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Why I Signed the Game of Thrones Petition

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Formerly known as the Wheel Breaker

“I am not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break the wheel.”

I am going to break the wheel of established journalism, by starting this piece with a glossary:

  • Cognitive Dissonance: The state of having inconsistent thoughts and beliefs relating to behaviours or attitude change.
  • Game of Thrones: An original fantasy television series ostensibly set in a Medieval world adapted for the screen by David Benioff and D B Weiss (known as D&D) from George R.R. Martin’s (GRRM) best-selling book series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’, (ASOIAF) often referred to at GoT.
  • Inciting Incident: The particular moment when an event thrusts the protagonist into the main action of the story.
  • Intersectionality: The interconnected nature of social categorisations including race, class, and gender as they apply to an individual or group creating overlapping, interdependent systems of discrimination and disadvantage.
  • Mary Sue: Usually used in a derogatory manner to describe a fictional character that exhibits traits and actions referencing the character’s perceived importance in the story, their appearance, with a potential overemphasis on their over-skilled and/or over-idealised nature, perhaps as an avatar for the writer.
  • Petition: A formal written request, typically one signed by many people, appealing to authority in respect of a particular cause.

And now I can begin. You will also notice that I am addressing you, the reader personally, and will be using the words ‘I‘ and ‘me‘ often, further breaking established writing rules (which ask journalists to write in the third person to strike a balance between evidence and opinion). However,

  1. This is definitely an opinion piece; and
  2. We are reaching a time where most content you read, regardless of what it calls itself, is actually also opinion piece.  In 2019, the rules have been chucked out of the proverbial window, replaced with self-obsessed, headline-skimming, cancelling, baiting, loathing, angry, passionate and sometimes, narcissistic warbling.

In this piece, the narcissistic warbler – is me.

This has been a hard couple of weeks for me, as I am sure it has been for you if you have feelings on GoT. Haha, what am I saying? Whether you never watched the show, are an ardent fan or casual viewer, as a sign of the times, everyone has an opinion on GoT.

I am also going to use shorthand descriptions in this piece (is journalism finally broken?). If I casually loop in words like Arya, Brienne, Dothraki I’ll assume that you know what I mean.

The Inciting Incident of this piece is disappointment. After getting upset by a combination of consuming the commentary on whether Arya represents a Mary Sue and whether Daenerys’ and Missandei’s character arcs are forms of Intersectional misogyny, I duly (and without much forethought) signed a Petition that appealed to D&D to remake season 8, as a small protest against such misogyny.

As is usual when doing something quickly and emotionally, I began to feel Cognitive Dissonance. This was brought on by that horrible affliction known as ‘listening to other people’s opinions‘ – I realised that by signing the Petition I had inadvertently aligned myself with a nasty section of the internet that disregards the hard work that goes into making GoT. Instead, I was seen to be pursuing a personal goal of trying to take ownership of stories I consume, simply because I was disgruntled that GoT isn’t ending in a way that I approve of.

TL:DR – Was signing the Petition a good thing or a bad thing?

The answer? It was both.

Well acquainted with the pointy end

And boy was I whipped for signing it (metaphorically speaking). On Twitter, on Reddit, in my GoT Slack channels, on WhatsApp and in actual conversations with actual people held in actual person. The consensus was: Signing the petition was wrong. How dare I try to dictate what D&D’s vision of their TV show should be? And of course, that’s correct, at least on the surface.

Was I right to be personally affronted by artistic choices that have no bearing on how I live my life? Maybe not. But can we truly say that GoT has no bearing on humanity?

Hear me out as I try to win this game of thrones.

I have been invested in GoT for a long time, even before the series began when I was gifted the ASOIAF books by a dear friend. I have read some of them, but struggle with some of GRRM’s sexist portrayals. He parrots (to some extent) the brutish ways of Medieval Britain, but let’s not forget that Westeros and Essos are fictitious places created in the 20th Century.

Readers of ASOIAF are able to really get inside the characters’ first-person point of view, as GRRM helpfully writes chapters from different character’s perspectives. Therefore, by reading thousands of words (the average ASOIAF book clocks in at 800 pages) book readers have a very strong sense of how characters think and feel. In order for D&D to adapt the books into a workable TV series, this personal perspective, as well as myriad plot twists, had to be quelled (RIP Lady Stoneheart, Ice Spiders and Howland Reed). Nonetheless, D&D (along with many talented but almost entirely white male writers) created a brilliant television experience from the off.

GoT has also never played by the rules. The shocking death of Ned Stark created tidal waves across the online water cooler and brought increasing numbers of fans to the show. I was there from day 1, and I suffered. Rape, sexual violence, forced incest, bullying, strict enforcement of gender norms and all the most awful parts of patriarchal rule were present from that glorious start. And then there was the way the show treats women of colour. Just like in our actual society, they were treated abhorrently by the writers, when they were allowed to appear on screen. And I haven’t forgotten the men of colour, or the disabled (men).

But as every member of a marginalised group knows, when you’re not in power, you are forced to either boycott most TV or film, or work with what you’ve GoT (pun intended).

I could still thoroughly enjoy the show. I watched Arya stick them with the pointy end, I watched Catelyn brave all sorts of atrocities to protect her children, I watched Cersei harden as circumstances limited her choices, but I couldn’t quite watch Sansa’s repeated brutalisation. I watched the Red Wedding, but honestly, even by that point, I wasn’t nearly as shocked as I should have been. This wasn’t a game, it was a war; a war where women were often the casualties.

Most notably, I watched Missandei and Dany meet and bond, while surrounded by thousands of men who thought so very little of their kind. As the stories developed, I began to feel hopeful, whilst never forgetting the women of the brothels, the Dosh Khaleen, nor the children crucified or abused by maesters.

And one of the reasons I persevered, was Daenerys Stormborn, first of her name. The woman of a thousand monikers also witnessed the plight of the downtrodden and abused. Because she was literally a character in the show, she could do what us women in society cannot – use her power to try and stop atrocities by force of will….and with the help of three dragons.

I could understand Dany like no other. She was angry, young and idealistic, not cool and calculating like Cersei (a character I also hugely admire), nor a moral warrior (like the fantastic Brienne), but an avatar for the kind of feminist I want to be: passionate, affronted and willing to make change and help others, even though it may come at personal cost – standing up to those who seek to stop us.

Dany understood that men in power rarely want equality if it means sacrificing that power to secure it. So she meant to take the power. A bold move. D&D created a compelling female character who was considered a lead, and was the female lead. At last count, Dany had the third amount of screen time (behind Jon and Tyrion) across all GoT episodes, and in this final season she may move up to second place.

We watched her undergo a separate journey to that of the Westerosi, whose main champion was Jon Snow, a beloved, kind, dutiful male character who (eventually) comes to represent the power of Targaryen blood and Stark upbringing. But Jon wasn’t a reformer, his fate was thrust upon him. When Dany uttered the immortal “break the wheel” speech I am not ashamed to say that I cried. It was a high watermark for powerful female depiction on screen.

Many say she had bloodlust in her eyes from the beginning, but she always seemed to me to have been forced into a corner by male society and by her parentage – and made choices accordingly. Imagine if your path through life was dictated by what your parents have done? Then imagine that only one of those parents was the worst. Oh, you must take after them surely? However, Dany gave the proverbial bad guys an out and when they didn’t take it she reigned fire. Was every choice she made the noblest? Of course not. But ask yourself: Did you ever ask that question of Jon Snow? What about Ned Stark? The man frequently referred to as the noblest, who chopped off the head of a man who was telling the truth. Did you mind when Dany took the Unsullied and set their master on fire? Or were you only offended when she burned the Tarlys? Few of us asked ourselves whether we were treating Dany fairly. We were too busy cheering her on.

GoT deliberately plays with our moral compass and leads us down paths we’re all too willing to follow in the pursuit of entertainment. Dany changed lives with a swift Dracarys because that was her weapon of choice. And without those dragons could any woman have made inroads into breaking the wheel? Some other questions to ask yourself: Has Jon Show ever wanted to break the wheel? Has any other character? Dany was (at least for 5 seasons) the show’s only great reformer.

When D&D realised that they were running out of source material, and GRRM just wasn’t going to be rushed, difficult choices had to be made. And D&D took the term Dracarys to heart. That’s when my disappointment budded. I didn’t sign the Petition because GoT failed all female characters, in my opinion it didn’t. Arya’s journey has been a sight to behold. But it came at a price: whispers that Arya was GoT’s Mary Sue, that she couldn’t have done her duty without male help. And equally bad, Arya’s gain came at Dany and Cersei’s loss.

I watched some characters settle into realistic and empowering arcs and enjoyed episodes 1 to 3 of this last season, until a creeping feeling of the sacrifice of the people of colour to further the cause of white people brought discomfort. And at that point, the internet agreed with me. Then, simultaneously, a whispering campaign developed in online discourse. Was Dany suddenly going mad just like her father? I started to bristle, knowing something bad was going to happen. Then GoT did something truly terrible, it sacrificed its most prominent character of colour, for no reason whatsoever. Pour one out for Missandei of Naath, translator, loyal supporter and person whose last word was possibly the most confusing thing ever shown on TV.

Yes, I know you may think that the seeds of Dany’s destruction had been planted, but I’ll never agree that they were. You can’t undo 50+ episodes of character motivation in less than 13. D&D didn’t put us in Dany’s head. By episode 4, GoT had gone from exploring the machinations of political power, to being one note for its characters:

‘Make me suffer through enough shit and I will forget all my purpose and humanity and instead take savage revenge’

(Not a real line from the show).

