen, Bronn, Missandei/Grey Worm or Cersei/Jaime could conceivably have quick character scenes. Fans of the books will expect to see Stannis and company resolve his plot and Castle Black choose another commander (though perhaps this last will wait for season four). Lady Stoneheart is meant to arrive. And with all this going on, Daenerys surely needs to do something (though she sure hasn’t since taking Meereen). Quaithe was advertised as appearing in season four, so it’s likely she’ll come to Daenerys and point her in a direction for the next season.

Brienne and Pod are actually only supposed to start on their quest in book four, but thus far nothing at all has happened – a lackluster season arc for them. Theon and the Boltons feel like they had a decent season arc…they’re already in book five’s plot, but they actually disappear for books three and four, so this is understandable. Many fans were expecting a lot more from Asha/Yara Greyjoy and her dad –she ended the last season powerfully vowing to bring her brother home and a single scene with a single failed attempt is all she’s given us. (Of course, she has a book four arc, which may not start off till next season.) In fact Sansa Robin and Littlefinger, Lady Olenna, Ser Jorah’s banishment, and Oberyn’s quest for revenge feel like the only plots that have done their full arc and are finished for the season. They (and Oberyn’s family back in Dorne) are all perfectly placed for the next book.

HBO’s schedule says the finale is 66 minutes and maybe all this material is why. “It’s the best finale we’ve ever done, bar none,” Thronesshowrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss said in a statement. “The performances from our cast, the direction from Alex Graves, the VFX work, the new [music] cues from Ramin Djawadi—all of it came together in perhaps the finest hour we’ve produced. We’re immensely proud of ‘The Children.’ And a little intimidated by the episode, because now we have to get back to the business of season five and figure out a way to top it.”

Lots of us expect a wham in King’s Landing, but for veteran book fans who weren’t at all shocked by the Mountain and Viper’s book-accurate battle, it might be nice to offer a brief surprise. Meereen has stopped dead, Arya and the Hound is heavily set up and won’t surprise people much, and Bran and his friends aren’t being that interesting, but maybe there’s a twist coming. We can hope.

 

Free Giveaway now-Jun 30: The nonfiction fan guides to the bestselling series Women in Game of Thrones & Symbols in Game of Thrones https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/95141-women-in-game-of-thrones-power-conformity-and-resistance and

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/90930-symbols-in-game-of-thrones-the-deeper-meanings-of-animals-colors-seaso

 

Also out now: How Game of Thrones Will End. This series of silly answers is on sale at http://www.amazon.com/How-Game-Thrones-Will-End-ebook/dp/B00KNKD3SI by award-winning parody author Valerie Estelle Frankel. Perfect for book or show fans. It offers many different possible endings to the show, based in War of the Roses, Lord of the Rings, and Martin’s many other influences.

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The Women of “The Princess and the Queen”

 

This week my new book Women in Game of Thrones hits stores. In celebration, I wanted to do a post on Martin’s women who didn’t make the book: the women of his novella “The Princess and the Queen,” which takes place centuries before our heroes in A Song of Ice and Fire.

            The plot is simple: King Viserys I dies, having made all his lords swear fealty to his daughter Rhaenyra. As the book puts it, “The late king had chosen her as his successor … hundreds of lords and knights had done obeisance to the princess in 105 AC, and sworn solemn oaths to defend her rights” (706). However, his widow, Queen Alicent, favors her own son Aegon, wedded to her own daughter Helena, over her stepdaughter, and convinces many on the Small Council that a son should supersede a daughter. Thus a civil war begins…with dragons. All this is told through a stuffy chronicler, history-book style rather than as a novel.

This is indeed a war of princess and queen as the title suggests, and the depiction of each is notable. Queen Alicent is as scheming as Circe. When her son refuses to take the throne, she points out that his half-sister will slaughter his siblings and children to eliminate those with a stronger claim. Thus the dowager’s manipulations bring about the slaughter. Through the story she appears conniving and power-hungry, even as she operates behind the scenes.

Her rival, Rhaenyra, with the prior claim to the throne, is framed as monstrous. She’s repeatedly called a bitch and most often a “whore.” The first arguments against her claiming the throne is that with her “wanton ways” she will turn King’s Landing into an immoral place (706). Her bastard children will try to inherit, and her husband will be the true power. In this, numerous double standards apply – her rival, Aegon II is “with a paramour” when his father’s death is announced. Yet he is framed as a benevolent figure, who refuses to steal his sister’s birthright until his own brothers and children are threatened. No one in the entire story (except, subtly, his wife) complains about his wanton behavior. He has presumably abandoned or concealed any bastards, in contrast to his sister who unabashedly raises them openly as her heirs. For this responsible act, she is condemned. (Similarly, in A Game of Thrones, Ned raises his bastard, while negligent Robert abandons all of his.)

