(This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones, Season 6.)
In anticipation of a new Game of Thrones season coming out soon, I started watching season six for the second time. I started off enjoying it, but an insight came to me that has taken over my whole view of the show. At first I thought I was imagining things. But the evidence is overwhelming.
The show is about the emasculation of men by women. Hear me out.
First, let us take stock of some of the more far-fetched depictions of the female gender in the show as a whole. As with many nerd-type fantasies, there are plenty of female warriors. We suspend our disbelief that Brienne is one of the most fearsome warriors in Westeros because she is large and learned to fight. Seems kind of reasonable, at least for entertainments’ sake. Arya, Yara, Meera, the Sand Snakes, okay. Fine. It is a little annoying that we’re expected to take the medieval bona fides of the show seriously – lords are beyond the reach of justice, the poor live in abject misery while the wealthy live in luxury, religion has serious cultural power for the lower classes, etc – yet female warriors not only abound but publicly defeat male warriors on a world-historical level. But alright. Though it is certainly based on medieval Europe and George R.R. Martin has emphasized that one of the reasons he created The Song of Ice and Fire was because of all the BS medieval stuff in the fantasy genre, it obviously isn’t exactly the same as the stories feature dragons and some magic. So some slack can be cut.
But the show progressing is a progress of the capable and strong men dying off or becoming crippled. For those major male characters still alive at the beginning of season six the only one who isn’t literally missing his dick or crippled is Jon Snow, and he’d be dead if it wasn’t for the Red Woman who raised him from the dead and his sister Sansa who shows up to save his life in the Battle of the Bastards with the Knights of the Vale.
So now that we’ve gotten Jon Snow, the only possible rebuke to my thesis out of the way, let us take quick stock of the other main male characters and their story threads. Jaime is missing his hand and depends on Brienne earlier in the show and now Cersei to do his fighting for him. Bran can’t use his legs and relies on Meera to cart him around and fight for him unless he can take over Hodor who is mentally disabled. Bran can even go back in time and talk to people, but instead of going back in time to talk himself out of climbing the Winterfell walls and avoiding becoming a cripple in first place, he goes back in time to make sure Hodor also becomes a cripple and is fated to live his entire life so that he can “hold the door” for his crippled Lord.
Another word about Willis (his name before he becomes Hodor). In an earlier flashback, the young Stark boys are sword training with Willis. Willis’ mother then comes out and drags him away by the ear, mentioning that he’ll never learn to fight because “he’s a stabeboy and always will be.” Ah those harsh medieval class distinctions!
Oh wait except for Myranda, the lover and fellow warrior-in-arms of Ramsay. She’s a woman so she can be a frightening badass even though she was not even the kennelmaster but the kennelmaster’s daughter. Willis needs to learn his station though.
The dickless trio of Theon, Varys and Greyworm serve Daenerys. Tyrion also now serves Daenery’s and while I would certainly wouldn’t normally use the word ‘crippled’ to describe a dwarf he brings it up in pretty much every scene so I’m going with it.
Jorah Mormont has the stone man’s disease. Even the Onion Knight is missing fingers.
Now the female characters, none of whom are crippled and all of whom possess absolutely amazing qualities. We always knew Daenery’s would be a major feature of the show, but does every one of her servants and fighters have to be dickless, crippled or dying? Even her virile lover Daarhio Naharis is the exception that proves the rule: she banishes him (“I felt nothing” she says) and admits it frankly that it is because he is suitable to be her lover!
Daenerys’ newest ally is Yara of the Iron Islands, with her dickless, cowed brother Theon in tow. On the way there Yara even stops the fleet for a bit of shore leave seemingly so that she can display to her brother that she can have sex with women even while he can’t. When Yara offers her services to Dany in return for Dany helping her “kill some uncles who don’t believe a woman is fit to rule”, Yara declares her openness to marrying Dany and Dany is visibly flattered.
