Last night saw the finale of Game of Thrones' sixth, season, and what I think might be it's strongest in recent memory. Though it still suffered from many of the issues that have weighed the show down in recent years - too much wasted time on too many characters and stories - it was an action and surprise packed season that was very satisfying for me as a viewer. And why? Because this season was all about the ladies. (Spoilers for the finale from here on out).
Now, I'm not the only one who is happy with the way season six has gone for the girls - I've been seeing cheers of joy from critics and the twitterverse since Dany flambed her would be rapist and took her place as Khaleesi of all Khaleesis. Not only Dany, but Arya, Sansa, Yara and even Cersei ruled, figuratively and literally this season, and took bloody revenge on the men that had wrong and oppressed them. At the end of the season we saw a woman on the Iron Throne poised to face another woman bent on taking it back. Indeed the only man we saw with any power was Jon Snow, a character who has exhibited no agency at all through most of the series but just tends to be the only guy making the morally correct decision in the entire seven kingdoms.
This situation is a big turn around from last season, which turned many fans off when it diverged from the books to make Sansa Stark marry and be raped by flesh eating bacteria in human form, Ramsay Bolton. This was after many seasons where rape and sexualized violence against women had caused increasing controversy related the the show - from the first episode where Drogo rapes Dany (not in the book) or when Jaime raped Cersei next to their son's dead body (also not in the books). So, the turn of the show to allow the women to claim power and take revenge is more than welcome, but the show runners have been adamant in saying this shift was not in response to the criticism of the previous seasons...and I believe them. the thanks should not go to them, but to George R. R. Martin. Really.
As we come closer and closer to the end game of the series, which I assume is going to be pretty close to the endgame of the books, the grand themes of the world of Westeros have become clearer, at least to me. I think that A Song of Ice and Fire, was always intended to be a story of a new generation undoing the mistakes of their fore-bearers to make a better world as well as a story of the oppressed taking back power. In many ways the narrative of Thrones is about the ways good and bad that oppressed groups and people have fought back against the tyranny of Men, from not so cool moves like the children of the forest creating the white walkers to fight their conqueror to Cersei blowing up the sept to empowering moments like Dany doing...well, just about anything. There are men in power still, but very few - and the "good guys" in general are still not the Westeros 1% but people like Jon Snow - a bastard (orphan, son of a Targaryen(!!!)), Tyrion - the imp, Varys the Eunuch or Davos, the onion knight. It these people that are going to save the day in the end (or so we hope).
Looking back, this has been in the works for a long time - and credit for that has to go to Martin. It's also important to note that the most egregious moment of misogyny and rape on the show were, as I noted, not in the books, but added for television. Indeed, even while we're praising the show for giving the women power, we also saw Cersei handing over Septa Onella to the Mountain to presumably be tortured and raped. However, in the scheme of episode, that might have been the least horrible thing Cersei did. I'm not one to say that a show should shy away from depicting horribleness, and I do think it's strange to boycott or criticize a show for treating women badly when nearly every character has suffered terribly and people are murdered left and right. What I do want is what I think we're getting: a better focus on the feminist narrative that hat always been part of the story.
It's probably wrong to count our dragons before they're hatched, but I have high hopes going into the next two seasons of the show and the conclusion of things. I've always felt the final confrontation was rather obvious (dragons versus whitewalkers) but how we get there will be the adventure. I want to see if the characters can indeed create a better world and if the writers can continue telling a story that inspires, rather than infuriates, this one.