Wednesday, June 17, 2015

RECAP: Game of Thrones 5x09 - Dear Writers, Please Stop

Sigh. I hate to join the bandwagon of critics questioning whether or not to watch Game of Thrones next season, but I am. This show is just so...problematic. All the time. Aggressively. I get that some shows want to be "edgy" or to go after shock-value and what they think that will add to their demographic, but there comes a point where you just kind of end up with your face in your hands, horrified that you aren't more horrified by what happened in the latest episode.

I didn't stop watching in season four, even though that season had a higher density of rapes per episode than Law and Order: SVU. I powered through and I thought that I'd made the right choice when the first few episodes of season five proved to be relatively sexual assault free and brought us back to the stuff I actually like about this show: characters doing interesting things in the pursuit of power.

And then we got to the episode where Sansa was raped, and I yet again questioned my commitment to a show that seems intent on destroying the sexual agency of all fictional characters. I but I kept going because I figured Sansa was going to rise from the ashes and wreak bloody vengeance. She did not.

Last episode featured the introduction of a fantastic female character only for her to be gruesomely murdered and resurrected as a zombie within twenty minutes. Like, what the hell, guys? I know that some people will shrug this off by saying that Game of Thrones is a show where no character is safe, male or female, but I think we should all be able to agree now that there is a level of vicious delight in murder and rape that is reserved for the female characters. 

There seems to be an almost romanticized fetishization of how "beautifully" they're hurt, and in such pointedly feminine ways. That Wildling woman was killed by child zombies. Robb's wife Talisa was stabbed in her pregnant belly. Sansa was raped on her wedding night. Roz was shot full of arrows while naked, her body displayed like art. Shae was killed by her former lover for returning to be a prostitute when he cast her out. Ygritte was distracted by the man she loves only to have another man shoot her full of arrows.

There's a point at which we have to say that the violence on this show has gotten out of hand. It's not "gritty realism" anymore, it feels more like wish-fulfilling torture porn. I don't want to cast aspersions on the character and misogyny ratings of the writers of Game of Thrones, but I'm starting to suspect I don't have to. Their track record speaks for itself. Wherever they have been able to shoehorn in the death of a female character or the rape of a woman, they have, even when the story makes no such reference.

And this episode was no different.

Okay, so, long intro aside, the basic plotlines in this most recent episode took place in our regular haunts, but left out King's Landing and Winterfell. Instead we got close looks at Castle Black, Meereen, Dorne, Braavos, and the wildnerness somewhere in the North. So following our grand tradition of going from least important plot to most important, we're going to start in Braavos and work our way out.

Arya is still trapped in the pyramid scheme that is her oyster cart, growing ever closer to killing the hungry-faced man. In fact, she's just about to pour in the poison and murder the dude when a ship arrives from Westeros and Arya Stark completely and utterly loses the plot.

And I mean that really fully, by the way. The man she's supposed to kill is literally yelling at her to hand over his oysters while she stares off at the envoy arriving to come speak to the Iron Bank. Her reason for being so absorbed in this becomes apparent when we see that alongside Mace Tyrell, Ser Meryn Trant is there! 

You will probably not have any idea who that is, but basically he's a Lannister lackey. He's the horrible man who slapped Sansa and killed Syrio and has perpetrated a number of small indignities on all of our favorite characters. Arya sees him and suddenly doesn't care at all about the hungry-faced man. Instead she uses her oyster cart as a shield to follow them through the city. She keeps at it well into the night when Trant and his men go into a whorehouse. Since she sells oysters, she figures she might as well follow.

The scene we get then is horrifying and also kind of pointless. In it we see Trant offered a series of whores, only to send all of them back by saying, "Too old." As in, here's this horrible male character, oh look he's a pedophile too. Which is horrible, but also feels like gilding the lily at this point. Alright already. He's awful and Arya's going to kill him. They didn't have to add a terrifying sexual component too.

And this just continues the really frustrating trend on this show: using sexual violence storylines not to examine how victims of said violence recover and change over the years, but to just make it clear how bad the rapists are. Which is the worst.

Anyway, this plotline didn't really go anywhere. Arya didn't kill Trant yet, nor did she kill the hungry-faced man. She faced a little bit of totally unnecessary street-harassment, and then had to come home and face Jaqen's disappointed face. All in all, not a great day for her, and a much worse day for the underaged prostitute Trant ended up finding.