How thoroughly insulting to Grey Worm, to the knights of the Vale, to Theon’s legacy, to Jaime ‘I worked so hard to redeem myself‘ Lannister, and how absolutely despicable to glorify the raping and pillaging of the people of King’s Landing with lengthy close-ups on burning bodies. Did anyone need this? No Sapochnik, we didn’t. People have said that this is the reality of war. Oh, I’m sorry, is that a new lesson? Hundreds of war films and series exist. And that hardly matters when we’ve played out the same old story of men never learning throughout history – ever since men learned how to throw rocks.

It’s time for a new story, surely?

There was no need to systematically erode the personality of the Mother of Dragons until she became a psychopathic cipher who, with the ring of a bell destroys everything she has worked for. Even Thanos had the luxury of a few MCU films to develop his theory of balance before he snapped his fingers!

Revenge is never the only choice.

In the finale D&D had the audacity to have Dany shout that she wants to Break the Wheel everywhere, completely diminishing the power and original intent of those words. In that moment my heart broke into a thousand shards, as if I were a White Walker stabbed with Valyrian steel. Tears were shed, this time unhappy ones.

Clearly the biggest threat to humanity

So, yes, you could say I was a tiny bit upset when these GoT masters of efficiency dashed my hopes of a victory for feminism. And as I keep telling you, I know Arya Stark killed the Night King, and I’m extremely happy she did so, but we weren’t even allowed to enjoy that victory. Within a few minutes of episode 4 we were told that the real enemy was Cersei. Oh right, so an allegorical screeching zombified world-class javelin throwing iceman who can raise the dead isn’t the real bad guy, the real bad guy is a pregnant woman drinking wine in an ivory tower? Please excuse me while I ROFL away my tears.

Enough of people. Let’s talk Petitions.

Petitions have been around for years and they very rarely ever affect change. Petitions offer binary solutions to non-binary problems. Yes, No, Yes, No. When I ticked that Yes box I had no idea that it would be taken as a dismissal of the truly wonderful creative work of the GoT cast and crew. I love GoT, despite all of my misgivings. How many people sign petitions about subjects they don’t care about?

I wasn’t given a Petition with multiple answers, where I could write a long diatribe about why I’m making the decision to sign (hi, welcome to this article). However, I’m happy to apologise here to those I have offended by the insinuation that by signing the Petition I was throwing shade on professionals’ work. I am sorry.

But I remain outraged by writers, producers and directors who regularly make female characters their sacrificial lambs. I am not alone in this feeling. Signing the Petition was an act of democracy. I tick the same box in order to exercise my free will that enables the fanboys who wanted even more burning bodies to exercise theirs. That’s the thing with democracy, it gives everyone a say.

Many people will say that’s too high a price to pay. To them, I say that the idea that this or any Petition can actually enforce change is naive. The anti-Brexit petition (which I also signed), is now at 6 million signatures and I don’t see the UK Government stopping Brexit, so you do the maths.

However, needlessly hurting people was never my intention. I made a stand for the better treatment of women in this show and somehow at the same time people took this as an insult. Yet I refuse to stand here and let people call me a ‘Nazi’ or like Kathy Bates’ character in the film Misery. I’m not a fascist, neither am I sociopath. I’m simply a woman with an opinion, limited options and a mobile phone.

Finally, a word on what entertainers owe to audiences. Partly thanks to the current US president, and partly thanks to our increasing reliance on entertainment machines to engender social interaction, the line between media and politics has never been more blurred. Many of you won’t want to admit to this, but we as humans can be influenced by TV. I truly believe that if characters are racist and sexist on the globe’s most popular tv show, it will lead to greater sexism and racism in real life. Deus ex Machina indeed.

Do I think GoT is to blame for everything we do in life GOD NO, OF COURSE I DON’T. But I’m willing to stake my chips on the idea that if showrunners use better representation on screen then the populace might get a little bit more motivated to change the status quo.

Is that fair on D&D? Nope. Is what I suffered fair? Nope. Is life fair? Nope.

The Petition is a form of democracy in action. If we agree to never sign another Petition, then democracy will be slowly eroded. I should have made my own petition, painstakingly setting out my stall, but that’s difficult and Petitions don’t allow for the nuance of critical debate.

Instead, I’m going to continue doing what I can to highlight the ways that film and TV could do better at supporting those parts of society not adequately catered to, and who are frequently maligned.

We’re all entitled to an opinion, even if we don’t like what we hear. But if GoT teaches us anything, it’s that the best way to ruin beautiful work and progress is to divide the group.

In the immortal words of another fine heroine mistreated by D&D:

“The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.” 

Are we actually all in the same pack?

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