Another double standard emerges when she’s frankly judged on her appearance: Once Rhaenyra was beloved, “though how many would still fight for her, now that she was a woman wed, her body aged and thickened by six childbirths, was a question none could answer” (712-713). It could be argued that the chronicler or the minds of the time are sexist, more than the novella’s author. However, the word choice used is strongly slanted and emphasizes the gender war occurring: “Every symbol of legitimacy belonged to Aegon…and he was male, which in the eyes of many made him the rightful king, his half sister the usurper” (712, italics added).

Other characters in the novella suffer the same: House Arryn “could not be relied upon [a phrase used for flighty people] for the Eyrie was presently ruled by a woman, Lady Jeyne, the Maiden of the Vale [her martial status is central to her identity], whose own rights might be called into question should Princess Rhaenyra be put aside” [her gender is her defining characteristic and motivator]. Only at the sentence’s end is it made clear she’s unreliable because of her politics, not the nature of her gender. By contrast, the male-led House Baratheon is described in the next paragraph as “staunch in support of the claims” of the family, a far more masculine label. A prophet later insists, “Your wives will dance in gowns of fire, shrieking as they burn, lewd and naked underneath the flames” (761). The husbands of course are described in a nonsexual manner.

Feminist TV makes a fair point in its defense of Cersei, a point that applies to Princess Rhaenyra as well:

 I would never proclaim that Cersei Lannister is a “good person”; she is cruel, conniving, and callous. She often acts impulsively based on her passions, and is occasionally blinded by the love she bears for her children and her twin brother Jaime… . However, I would very much say that Cersei is operating in the same value system as the vast majority of characters in this world… . But here’s the thing; most of these “corrupt value system” characters are men, and are therefore seen as “bad-asses,” “heroes,” or “rebels.” Meanwhile, Cersei gets labeled “bitch,” “terrible and whiny,” and “stupid whore” (all quotes taken from various Tumblr conversations). Want to know why? Hint: misogyny! Female characters are traditionally singled out and held to vastly different standards than male characters are, mostly because society at large teaches us that double standards are a- ok (spoiler alert—not true). So while Tywin, Tyrion, and Jaime Lannister get to be cool rebel dudes, Cersei is viewed with an amount of contempt and hatred that’s actually rather shocking (“In Defense of Cersei Lannister”).

Internet fans name Cersei “mean,” “whiny,” and a “bitch.” However, she is no harsher than Tywin, who is often admired for his viciousness. As she voices complaints about powerlessness that echo the misery of Tyrion, Robb, and Jon, she should not be condemned gender- specifically. The author concludes, “Using gendered slurs, even when talking about fictional women, matters. It matters because it propagates a way of thinking and describing women that is deeply and historically sexist. So love Cersei or hate her. Just don’t call her a bitch [“In Defense of Cersei Lannister”]. As all her stepbrothers, the commonfolk, and the story’s description depict Rhaenyra in the same terms, with constant jabs at her aggression, lewdness, and physical body, the same situation emerged, showing much about her people. Basically, every single character appears misogynist, including chronicler and author.

While Rhaenyra insists on her rights, she is unable to claim the throne because she’s on Dragonstone giving birth. The actual birth scene is grotesque: Her “black fury” at the usurpation “seemed to bring on the birth, as if the babe inside her were angry too, and fighting to get out” She curses all her family and the child, which she calls a “monster.”

 

“The princess shrieked curses all through her labor, calling down the wroth of the gods upon her half brothers and their mother the queen, and detailing the torments she would inflict upon them before she would let them die. She cursed the child inside her too. “Get out,” she screamed, clawing at her swollen belly as her maester and her midwife tried to restrain her. ”Monster, monster, get out, get out, GET OUT!”  “When the babe at last came forth, she proved indeed a monster: a stillborn girl, twisted and malformed with a hole in her chest where her heart should have been and a stubby, scaled tail” (711). 

