“Caution: White Men at Work”: What Game of Thrones Season 8 Writers Don’t Get about Powerful Women

Pop Culture

“Caution: White Men at Work”: What Game of Thrones Season 8 Writers Don’t Get about Powerful Women

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Game of Thrones, the most-popular show on the decade, has widely disappointed its fans with its final season. The hurried, normie-appeasing storyline, projection of victimhood, and rampant character inconsistencies are frustrating to long-time viewers. This is even before we address the notion that civilisation’s best hope is Jon Snow, a man with hierarchy on his side, which the show has begun peddling ever since Danaerys looked to inherit her father’s tendency for madness. This is a show that rose to cultural supremacy by promising to “break the wheel”; now it’s just a mediocre attempt at celebrating a straight, white man’s newfound lineage. GoT is like a relationship which starts with a very misleading Tinder profile, and we know who did us wrong.

GoT’s dude-dominated writer’s room could really use a “Caution: White Men at Work” sign outside its door. The tone-deaf mess that is Season Eight has shut out almost all non-male and non-white representation, and features just one woman of colour, named Gursimran Sandhu, as an uncredited staff writer. All the writing and directing credits for the six episodes of the final season go to men. Besides David Benioff and DB Weiss, the other writers involved are Dave Hill and Bryan Cogman. So, if you find Khaleesi getting the Regina George treatment, you know where it comes from.

In 2017, Indiewire published a report which stated that only four out of GoT’s 67 episodes have been directed by a woman; one woman director out of 19 males. And the entirety of the series featured three women writers, Vanessa Taylor and Jane Espenson, who have written one episode each, and Sandhu, who does not get a writing credit. Moreover, the series is currently completely untethered from its literary roots; all the more reason to value distinct, well-formed perspectives across gender and race spectrums. Sansa Stark’s “rape toughened me up” analogy is so obviously a passive gaslighting method cooked up by Ivy-educated, middle-aged, white men; it asks women to look at sexual trauma as a rite of passage. Women fans, including actors Jessica Chastain and Ava DuVernay,  are justifiably livid.

Besides getting the basics wrong on abuse survivors, male screenwriters have a history of messing up when it comes to legitimising female leaderships. Khaleesi’s oncoming Mad Queen chapter is perhaps the weakest and the most disappointing character plotting in Home Box Office realm. GoT gave Daenerys Targaryen perhaps the most prolific arc, so lively with narrative intention. Why would this woman, who has survived every kind of torture porn the male writers guild could inflict upon her, literally freed people across the oceans, shook the Dothraki patriarchy as she decimated an entire brethren of savage Khals, and emerged out of the fire with Kali-like ferocity, shadily beg Mr Reluctant Man-bun for his silence, to get something she deserves anyway?

In 2017, Indiewire published a report which stated that only four out of GoT’s 67 episodes have been directed by a woman; one woman director out of 19 males.

The notion that power will ultimately corrupt a woman, or make her a neurotic mess, has been relentlessly used as a vehicle to keep women away from the table, both on and off screen. The trope of the powerful-but-unstable woman leader is a tried-and-tested formula which fuels misogyny in pop culture. The mission to discipline the woman of influence, who’s too powerful for her own good, has given way to four X-Men movies; it has also given us Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Twitter. Daenerys’s shift of politics from “I want to break the wheel”, to “I’mma burn ya” is not just weak screenwriting but an ill-plotted fakeout to make her a glaringly bad and unlikeable leader, and it’s working. You can check any and every shitposting dude’s Facebook page for evidence.

And then you have the “better” alternative, Jon Snow, who is simply better because he is cute and male. He is a war hero who just wants to uphold the honourable legacy of his dead father. But he has never won a single major war without the help of a woman, he came back to life because of a woman and got to ride a dragon because of a woman. Sure, it’s set in a sexist realm where male heirs have it easier, but Season Eight completely does away with any interest in breaking the wheel; it loves the wheel and will vote for the white dude who looks good in pictures, and has parentage on his side.

Moreover, death does not disarm the men of GoT, as it affects its women leaders; Jaime Lannister, Jon Snow, Samwell Tarly have all grieved the death of their family, unremarkably and without bloodshed; Tommen Lannister even took his own life. While Daenerys, Cersei Lannister, Ellaria Sand, Olenna Tyrell, had to go on a hysterical murderous bender, driving home the false stereotype which affect women in political office even today. “She (Daenerys) continues to be driven by raw emotion, her rationale falling away piece-by-piece  — and while that is understandable when you break down what she has endured, the narrative feels determined to shut her out in the cold, establishing a dislikable character who alienates viewers,” Abby Robinson writes in Digital Spy.

A recurring motif in the show has been of wise men advisors reigning in female authority. Listening to the men in GoT, aka compliance with the patriarchy, is a way of legitimising your worth as the good kind of authority. Interestingly, this is not the case for male rulers. When Jon disregarded Sansa’s advice before Battle of the Bastards, he was made to look like the North’s best hope, though it was Sansa’s call to the Knights of the Vale, which ended up saving Winterfell from the hands of Ramsay.

“Have you considered the best ruler might be someone who doesn’t want to rule?” Varys tells Tyrion about Jon. GoT only reserves such romanticism for members of its patriarchy, who preferably have a nice beard. Femme commanders, especially the ones who are in touch with their sexuality and can raise an army, really should pay for having it all.