Game of Thrones Griping 7: The NOMA

By Bob Case
on Mar 17, 2017
Filed under:
Television

139 comments

This series analyzes the show, but sometimes references the books as well. If you read it, expect spoilers for both.

Feminism can be a touchy subject – I doubt many will disagree with that.

Some think it’s good, some think it’s bad, some think it’s mostly good with some bad, some think it’s mostly bad with some good, some think it’s about half and half, and some (or even most) reject the entire idea that it can be quantified into a one-dimensional value judgement. Regardless of what you think, I’m not going to try and argue for or against you at the moment. Instead, I think there may be some consensus to be had on the following statement: bad feminism is bad.

In this context, “bad feminism” refers to a story that attempts to play up the strength and agency of its female characters but botches it somehow. Often such a story is in such a hurry to reach a certain dramatic conclusion that it never stops to check its dramatic premises – one whose empowering rah-rah moment doesn’t make up for its various troubling habits. Sansa Stark’s season six story is, in my opinion, a classic example.

I should point out that I don’t think it’s terrible, or a crime against equality, or anything like that. In fact, it has its moments. But it also follows two of the most familiar patterns this show imposes on its women:

1. Female agency exists primarily as a reaction to male agency, and

2. Female empowerment is consistently associated with violence and only with violence.

I call these two things “patterns” on purpose. A single instance of either or both would not, by itself, be that bad. It’s when it starts to repeat and reinforce itself that it becomes a problem. If we ever get to the other season six storylines we’ll see other instances of these patterns, but for now we’ll confine ourselves to the North.

The Highly Obedient Sansa Stark

The first of the two patterns listed above is “female agency exists primarily as a reaction to male agency.” The first part of Sansa’s story follows it to an almost comical degree. Starting with her last moment in season five and continuing through her first moments in season six, we see the following:

Sansa doesn’t want to jump off the walls of Winterfell, until Theon encourages her to. While running away, Sansa stops, exhausted. “We can’t stop,” Theon says, pulling her onward. They come to a river, and Sansa doesn’t want to cross. “I can’t,” she says, until Theon talks her into it. He holds her hand and guides her across the river. Theon guides her to an uprooted tree – “Over here! Come on!” The dogs track them down, and Theon convinces her to hide, and then to go to Castle Black if he doesn’t make it.

I`m not an expert on color filters. But Sansa`s hair is supposed to be red, right? It`s recognizably red when she`s in, say, King`s Landing. It`s just a little jarring how much they washed out so much of the footage that takes place in the North.

I`m not an expert on color filters. But Sansa`s hair is supposed to be red, right? It`s recognizably red when she`s in, say, King`s Landing. It`s just a little jarring how much they washed out so much of the footage that takes place in the North.

Sansa doesn’t do a single thing in this entire sequence that isn’t Theon’s idea. Now maybe you think I’m being too harsh – after all, Sansa has just escaped from a decidedly unpleasant captivity. So maybe she’s not exactly on top of her game right now. But I can’t hear this explanation without noticing that it’s Theon dragging her around as though she were a reluctant cocker spaniel. Theon, the character who the show has spent several seasons reducing to a physical and psychological wreck, is the one who’s brimming with initiative and can-do spirit.

It doesn’t stop with him, either. Later, Brienne offers her services to Sansa, and it’s Podrick that has to literally dictate Sansa’s lines to her – this despite the fact that Sansa, a highborn lady of a great house, ought to know the words for accepting an oath of service like the back of her hand. And right before that, there’s a moment – a single, sublime moment. There is a Nod of Male Approval.

The Nod of Male Approval, or NOMA, is familiar to the remote corners of the internet that traffic in Game of Thrones snark as their primary currency. Like many things that come from the internet, I have no idea where the term originated, though it’s enough of a no-brainer that many people may have coined it, or something very close to it, independently.If I had to guess, I would guess that it came from a podcast called “The Fanwankers,” which doesn’t quite exist anymore.

In any case, the phrase’s meaning is probably obvious. It refers to the moment when, on the brink of an important decision, a woman will suddenly need male guidance, and look with uncertainty to the nearest man, who will give her a comforting nod. This time it’s Theon, reassuring Sansa that Brienne and Pod are trustworthy, even though Theon has never met them and Sansa has. It’s a small thing, but demonstrative despite it.And if you like nods of male approval, you’re in luck, because you’ll definitely be seeing more of them this season.

