I’m no expert on Game of Thrones, as I’ve seen exactly one episode and have never read the novels upon which it’s based, so you can take or leave my comments. What has led to this post is one comment on twitter, which seemed to spark some debate. This is my response.
The positives: I loved the world building, there’s a lot of rich detail there in how the kingdoms are set up and linked in different ways. There are clearly different cultures and climates and environments. I love what the story may get into about nature in this world. It is epic and I love this, with scary beasties in the offing as well. Don’t forget cool swords, while Sean Bean lends dignity to his character Stark.
But what’s with the…everything else? This is epic fantasy, but it certainly aint my kind of fantasy. What with the incest, rape, and general treatment of women. Even the most accessible male, Sean Bean’s Stark, gives short shrift to Lady Stark about his sons and the need to sentence people to death. Some say it’s a version of history, but it’s fantasy – ie a made up story in a made up world. Fantasy is allowed or could even be encouraged to promote modern sensibilities, after all, it’s FANTASY, not a documentary and not history.
There are strong female characters in this world, but they are constrained by an essentially misogynist world view. Women are pawns, noble suffering mothers, whores or princesses who pretty much only talk about who they will marry/who will rule. The only female character who isn’t any of the above is a child who prefers shooting arrows to needlework – but she is a child. And as a trope she is a very, very overused idea – the Shield Maiden of the Rohirrim anyone? Robin Hood’s Maid Marion?).
Anyway, those who defend this world on the basis it possesses strong female characters is like saying England in the 15th century wasn’t sexist because Queen Elizabeth I ruled. It was sexist and Good Queen Bess constantly had to defend her right to rule by making statements about having a man’s heart. Also just because she was strong didn’t mean women were not as oppressed as before, more than likely it just made the oppression more obvious. In the same way, Game of Thrones is based on a misogynist world view, which is not negated by the story having interesting and strong female characters. I do like that there are good and bad women, yet if anything, to be a woman in this world means you must be strong to take all the crap.
Of course as a story it paints the men too in a pretty much bad light. If they’re not ‘whoring,’ they’re scheming or killing something or being victimised for being illegitimate. I liked the youngest Stark lad, but well…who knows.
Finally why can’t writers be more creative when writing their female characters? This site may have some answers and while the Bechdel test is simplistic it has a point. I want well-rounded characters and I understand one episode can’t tell me much, but it showed me about how women are treated. I only hope these strong women in this story begin to talk to each about more than the men in their lives and perhaps take over. And maybe they will, I have yet to see. One place to start is the Stark girl with the arrows can shoot some of her siblings and be recognised as heir. That’d be fantasy.