In Dorne, land of sexual permissiveness and really great hair, Jaime is finally really reaping the results of his harebrained attempts to "rescue" his daughter/niece Myrcella. Doran Martell, head of the family and generally frustrated practical man, has to figure out how to find a nice neat solution to this diplomatic fiasco that has the potential to pit Dorne agains the crown in another war. His pseudo-sister-in-law, Ellaria Sand, is really not helpful to this end.

But Doran hits on what seems to be a good solution for everyone, with just the right amount of snark and "in your face". Jaime can take Myrcella back to King's Landing, but he has to take her fiance, Trystane with him too. That way the lovebirds can be together, the marriage of alliance will still definitely happen, and Jaime doesn't actually get what he wants. In addition to that, Trystane will be placed on the Small Council, holding the position that Oberyn had before his death.

Oh and Bronn can go free, but only under the condition that a guard hits him in the jaw just as hard as he hit Trystane. Which seems fair. Unfortunately the Sand Snakes are still locked up, and it remains to be seen what Doran will do with them. As for Ellaria, she's free to go, as long as she swears her allegiance to Doran right now and stops trying to start a rebellion. Which, surprisingly, she does. She kisses his ring and is brought back into the fold. And, you know what? I believe it.

The scene that follows, however, with Jaime and Ellaria sizing each other up from the opposite sides of a desk, is fantastic. She quickly susses out that Myrcella isn't just his niece, and calmly tells him that she really doesn't care if he loves his sister or not. And the sheer terror of someone knowing about him and Cersei is enough to wipe that smug smirk off Jaime's face from here to King's Landing.

Way up north at the Wall, Jon Snow has managed to lead what Wildlings remain to the gate. Now he has to stand there and pray like hell that Ser Thorne will listen to his last command and open the damn thing. It's a very long minute, but eventually the gate does open, and the Willdlings come streaming through in to Castle Black.

For some reason, the men of the Night's Watch aren't thrilled. They stare at the Wildlings with hatred in their eyes, and Jon seems particularly oblivious to how much they all hate him right now. Especially Olly.

A little further south, somewhere between Castle Black and Winterfell, Stannis and his men wake up to find the camp on fire. It seems that Ramsay's little scheme worked. He and his men quickly infiltrated the camp, set fire the food stores, and killed a bunch of horses, all before escaping into the night. Stannis' army is decimated, with not even enough food left to get back to Castle Black, let alone go on to attack Winterfell.

Melisandre is, of course, not fussed. She figured this was coming. It had to be. The Red God needed to shake Stannis out of his complacency, right? So Stannis starts acting really really shady. He sends Davos away, back to Castle Black, to demand food and provisions for their army. Davos is terrified to go, sensing that something is off, begs to take Shireen with him. Stannis says no.

And it's with a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomachs that we watch Davos say goodbye to Shireen, assuring her and kissing her forehead and giving her a present, then we see Stannis come in. All the warmth of his previous conversation with her is gone. He basically tells her that he needs help, that his kingship is in trouble, and Shireen, lovely girl that she is, begs her father to let her do whatever she can to help him.

So he does.

Maybe the most horrifying thing about the scene that follows, where we watch a little girl mercilessly dragged towards the stake at which she will be burnt, is how it's not actually shocking. Nothing about it is new or novel enough to surprise. In a lot of ways, we all saw this coming, didn't we? The worst part of hearing Shireen scream as she was burned to death was how not-devastated I was.

You can't burn a small child to death and call it entertainment, okay? That's Go back to what I wrote up above if you need more analysis. I'm over this scene and the writers in general, frankly.

Which is good, because there's just one plotline left. It wasn't good enough to make me forget about Shireen and my appalling lack of surprise, but it was pretty good. So let's head over to Daenerys in Meereen and get some of the taste of this horror out of our mouths.

It's the first day of fighting at the Great Pit, and as Queen of Meereen, Daenerys has to be the one to start the fighting. She does, hands shaking as they clap her approval, and then she watches in utter horror as the two men in the pit slice each other apart. Daario and Tyrion try to take her mind off of it, because they're kind, while Hizdahr is just sort of awful, but nothing can distract Daenerys from watching two men murder each other because she said it was okay.