 

The monstrous baby seems a reflection of Rhaenyra’s inner rage and monstrousness, while this evil birth is nearly as foul as Melisandre’s shadow babe. “The patriarchy feared the feminine in connection with her role in birthing and dying even more than in her association with sex” (George 222). Birth, a mystery beyond man’s sphere, thus became demonized, a hideous unholy rite like Melisandre’s, used to kill the good and innocent.

 Giving birth to a shadow creature appears to be a female-only power, requiring a womb. However, the feminine birth power is subverted: she creates a force of evil that enables Stannis to kill his closest relative and frames the good women Brienne and Catelyn for the death (in the books, she then births a second shadow creature to kill a loyal retainer of House Baratheon who’s protecting Robert’s innocent bastard son). As such, the most primal female power is depicted as twisted, vile, and obscene. Aside from Daenerys’s monstrous miscarriage, this is the only birth scene shown until Gilly’s child arrives in season three. (Frankel 134)

 Daenerys actually has a similar birth scene, with her ambition to save Drogo nearly killing her, as her child too is monstrous:

“He turned his face away. His eyes were haunted. “They say the child was …” She waited, but Ser Jorah could not say it. His face grew dark with shame. He looked half a corpse himself. 

“Monstrous,” Mirri Maz Duur finished for him. The knight was a powerful man, yet Dany understood in that moment that the maegi was stronger, and crueler, and infinitely more dangerous. ”Twisted. I drew him forth myself. He was scaled like a lizard, blind, with the stub of a tail and small leather wings like the wings of a bat. When I touched him, the flesh sloughed off the bone, and inside he was full of graveworms and the stink of corruption. He had been dead for years.” (I.756)

 

Martin appears to dislike birth, one of the world’s few gender-specific actions. Melisandre’s shadow-birth is a vile perversion. Cersei treasonously kills her child with Robert before it’s born. Lyanna (most likely) and Dalla die in childbirth, like Tyrion’s mother. Lysa Arryn loses so many babies that she grows irrational and breastfeeds her seven-year-old child. Gilly and her babe survive, but they are the children of incest and the baby is destined for the White Walkers.

            The birth scene and depiction of Rhaenyra are not the only problems. Throughout the novella, many wimpy women appear – victims of the story’s men or even of the romanticism than objectifies them. Queen Helaena, sister-wife of King Aegon, is a pitiful figure. She’s not seen making decisions about the succession or the realm – in fact, the only time she makes a decision, her choice destroys her forever. On a mission of assassination and revenge, a pair of cruel thugs from Flea Bottom bid her choose one of her sons to die (ignoring the less valuable daughter except to threaten rape). She chooses the younger, and the men spitefully strike off the elder’s head. After this, Helaena withdraws from life and sinks “deeper and deeper into madness” (722). When her husband and children flee the palace, they leave her behind for the enemy. While her children’s deaths spur Rhaenyra to fight harder, Helaena and her powerful dragon become worthless noncombatants. She commits suicide at age twenty-one, despairing.

            As with the wolves and the Starks, her dragon seems to have inherited the rage she has sublimated. Dreamfyre kills more men in the dragonpits than the other three dragons combined, “ripping men apart and tearing off their limbs even as she loosed her terrible fires” (765). Nonetheless, the dragon dies, her rage leaving the world just as her mistress does.

            The women’s roles are romanticized, as Helaena is set up as the tragic Ophelia, abused until she goes mad. Her pain is shown at a distance, with none of the dialogue that Rhaenyra offers. Likewise, “In Flea Bottom, men still speak of a candlemaker’s daughter named Robin who cradled the broken prince [Joffrey] in her arms and gave him comfort as he died, but there is more of legend than history in that tale” (763). She does not even rate a word of her own.

            Nettles, a street child near Dragonstone, actually tames the wild dragon Sheepstealer by bringing it a freshly slaughtered sheep each morning. Though she’s skinny, foul-mouthed, filthy and fearless, her abilities win her a place among the lords and ladies…she seems much like Arya, clever and bold. At the same time, however, her mysterious origin (she may or may not have Targaryen blood) and the terribly distant depiction of her make her more puzzle than character – a mystery woman archetype rather than a person.