(Another interesting point: none of these female characters have heterosexual relations under the usual conditions. Yara is apparently now a lesbian. Dany banishes Daarhio and earlier banishes the healthy Jorah and doesn’t even sleep with her brief husband in Meereen, and though she sleeps with Khal Drogo he of course must die early on. Cersei only wishes to sleep with her brother. Sansa has never had a real lover. Brienne has never been with a man. Neither has Meera or Arya.)
Cersei fully takes up the mantle of the warrior-of-the-couple now that Jaime is crippled. In this season Jaime does absolutely nothing except fail in his mission to protect his daughter and takes over the Blackfish’s castle only by threatening to kill his captive Edmure’s infant son. Cersei, meanwhile, hatches an ingenious plot to blow up all of her enemies at once and then improbably becomes the sole reigning monarch of the seven kingdoms after her weak son the king kills himself. She accomplishes this feat – miraculously- with her two sexless male allies: the zombie Mountain, and the elderly Qyburn with his gang of street children.
The Sand Snakes – a bunch of thin, psychotic waifs who collectively weigh 100 pounds and cannot be defeated in battle – kill their Prince and all his guards without so much as a scratch and take over Dorne. At least the Prince put up a good fight. Oh wait just kidding he was also – you guessed it – completely crippled. His whole life. Totally crippled.
The end of the season has the Sand Snakes in a parlay with the elderly Lady Olenna of House Tyrell who is now the only remaining Tyrell which is really revolutionary that a woman is now ruling one of the major houses of Westeros except – oh yeah – the Lannisters, Targaryens, Mormonts, Dornish, Reeds, and essentially the Starks. They’re discussing how to best get revenge on the Lannisters. The Sand Snake who was Oberyn’s lover then rings a bell. Yes, a little golden bell. And who should come out of the darkness just when he is called but the dickless Varys.
Meera carts Bran all over and saves his life numerous times. During the climax of their story line he is literally passed out dreaming on a wooden pallet that this poor teenager has to drag through the snow while the undead are chasing them. She is the head of House Reed now that her brother – who she also had to protect – has died. Again, except for the Starks and the Arryn’s, every major house in Westeros is now ruled over by a sole woman who has no need for or interest in men.
The trials and tribulations of Sansa have made her wise and competent. The same cannot be said for her dumb dumb brother Jon, who never seems to learn any kind of lesson throughout the whole show and naively throws his life away because he is a good swordsman (the “best in the North” according to Ramsay, except obviously for Brienne, Meera and probably Arya) and a naive but well-meaning idealist who can only get through his trials with the help of Sansa or the Red Woman or Ygritte. Sansa even warns him literally hours before the battle that Ramsay is going to trap him and Jon is a big dummy and falls into the most obvious trap that would only work for a dummy like him (if you’ve forgotten, the trap is: Ramsay kills Rickon on the battle field which causes Jon Snow to charge the Bolton front lines by himself for some reason. And remember Rickon has no one to protect him now that his female bodyguard is dead).
Jon has lived in poverty with the Night’s Watch, been rejected as a bastard, been a Ranger north of the wall in sub-zero temperatures, been wounded countless times, was stabbed to death by his subordinates, and lost many people dear to him along the way. However, unlike Sansa who has become a military tactician and elder statesmen because she was raped by Ramsay on their wedding night, he never changes. After he is released from his Night’s Watch vows because he was murdered then brought by to life by the Red Woman, he finds out that Ramsay Bolton raped his sister Sansa on their wedding night and now has their little brother in his dungeon and has claimed Winterfell for himself. Yet he still needs forceful persuading from Sansa to lift a finger in the matter.
And he wouldn’t be able to defeat Ramsay without the new head of House Mormont, a fierce, indepedent, strong young woman. Well more like a girl. She’s 11. But that doesn’t stop her from being the only house that keeps faith with the Starks and then berates the virile heads of the other houses for being pussies. They hang their heads in shame (“Lady Mormont speaks harshly…but truly!” says Lord Manderly).
