(Hey, real quick, SPOILERS! Seriously, why are you even on the internet right now if you haven't seen the season finale yet? You make poor choices.)
OK, before I even get started here, one point needs to be made crystal clear from the outset: If the entire narrative arc of D.B. Weiss & David Benioff's TV version of Game of Thrones was always envisioned with the expressed purpose of creating a modern-day interpretation/celebration of feminism in a fictional Medieval reality, then an absolute kudos must go to them for both their design and execution. This is not sarcastic; I mean it sincerely. Of all the many reasons why a lack of diversity in contemporary storytelling is so unfortunate, the single most significant one for yours truly is that the constant regurgitation of standard takes on classic tales has become so predictable/boring that I prefer pretty much any and all freshness when it comes to them. (This is, without question, the ONLY reason why I've kept an open mind when it comes to dumpster-fire-looking rehash of Ghostbusters — at least they're trying something different, no matter how much they might still screw it up.)
Also, Season 6 legit got me back into the show, after Season 5 single-handedly convinced me to (temporarily) quit it. I hated last season for multiple reasons, but most especially because the excessive brutality, combined with a lack of genuine intrigue or innovation, drained my interest entirely. "Sansa's Incessant Torment at the Hands of a Freaking Psychopath: Part II" + "Let's Start Torching Sweet, Vulnerable Girls At the Stake Because THAT Will Sure Get Some Attention" = Me not caring about any of this anymore.
And before you even get started with me about the show's lengthy history with callous barbarism, know that I watched and enjoyed the same show you did up until that point; that's how you get to a place where you can critique a fifth season of anything in the first place. I've even written a lengthy (by internet standards, mind you) dissertation on the spellbinding horror of the Red Wedding, because that was an incredibly paced, toned, and shot sequence; on both a narrative and technical level, it was a surprising marvel. What happened last season to both Sansa and Shireen was decidedly NOT THAT. Both scenes felt lazy, which made them stomach-churning in a completely unnecessary way. They each made the horrors feel routine and pointless, like they were just there to hold our attention while the writers were trying to figure everything else out.
I have neither the time nor the stomach for that noise. It was just awful.
The Turn of the Tide
This season was a marked improvement, partially from a straight up narrative context (i.e. the moments felt earned as the sense of genuine humanity the show had in the first three seasons — despite the still lofty levels of violence — returned) and also because it FINALLY allowed those who'd been dumped on for a good long while now to gain some level of retribution and/or validation.
And even if you weren't paying too close attention, the consistent gender of these characters should've tagged you square in the face by season's end. Let's do a roll call, shall we?
1. Yara Greyjoy — The sister of (technically) the rightful heir to the throne of the Iron Islands is chosen by that same brother to rule because he knows he is no longer worthy of such a claim. And she ensures this through outright and honest negotiation not with a man, but rather another queen. (See: #5)
2. Ellaria Sand & Her Snakes — So let's get all this straight: Ellaria murders her prince, Doran Martell, in front of his own guards — who do nothing to stop it — because he's too diplomatic, while the slain Oberyn Martell's three "illegitimate" daughters murder their own cousin, Trystane (Doran's son), to prevent him from ascending to the throne (leaving Ellaria, ostensibly, in charge of Dorne). That's quite the entrance into this game, wouldn't you agree? Especially once they get involved with...
3. Olenna Tyrell — Yea, so that particular crew of of deadly vipers close the season in vengeful negotiations with the matriarch of House Tyrell, who has just bore the UNBELIEVABLE pain of losing her son, her grandson, and — most importantly, by far — her granddaughter, Margaery. Well, what comes next should go well for everyone who just pissed all these women off, don't you think? (*cough cough* Lannisters *cough cough*)
4. Arya Stark — After being in a subordinate position to practically every male mentor she's encountered up to this point (i.e. Ned Stark, Syrio Forel, Tywin Lannister, The Hound, Jaqen H'ghar), Arya finally takes her life into her own hands and kills Walder Frey in order to garner some measure of justice for her family, which she has decided to once again embrace on her own. (Not ominous at all.)
5. Daenerys Stormborn — This is a little less dramatic, but nonetheless satisfying. After five freaking years, The Mother of Dragons FINALLY secured her army, her fleet, and her humongous/aerial/fire-enhanced reptiles in order to make her run at the Iron Throne. And just for good measure, she leaves one of her would-be suitors, Daario Naharis, behind — practically barefoot and pregnant — before she goes off to do so (while also lamenting her lack of lamentation in dropping his begging ass "like third period French" to Tyrion).