            She fights valiantly, but when she has an affair with Rhaenyra’s husband, the irrational, raging queen orders her death. The queen condemns her for high treason as she’s “said to have become Prince Daemon’s lover.” Once more the doublestandard appears, as she adds, “No harm is to be done to my lord husband” (752). Nettles flies far away and is never seen again. Nettles ends their romance on a tragedy, but exists the mystery woman from first to last. She does not challenge the queen or her royal spouse, but silently accepts exile, covered in blood with cheeks “stained with tears” (753). Her lover sacrifices himself in battle rather than return to his wife and they are thus sentimentalized. In fact, ballads sing that Nettles and her prince were reunited in an unrealistic happy ending. Brash, brilliant Nettles’ greatest achievement and most significant story arc is in the bedroom, not the battlefield.

            Alys Rivers, paramour of Prince Aemond (himself the brother of Aegon II), is another clichéd female, this time the perfect lover and seer. She persuades the prince to offer mercy upon receiving bad news from a messenger, then sees in a mountain pool, a storm cloud and a fire, that his enemy awaits him. She rides with her lover on his dragon, “her long hair streaming black behind her, her belly swollen with child” in another glamorized image (754). She is the perfect helpmeet and caregiver even while warning her lover of the future and carrying his child. She is all things to him: support system, lover, mother, and seer.  

            Finally, Baela Targaryen, daughter of Prince Daemon and Lady Laena, defends her island of Dragonstone from King Aegon II. Her mount is the young Moondancer, “pale green, with horns and crest and wingbones of pearl” (781). Swift and agile as her rider, she and Baela have no chance against the larger, older Sunfyre, but battle him to a draw—Moondancer dead, Sunfyre dying. The men of the castle immediately take her to the healer, awed by her courage. She is brave, beautiful, silent, and idealized once more.

            Other characters are strong and powerful, set apart from the unrealistic, muzzled ideals of womanhood. Princess Rhaenys is “five-and-fifty, her face lean and lined, her silver hair streaked with white, yet fierce and fearless as she had been at two-and-twenty” (712). She herself contended for the throne with her brother Viserys, but the (male) lords of the Small Council favored the male claimant, by twenty to one, the exact situation that befalls her niece Rhaenyra. She is “The Queen Who Never Was” and one of the first to die heroically in battle. Her dragon is the ferocious “Red Queen.” Queen Alicant is likewise a force of strength in the series, raising her daughter’s little boy when she goes mad, and defending the city after her son is injured. Both women offer dialogue in council and elsewhere, sharing their thoughts with the readers and growing beyond glamorized images.

            When her stepdaughter conquers King’s Landing, Alicent is bound in golden fetters, like female archetypes and goddesses as far back as Hera (who like Alicent committed treason because she didn’t know “her place”). Rhaenyra spares her life “for the sake of our father, who loved you once,” while beheading the Small Council. While a kind gesture, it also emphasizes a woman’s proper place as the king’s beloved.

            Rhaenyra, despite her strength, ends the story by going as power-hungry and paranoid as Cersei. Her enemy, Prince Aemond, says, “Rhaenyra may call herself a queen, but she has a woman’s parts, a woman’s faint heart, and a mother’s fears” (740).  Her Cersei-like irrationality leads her to condemn her allies to death on suspicion of treachery, until she loses control of the city and her hero-son Joffrey. “The girl that they once cheered as the Realm’s Delight had grown into a grasping and vindictive woman, men said, as cruel as any queen before her” (741). They name her “King Maegor with Teats.” When the mob storms the Dragonpits, she insists, “They are vermin. Drunks and fools and gutter rats. One taste of dragonflame and they will run” (762). She is terribly, destructively wrong.  

            Although Rhaenyra is in armor, when she sits on the Iron Throne at last, those present witness the throne leaving several cuts on her legs and left hand. The dripping blood is taken as a sign that the throne had rejected her; her days as ruler would be few. This woman, is not suited to sit the throne and the realm must await her heroic brother, the true king. In a less-than-subtle metaphor, as her people rebel, the queen was “clutching so desperately at the Iron Throne that both her hands were bloody” (760).

            Even her dragon grows irrational, descending to attack the mob at the Dragonpit instead of attacking them from the air or flying away. After her dragon’s death, the queen dies horribly, cursing her brother Aegon II as his dragon devours her in six bites. Only her terrified, babied son, a Robin Arryn type “like a small pale shadow” called Aegon the Younger (776), rather than a hero, survives.

            The queen and the princess thus fought a mighty war, destroying most of the Targaryen dynasty and soon killing off the dragons forever. Both lost nearly all their children, emphasizing the tragic waste caused by female pride and ambition. Their sons are left to claim the throne (Aegon II, then Aegon the Younger) and a law is passed that never again can a queen rule Westeros. Females are thus put in their place.  

