This post contains spoilers on the Game of Thrones series
For many, this past week saw the MASSIVE HBO hit, Game of Thrones, air its last episode. Thousands were left unsatisfied with the ending and even the entire last season. There was an online petition signed by over 1 million people demanding a season rewrite/reshoot. I have seen on countless social media accounts the amount of people seemingly bereft now that the show is over. I have also seen other shows and tv channels banking on people searching for a new show to immerse themselves in. So why, Game of Thrones? And what will replace it now that it is over?
Game of Thrones has taken the world by storm. The last three seasons’ premières had the HBO streaming service shut down due to the amount of people streaming at the same time. Countless merchandise has been produced which sponsored people’s further obsession into the fantasy world created by G.R.R. Martin and brought to life by the shows’ creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff: a fantasy world called Westeros which contained magic, dragons, knights, ladies, and all the intrigue and drama one could muster. Game of Thrones also become known for its highly explicit sexual scenes, violence, language, and shocking deaths.
I myself was swept into the Game of Thrones hysteria for the first three seasons, as I had read the first five books of the series.
But the show increasingly became saturated with excessive amounts of female nudity and sexual violence. I boycotted the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons as I was disgusted with the use of rape as a plot device, the writers’ constant rewriting of strong female characters to minor sub characters that were used to move the male characters plots along, and the lack of including the multiple religions that were represented in the novels. I have even presented multiple papers at the Popular Culture National Conferences regarding Game of Thrones, sexual violence, and how it can be used to investigate our culture and its values.
While the Game of Thrones hysteria is global and massive, it is also been built upon decades worth of popular culture obsessions. One could look back to the sensation of Luke and Laura’s wedding on the daytime soap General Hospital,
“Who Shot J.R.” on Dallas, Dr. Ross’s leaving and Dr. Green’s death on ER, to the ending of Seinfeld and Friends, as moments where fans were gathered together across miles to witness these events. We can also look to the global sensational movements of the Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, and ALL the Marvel superhero movies so highlight another popular culture obsession of immersing oneself into the world of make believe.
Enter Game of Thrones, which is based on the Fantasy Novel series A Song of Ice and Fire written by TV script writer turned novelist G.R.R. Martin. The HBO series debuted in April 2011 and by its third episode had taken hold into many peoples’ lives. Now eight seasons later, the world had to wait almost a year and a half for the last season to air. The last season saw the first three episodes with its viewers’ holding their breath to see which characters were going to live to see the finish line. The TV series and novels are known for killing of beloved characters at any moment, the first season saw the beloved main character Ned Stark lose his head, the very next episode saw the Hawaiian/Iowa hunk Jason Momoa’s character Khal Drogo killed, and the deaths didn’t stop there. Only mention the words “Red Wedding” to any Game of Thrones fan and they will have an intense reaction. And on equal measure, the amount of female characters that were sexual abused, in all forms, became a main element in almost every episode. All of this was happening amongst the growing trend of sexual violence on college campuses, churches, and workplaces.
And as each new episode, no amount of dragons, magic, and story intrigue could make the rising sexual violence palatable to me anymore. The two-watershed moment for me where I could no longer consume the show was the removal of a complete storyline and the addition of a completely different storyline: Lady Stoneheart and Sansa Stark. After the deaths of the Red Wedding, the body of Catelyn Stark was found by a magic man who brought her back from the dead, Lady Stoneheart, who seeks justice, revenge, and retribution. She is brought back to life 3 days after her death and leads a group of vigilantes. Below is a fan drawing of Lady Stoneheart using the actress who played Catelyn Stark in the show as a model.
The second storyline which turned my stomach was that of Sansa Stark. A teenage Sansa was forcibly married to a sadistic psychopath and raped. A storyline that was not in the novels and makes her journey, her growth, her strength forever tied with that of victimhood and trauma. The horrors that she must endure to ‘rid’ the character of her naiveté and childhood is unacceptable. This last season saw a cringing scene between Sansa and another character discussing what happened to her where the male character refers to her rape and her being “broken in rough.” Her experience and trauma are made okay with the fact that she was able to kill her attacker
And this last season, firmly showed the underpinnings of the writers Weiss and Benioff as they made the most beloved character in the series, a woman, Daenerys Targaryen, turn into a sadistic mad, power hungry dictator. The last episode had a cringe worthy scene where Daenerys is made to look and even sound like Adolf Hitler. Which even the actress, Emilia Clark has stated that she watched videos of Hitler in preparation for this scene.
Many fans of the show were shattered with the season’s evolution of Daenerys from a liberating leader to a revenge seeking dictator. Many also felt that the ending did not live up to the hype of the eight seasons and were left wanting. The ending of Game of Thrones has left a hole for many tv viewers, but it has also provided an interesting space for dialogue of what we want to see on our television, what storylines and character developments need to be highlighted. And while it might not be this week or next month, but there will be another series, another show that will capture the attention and devotion of its viewers.
Anjeanette LeBoeuf is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Whittier College. She is the Queer Advocate for the Western Region of the American Academy of Religion. Anjeanette also writes for the activist blog, Engaged Gaze. Her focuses are divided between South Asian religions and religion and popular culture. She has become focused on exploring the representations of women in all forms of popular culture and how religion plays into them. She is an avid supporter of both soccer and hockey. She is also a television and movie buff which probably takes way too much of her time, but she enjoys every minute of it. Anjeanette has had a love affair with books from a very young age and always finds time in her demanding academic career to crack open a new book.
Categories: Popular Culture