In case you think this is a collection of isolated incidents, it’s not. Hit either rewind or fast forward on Sansa’s storyline and you’ll see the same pattern. Coming north? Littlefinger’s idea. Marrying Ramsay? Littlefinger’s idea. Asking the Blackfish for help? Take a guess. The army that showed up and saved the day in “The Battle of the Bastards”? That was Littlefinger’s army, and it was Littlefinger who suggested she use it.

See? Red! The shots look so much nicer when they turn the filter up to to ten instead of eleven.

See? Red! The shots look so much nicer when they turn the filter up to to ten instead of eleven.

That’s not to say there are no good Sansa bits. In the scene where Jon is reading Ramsay’s letter, he stops halfway through out of misguided delicacy – only to have her take the letter out of his hand and finish reading it herself. That was a nice touch, but moments like that are the exception, not the rule. Her main conflict in season six was her decision not to tell Jon about the army she had in her back pocket – a decision that still has me scratching my head, because we’re never given a coherent reason for it.

“We have to trust each other,” Jon scolds her afterwards. So apparently she didn’t trust him – despite insisting to Brienne that he was on her side. But didn’t trust him how? What was she afraid he would do if he knew? Betray her somehow? How? Why? To what possible end? Winterfell? He was the one insisting after the battle that she was the rightful Lady of Winterfell, and she was the one who wasn’t interested.This despite the fact that she’s actually heiress to Winterfell in two different ways and has a much sounder claim to it than Jon does. When first watching I thought that Littlefinger must have had some condition for the use of the Vale Knights that she didn’t want to meet, which they wanted to conceal from the audience until later. But they talk afterwards and neither of them mentions anything of the sort.

I know people have come up with explanations for why Sansa does this, but I have yet to read one that I found convincing. Basically, I think the writers wanted a dramatic last-minute charge in their big blockbuster episode nine battle, and didn’t really care if they had to abandon plausible character behavior to do it.

Lather, Rape, and Revenge. Always Revenge.

There is one thing that Sansa definitely does do this season, and that’s kill the bejeezus out of Ramsay by feeding him to his own dogs.

He died as he lived: shorn of every last scrap of body hair.

He died as he lived: shorn of every last scrap of body hair.

In doing so, she follows the second of the two patterns I mentioned above: female empowerment is consistently associated with violence and only with violence.

Now at this point you may be thinking that I must be the weeniest liberal weenie that ever weenied my way to North Weenieville, Weeniechusetts. After all, Ramsay was a thoroughly horrible person. Horrible enough that even those of us who don’t usually condone feeding people to starving animals might concede that this time they kind of had it coming.

But I want to reiterate that the effect of a negative pattern is found not in any specific instance but in the accumulation of them. And boy, does this pattern ever accumulate. The writers seem almost constitutionally incapable of respecting their own characters unless they demonstrate their ability to either be violent themselves or incite others to violence.

Expanding on this the way it deserves is outside the scope of this post. I just want to mention it now so I can come back to it if and when future examples come up. To be honest, Sansa’s storyline specifically is difficult to criticize – not because there’s nothing to object to, but because the problems are a little further below the surface than usual. But we’re done with Sansa for the time being. It’s time to wrap things up and get to the endgame.

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Footnotes:

[1] If I had to guess, I would guess that it came from a podcast called “The Fanwankers,” which doesn’t quite exist anymore.

[2] And if you like nods of male approval, you’re in luck, because you’ll definitely be seeing more of them this season.

[3] This despite the fact that she’s actually heiress to Winterfell in two different ways and has a much sounder claim to it than Jon does.


A Hundred!2019There are 139 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

From the Archives:

  1. Darren says:

    *Ctrl+F Arya*

    *Ctrl+F Yara*

    *Ctrl+F Melisandre*

    *Ctrl+F Daenerys*

    Hmmm.

    • Geebs says:

      *Ctrl+F Cersei*
      *Ctrl+F Margaery*
      *Ctrl+F Olenna*

      Hmmm indeed

      • Viktor says:

        If we ever get to the other season six storylines we’ll see other instances of these patterns, but for now we’ll confine ourselves to the North.

        Huh, it’s almost like he has been focusing on small subsets of the show and building off of them as he progresses through the season. This is one instance of an ongoing problem, not the whole of it.

