Opinion: Game of Thrones issues boil over in season 8


Game of Thrones has seen complaints for years about the way they have treated women and people of color. Audience frustration boiled over after season 8, episode 4. As George R.R. Martin preps for Game of Thrones spinoffs, it’s time to talk about what’s going on in his current show.

After Game of Thrones released episode 4, “The Last of the Starks,” there was plenty of backlash. From people pointing out the gaff of leaving a Starbucks (not actually Starbucks) cup in a shot to the utter disrespect shown by Jon to his poor direwolf, Ghost.

Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones up to and including season 8, episode 4.

Arguably one of the most important complaints revolved around two of the most important women in Westeros: Sansa and Messandei.

Even Deadline has a report on Jessica Chastain and Ava DuVernay taking HBO to task on Twitter. And they’re not alone. Their complaints are simply the latest in a long, long line of frustration launched at the HBO hit about how they use and represent women and people of color.

If you look at the numbers, Game of Thrones has only employed one (1) female director, Emmy Award-winner Michelle MacLaren, and she directed four of the show’s 73 episodes, according to a report from Salon. As for credited writers, Oscar nominee Vanessa Taylor wrote three episodes of Game of Thrones while Emmy nominee Jane Espenson wrote one.

The last time a woman received a credit as a writer or director for Game of Thrones was in 2014.

As for people of color, I struggle to even find an article talking about the numbers. Honestly, because the number for them is even more dire. There is a sea of white men heading Game of Thrones and the complaints about the treatment of some of the characters consistently reflects that fact.

Let’s talk about Missandei first.

I’m already on record as saying that Missandei would die this season because Daenerys had to be stripped of her allies for the story to move forward. Where I was wrong, though, was that I assumed she’d go out during the Battle of Winterfell. (I assumed a lot of people would go out that night.)

Narratively, I get why she needed to die.

However, in the context of the show as a whole, it’s the way that she went out that’s irksome.

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Now, before I get into that, let me just say, that scene with Cersei at the end of episode 4 could have been just as powerful had the writers saved (even a barely alive) Ser Jorah and let him die at the hands of Cersei and her goons. You could even argue that he was closer and, narratively, it would have been even more devastating to watch him survive a massive battle only to be captured and beheaded.

Instead, the writers felt the need to put a slave back in her chains.

What bothers me so much about the way Missandei was killed is that it doesn’t come from a group of writers I trust to care about POC representation on screen.

I know, I know, you’re out there saying that I’d probably have been mad no matter how they killed off Missandei.

You know, maybe you’re right.

Like I’ve mentioned, Game of Thrones has a very white, very male writers’ room. If there were more minority voices in the room, then sure, it’d be a slightly easier pill to swallow. But that’s because, had there been minority voices in the room, they would have made sure there was more balance throughout the show. They’d have worked toward Game of Thrones having as many, if not more, thriving POC characters as it had POC characters who had to die for narrative reasons. I have no trust that the current slate of writers operated in good faith when it came to POC characters.

And that’s mostly because Game of Thrones has a seven and a half season long history of mistreating POC characters in support of a white character’s storyline. The biggest example is everything that happens with the Dothraki—who the show treats like (and essentially calls) complete savages. It’s a depiction that could slide by with merely an eye-roll at yet another tired trope if the show had balanced that out with high born POC characters.

Sure, you have a handful of characters in Dorne and a few other POCs here and there. However, the vast majority of the Game of Thrones landscape is made up of POCs who the show either says are savages or slaves. That’s not representation.

Then you add in the fact that, most recently, all of the military minds in Winterfell decided to put the Dothraki warriors at the front lines of their attack with weapons that were guaranteed to not work (before Melisandre came along).

Game of Thrones spent episode after episode building up the importance of using dragon glass or Valyrian steel to defeat the army of the dead. But, the Dothraki (again, your FRONT LINE) were sent in, all alone with their regular weapons? Thank goodness Melisandre set their weapons on fire so at least they stood a minimal chance at killing maybe one or two wights.

My point here is that Game of Thrones sat there and looked at the group of POCs, who they had called savages in the past, and said this was the group they wanted to mercilessly sacrifice for dramatic effect.

There have been plenty of other complaints surrounding the depiction of POCs around Daenerys, especially around slaves being freed and outright worshiping at her feet. I mean, I wasn’t around, but I’m pretty sure slaves didn’t go out to worship at the feet of Abraham Lincoln after the Emancipation Proclamation. The white savior motif behind Daenerys’ entire storyline is painful. It also shows why it’s hard to have faith that the writers are actually looking to use POCs as more than simply plot points.

Speaking of simply plot points: Sansa.

Photo Credit: HBO

Like Chastain points out in the Deadline report, rape is not a plot point. It’s not a writer’s tool to make a character stronger. I can’t help but think that having more women in the writers’ room during the later seasons of Thrones would have helped in making that point clear prior to the ink drying on the scripts.

There was backlash after the episode where Ramsay raped Sansa because the show seemed more concerned with how Theon (then, Reek) was affected by it. And sure, that was a turning point in Theon’s willingness to completely bend to Ramsay’s will, but you just put Sansa through an unspeakable trauma in order to do that.

And then, in the final season of the show, you bring it back up casually (saying she was “broken in rough” and specifically highlighting Ramsay’s “influence”) like it’s the biggest reason she’s boss AF now?

Of all the things Sansa has gone through, that’s the aspect of her life that you decide needs to be brought up when talking about her growing from the little bird of season one? When she was a child, she was forced to stare at her father’s head on a spike! Sansa’s growth (which, I’d argue is some of the best—if not the best—in the show) is so much more attributable to dealing with the cruelty of Joffrey and the cut-throat cunning of Cersei when she was younger. Plus learning mental manipulation from Littlefinger (yes, he was very creepy and sexual predator-y, but it’s ultimately the mind games that Sansa learned and grew from).

There are so many non-rape and non-sexual assault reasons why Sansa has become who she is now that it’s unbelievable and insulting to attribute her growth to a man who raped her.

Before you say something like “well, Sansa was just giving an example, she was being vague and was implying Joffrey and Cersei and more, too,” I say nonsense.

The writers had a choice of one or two names to bring up before Sansa said “and the others.” They specifically chose to have her mention Ramsay. Perhaps that’s because they wanted to highlight that the worst thing to happen to Sansa was being raped, which I get. It was. But it’s the way the writers framed it—the implication that, had Sansa not gone through the sexual assault she experienced from Ramsay, she wouldn’t have become a strong woman.

Which is completely ridiculous. Both because it’s irresponsible to send that message and because Sansa became the strategic, calculating mind she is now for so many other reasons.

You can argue the other side of either of these complaints if you want. But let me leave you with this: Chances are, complaints wouldn’t be so loud had there been POCs and women in the writers’ room and with writing credits.

First, because questions like these are more likely to be raised during the writing process (which may change the product for the better along the way). Second, because viewers would be able to have a little more trust that the writers and creators were operating in good faith rather than within their unperceived biases.

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Adding diversity doesn’t guarantee a show that’s completely devoid of mistakes when it comes to depicting women and people of color. But if they are a part of the process, then positive change becomes much more likely than it is with a show that relies on a large group of white men at the helm.

In the end, I have one question and it’s for George R.R. Martin: You have multiple shows in the works at HBO. When are you going to speak up and demand a more diverse writers’ room?

Let us know your thoughts on Game of Thrones and its final season in the comments!