Game Of Thrones Has A Woman Problem Behind The Scenes


by Helen O'Hara |
Published on

Without getting into any overly specific spoilers, those of us who have seen it can all agree that the last few weeks have seen some of the biggest and most exciting scenes in the history of Game Of Thrones. Daenerys’ dragons have finally been used in battle, to thrilling effect, and north of the Wall we’ve seen huge forces on the move. But every time the action turns back to the Stark sisters, or to Cersei in King’s Landing, or even to Daenerys herself, something seems a little lacking – and it could be that that something is female writers and directors.

This season of Game Of Thrones has four writers, all men, and four directors, all male. Last season had the same four writers and five male directors, as did season five. The last female director was Michelle MacLaren, who did two episodes of season four, and the last credited female writer was Vanessa Taylor on episode two of season three. While there are a number of women in senior production roles on the show who can presumably advise if they’re called on to do so, at least one scene between Arya and Sansa this week suggests that no one who has ever taken part in a conversation entirely between women was consulted at all.

It just doesn’t seem like this should still be happening. How is it that the biggest TV show in the world, in 2017, can completely ignore female writers and directors and we all just shrug and accept it as normal? The powers behind the show would probably argue, if challenged, that there aren’t enough women at the right level – directors like MacLaren, who made her name on some of the best episodes of Breaking Bad, are relatively few and often in demand – but then again not all of the male directors had vast experience on Thrones when they started either, and Thrones above all should be able to get any director it really wants. We get into too many vicious circles: women don’t have the experience to get the big jobs; women don’t get experience because no one will give them jobs. Even having made a name for yourself is no guarantee of consistent future work, and even the successful female writers and directors seem to work less than their male counterparts.

And so we get scenes like this week’s exceedingly weird stand-off between Arya and Sansa, where Sansa discovers a little more about what her younger sister can do now and Arya threatens to tell on Sansa for collaborating, years ago, with the Lannisters. There are valid reasons for the tension between the two sisters, given that they’ve always had a contentious relationship, but there’s real cruelty in their scenes this week. Arya throws her sister’s history of being a victim of abuse, of being terrorised, back in her face in an incredibly callous way. Sansa has no real response – presumably because she asks herself the same questions and holds herself guilty of the same thing, as many victims wrongly do – and the episode leaves her on the back foot, ashamed of her very survival, without any useful reconciliation between the two.

Worse than that, the scenes this week seem to misunderstand how far Sansa has come as a politician. Fair enough, she reverts to arguing with her sister, but it never occurs to her to doubt Littlefinger, the most doubt-able man in Westeros? That seems wrong. She feels under threat so she sends away her bodyguard? Also clearly reckless, the actions of a younger and less experienced girl.

And Arya – who herself went undercover among the Lannisters years ago and didn’t kill anyone as she claims now that she would have done – just comes across as creepy-weird. Surely we have Bran to cover the creepy and weird role in the Stark family? How many terrifying siblings should Sansa have to put up with? Imagine if these scenes, particularly the one in Arya’s room, had had even a single moment of tentative connection instead of just mutual suspicion. It would have been far more powerful a watch. Or imagine if Sansa had seen the promise in Arya’s abilities and suggested working together – as you might expect from someone who is meant to be cunning. Academics have noted that Jane Austen never wrote a scene that she – as a single woman – couldn’t have been party to, so there are no conversations solely between men, or between married couples, in her work. But men have no hesitation at all about writing and directing scenes between women, and they assume it’ll work out. Sometimes, they’re just wrong.

This is a season that started with huge numbers of women in key positions, which inevitably meant that loads of them would be knocked down a peg or two simply by virtue of the show’s established style of rotating power. That’s fine; that happens to the men too. But the women deposed so far have just vanished: Yara and Ellaria have barely been mentioned since their capture. Perhaps we should be grateful that the show’s former over-reliance on rape as a means of terrorising women has calmed down following the grotesque attack on Sansa last season and the outrage it provoked. But ‘not using rape as a fall-back’ should be the very least we expect, not the most.

There are still dragons, and the precious cinnamon bun that is Tormund (if he dies, we riot), and Tyrion Lannister offering counsel, so it’s not as if Game Of Thrones is a total disaster that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. But if you think back to every moment in the show that shocked and upset you in a bad way, chances are it could have been prevented by more women in positions of authority asking, “Are you really sure that’s the right idea?” It’s time to share the throne.

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