        • Geebs says:

          It’s fine to take an example and generalise, as long as your example is representative. If you don’t chose a good exemplar, your entire argument falls down at the “generalise” stage.

          • Darren says:

            Shamus did a 50-part series making an extremely strong case for his views on Mass Effect. I don’t agree with all of his conclusions, but I can’t say that he didn’t provide exhaustive evidence to support his claims. And now we’re seeing why this level of detail is necessary: generalizing is a perilous method of criticism when there are so many threads in a work.

        • Darren says:

          I’m sorry, but I simply can’t accept one story line in a show with so many as sufficient evidence to make a sweeping claim on the show as a whole, especially since between Geebs and me we’ve provided seven possible counterpoints. And that’s without mentioning the Dorne storyline–which is far and away the weakest in the series–that, unlike the book, culminates with an all-woman group brutally murdering and overthrowing the men who stand in their way.

          • Viktor says:

            Look at Wraith’s response to your counterpoints. Also, I don’t think Mr.B is done. He’s progressing slowly through the season, we’ve seen a very small portion of the stories so far. He’ll hit the others soon enough.

            • Darren says:

              If he’s going to talk about the others, he should refrain from making generalizations and make it clear that he will be demonstrating this in future entries. Like I said elsewhere, Shamus spent 50 entries making sure he didn’t fall into this trap regarding Mass Effect. If this series pans out better I’ll happily retract my criticism, but right now my choice is either to hold my tongue and let arguments go unchallenged in the hope they are addressed later or speak my mind now and contribute to some discussion.

              • Viktor says:

                If we ever get to the other season six storylines we’ll see other instances of these patterns, but for now we’ll confine ourselves to the North.

                You mean like he did right there?

                Now, I’m curious, have you held this position in his previous entries? When Mr. B was talking about Ramsay Snow as an example of the show’s excessive Klingon Promotions, were you active in the comments demanding he talk about the other storylines? *checks* Nope. Did you pull up a dozen counter-examples to Jon Snow being emblematic of the bad writing? So why do you require 10x the proof for “Female characters get stereotypical bad writing”?

                • Darren says:

                  Honestly, I’ve been trying to keep my mouth shut; I haven’t enjoyed this series very much and consistently disagree with the author. This post is just the height of irritation to me, though, because:

                  A) It’s been hashed out across the internet in countless other outlets, so the argument is already a familiar one.

                  B) He continues to ignore much of the reality of adapting existing material for a new medium. We haven’t seen Jeyne Poole since season 1, so much of this story would either have been a Theon story that just happens to feature a woman we know nothing about (the book version, essentially) or a Sansa/Theon story in which we are invested in every character. We don’t know where Sansa’s story is going in the books. Despite the protestation of some, she’s not super on track to be a skilled, cunning politician, she’s a pawn waiting to be married off by Littlefinger only for him to consolidate power and, I guess, get her back and marry her himself? She’s not really any more proactive in the books, though certainly less victimized.

                  C) Going back to B, I generally have found the novels to get weaker over time as they sprawl and never reach a resolution, and Sansa’s story is one that really suffers for it. She’s been a victim since the first book, first of her own naivety, then a cruel king, and now a de facto prisoner of a manipulative creep who was obsessed with her mother, and with no end in sight there’s no looming payoff for her to seize some agency. You want to point to the Sansa storyline as emblematic of problems with Game of Thrones, fine. But it’s harder to say it’s because of gender because her story is so different from other female characters. Daenarys is running a city, Brienne is hunting through a warzone that’s struggling to stabilize, the Sand Snakes are doing all sorts of scheming in a region that could be the hinge on which an entire war hinges (albeit in very different ways and with very different results between the books and show) and Yara/Asha is sailing the seas and pillaging and adventuring. All of them face sexism and misogyny, yes, but the circumstances are so wildly different that it’s going to take more than a blanket assertion that the problems of Sansa’s plot are repeated across the show.

                  So that’s my opinion. Accept it or not, but I don’t have to prove my commentator cred to share an opinion.

                  • Daemian Lucifer says:

                    but I don’t have to prove my commentator cred to share an opinion.

                    You do if you want to have a fancy commentator badge like the rest of us.

              • The Nick says:

                Didn’t you, like, say the SAME COMPLAINT in part 6 (of 50) on the Mass Effect articles?

                The guy said he is going to explain more.

