Why Women Can’t Be Leaders – Not Even on HBO


33 million people are watching the final season of Game of Thrones, the fantasy series written by George R. R. Martin. And many of them are howling in protest.

The complaints about character arcs, bad writing, and rushed plots may sound irrelevantly shrill against the backdrop of abortion bans being signed across the southern United States.

But perhaps the objections are not as trivial as they seem. Viewers are objecting to a nonmaterial quality yet one that is intertwined with the very air we are breathing. We’re turning away from Game of Thrones season 8 because in the area of #metoo, a supreme court justice confirmed despite a rash of unethical behavior and the winner of the popular vote turning out to be a loser, we realize the system is never going to give women a break.

After 8 years of watching the women on the show wrestle with the powers that be, the penultimate episode saw one of the female leads, self-proclaimed queen, Daenerys Targaryen, lose control and burn a city to the ground.

See, the lesson seems to go, women can’t handle power after all. They’re too emotional. Never mind we watched this particular woman being sold by her brother into marriage, sexually assaulted, burn herself alive like a good widow should, and emerge as the liberator of millions. She commanded armies, swept across the seas, raised dragons, mobilized all types of people to her support, and yet when the throne she wanted was within her reach, she threw it all away.

Was her petulant, toddler like rage, inherited from a long line of flawed men, that burned down Kings Landing? Or was it a pair of writers who lost their way in their need to wrap up a show who had made stars of nearly all the actors and everyone enough money that they could all move on with their lives?

The pair of male writers, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, seem likeable enough. Yet, like so many other men in power lately, you wonder if they understand what they’re working with since they also managed to undermine another key story line in this same episode. This time of the first female knight, Brienne of Tarth, who fought the entire eight years to be taken seriously as a warrior, at great personal peril, only to crumble when her long term crush left a few nights after their first hookup. There she is, crying in the courtyard, Ser Brienne, a knight of the realm, she who stared down the Whitewalkers. After battling humanity’s greatest plague, side by side with the best fighters in all seven kingdoms, and soon as that’s over, she’s begging him not to go.

We at home are shaking our heads because our champion’s lip is now trembling like a teenager’s.

It’s going to be worth it, we tell ourselves, even as another sexual assault survivor, Sansa, also raped on her wedding night, once counseled to marry a man most knew to be a monster, assures the men around her that she is okay, because if it hadn’t been for all that abuse, she wouldn’t be who she was today.

Do the writers want us to believe that hey, it was tough and all being a teenage orphan but things seem to be working out now so she is thankful for it?

The episode (and series) is winding up towards the battle of the two queens, the mother of dragons and Ceseri, the one who put it all into motion to protect her offspring, products of incest, not true heirs of the usper, Robert Borathian. She has beheaded, manipulated, schemed; in short next to the Whitewalkers she is the evil that persists in the real. So powerful, and yet she is reduced to dust by a bunch of falling rocks, mewling in the arms of her brother-lover who has come to soothe her final earthly moments.

This is when we throw our hands up. Fine, they’re not the author. And sure he consults on the show. But maybe he’s too busy finishing up the final book to tell the showrunners and HBO that they have got it so, so, so, wrong.

Did they understand the series they were completing? The fandom certainly didn’t think so.

The same show that two episodes before saw the plucky, unlikely figure of a teenage girl sinking her dagger into the Night King, the most feared enemy in all the realm, now has us throwing our hands up in despair, because, as our timelines fill with the news of a pregnant black woman being shot 5 times by police and 11 year old rape victim having no choice but to have a child while still a child herself, we think can’t women catch a break – even in fiction???

If the fictional, imaginary world can’t be feminist, by presenting women as equal to men in ambition, desire, and power, then what can?

Sure if the purported 35,000 who wrote to HBO wrote to their senators maybe these restrictive bills wouldn’t be signed into law. But perhaps because we are fighting for better entertainment we will fight for a better world. The two feed each other because we don’t know which came first; the misogyny or the media bias.

There are small glimmers of hope, if we look to the big screen. In the final fight scene of Avengers Endgame, when Captain Marvel is trying to take the infinity stones away from Thanos, all the female superheroes step forward to help her. Within a second the action moves on and so do all these capable women, fighting alongside their friends.

I’ve written about movie characters, like Furiosa from Mad Max, who are reshaping the way we think about the female sidekick.

Let’s see what the HBO bros have in store for us in the final installment of the most watched show in television history. We know now Jon Snow is the rightful heir (but he was qualified anyway) to the iron throne but he doesn’t want it.

Could we find a better example of male privilege if we wrote it ourselves?

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