It’s ladies week on Game Of Thrones as women dominate the narrative. Or rather the manner in which they have no control or are constantly threatened by violence dominates the narrative.
Let’s bitch it out…
“Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls” – Cersei
I love Game Of Thrones. I spend a lot of time talking about the latest episode, trying to convince those who “can’t get into fantasy” that it’s worth their time and discussing the differences between the books and the show with other fans. But increasingly this season, I find myself getting more and more upset about the show’s interest in rape and sexual violence.
I mean at one point during the episode, I literally just screamed “Stop raping girls!” (Okay, maybe that was in my mind, but that’s neither here, nor there).
It would be easy to say that the show is sexist or that it doesn’t respect its female characters, but I don’t think that’s the problem. Author George RR Martin and series co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are too smart and too aware of what they’re doing for that explanation (just read some of the interviews in which they discuss how violence, including sexual violence, is a commentary on our world and the world of Westeros). This isn’t a sugar coated fantasy tale where the bad guys get their comeuppance. And if we’re being honest there’s enough “regular” terrible violence on the series that doesn’t draw protests and essays that my argument may immediately ear-mark me as a hypocrite.
But damn if I wish I could get through an episode without a man threatening a woman (or, tonight, a girl) with rape. Like, enough with the fucking rape, already! Especially when it comes from a truly despicable character like Karl (Burn Gorman), the Nightswatch defector holding Craster’s Keep in terror who is brutally dispatched by Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) in an extremely satisfying (and admittedly sexualized) manner. But did we need to see Karl threaten to rape Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) to know how terrible a man he is, or that he deserves to die? I would argue that at this point, the answer is no. And then I question why that scene is included and whether it’s truly necessary…
It’s a tricky argument to make in an episode that explicitly explores the lack of agency women have in this world. That question is predominantly central to this week’s narrative. Sansa (Sophie Turner), Cersei (Lena Headey) and to a lesser extent Arya (Maisie Williams) and Dany (Emilia Clarke) are front and centre in ‘First of His Kind’ (which strikes me as an ironic episode title for this very reason) and all of them are very clearly put in their place based on their sex.
Cersei is the unsung hero of the episode for me. Between her semi “make peace” with Margaery (Natalie Dormer) at Tommen’s coronation to her tête-à-tête with Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) about Myrcella, Cersei is tentatively (and angrily) exploring the boundaries of her class-based prison. The two conversations, and the one she has with her father, Tywin (Charles Dance), oscillate between the roles that Cersei has been forced into because of her sex (trophy bride, absent mother, impotent avenger), none of which are ones she would have chosen for herself. Margery’s question about what she should call Cersei is on point. What exactly is Cersei to anyone these days? It seems even she is uncertain, though that’s not going to stop her from trying to do anything she deems necessary with whatever limited amount of power she has left, including emotionally manipulating / connecting with Oberyn to try and control his vote at her brother’s upcoming trial.
Sansa finds herself in similar liminal territory. If she thought that arriving at the Vale would solve her problems, her mad aunt Lysa (Kate Dickie) quickly dashes those hopes. A cursory welcome belies Lysa’s true desires (to scream while fornicating on her wedding night to Aidan Gillen’s Baelish apparently). It’s alarming that the same irrational response that marked Cat’s visit in S1 returns when Lysa interrogates Sansa about Petyr’s affections. In this regard Sansa – younger, unblemished – becomes a threat to the older woman. It’s a tale as old as time: an older woman who defines herself by her desirability threatened by the presence of the next generation model. Note that Lysa’s refusal to acknowledge Baelish’s attempt to delay the marriage is tied into how she was forced to fend off all of those suitors. Lysa’s solution to Sansa’s presence is casually muttered after her attack on the teenage girl; once Tyrion (an unseen Peter Dinklage) is executed, Sansa will be married to Lysa’s teat-suckling brat, Robin. It’s just another arranged marriage that poor Sansa will be forced into, which is exactly what she thought she was escaping when she fled King’s Landing.
Arya and Dany are different cases because they’re plotting their own courses. Unlike Cersei and Sansa, who live under a sexist regime, Arya and Dany are (slightly more) free to determine their future. For Arya, this means continuing to dream about exacting revenge on her enemies (Side Note: it’s interesting that Arya and Rory McCann’s Hound don’t yet know about Joffrey’s murder, but Dany does). The Hound remains curt and dismissive in his real world tutorials of the youngest Stark daughter, but his frantic search for her when he wakes up to find her gone is indicative of Arya’s importance to him. Arya doesn’t yet realize it, but in the Hound she’s found a reliable traveling companion: a man cares enough to take up her mantel in a fight, but let’s her leave him on a vengeance death list. Despite all that, seeing a grown man strike a young girl is never easy to watch.
Dany, meanwhile, remains the show’s most powerful woman, but even she finds her power limited by the actions of men. Daario (Michiel Huisman) opens her sole scene with good news: he’s captured a fleet of ships that will allow the army to traverse to King’s Landing and certain victory (though whether that victory extends to Westeros proper is less certain). Whether Dany would have reigned supreme may never be known, however, because she decides to stay and re-rescue the enslaved peoples of Yunkai and Astapor who have been forced back into slavery. The metaphor is apt in an episode in which so many characters are unable to make their own decisions or control their own future. Like Cersei, Dany aspires to be more than a sole, traditional female moniker; instead she must take the power back from those who would seek to unravel what she’s accomplished. The difference between her and her counterpart in King’s Landing is that Dany has the ability to do something about it…
- The other woman to buck the trend is Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), who assumes the role of leader and mentor in her interactions with new squire, Pod (Daniel Portman). This is the latest completely adorable pairing that this show has produced and I look forward to imagining a comedic, odd couple spin-off that could form an evening of programming along with the continuing adventures of Arya, the Hound and Tywin Lannister.
- Also, how hilarious is it that Pod doesn’t know to remove the fur from the rabbit before cooking it?! He’s only good for removing armor and serving wine! (and satisfying ladies of ill repute, though that may not be applicable on this journey)
- Free up your social calendar because we’ve got more weddings on the horizon: Margaery and Tommen in a fortnight, followed by Cersei and Loras two weeks later. On a related note, clearly no one on this show has learned anything from the last few weddings (although Lysa does seem to enjoy hers, judging from the vocals Sansa has to endure).
- The entire final act is the attack on Craster’s Keep and it plays out mostly how one would expect. The notable exceptional is when Locke (Noah Taylor) abducts Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), prompting Bran to take control of Hodor and kill the former King’s Guard. The look of sheer horror on poor Hodor’s face as he surveys the blood on his hands is heartbreaking, though watching the other asshat Night’s Watch mutineer get mauled by Ghost lightens the mood considerably.
- When it’s all said and done, Craster’s wives & daughters elect to burn the house down, so I suppose that’s a certain kind of agency. Anyone bring marshmallows?
- I didn’t much care for Lysa’s exposition-y declaration that Baelish convinced her to poison her husband and bring Cat to the Eyrie. It’s similar to the way Baelish and Oleana just kinda dropped their involvement in Joff’s murder last week; it feels poorly incorporated and unsubtle.
What’s your take on ‘First Of His Name’? Are you hoping the rape and sexual violence stops? Who has the most agency? Who has the most power? (They’re not necessarily the same thing). Were you satisfied with the outcome of the siege on Craster’s Keep? Upset with Bran for using Hodor to kill? Intrigued by the vision of where they’re headed? Sound off below
Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO