Alas, Game of Thrones, I finally learned how to quit you, and surprisingly enough, the world kept spinning.
This time a couple of years ago, I would have gone to the mat for what was not only my favorite television show, but for what I felt was the best, most innovative television experience around. My love for Game of Thrones was all-consuming. I devoured the books and soaked up each series like it was a spiritual experience. I delved into the backgrounds of my favorite characters, researching histories and exploring fan theories.
While I still adore the book series George R.R. Martin has built, my disappointment with the television show began slowly, until it eventually built up into a boil. On a personal level, the first real head-scratcher was the development of Robb Stark’s non-Jeyne Westerling wife. While the television show’s creators developed her with the intention of giving Robb a Strong Female Character worth losing a war over, instead her presence changed Robb’s character from that of a naive yet noble boy who followed in his father’s doomed footsteps, to a kid who shackles up his own lady mother, while at the same time putting his entire kingdom at risk for the sake of his own selfishness.
While I didn’t want to realize it at the time, removing Jeyne Westerling from the narrative was one of the first major hints that Game of Thrones had a problem in developing its women. It was a subtle problem — but a problem none the less. As a wife and queen, Jeyne represented a different kind of heroine. She wasn’t flashy or exceptional, but she accepted the weight of responsibility that had been placed on her as a queen, even at such a young age. This quiet kind of strength built on sacrificing oneself for others is the kind that the Game of Thrones series seems to have trouble developing because it is uniquely feminine.
While the Talisa fiasco was annoying, I hardly considered it a deal-breaker considering that this was also the show that was giving Cersei Lannister top billing. That all changed when season 4 rolled around, and the show decided it would be cool beans for Jaime to rape Cersei. I won’t go too in depth about all the reasons why this scene was so problematic considering I’ve already written a novel discussing this very issue, but putting the illogical character development aside, what I found most troubling about the entire situation was not even necessarily the scene itself, but the reaction that the creators had to all of the fan outrage. Insisting that Jaime couldn’t have raped Cersei because they were in a twisted, consensual incest relationship is not only ignorant, but a disgusting and dangerous perpetuation of rape culture.
I knew then that even though I would keep watching the show, I couldn’t keep sticking up for what was being created without reevaluating it through the understanding that it was likely coming from a place of subconscious misogyny. I really, honestly believe that the creators of Game of Thrones are trying to create a well-rounded world with three-dimensional women, but unfortunately, I also believe that their unwillingness to educate themselves about how to overcome their own epistemological disadvantage as white men has led to them unconsciously encouraging casual misogyny and racism. This became most evident to me in season 5, when I finally reached my breaking point.
When I heard we were finally headed off to Dorne in season 5, I was elated. Since the Martell’s introduction in A Feast for Crows, they’ve quickly become my favorite Westeros family, and the one I most easily relate to for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they are the only aristocratic people of color in the series, as well as the only House that practices primogeniture regardless of gender.
As young woman of color, Arianne Martell’s coming of age arc in A Feast for Crows represented so much for me. She was idealistic, but flawed, driven to succeed, but in desperate need of a dose of humility. She loved her father, but she didn’t always respect him. She loved her people, but she knew they didn’t always respect her.
When it was announced that Princess Arianne wouldn’t be making an appearance in season 4, the disappointment was almost comical. Of course they would be replacing Arianne with her younger brother — it was as she had always feared! But while I thought that the creators were seriously missing an opportunity in eliminating this point of view character, I at least held on to the hope of what the Sand Snakes would bring to the screen.
Of course, as you’ve probably already guessed, the actual introduction of the Sand Snakes in season 5, episode 4, was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. They were ridiculous caricatures of the three-dimensional women they had the potential to be, and this was one micro-aggression I was simply unwilling to sit back and take. After that episode, I finally quit Game of Thrones cold-turkey.
I fully realize that to most people think my reaction to be an extreme one. Was I really willing to let a couple of girls in bikinis with bad accents and brunch kidnapping plots ruin an entire series for me? But the truth is, we all have that one thing that we connect to when watching a series, and as a woman of color, I fundamentally connected to the plight of the Martells. I understand that isn’t everyone’s experience, but it is mine. So when I see a story that was about nuanced female empowerment in the books get turned into a man’s redemption arc on screen, it frustrates me not because I’m no longer able to connect, but because I finally understood that this show had no intention of ever trying to connect to a person like me.
And that’s fine, I guess. To each their own. But if a show isn’t making an effort to connect to me as a viewer, then I certainly don’t need to be trying to make an effort to support a viewing experience that makes me fundamentally angry every week. Because I’ve got a lot of stuff to do in life, and honestly, I’m pretty tired of always being angry. I’d rather refocus my energy on positive experiences.
The bottom line is, if Game of Thrones still brings you joy then HAVE AT IT, I say: indulge in what lifts up your life. But I also know that there’s a lot of people out there hate-watching Game of Thrones out of a sense of misguided obligation, and to all of you out there, I would just like to say that it’s okay, because you can stop at any time. No, really, I promise you can. And once you finally do allow yourself to let go of the anger by removing yourself from the situation, the feeling is liberating.