6. Cersei Lannister — Holy sh!t, did this bad b!tch settle ALL family business straight Michael Corleone style in the final episode (at the expense of an almost entirely male clergy, no less). And more than that, she did so after having sent her brother/lover away to tend to what can only be described as menial duties, by comparison.
Seriously, homegirl went full "If you want something done right, do it yourself!" on everyone, and ended up on that same aforementioned Iron Throne, just in time for her played-like-an-upright-bass brother to return from the nonsense she got him completely outta of the way over.
(And yea, it cost her her last kid in the process but, by this point, you can't convince me she gives an iota of a crap — when compared to now being the bona fide ruler of all Westeros — after everything she's already been through.)
7. Sansa Stark — It's not every day you get to sic the starving dogs of a horrifying maniac on that same horrifying maniac in order to gain retribution for your serial rape at his psychopathic hands. But this young woman got to do that very thing, while also reclaiming her childhood home at the same time. That's quite a day's work.
So, Like, What's the Problem?
In of itself? Not a damn thing whatsoever; watching all this play out over the last ten episodes was tremendously satisfying. However, as a man much wiser than I once said: “In and of itself, nothing really matters. What matters is that nothing is ever 'in and of itself.'”
So here's the problem, then, broken up into three parts: 1) This was the first season Benioff and Weiss were forced to really break from George R.R. Martin's work and establish their show on their own, which means they were basing their narrative choices — in no small part — on the reception of what they've already done, as opposed to what they'd initially been handed; 2) I was not the only person who had serious issues with the routine, lazy victimization of their most vulnerable (read: female) characters in previous years, especially the last; and 3) the events of this season were quite conspicuous in their direct addressing of those issues.
Think about it: Sansa facilitates the mauling of her abuser, while Shireen's death is finally addressed in the show by the one man who cared. Meanwhile, each and every woman who was ostracized into a subordinate/vulnerable position at the hands of men rises up at practically the exact same time — after the show took heat, for years, about how it treats its female characters as so consistently subordinate/vulnerable.
Do you think all this is an accident? Did you assume Benioff and Weiss just naturally came to these conclusions without any peripheral consideration — the same year it just so happened to finally be fully on them to come up with their own conclusions?
Or do you think they might just have responded to our frustrations, giving us what they thought we wanted — or rather, attempting to remedy what they knew were the most common criticisms from so many of us (especially the Ladies of the Internet). Which again, in and of itself, is fine within the context of a drink at a bar or whether or not we want pickles on our burger. But in the context of a narrative arc delivered by professional storytellers who (not unfairly, I think) are expected to know what they're doing ahead of time, so that they can then build up the structure they're supposed to be delivering us to? It becomes a problem — quickly, in fact; not one which justifies the serial, senseless abuse of women just because, mind you, but a separate, different kind of problem nonetheless:
Practically every time a storyteller (or storytellers working together) adjusts and adapts his/her tale to accommodate the criticisms and/or input of the general public, they end up chasing the proverbial white rabbit, in order to please what they think is everybody. They stop crafting, in favor of basic reacting.
And it just about never goes well. (See: LOST & Battlestar Galactica.)
So while I am quite pleased with what I saw from GoT this year, I can't help but be a little worried about how the creators are fixing to end it, based on the very real possibility that they're now just looking to avoid criticism and respond directly to their detractors with their choices (i.e. that they're now on defense, instead of offense). Because while I am, in no way, looking to return to the days of gratuitous abuse and routine assaults on those who can't do anything about it for no good reason, I'm still hoping Benioff & Weiss have a pre-existing idea of where they want to go with their version of Martin's world, independent of my scruples.
And if that version is intended to be about how fictional Medieval women rise up and topple the patriarchy in order to create a better world? Then I promise you, I'm all about it. No doubt whatsoever; it'd be an excellent (and much needed) change of pace.
But if it isn't, then that might just mean they don't know what they're doing exactly — i.e. they're simply chasing their tails so the internet doesn't stay mad at them, regardless of what it means for the story they're telling.
And I don't think anyone wants that.
What do you want to see in Game of Thrones next season?