With the final season building toward a (surely carnage-filled) close, viewers the world over are preparing to bid “Game of Thrones” farewell. The past eight seasons have brought us no shortage of surprises — not least of all the female-focused turn the franchise has ultimately taken.
Season 8 is serving us moment after moment of emancipated-femme glory, with the show’s female characters essentially carrying the plot as well as the fate of the Seven Kingdoms at this point. It’s a far cry from where we saw many of these characters at the start of the series. Dany may be moving toward a destiny as the Mad Queen, but hey, she’s still commanding the armies of the man she was sold to (plus a few). Sansa, once moony-eyed over the likes of Joffrey, has steadily become one of the show’s most cunningly composed characters, casting aside the men who would presume to control her (later, Littlefinger). Cersei — and, deliciously, not the Night King — is our last villain standing. And Arya... well, Arya has always been Arya (read: an icon).
Suffice it to say, there’s seemingly a lot to celebrate as feminist in the turn of a storyline that had its start in women’s victimhood and nude scenes. Which is why writer Gabrielle Alexa Noel’s tweet this week served as a well-timed reminder of where the show truly stands when it comes to empowering women.
As Noel pointed out, the representation we’re seeing on-screen of strong women isn’t necessarily reflective of what’s happening behind the scenes. Far from it. "Women were shut out of writing/directing jobs for EVERY EPISODE of this season of #GameofThornes," she wrote. "So while I love that we feel empowered by certain female characters, women should've written them. Particularly for characters who were sexually abused."
The fact show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have consistently failed to allow for women’s representation both in the "GoT" writing room and behind the camera isn’t exactly news. Salon was one of several outlets to publish a piece last year spelling out the series' various shortcomings in the space of gender representation, and the numbers aren't pretty. Out of the 19 directors to work on the show throughout its eight seasons, only one was a woman. She directed four episodes in total — meaning that out of 73 episodes, 5.5% had a female director. Coincidentally, this is the exact same number of episodes (four) that included a female writer. The last time a "GoT" episode listed a woman writer among its credits, in fact, was in 2013.
Season 8 has done nothing to improve these grim figures, as all six episodes were both written and directed by men, despite the criticism Benioff and Weiss have been (rightfully) drawing for years. All the while, both men — as well as the higher-ups at HBO — have essentially stayed mum on the subject.
With dismal numbers like these top of mind, it stands to be asked: can a work truly be hailed as empowering of women when it does so little to incorporate this ethos where it arguably counts the most? Or maybe, just maybe, is this instead a classic example of exploitative "empowertising," with HBO simply pandering to timely cultural conversations — and the wallets behind those conversations — with the show's female-focused turn? If the latter holds true, the gender of who Season 8 leaves on the Iron Throne may be a moot point.