Friday, May 3, 2013

A Word on Game of Thrones


Okay, more seriously, I'd like to start off by saying that this post isn't going to make much sense for people NOT at least watching Game of Thrones. So if that's you, well, I guess you'll have to content yourself with today's Friday Quotation instead. My apologies, and thanks for your understanding.

Is everyone left a GoT fan, then?  Good. (Warning: mild spoilers ahead for the Unsullied who haven't read the books.)

This isn't a particularly long thought (or deep, or articulate, or profound, or...). But the introduction of Stannis' daughter Shareen in last week's episode really worked for me. A single scene served to establish a character that's radically different from her book form, where she's basically a non-entity that exists largely for other characters to feel sad about. Here, she's a young mix of Sansa and Arya both: she's got Sansa's love of romantic stories, and Arya's sense for making real-life adventure. And by volunteering to teach the prisoner Davos to read (I think in the books this was done by a page or someone), she's also a little girl willing to defy her society's social conventions and authority. And it's all done, basically, in that one scene.

Thinking about that, I was struck with how well the show's done in presenting a diverse but positive set of young female characters. I won't go so far as to call them role models, since that would imply that this show is being watched by a lot of young per-adolescent girls, which it probably shouldn't be. But we do have a very wide variety of such characters. Arya and Sansa are the obvious two, and they present the two extremes: the fierce, violent girl warrior-in-training, and the perpetual... victim? Well, if not victim, then damsel in distress, firmly and consistently at the mercy of others. If you're willing to stretch the age limit, Brienne fits the warrior category too, though obviously a very different point in it than Sansa. Danerys is the other obvious point, and it helps that the part of the series covered by Season 3 is probably her strongest character moments, when she starts showing off her potential as a leader of people, rather than a wandering refugee or literal trophy wife.  (In light of that positive empowerment thing, it'll be interesting how the show adapts her book 5 arc, where she basically regresses into a sex-crazed teenager.) And potentially more interesting is the way the show expands on characters we only see briefly or from very specific viewpoints in the books.  There's Shareen, of course, and she's sort of the extreme case of expansion, as the expansion happens very quickly. There's Ygritte, who's more or less the same as in the books, but I still feel we're getting a little more of her story by viewing it outside the confines of Jon Snow's head. There's Jeyne, Robb's wife. In the book, we only ever see her from Catelyn's view, where she's nice, but clearly Rob's Mistake. In the show, we get a little more out of her; it was a good idea to make her the audience's touchpoint character for responding to the Lannister boys captured.  And there's Margaery Tyrell. In the book, we see her largely from Cersei's point of view, which emphasizes her cunning and slyness. But in the show... there's still the sense of cunning, and a LOT of the HBO GoT-style sexuality emphasis, but I think the character's already appearing more complex, a mix of traditional femininity in the society, but also social acumen, and maybe some actual compassion.

I'm belaboring this point because it's still something that fantasy in pop culture seems to have trouble grasping. In a lot of film depictions of fantasy, for example, there's essentially two types of younger women, the damsel in distress, and the warrior woman. And sometimes, for variety, a character oscillates between the two (think Princess Bride, or The Avengers' Black Widow, for basic types.) . Fantasy books have gotten into more nuanced depictions, but the stock characters still get trotted out a lot. And videogames are worse still, since their action/attack slant leans towards using either women who are the PC and shoot things a lot, or women who are the damsels to be rescued. It's good, then, to see such a popular fantasy show demonstrate a greater variety of female characters. Implicitly, it's making the point that there are more than one (or two, or three) type for a woman to be, even in this quasi-medieval setting that sets firm limits on women's roles.

Now, try to square that with the show's insistence on including naked whores...

Later Days.

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