Then the next fight starts and it's even worse because this time one of the fighters is Jorah. He's standing there in the ring basically daring her to clap her hands and allow him to kill or be killed. Frankly, this is the last straw for Jorah in my mind. He's putting her in an impossible situation because he needs validation. It's all about him and what she thinks of him, and it's not at all about her and what she needs and what the city needs. Basically, Jorah is a full on Nice Guy at this point, and I am over it.

Tragically, the writers appear not to be, because as Jorah finishes his match, he rises up, spear in his hand, and throws it directly at Daenery's box. I thought for a second that he was finally doing something crazy, like trying to kill her for spurning him, but it turns out he was actually saving her life. 

The Sons of the Harpy have risen again and the stadium is full of them. They all, en masse, turn on Daenerys and go to murder her, killing all the innocent bystanders that fill the arena.

Between Daario and Jorah, they get Daenerys out of her box - Hizdahr dies and no one really misses him - while Missandei and Tyrion run like hell. Unfortunately, there's nowhere to go. The Sons of the Harpy have blocked off all the exits, and now Daenerys and her court are marooned in the middle of the fighting pit. Daenerys grabs Missandei's hand - which is super sweet and lovely - and closes her eyes to face her death with dignity.

Only her death doesn't come.

Instead, dragons come! Or rather one dragon. Drogon, the missing dragon, swoops into the arena and flames the Sons of the Harpy as they threaten his mom. He takes a couple of spears in the back for his efforts, but he won't be deterred. He's here to save his mother!

Daenerys pretty much tears up at this sight, because this is what she's wanted. To be free of Meereen and it's problems, to be the Mother of Dragons again. And Drogon is here, right when she needs him. So she walks up to him, stares him down, and calmly takes the spear from his side. Then, before anything else can happen, she climbs on his back and they fly, far and away, over Meereen and away from the chaos. For one brief moment, nothing bad is happening.

And then they presumably come back down to earth and everything is horrible again.

So, that was the episode. There's only one more in the season, and yes, I am planning on watching it. I don't know about next season yet. I really don't. At this point, I feel rather like I'm watching them out of obligation to all of you, watching the crap so you don't have to, but I'm not sure if that's an excuse or not. I think there's going to be some serious soul-searching before I know how I feel about carrying on.

But I think we can all agree that whether I keep watching or not, Game of Thrones seriously needs to get its shit together.

Me right now.


  1. It's not "gritty realism" anymore, it feels more like wish-fulfilling torture porn. I don't want to cast aspersions on the character and misogyny ratings of the writers of Game of Thrones, but I'm starting to suspect I don't have to.

    They don't even reliably paint such things as evil: Drogo goes on to become the love of Dany's life, Cersei's rape was barely even a bump in the road of Jaime's recovery, and while I don't think we're exactly meant to side with Tyrion in the killing of Shae, we're sure not meant to side against him. And even when it is shown as evil, it's almost never *about* them.

    And this just continues the really frustrating trend on this show: using sexual violence storylines not to examine how victims of said violence recover and change over the years, but to just make it clear how bad the rapists are.

    Except when Jaime does it, when it's about how bad Cersei is.

    In Dorne, land of sexual permissiveness and really great hair

    No slouches on the architecture either.

    At this point, I feel rather like I'm watching them out of obligation to all of you, watching the crap so you don't have to, but I'm not sure if that's an excuse or not.

    You said once of Supernatural that you were still watching it because stopping meant the bad guys won. Even though the bad guys were the writers.

    1. That's a good point. Especially about Tyrion killing Shae. Despite that being one of the closest things we have to an uncomplicated evil act by an otherwise likable character, we're being asked to completely ignore it or, worse, side with Tyrion. UGH.

      All of the Dorne sets are so pretty and I love them. I kind of want more Dorne stuff because they have such a clearly interesting cultural heritage and society. They're so different and implicitly well-developed, but we get so little about them.

      Ha! Yes. The bad guys in this case are definitely the writers. But the bad guys have won. I stopped watching Supernatural this past season, and I am definitely done with Game of Thrones. I have succumbed!

    2. Well they made sure never to give us a Shae's-eye view of her time with Tyrion, or being abandoned* by him, anything that might interfere with us thinking how terrible killing her would be for him.

      * Even using that word likely sparks a "that's not how it happened" reaction. And from Tyrion's perspective, it wasn't he was trying to protect her - but he made sure of it that from her perspective that's exactly how it happened. But we never got to see that perspective in action.

      Let me guess: you were done with Supernatural when they fridged Charlie?