                This isn’t the end of a CONTINUING series of articles. Relax, wait until the end to criticize when there’s actually something to criticize instead of literally interrupting the man halfway through to address problems he just said he was about to address.

          • Bryan says:

            > culminates with an all-woman group brutally murdering and overthrowing the men who stand in their way

            Huh, that sounds an awful lot like:

            > female empowerment is consistently associated with violence and only with violence

            Now, having never seen any of this show, I’m pretty uninterested in this particular argument. But I do see a pretty big inconsistency in that particular counterpoint. Maybe the other storylines (which are not “the weakest in the series”, since I have to accept the way you say it since I don’t know) aren’t like this, though?

      • Wraith says:

        Maybe I’m misinterpreting the point you’re trying to make (and I don’t mean to sound overly hostile here), but if you’re trying to be snarky your point still largely falls flat.

        Arya is empowered by becoming a psychotic super-badass child assassin trained by a death cult. Her season 6 storyline literally ended with her killing the Waif and delivering her face to the Faceless Men before teleporting to Westeros and killing Walder Frey in revenge for the Red Wedding. It’s a major contrast from her book incarnation that in the books we’re supposed to be feeling “holy shit this is disturbing as fuck” even as we root for her, but in the show she’s just another character whose badass antics are supposed to get wild cheers rather than uneasy brow furrows.

        In the books Yara/Asha is initially presented as a showboating ironborn badass who has upstaged Theon as her father’s favorite child. But later on, when we get her point of view, we learn that she struggles a lot internally with identity issues, and that she must play up the showboating and conforming to the intensely, toxically masculine ironborn culture just to earn a basic respect from her peers; this element is apparently completely absent from the show as of now. Being forced to constantly suppress your true identity in favor of a facade thrust upon you by the norms and expectations of the society around you isn’t an element of empowerment, it’s an element of deep dis-empowerment. Because Yara/Asha (and the ironborn in general) is deeply underdeveloped in the show, it’s hard to find any deeper meaning at all in that storyline besides meaningless lip service to the ideas of female empowerment (looking at you meeting between Dany and Yara/Asha).

        Mel’s entire arc involves with her becoming spiritually broken and disempowered over time. She begins as a swaggering, confident high priestess who truly believes she’s found her messiah. She can birth shadow demons that can assassinate his enemies. But in season 5 she suddenly fails utterly, is proven entirely wrong, and forced to retreat back to the Wall in disgrace. While the burning of Shireen was foreshadowed enough throughout the series, her being suddenly wrong isn’t, which a problem stemming from the absence of Mel’s internal monologue and repeated misinterpretations of her visions that are in ADWD. By season 6, she’s literally only there as a plot device to resurrect Jon Snow and just tags along for the ride, clearly emotionally broken and only concerned with merely following along behind her new messiah rather than driving him forward like before.

        Daenerys is the embodiment of the seduction of violent revenge in both the books and show. But gone are the subtleties of her internal struggles from the books, where she is constantly torn between her desire to be an avenger for the weak and downtrodden (including herself, stemming from the downfall of her dynasty and her awful childhood being sold to a man like livestock as a pre-teen) and to be a nurturing mother for the same. Here, she’s just a one-dimensional badass who everyone is intended to cheer for when she spouts “cool”, quotable one-liners. The Meereen plot as a whole is changed from its book connotations of “mighty whitey tries to heavy-handedly force a rapid revolution on a people she doesn’t understand or care to understand, and thus faces an exercise in futility” to “liberator way ahead of her time tries to make peace but is stymied by unreasonable enslaving jerks who won’t take a fair deal”. And so in the end the audience cheers while she burns and kills those jerks before setting off abruptly for Westeros – yeah I’m sure the mercenary with no proper education who fucking loves killing people for a living (in the books) will make a really great ruler and no chaotic power vacuum will ensue.

        Cersei literally blows up all her enemies in one fell swoop and pretends that this will solve all her problems. It remains to be seen whether or not this is just lazy abridged writing or very much in-character with Cersei, since this actually is exactly the kind of thing Book!Cersei would do and think she’s smart. Cersei is actually an unsympathetic subversion of the “empowered female” archetype in the books (contrasted with the sympathetic subversion that is Yara/Asha), where she makes terrible decisions and then internally strokes her own ego about how much smarter she is than everyone else. She also has severe gender dysphoria and has developed a deep hatred for her own gender as a result.