 

Works Cited

Frankel, Valerie Estelle. Women in Game of Thrones: Power, Conformity and Resistance. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2014. 

George, Demetra. Mysteries of the Dark Moon: The Healing Power of the Dark Goddess. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

 “In Defense of Cersei Lannister” Feminist TV. http://feministtv.tumblr.com/post/51697770740/in-defense-of-cersei-lannister

Martin, George R.R. “The Princess and the Queen,” Dangerous Women, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. New York: Tor, 2013. 703-784.

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Sexism on Game of Thrones

Yeah, there’s problems. The biggest one of course is how one or more women in each episode take off their tops to manipulate men. Obviously, this cable show is trying to show as much female nudity as it can manage, but really? The problem, aside from just making this a peep show for heterosexual men, is that it inaccurately portrays and degrades women. Fully clothed powerful men defend themselves with swords, women defend themselves by showing their breasts or seducing the men. Yes, both use their wits. But there a major disconnect in who has the power. Even when women say they have the power, like Cersei or Jon Snow’s “girlfriend” beyond the wall, the women do little to change the system. The one birth we’ve seen was unnatural, the dark wispy thing that killed Stannis’s brother, and everything surrounding it were treated as pure evil. The powerful gods are male, the powerful kings are male, it’s all lopsided.

Arya Stark and Brienne (Lady Stake’s knight) are examples of women who operate in a man’s world, both by hiding their gender and embracing an androgynous life, becoming men in order to beat them. Lady Margaery Tyrell,  Red Priestess Melisandre and Shae, all fully feminine, know what kinds of power they want in life and go get it…however, they do so through sex, seduction, and relationships, once again suggesting that showing lots of body parts is the only path to power. Catelyn is quite strong. But she acts to follow her husband’s and son’s wishes, or gives in to emotion and makes politically poor decisions to avenge Bran or retrieve her girls. She’s not a good example of female power. Her sister, locking the doors of the Eyrie in a burst of feminine irrationalism and refusing to participate as she coddles her son (who seems to be growing spoiled and bloodthirsty as Joffrey) is even worse.

Queen Cersei Lannister in season one knows her family is too powerful for the king to offend, as her sousins fill the castle and her father holds the purse strings. She murders to protect her villainous secret, adopts Sansa as someone she can mold, beats Ned Stark, and takes over the kingdom on her husband’s death.

However, in season two, she’s revealed as the queen who can only get drunk and sulk in her bower. Tyrion out-manipulates her every time, Joffrey ignores her as her father likely will, she has no capable spies that match everyone else on the council. And by this point, everyone knows all her dirty little secrets. She’s been beaten. Finally, her mothering of Joffrey, whom she truly loves, has made him vile and dishonorable – she’s failed as a mother, wife, sister, and daughter as well as queen.

Daenerys Targaryen is of course the empowerment girl. I’m disturbed that she starts the series getting raped in a marriage she loathes and fears and then grows to love her husband as she obediently does his bidding, with a touch of her own manipulation. Once again, we have those seduction lessons and bare skin as her path to power. She’s misled by a treacherous witch woman and sacrifices her own child and husband for nothing. However, surrounded by death, she vanishes into the fire and is reborn stronger than ever. She also redefines the title Khaleesi (which basically suggests a useless concubine in the book) to mean queen over the men who have never served a woman, only warriors. She protects her people and fights her enemies, not with a sword, but with the dragonfire of her children…her own path to power. And, having decided she wants the Iron Throne, she’s going to get it, not by marrying a king or sleeping with a lord (as many other heroines on this series would do) but by forging alliances and taking revenge on those who betray her. She’s cruel but just, and she tries to protect the innocent, as Sansa does.

Sansa is the character I’m having trouble understanding. Season one, she was charmed by the handsome prince choosing her above all others, sweet-talking her, and making her the dazzling queen. But, even as she deluded herself, the final episode left her betrayed as Joffrey valued cruelty over sparing her father.

In season two, she hates Joffrey. She (probably) loathes Cersei and has seen that Cersei isn’t really the power behind the throne. Logically, she might be trying to be a powerful queen someday and doing whatever she must to achieve it…but she’s shown no sign that that’s what she wants. And Cersei’s example shows that she won’t really be a power in the kingdom, even as Joffrey’s wife. Marrying the king and poisoning him a day later would be logical. But we haven’t seen her setting that up. The series has established that most characters are “playing the Game of Thrones” and seeking power. Is Sansa? She’s not manipulating people to achieve her own goals, only acting to save others and convince everyone she’s sweet and helpless.

