In last week’s Game of Thrones, Arya told Tywin Lannister that “most girls are stupid.” When we heard that line, were we supposed to think, “This is why Arya is awesome”? After watching The Prince of Winterfell, I can’t help but think that the answer is “yes.” While the books series presents a huge range of dynamic and well-developed female characters, the show writers seem determined to edit the story so that all stereotypically feminine women seem weak and worthy of disdain. Girls, like Arya, who fight to throw off femininity and become “one of the boys,” are the only ones who are really strong or worthy of respect.
Although some of the show’s changes to the story have been positive and potentially even improve on the novel, many edits in the last few episodes have reduced the series’ selection of varied, challenging female characters into cliches and walking confirmation of the idea that “most women suck.”
Catelyn’s character has been sacrificed in favour of her son and viewers’ expectations of a caring, if somewhat irrational, mother. In the books, Robb is a boy-king, out of his depth and somewhat reliant on his mother for help, while Catelyn is shrewd, intelligent and vehemently anti-vengeance. In its attempt to make Robb into more of a stereotypical “sexy young king,” the show has stolen a lot of Cat’s agency, allowing Robb to voice her ideas (such as sending an envoy to Renly Baratheon), leaving her out of strategy meetings, and transforming her desire to help Robb into a desire to return home and be with her youngest sons.
At the start of The Prince of Winterfell, Catelyn frees Jaime Lannister, sending him south in exchange for her daughters. In the books, she releases him after hearing about Bran and Rickon’s deaths, as grief drives her to take a drastic step to protect not only her only other remaining children, but also Robb’s new heir. In the series, she releases him because… well, partly because Robb’s bannermen might kill him, although she neglects to mention this when defending herself in the latest episode. Her main justification, she says, is to trade for her daughters. A fine reason, perhaps, but it seems completely arbitrary: why hasn’t she released him before now if that’s her only motivation?
Worse, perhaps, is the change to Robb’s reaction. In the books, Robb is understandably unhappy about this loss of a diplomatic pawn, but he understands why his mother did it: she felt the same grief that drove him to make (arguably worse) mistakes as well. In the show, however, Robb is furious, calling her a traitor and putting her under constant guard, as though she’s going to wander into camp and find other Kingslayers to free, or perhaps try to stab him in his sleep. As he shouts and she frowns and cries, the audience is pushed into agreeing with Robb’s point of view. Catelyn acted irrationally. She was being an irrational, impractical, non-strategic mother, and she betrayed her son by weakening his position. From a book series that shows the rise of a boy king from the perspective of his mother, a woman who must deal with intense loss and try to prevent further horrors, the show presents everything from that boy’s own, contorted perspective, including the stereotype that mothers are pretty darn useless when it comes to the ways of war. Catelyn’s strength and wisdom are reduced to a cliche of a meddling mother who loves her children too much to see reason.
In the books, many terrible events could have been prevented if people had only listened to what Catelyn had to say. In the show, ignoring Catelyn’s advice seems the wisest course of action.
Robb and Talisa
Continuing along the theme of “Robb has become too genuinely heroic,” his relationship with Talisa (or Jeyne, for book readers) is another significant departure from the books that changes characters for the worse. In the books, Robb’s relationship with Jeyne is an unfortunate event that arises from grief over Bran and Rickon’s apparent deaths and, later, the conflicting compulsions of honor. Here, it’s a story of true love, of the poor king forced into marriage with a woman he does not know who falls for another, better woman despite himself. Although it goes against the general trope-inverting nature of the series, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that change. It was refreshing to see the show present a romantic love scene for the very first time, rather than the general exploitative nudity we see every week. But Talisa’s speech, just before Robb jumps her, creates a new context for their relationship which makes me distinctly uncomfortable: he’s attracted to her because she’s not like other women. She laughs at the idea of playing the harp or learning the latest dances, and says she was determined to be different and make something useful of herself. She says she vowed she would never live in a slave city again, as though things are so simple, and all good people would make the same choice to leave their entire world behind. She’s “not like other girls,” strong and confident and willing to speak out of turn to the king. In isolation, this is not a bad thing. Some women are like that. But when her entire worth, the entire reason she is worthy of Robb’s affection, is that she bucks the trend and is unlike regular, silly, simpering women (like the poor unnamed, unknown Frey girl, who might not be so keen on being married to a stranger either)… that has unfortunate implications for the series’ view on women as a whole.