        Book!Cersei is also a fantastic example of an amazing, deep female character who doesn’t have to be empowered in the feminist way. There’s a lot of nuance to her and understanding her is deeply rewarding even if she’s deeply unsympathetic.

        Margaery and Olenna sincerely are very interesting female characters who are or try to become empowered without the lazy mass-appeal writing tricks that are present in many other “empowered” characters of the show. So I’m not surprised Margaery was promptly blown up by “empowered” Cersei. Olenna is still around but it remains to be seen whether or not she’ll have much screentime next season, or even where the arc of a septuagenarian character can go. That said both characters still use or advocate the use of sex to manipulate male characters and therefore “empower” themselves.

        Though I might be completely misinterpreting your comment as being snarky rather than supportive of his arguments here, and if that’s the case I apologize.

        • Darren says:

          “That said both characters still use or advocate the use of sex to manipulate male characters and therefore ’empower’ themselves.”

          Which is entirely in line with the novels which are, in turn, an attempt to present an unromanticized version of feudal European society. The context in which these stories take place is very important. An empowered female character in the setting does not look an empowered female character in our modern world and the challenges they face are not 1-to-1 with what a modern woman has to face. The closest real analogue would be Joan of Arc, who by modern standards was a lunatic who was executed in a manner we would find unacceptable for nothing we would consider a crime.

          And even if we insist on ignoring the historically-inspired context, we have to grapple with the real women of the modern age who have attained degrees of power and influence in ways that we could debate in terms of “empowerment.” I won’t violate Shamus’ ban on political talk, but I think the suggestion should be enough to have you cast your eyes towards politicians and their spouses and think on what you see, while in the private sector there are a number of rich and powerful women–including very public ones in the entertainment industry–who have followed a variety of paths to their fame and fortune.

          But let’s talk specifically about Yara (Asha in the books). In the show, she’s been recently revealed to be a lesbian, or at least sexually fluid. Is this a show for the other Ironborn or how she genuinely feels? It reads as genuine to me, a gay man, if for no other reason than she seems enthusiastic about it, and she certainly was willing to toy with Theon with they first met, an act that makes little sense if she has been so conditioned to behave like a man. She is a woman, yes, but in no way is she held to the limits of being a woman in her society. Presumably this is in large part to being the last Greyjoy child (since Balon doesn’t really consider Theon, who grew up with the Starks, to be a true Greyjoy), which affords her a special place in that society that she might not otherwise have (see also: Brienne, who is definitely heterosexual). We could talk all day about how that might affect her outlook, but at worst I think it makes it seem like gender is primarily a construct.

          In the books, Asha is heterosexual and has her own lover, a delicate young man that she mostly treats as a callous man might a lover. She likes him, but she’s not super invested in his happiness beyond being pleasant company. It’s a different take than the show and more analogous to Brienne’s situation, but she’s able to engage in heterosexual activity while still enjoying a gender non-conforming position, though, much like modern women, she faces increased pressure to assert her strength and competence (again, like Brienne, and I’m starting to see that the characters share a lot more parallels than I initially realized, including being paired with less-competent and/or strong male subordinates who require protection).

          Basically, this is all an extremely long way of saying that zooming in on Sansa to the exclusion of everything else going on in the series–and failing to compare it to the source material, which should provide either a counterpoint or shoulder some blame–is not doing this analysis one single favor.

          • Joe Informatico says:

            Which is entirely in line with the novels which are, in turn, an attempt to present an unromanticized version of feudal European society.

            Which they fail at. There should be a whole lot more people dying of illness, or starvation, or in childbirth, or before the age of five than there are in these books, but none of that stuff is as cool or escapist as knights on the battlefield whacking each other with swords or wanton rape and pillaging. Also, if the Seven Kingdoms are patriarchal for the same reasons medieval Europe was, why aren’t the Wildings and the Dornish and the Summer Islanders? And don’t get me started on the Dothraki. Are they supposed to be this savage, primitive horde? Yet somehow Khal Drogo–who is just one of dozens of khals–has a standing force of warriors (40,000) twice the size of Robb Stark’s whole army? And he supports this entirely by raiding? I don’t even know how Robb Stark maintains an army of 20,000 with the North’s shitty farmland and crappy transportation network and constant raids by Wildlings and Ironborn.

