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10-min read

You are Wrong in Dismissing Game of Thrones as a Sexist Show

Game of Thrones refers to the inherent woes of patriarchy in Westeros but never endorses them, that is why perhaps the show is too self-aware to be sexist.

Simantini Dey | News18.com

Updated:May 18, 2019, 3:50 PM IST
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You are Wrong in Dismissing Game of Thrones as a Sexist Show
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In the Game of Thrones' Season 7, episode 2 titled Stormborn, we witnessed one of the rarest moments in television history. In one of the scenes, we saw four strong women characters -- Daenerys Targaryen, Olenna Tyrell, Yara Greyjoy, and Ellaria Sand -- drawing up battle strategies against their common enemy, Queen Cersei.

This particular scene was iconoclastic because it was the first time a TV show which was majorly considered 'boy-fiction' had mainly female characters at the helm of things. In the last eight years, GoT has proved to be much more than that. The women of Westeros have successfully managed to subvert conventions and gender stereotypes. In fact, in the latest episode, we watched the biggest showdown between the two popular characters on TV, and both of them were women -- Daenerys and Cersei.

Ever since the final season of the show debut though, the complaints about latent sexism in the storylines of Game of Thrones have been growing louder with each episode. While many fans have taken to social media to point out how Daenerys transmogrifying into the mad queen, and the villain of the show is hardly convincing, several others have observed how convenient it is to make an ambitious woman character evil and villainous. Brienne of Tarth breaking into uncontrollable sobs as her love interest, Jaime Lannister, abandoned her, and took off for King's Landing in episode 4 had also been frowned upon. All these allegations do throw open one question: Is Game of Thrones -- which has so many strong female characters -- really sexist?

One Fierce Queen To Another

The transformation of Daenerys into a violent queen was completed in the latest episode of GoT, Bells. The dragon queen massacred thousands, torched the entire King's Landing despite Cersei's army putting down their arms, and surrendering. While it is difficult for many of us to see Daenerys, who had, until the last season, been an undisputed hero turn into a cold-hearted violent villain, this twist is hardly surprising.

If you go back to the previous seasons there are several glaring examples of Daenerys' violent streaks, and ample ambiguous moments to suggest that one could never be fully sure of how her coin had landed.

Unlike the show's creator, David Benioff, I do not judge Daenerys' reaction when her god-awful brother, Viserys, who had sold her to the Dothraki war-hound, is incarcerated. He genuinely deserved that reaction. But the fact that the Khaleesi herself said, "When my dragons are grown... we will burn cities to the ground" in season 2, episode 4 was certainly a tip-off that she planned to do horrible things in the near future. The Dragon Queen had also mentioned several times that she will take what is hers, 'with fire and blood' and yet, until season 8 episode 5, we barely paid attention to what that meant.

Like it or not (and I personally did not like it), but the dragon queen's violent side has been apparent from her chain-breaking days in Meereen. In season 4, episode 4, Daenerys dismissed Lord Barristan's counsel of answering 'injustice with mercy' and crucified 163 masters of Meereen, as punishment for them crucifying slave children. An eye for an eye is her idea of doling out justice for the injustice the masters did. Tell me you didn't find that moment chilling and heartless when she stood on the verandah with a triumphant look on her face and listened to the screams of the masters mounted on crosses.

From Season 6, we saw Tyrion trying to be the voice of reason in her head, although he rarely succeeded. We watched him talk her out of destroying cities more than once, but even he couldn't make her change her mind when she torched Randal and Dickon Tarly in season 7. While the escalation of her madness may be something that the makers didn't reveal until the latest episode, the undercurrents of it in her character were always there.

Also, it may be easy to disregard the show as sexist by saying that Daenerys is another botchy manifestation of Hollywood's stereotypes of evil queens, but it may not be entirely correct. As Benioff pointed out if circumstances would have been different, we would have never seen this side of her. Daenerys is a well carved out character, and we have seen her generosity, as well as kindness in the past, but isolated, angry, and grieving the loss of her closest counsellors, it is perhaps not surprising that someone like her, who has a penchant for burning things up, would make some terrible choices.

Some of the criticisms that the show has received for the character of Daenerys were also misplaced. For example, one of the highly criticised scenes from Season 8 Episode 4, was where the wildings are praising Jon for riding a dragon, as Daenerys watches. The scene is carefully structured to show how Jon is loved and celebrated, as opposed to Daenerys. Yes, we do see some really sexist characters in that scene, as one might expect to find in a quasi-medieval somewhere-on-earth place like Winterfell, however, that doesn't necessarily make the show sexist.

In fact, that particular scene is shot from Daenerys' perspective. She sees the wildings fawning over Jon's minor accomplishment, which she does as a regular chore, and we know she is already weighing her options, as her green eyes grow bigger. She knows intuitively that she will never have the same love as Jon, and in the next episode, she articulates her thoughts loud and clear -- 'let it be fear then' she said and by the end, we all understood what that truly meant.

Game of Thrones refers to the inherent woes of patriarchy in Westeros but never endorses them, that is why perhaps the show is too self-aware to be sexist. While on one hand, we see Varys arguing that Jon Snow is a more attractive candidate for the throne because he is a man, on the other, we see Tyrion arguing that 'a c*ck is not a true qualification...' for a ruler.

