Arya and Sansa's relationship survived a season of male manipulation.
Arya and Sansa's relationship survived a season of male manipulation.
Courtesy HBO

Game of Thrones — Is It Really All Cocks in the End?

SPOILERS AHEAD ...

OK, let’s get this out of the way first: The season finale of Game of Thrones was awesome in pretty much every way. But, honestly, the rest of the season wasn’t.

Game of Thrones has never been about dragons and armies of the dead. At its best, it is about power and the appropriate use of power, about the pull between protecting one’s family and doing what is right for the greater good. Where the finale shone was not in the special effects but in giving us back the rich characterization of the world George R.R. Martin created — one in which motivations are far from simple and characters far from one-dimensional.

But with just 14 episodes left at the beginning of this season (eight this season and six in season eight, which will be the show's last), something had to be streamlined. Unfortunately, a lot of that seemed to be logic, with the female characters in particular suffering head-scratching lapses. Sure, we got glimpses of their internal struggles, for instance, Arya coming across a group of Lannister soldiers and discovering they were just homesick boys. But instead of seeing Arya’s struggle between familial loyalty and her desire for revenge, we were treated to the distracting Ed Sheeran stunt casting.

And while a lot of the lost opportunities can be blamed on shortening the season due to the sheer cost of producing the show (purportedly $10 million per episode), one still has to wonder: Would it have been any different if GoT had more women making decisions behind the scenes?

On the face of it, the last couple of seasons have appeared to be all about the women. For the season-six premiere, Entertainment Weekly printed a double issue with six different covers featuring the show's female stars under the title “Dame of Thrones.” But the number of credited female writers and directors on season seven was zero. That’s right — the same as the number of surviving members of House Tyrell. The same as the number of Theon’s testicles.

The women may have been the pillars of the seasons, but it’s still all about the stones.

One of the great things about Martin’s books is that the female characters’ points of view were as varied and fleshed out as the male characters'. None were boring, whether they were fighting against gender norms, dealing with incredible grief, scheming for power or just trying to find a place to fit in. But this season has flattened them into one-dimensional drivers of plot. There’s power-hungry Cersei, revenge-driven Arya and Daenerys the conqueror.

And then there’s Sansa, who is to Game of Thrones what Edith was to Downton Abbey — the character the writers use to illustrate all the terrible things that could happen to women in a less enlightened era. Viewers should have been rooting for her. She’s been through hell. She’s kept her faith in humanity. She saved the North through her own cunning and strategizing and now she’s seemingly ruling better than anyone else on the show ever has (Daenerys and Jon Snow included) — though where she got this ability is a mystery given that she’s spent most of the series locked in her room.

And while Cersei "Psycho" Lannister was plotting the family’s demise and the zombie apocalypse was shuffling its way slowly south, the last two women of the series’ most functional family were hashing out their childhood wrongs using the metaphor of pretty dresses. In the right hands (say, George R.R. Martin’s), Sansa and Arya’s sibling rivalry would be a chance to explore the different ways in which people respond to trauma and how it affects their worldview and approach to problems. Instead, we got a silly plot in which we were supposed to believe that Arya wants to kill her sister and/or that Littlefinger — GoT’s most expert manipulator — would believe that. All over a note Sansa wrote as a 13-year-old hostage of the family that had just murdered her father.

As one io9 writer said after last week's episode: "I know a stunning amount of people hate on Sansa … and I’m certain there are countless people who want Arya to kill her. … I assume Arya is reading all these same Reddit threads, because she is acting like Sansa is Walder goddamn Frey and it is bizarre."

Then there was Cersei, who all season has done little more than stare at a map of Westeros while wearing black and plot how to kill people while pregnant with an incestuous love child. Meanwhile, Danerys has been staring at a map of Westeros while wearing black (mostly) and plotting how to kill people. But she’s only about to get pregnant with an incestuous love child. See the difference?

George R.R. Martin never meant for any of these characters to be simple, let alone simply monsters. The books took time to let us understand how a woman might lust for revenge after losing her father and children and having a ton of shit — both figurative and literal — heaped on her.

The show started out doing the same. But this season the women became little more than a means to an end of a plot. And with Sansa, the writers violated the cardinal rule — show, don’t tell. "I'm a slow learner, it's true,” Sansa says during the show’s finale. “But I learn."

In the past, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff (GoT’s showrunners and series creators) also have shown themselves to be slow learners. They took a lot of heat for the show’s handling of female nudity and sexual assault. But as Sunday’s final scene between Jon and Daenerys showed, they may be slow at times but, like the White Walkers, they finally get there.

And now they have six more episodes to learn how to write female characters with all the nuances their creator gave them. Let’s hope they pick up the pace. Because Winter is finally here.

And some of us are hoping it really isn’t all cocks in the end.

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