            It’s the usual fantasy fiction stew of grabbing cool things from a 1000-year-long period of history without really examining how and why things in say, the 9th century were different from things in the 15th. We can handwave that stuff for the sake of entertaining fantasy fiction, but you can’t then turn around and say, “but that’s how it was in real history!” It wasn’t. Not remotely.

          • Wraith says:

            “That said both characters still use or advocate the use of sex to manipulate male characters and therefore ’empower’ themselves.”

            Which is entirely in line with the novels which are, in turn, an attempt to present an unromanticized version of feudal European society. The context in which these stories take place is very important. An empowered female character in the setting does not look an empowered female character in our modern world and the challenges they face are not 1-to-1 with what a modern woman has to face. The closest real analogue would be Joan of Arc, who by modern standards was a lunatic who was executed in a manner we would find unacceptable for nothing we would consider a crime.

            This particular line of mine doesn’t actually apply to Book!Margaery. In the books, she is much younger, in her mid-teens. While it is heavily implied she uses her feminine charm and sex appeal to manipulate male courtiers, she doesn’t use sex itself. This is important because in AFFC Cersei concocts a plot to eliminate her as a rival by framing Margaery for adultery – Margaery is heavily inspired by Anne Boelyn in this regard. But Margaery relies more on political theatre, spectacle, and popular appeals to increase her and her family’s standing compared to the Lannisters.

            The line does apply to Olenna IIRC, but this aspect of her is in her past. Olenna is very much an empowered female in a male-dominated world, but her empowerment is much more subtle. She takes advantage of her age and status to make politically subversive comments in public, openly mocking many characters who on paper are much more powerful than she is. This thus implies to the reader that Olenna is much more dangerous than she seems, and it eventually becomes very clear that she is the true power behind the Tyrells. Even though she must hide her true power behind the scenes, her flagrant disregard for social norms and subversive comments despite her gender are the visible signs of her empowerment. That is how one becomes an empowered female in a male-dominated society without resorting to sexual manipulation or violence.

            In the books, Asha is heterosexual and has her own lover, a delicate young man that she mostly treats as a callous man might a lover. She likes him, but she’s not super invested in his happiness beyond being pleasant company. It’s a different take than the show and more analogous to Brienne’s situation, but she’s able to engage in heterosexual activity while still enjoying a gender non-conforming position, though, much like modern women, she faces increased pressure to assert her strength and competence (again, like Brienne, and I’m starting to see that the characters share a lot more parallels than I initially realized, including being paired with less-competent and/or strong male subordinates who require protection).

            I admit now it has been some time since I re-read the later books, so I am particularly rusty on the specific details of those plotlines and characters, especially the ironborn. I say this in advance of the following because it’s possible I be misremembering some details. And also this isn’t so much disagreeing with you as elaborating upon your position.

            Her romantic attachments and sexual proclivities are a key part of Asha’s character. The latter are a visible demonstration of her internal struggles – her fetish for being dominated in bed by Qarl the Maid contrasts her constant need to project strength and competence to maintain the respect of her peers. Similar is her relationship with Tris Botley – while they shared a teenage infatuation and he clearly still is infatuated with her, it’s somewhat ambiguous whether or not she’d prefer to be with him compared to her other suitors. She denies his proposal, if I recall correctly, based on difference in social status – she is higher-born than he is – but the problem for Asha is deeper than that.

            For Asha, because her social status as a woman in the toxically-masculine ironborn society is so fragile, marriage itself is her enemy – any marriage she makes, regardless of the social status of the man, will result in the diminishing of her own status, because she would formally subordinating herself to a husband. Hence why she flees after the Kingsmoot, and how Euron manages to efficiently neutralize her as a political rival by quickly marrying her by proxy to the septuagenarian Erik Avnilbreaker.

            This is a fascinating contradiction and irony in Asha’s character – by managing to reject or outmaneuver all attempts by ironborn society to disempower her, she empowers herself; yet, her empowerment requires her to constantly suppress her own true feelings and identity in favor of a conforming facade, thus disempowering herself. I think it will be interesting to see how these directly conflicting ideas resolve.

            EDIT: And now reading all that in review, I realize now that Asha is a physical incarnation of third-wave feminism, intentionally or no. Her struggle is both within herself, in her identity as a woman, as well as against society itself, for the institutions of a patriarchy are her direct enemies.

