“The Winds of Winter,” the finale to the sixth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones was one of the most thrilling episodes of television ever. It was triumphant, revelatory, sad, powerful – all the feels. Ramin Djawadi’s score was extraordinary, and brought a tear to my eye. And after six years we started to see all the characters we’ve come to know and love find their rightful places and start to move in on the final act at long last.
It was also, as far as I can tell, very far from George RR Martin’s vision of the story. (I haven’t read the books, so I’m only going by what I’ve read of the changes from the books on the TV show.) As I’ve noted before, now that the show is freed from Martin’s long brewing novels, it’s moving along at a TV show’s pace, with heroes doing smart things and villains dying in satisfying ways. Martin’s storytelling seems to be all about subverting those hopes and tropes, though, and its his distinct worldview and storytelling instincts that made GoT what it is.
A singular creative force goes in directions that a writer’s room never will. I mean look at the shocking things that made this show a hit from the git go. Would a TV show runner have killed off the main character, Ned Stark, a few episodes in, like Martin did? Maybe. Hitchcock did it in Psycho. A daring move, let’s say.
But would a TV show runner ever have come up with The Red Wedding? That would be like Jesse Pinkman and Hank getting killed in the third season of Breaking Bad. I doubt it. Martin’s world is a terrible one of death, dismemberment, cruelty and oppression, kind of like real life, not like a TV show where we get to go “Yeahhhhh! Arya Stark FTW!”
I can only compare this to something dear to my heart, the New York Mets, who are going through, oh, let’s call it a rough patch. On Monday of this week they were decimated by their rivals, the Washington Nationals, their best pitcher, young fireballer Noah Syndergaard, waking two people in an inning for the first time in forever, and a four run lead washed away in a shambolic 11-4 performance that saw everything go wrong. And I do mean everything.
The next night they had a chance for redemption! Matt Harvey, their struggling ace was on the mound and it was time to make things count! If this was the TV Game of Thrones, Harvey, the Dark Knight, would have reached down inside, rallied to find his true self and pitched a 4 hit shutout.
But this was not a TV show. What actually happened was something George RR Martin could have plotted: Harvey struggled as the Mets failed to score, a rain delay washed him off the mound, and then usually stalwart reliever Jerry Blevins gave up an uncharacteristic home run to Bryce Harper. The Mets flopped in a futile display reminiscent of Stannis Baratheon’s doomed attack on the Boltons.
If GRRM had written “The Winds of Winter,” I’m thinking, Drogon would have accidentally on purpose set the ship with Theon aboard on fire and feasted on some Dothraki horse flesh and things would have been a disaster. And then Alejandro De Aza would have struck out with the bases loaded.
The other thing about GoT that is a little off to me is how all the female characters are now running the show: Danaerys, Yara, Olenna Tyrell, the Sand Snakes, Cersei, Sansa, even little Lyanna Mormont. While deeply satisfying to me as a viewer, one also remembers that one of the subtexts of the show is how women are subjugated in a medieval society. On the current GoT, when a 10-year-old girl shames grown warriors over their double crossing ways, they just say, wow, she’s right and fall in line. That doesn’t happen in real life. No group of men would let a woman talk that long without interrupting her. There would be mansplaining. There would be “but not all northern kings…” I wish things did happen like this in real life, but lest we forget, Game of Thrones is a fantasy. It’s a wonderful fantasy, but it’s one even the show runners don’t believe for one minute.
You see, they just announced the directors for Season Seven of GoT and for the third year in a row, they are all men. Only one woman has ever directed an episode, the great Michele MacLaren.
The only female director in Game of Thrones history is TV legend Michelle MacLaren, who hasn’t done an episode since season four. Of the seven credited series writers since the show began, there are also only two women: Jane Espenson, with one episode credit, and Vanessa Taylor, with three.
Game of Thrones has really become a story about the empowerment of women, and I love that. Dany, Cersei, Sansa, Arya, Brienne, Yara and everyone else has earned their spot at the top by being extraordinary leaders, even if Cersei is the bad guy now. And yeah, the show does deal with the sexism of the societies the ladies are leading (very directly in the case of Yara and Cersei.) But in the real world, it’s still a boys club all the way. Practice what you preach, guys, and be the change you want to tell stories about.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.