The critics of the show may argue that many kings before Daenerys have done terrible things like her, and yet they were never branded 'crazy' because obviously, they were men. However, those critics should also know that Tyrion had already beaten them to the punch. In episode 4 of the current season, Tyrion refers to the past misery inflicted on the entire realm by a king just to satisfy his lust for a woman. "Think of the last 20 years, the wars, the murders, the misery," he said. "All of it because Robert Baratheon loved someone who didn't love him back."

One of the crowning glories for the makers of Game of Thrones has been to give the audiences what they least expect and here we are, at the end of Game of Thrones, exchanging one fierce and violent queen like Cersei for another, Daenerys -- whom we never thought we will see in such negative light.

A Girl Has Many Accolades

While the audience has been harping on the unfairness of making Daenerys the mad queen, the makers have been steadily making our favourite assassin, Arya Stark the heroine of Game of Thrones.

In season 8 episode 3, Arya stole the show, as our regular heroes like Jon Snow and Daenerys struggled to stay alive, during the battle at Winterfell. Arya stabbed the Night King, who made one formidable enemy. However, her most feminist moment came in the following episode (episode 4), when Gendry proposed and asked her to be the lady of Storm's End, to which she calmly replied, "I am not a lady, I never have been." She doesn't need the refuge of 'a pack' and travels like the lone wolf, and knows how to fend for herself. She is the one who decides she wanted to sleep with Gendry, and the decision wasn't out of love but for the sake of adventure.

The makers of GoT have been increasing her screentime in the latest season. In episode 5 we saw the siege of King's Landing and the subsequent carnage by the mad queen through her eyes, and chances are in the finale episode she will play a pivotal role in determining who sits on the Iron Throne.

The Wily Lady of Winterfell

Sansa Stark is perhaps one of those few women in Game of Thrones who have been constantly undermined for her gender by the men of Westeros. Even Jon Snow, who is the touted hero of the show, had often been condescending to her. Jon refused to register her opinions about Ramsay Bolton before the Battle of the Bastards, despite her repeatedly urging him that Bolton will not play fair. It seemed that Jon simply refused to talk battle plans with a lady.

However, the show has done justice to Sansa and shown that despite what the male characters think of her, she is a seasoned diplomat, war strategist and the true power in the North to reckon with.

During the Battle of the Bastards when Jon and his army were completely surrounded by Bolton forces, it was Sansa, who came with the army of the Vale to rescue them and consequently helped them win the battle for Winterfell. However, that didn't stop Jon Snow from undermining her again. When he met Arya Stark in Winterfell, he jokingly said that Sansa thinks she knows better than all of us to which Arya replied, "She is the most intelligent person I know."

By then, Little Finger had also met his fate, thanks to Sansa. While Lord Baelish tried to turn the two sisters -- Sansa and Arya -- against each other, by igniting jealousy between the two, the girls turned his game on its head and killed him for it.

In the current season though, we saw Sansa shrewdly play the Game of Thrones way ahead of time. When she saw Tyrion, she knew it was imperative for her to tell him the truth about Jon's true identity. Talking about it would mean breaking a promise she had made to Jon, and yet, she knows that is the only way to keep Daenerys from the throne, and ergo keep the North free. She makes the tough choice and sets the wheel in motion, which may in the finale episode be the reason for Daenerys' downfall.

A knight of Seven Kingdoms

One of the reasons why GoT has so many strong female characters is that the makers do not reduce these women to their gender identities alone. Brienne of Tarth is an excellent example of this.

While she refused the gender-ascribed roles and decided to be a warrior, she has never shied away from expressing her emotions, at least not for people she loved. Be it her howling over Renley Baratheon's dead body after a gust of black smoke sent by the Red Woman stabbed him in the heart, or her emotional eyes when she was knighted by Jaime Lannister, Brienne's strength is as much in her valour as it is in her vulnerability and her ability to care for people she love. Therefore, although many may claim that Brienne pleading Jaime to stay seems out-of-place, it really did feel like she was just doing what her character would have done.

Brienne has been one of the noblest, and bravest characters on Game of Thrones, and in the current season too she shattered many gender stereotypes. She led a battalion against the Night King in the battle of Winterfell, and Jaime Lannister served under her. It was Jaime, who initially decided to stay back in Winterfell because Brienne's job of protecting Sansa was more important and now that Daenerys knows it was Sansa who had told Tyrion about Jon's identity, Brienne may have a tough job cut out for her indeed.

As the last episode of Game of Thrones draws near, we know that the makers have returned to the moral grounds which they abandoned at the beginning of the show, as they guillotined Ned Stark, in a bid to keep the storytelling fresh. The battle for the iron throne will finally be the fight we know, the same old good-vs-evil fight, where the good will triumph over evil. Yes, it will be as predictable as that, albeit, it will be fun to see how they reach this predictable result. Another thing that will be interesting to observe is, whose side we will be on -- a hero we have loved or a villain, like Daenerys, whom we have revered? Now, isn't that a moral conundrum! Maybe the makers will give us a happy ending, and we won't have to decide. Maybe not.

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