This episode had so many uses of the word c*nt that it’s like they were trying to fulfil a particularly demanding quota — perhaps competing for the world record? (And yes, I will censor it here, because I cringe at the word on a gut-reaction level). Although I’m not hot on the whole “misogynistic words are edgy” nonsense, it makes sense for certain characters, like Tyrion, to use it. Regardless of what he believes about himself, he’s hardly a bastion of respect for women and their rights. But the one usage that bothered me came from Theon’s older sister, Yara. She repeatedly called her little brother a c*nt, creating the weird set-up of a badass woman calling a man a misogynistic insult, because the ultimate sign of weakness and patheticness is to be a woman. And hey, perhaps Yara is misogynistic. Maybe she also believes she’s “not like other girls.” But, as several people have pointed out since the episode aired, Yara (or Asha, to go by her book name) is explicitly against the use of such language in the books.
Cunt again? It was odd how men like Suggs used that word to demean women when it was the only part of a woman they valued.
In a Dance with Dragons, Asha notes the painful irony of this most extreme of insults, as man after man attempts to dismiss or demean her with the word. Would this character then tell her little brother he was a “c*nt” to similarly demean him? Or is this change only included to emphasize that she is “not like other girls,” because most girls are weak, and pathetic, and are deserving of that disdain?
Arya remains a fairly awesome character, although strangely, in comparison to the books, she’s also getting nicened up. She’s less brutal, less ruthless, and her escape from Harrenhal, which in the books was an act of desperate self-preservation, mostly orchestrated by her own efforts, is handed entirely over to Jaqen. He is the actual killer; she’s just the one who asks for it to be done. But hopefully her story is not yet done this season, so we’ll see where she ends up in the finale.
… was not in this episode. Out of all the Starks, she’s received the least screen time this season, despite the fact that she goes through an important narrative arc as she learns to not only survive in the Lannister-controlled world but to manipulate some of the people around her. While Arya becomes more and more brutal, Sansa remains kind and caring, often putting herself at risk and relying on her wits to help and protect others. But her scenes in this season have mostly emphasised her as a victim and as a part in other character’s stories, like Tyrion and the Hound. She endures with dignity, but she’s given little agency, and little chance for her story to grow. Some of her scenes have been truly excellent, but when we spend a long time listening to Talisa give Robb her (possibly made-up) backstory, or Jaime Lannister connect with and manipulate a fellow Lannister captive, I get the feeling that the writers could have had time to do more with her storyline, if only they’d cared. Sansa and Arya are two sides of the same coin, but the action side, the non-girly side, is getting a lot more screen time, making it seem like the writers believe that is the side most worthy of our attention.
Of course, The Prince of Winterfell wasn’t without its good points. The scene between Jaime and Brienne, as they begin their long journey south, was fantastic and gives me great hope that the two actors will nail their relationship going forward. Tyrion’s conversation with Varys, as they lament that they cannot speak honestly with one another as intelligent men to solve the problem of the upcoming siege, allowed the show to explore the characters’ interesting dynamic once again, and Shae continues to be a fascinating interpretation of a character who was always difficult to read. When Tyrion declared “you are mine,” and the actress’s face set into please-my-lord-who-pays-me mode when she agreed, it drove home to me the fact that, while she does feel some affection for Tyrion, Shae will never truly belong to anybody, and Tyrion would be wise to remember it.
Game of Thrones cannot stick blindly to the events described in 1000 page books without the show falling apart. The making of a quality adaptation comes before 100% faithfulness to the books. However, some of the changes do make me uncomfortable about the writers’ perceptions of the series’ female characters, and what makes a woman worth the show’s attention.