            Basically, this is all an extremely long way of saying that zooming in on Sansa to the exclusion of everything else going on in the series–and failing to compare it to the source material, which should provide either a counterpoint or shoulder some blame–is not doing this analysis one single favor.

            The problem is simply that the show has outrun the source material.

            As with the vast majority of GRRM’s characters, Sansa’s character revolves around her identity. While she serves as a deconstruction of the traditional “fairy-tale princess” and “romantic courtly lady” archetypes, her core conflict revolves around her identity as a Stark. In this way, I would argue that Sansa directly applies as a representation of female empowerment. While she is constantly abused and victimized by those around her, thus disempowering her and taking away her agency, she nevertheless manages to empower herself through the series by keeping her Stark identity alive deep down. She never succumbs to Stockholm syndrome under the Lannisters – she always remembers that she is a Stark, and that the people who victimize her are her enemies.

            But at the same time, while keeping her inner identity alive is an element of empowerment, it is not enough because she still lacks all agency – after the Lannisters comes Littlefinger. And under Littlefinger the dynamic changes – while he is “mentoring” Sansa to become more adept at manipulating others, thus on the surface granting her the ability to retake her own agency, she is in reality just as much under his thumb as she was back in King’s Landing, and is in far greater danger of losing her identity as a Stark in favor of Littlefinger’s fantasy of “Alayne Stone”.

            So the conflict is that while Sansa is gaining the tools for her own empowerment and agency, she is still very much disempowered, and in danger of becoming more disempowered than ever. But the books have foreshadowed that she will betray Littlefinger in the future and bring about his downfall – “…I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle made of snow.” But this has not yet come to pass, and is only speculation.

            But the show meandered. As I’ve commented in previous sections, season 4 heavily foreshadowed Sansa finally coming into her own, complete with a meaningful wardrobe change. But then season 5 made a U-turn, and she went back to being victimized by a third sociopath and doing absolutely nothing meaningful all season. And then we move to season 6, where Sansa’s “empowerment” is shallow and pandering at best. And because the show has outpaced the books, we don’t have any context to which to compare it.

            Thus the Sansa storyline in the show is a microcosm of the show’s running problems as a whole – its inability to understand or develop its female characters, its misinterpretations of themes from the books, and its overreliance on violence as a shorthand for empowerment on both a large and small scale.

            • Darren says:

              Remember, we get nothing from Margaery’s perspective in the books. Cersei is incredibly paranoid, but Book Cersei is a much more grotesque, unhinged figure than the show’s version. Tommen is also much younger; he and Margaery aren’t having sex or anything, so Margaery’s dynamic with him is very different than the show and it defaults to seeming rather innocent to a third-party observer whether or not she is being manipulative. Given that George R.R. Martin has been involved with the show and even has it in his contract that he has the right to contribute one script per season, I strongly suspect that the show version of Margaery is not entirely dissimilar to the book version, and even then there’s not much about the show’s version of the character that I would consider villainous; in fact, I think she’s a rather sympathetic figure.

              Your thoughts on Asha are excellent, and you have a more detailed recollection of the details of her arc than I do. I still think there is some wiggle room for interpretation, though, and it’s hard to pin down entirely without seeing how she behaves outside of the rigid society she operates in. I’d like to know what happens if/when she allies with Daenarys as Yara does.

              Regarding the show outstripping the books, that brings up what I think is the core of my complaints with this series: there’s no wrestling with the realities of the differences between a show and a book. Could Jeyne Poole, a character we haven’t seen since season 1, have worked in the context of the show? Given that we don’t know how Sansa’s story turns out in the books, are we sure that there is a theoretical better outcome? I mean, there could be an entire post about a certain Targaeryn from A Dance with Dragons that the show seems to have omitted entirely and whether that was a good idea or not. The author of this series has stated that he is focusing on the show, but without talking about the realities of adapting an existing narrative I don’t think he’s being entirely fair.

              • Wraith says:

                Remember, we get nothing from Margaery’s perspective in the books. Cersei is incredibly paranoid, but Book Cersei is a much more grotesque, unhinged figure than the show’s version. Tommen is also much younger; he and Margaery aren’t having sex or anything, so Margaery’s dynamic with him is very different than the show and it defaults to seeming rather innocent to a third-party observer whether or not she is being manipulative. Given that George R.R. Martin has been involved with the show and even has it in his contract that he has the right to contribute one script per season, I strongly suspect that the show version of Margaery is not entirely dissimilar to the book version, and even then there’s not much about the show’s version of the character that I would consider villainous; in fact, I think she’s a rather sympathetic figure.