Podrick Payne, a Lannister warrior who fought bravely during the Battle of Blackwater Bay and other skirmishes, nevertheless has chosen his adulthood (“You’re still a squire? At your age?” Bronn asks him, in one of the few minutes Bronn is onscreen) to be squire to Brienne. Their verbal exchanges, like Sam and Gilly, feature Brienne openly mocking the now 30 year old Payne: “It’s a siege, my Lady!” says Pod, “You have a keen military mind, Pod,” is her sarcastic reply.
The Hound kind of comes back to us as a character briefly, reminding us during his appearance once again that he was defeated by a woman (the Septon he is confessing this to simply laughs and walks away).
Littlefinger has a total of five minutes screen time in this season, basically only to remind us that the Vale is ruled by a prince who is easily manipulated and who the GOT wiki describes as “developmentally disabled”.
Arya is strong and determined, her battle skills tested by – yep – another female waif who is some kind of ninja for the many-faced god.
Samwell Tarly is humiliated and belittled in every scene he is featured in, while Gilly is street-smart and brave. On the ship she is looking out a below-deck window during a terrible storm with a look of delight on her face; Sam is barfing into a barrel. In the carriage on the way to the Tarly estate, she makes fun of Sam twice for being nervous. She pauses in her haranging of him only in Sam’s ancestral home because his father wants a turn busting his balls. When his father berates him at the table, Sam hangs his head while Gilly defends him fearlessly.
And here is an important point. It isn’t just that these are parts of the plot. The whole tone of the show takes delight in this reversal of gender roles. When the 11 year old Lady Mormont gives one of her rousing battle speeches, the camera lingers on the face of the men in the room to show their stunned surprise and finally rests on the visage of a satisfied Sansa taking delight in a peer. In literally every episode there is at least one “you don’t have a dick anymore” joke at the expense of Theon, Greyworm or Varys. I was shocked at how many jokes about the dickless there were. You’d think if a man had his dick cut off while being tortured that at least his sister might avoid the subject, but no, the only time Yara takes a break from ridiculing Theon for not having a dick is when she is making a political speech at the Kingsmoot but she didn’t really have to because Euron brought it up in his speech. Tyrion brings up his “I’m a dwarf and I owe all my success to cynicism, wine and reading” schtick in nearly every scene of importance. Varys is horrified by the new Red Priestess in Meereen, who scares him because – yep – she knows the story of him getting his dick cut off in detail. Daenerys’ storyline climax in this season is her encounter with the fearless Dothraki khals who can’t lay a finger on her during her encounter with them because she tipped over some lamps and the fire spread too quickly I guess? She emerges from the fiery carnage unharmed and nude, her sexuality not only fully intact but glimmering with mythological power like Venus rising from the sea.
The list really goes on and on. Honestly halfway through the season I thought “okay surely there will be some scene coming up that doesn’t emasculate a man in some way” and it really never happened.
So what does it all mean? Is this some kind of feminist ruse? I think not. I was talking to a female friend about this and she made the obvious point that it is okay for there to be a show where women dominate in battle and politics, seeing as how the whole of human history has basically been the opposite. I couldn’t agree more, but that is exactly the point: men ruling on the battlefield and (mostly) in politics is a historical reality. GOT is supposed to tap into the historical reality of the medieval world, but it really doesn’t. It is a fantasy, even more of a fantasy than other works in the genre.
But what kind of fantasy? It is a modern fantasy. Like so many shows on television that are in some way supposed to be about the past, the show depicts our fantasies, not historical reality. And that fantasy is: solid society, private pleasure. (Mad Men is even a better example of this than GOT). The real heroes of GOT are not Daenery’s or The Sand Snakes or whatever implausible female ruler. The real hero for the modern viewer is Oberyn Martell, The Red Viper. He is a flagrant and promiscuous hedonist, but also a great fighter. He makes rousing speeches in favor of bisexuality and freedom, but is still a Prince so people respect his position. He has children without needing to raise them.
There is a certain male fantasy, rooted still in virility, which dreams of female domination (but not female sexual domination). This fantasy says: with women in charge, we can more fully advance our base desires and act out our urges. Perhaps this is the fantasy we are seeing. But whatever kind of show Game of Thrones is, a historically-based medieval setting it is not.