She might be making the best of a bad situation. But that only makes sense if she has no other choice. Offered several opportunities to let strong, somewhat honorable men escort her back to her family, she refuses. Why? Every character has said she’s in danger. She doesn’t appear to being spying as Arya has been – she’s never in important council meetings only the public throne room. If she’s loyal to the Starks, she should try to sneak back to them, but we haven’t even seen her send a covert letter (which admittedly, could condemn her to death). Imagine how Catelyn will feel upon hearing that Sansa keeps refusing to leave, even with offers of safe passage.

The final possibility is that she’s too scared or traumatized to act, even by running away, and possibly make things worse. She’d rather stand around, no longer queen-elect, and let Joffrey abuse her, rather than acting and possibly being executed as her father was. This is psychologically valid, especially with all she’s been through, from losing her family one by one to her humiliations and injuries at Joffrey’s hands. She’s been taught that nice girls do embroidery, lead the women of the castle in hymns, nod and smile at the men, choose their words carefully, bear humiliation proudly. But this pattern of thought will only lead to a worse and worse life as she gives up her own happiness to be mistreated for the delight of others. If she’s going to be anything other than an anti-feminist punching bag that the Lannisters degrade in every episode for her family’s crimes and for being a “nice girl,” she’s gonna have to get mad. Or at least grow up.

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Game of Thrones: The Real Conflict of Ice and Fire

Game of Thrones has an awful lot of conflicts. But watching the show, I feel that none of the characters are managing to put the pieces together:

  • Daneyris comes from the line of hereditary royalty who managed to unite the kingdoms and protect them all with the might of dragons. They’ve always interbred, probably to keep their amazing dragon magic strong.
  • Over the centuries, the White Walkers have faded until they’re only legends. Likewise, over the centuries, the dragons diminished in size and power, and no one remembered their original importance.
  • The nastiest weapon anyone has is “wildfire” so vicious it can burn armies at a distance and won’t go out…sort of a chemical substitute for dragons.
  • “For the night is dark and full of terrors,” chants the red priestess lady who insists on burning their enemies and worships fire as their savior. She says Stannis will save the world with fire.
  • “What is dead will never die” says the religion of the drowned god…vaguely echoing all these wights we’re seeing up north…
  • Pyat Pree explains that the dragons have returned and brought magic back to the world (though he doesn’t know it, this has happened at the same time as the White Walkers have returned. Perhaps this magic freed them as well). “It is strongest in their presence,” he says, “and they are strongest in yours.” Daenerys apparently IS magic incarnate.
  • Men of the Night’s Watch have always guarded the Southern lands, not from wildings, but from White Walkers. The oath on the show leaves out one line from the books.

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

While the horn part is literally true, the Watch is supposed to fight White Walkers with fire and light, though they’ve only just started remembering that. Admittedly, they’ve sent warnings and requests for more men south, but these have no result. They’re supposed to be calling the alert but aren’t doing enough of a job.

  • Former Night’s Watch Ranger Mance Rayder has made himself King-Beyond-the-Wall and united all the wildings into a single army. Likely he saw White Walkers and realized the time had come to form an alliance of fighters.
  • Old Nan explains to Bran: Oh, my sweet summer child. What do you know about fear? Fear is for the winter when the snows fall a hundred feet deep. Fear is for the the long nights when the sun hides for years, and children are born and live and die, all in darkness. That is the time for fear, my little lord; when the white walkers move through the woods. Thousands of years ago there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts, and women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept and felt their tearsfreeze on their cheeks. So is this the sort of story that you like?  In that darkness the white walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds.
  • The books are called The Song of Ice and Fire. Ice VERSUS Fire might be more accurate. A few things are clear: The White Walkers are the real threat. Daneyris Targaryen is “meant” by her birth to destroy them with her fire and dragons as the realm’s true protector. And she’ll probably make it back home before it’s completely desolated.

However, the characters are all ignoring this to kill each other, wasting entire armies that they already need in order to take a castle for an episode or two, destroy resources, and move on. They use the wildfire, dragons, and men only to attack one another. Now at last, winter is coming. And they may all be screwed.

Okay on Game of Thrones, I’m aware much more of the story has been written. I read some of the novels, maybe #1, #3, and part of #4 some years ago.  I need to reread those books…

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