                For my part, I’ve personally always interpreted Margaery as just a pawn for her family who’s out of her depth and caught in the crossfire of a political struggle she never expected to anticipate.

                Your thoughts on Asha are excellent, and you have a more detailed recollection of the details of her arc than I do. I still think there is some wiggle room for interpretation, though, and it’s hard to pin down entirely without seeing how she behaves outside of the rigid society she operates in. I’d like to know what happens if/when she allies with Daenarys as Yara does.

                It’s really really difficult to see a situation where Asha and Daenerys meet up before any “endgame”, considering the Northern plotline in the books seems set to be heavily divorced but Dany’s upcoming conquest plotline.

                Regarding the show outstripping the books, that brings up what I think is the core of my complaints with this series: there’s no wrestling with the realities of the differences between a show and a book. Could Jeyne Poole, a character we haven’t seen since season 1, have worked in the context of the show? Given that we don’t know how Sansa’s story turns out in the books, are we sure that there is a theoretical better outcome? I mean, there could be an entire post about a certain Targaeryn from A Dance with Dragons that the show seems to have omitted entirely and whether that was a good idea or not. The author of this series has stated that he is focusing on the show, but without talking about the realities of adapting an existing narrative I don’t think he’s being entirely fair.

                MrBTongue certainly isn’t infallible, and to be perfectly honest this series hasn’t been nearly as extensive as I was expecting, at least compared to his video content. But I also don’t know how long this series intends to last. For example, his arguments about Sansa lacking agency because of Littlefinger’s initiative paints a very viable argument for Sansa being manipulated by Littlefinger all along in some grand scheme of his, which is supported by their interactions in the season finale. That said, his point still stands because of the show’s own advertising campaign – “Women On Top”, which is thoroughly railed against in a series of essays that another commenter thankfully linked below.

                But these comment sections have been filled with a lot of show apologists, and I want to head that off at the pass if I can. The show is deeply, deeply flawed, and too many people rationalize away those problems. For my part, after the season 6 premiere I came to terms with the fact that I was no longer watching a many-layered work of cinematic television, but rather a show of pandering, action-heavy schlock. I’ve just been rolling with it since then.

                I think the “the show is total schlock” element these days is perfectly encapsulated by the big chase scene between Arya and the Waif – when Arya tumbled down the stairs and crashed over a bunch of baskets of fruit I burst out laughing for a good five minutes straight completely involuntarily.

              • Harper says:

                Could Jeyne Poole, a character we haven’t seen since season 1, have worked in the context of the show?

                I think it would have worked even better on the show. We don’t get much of Jeyne Poole in the books either, the point of the rescue is that its Theon choosing to rescue a person who he knows is a “Nobody”. He could’ve revealed to the Spearwives that Jeyne Poole was not the real Arya Stark and that would have been the end of it.
                But instead he chose to rescue a girl from a terrible situation because it was the right thing to do.
                If the show had given us a fake Arya who we barely remembered as a side character, then Theon’s choice to rescue her could have been a much more selfless act.

              • Sannom says:

                “Given that George R.R. Martin has been involved with the show and even has it in his contract that he has the right to contribute one script per season, I strongly suspect that the show version of Margaery is not entirely dissimilar to the book version, and even then there’s not much about the show’s version of the character that I would consider villainous; in fact, I think she’s a rather sympathetic figure.”

                I haven’t read the books, just read the analysis and complaints by the Fanwankers (the podcast mentioned by Bob, whose members are still very much alive), and just based on Brienne, I really don’t think you are correct. How can we say that the show version of a book’s character without a point of view probably isn’t dissimilar to what GRRM intended when the show version of a POV character doesn’t even keep their core conflict, in this case her struggle with actually having to kill someone? How does Show!Brienne, great murderer of 2 (3?) of Renly’s Rainbow Guards, compare to Book!Brienne, who was made a butcher’s apprentice by her master at arms because he thought she had to be desensitized to blood and death and who didn’t kill anyone until the fourth book?

                • Jeff says:

                  Hearing GRRM is involved with the show doesn’t really mean much, given that DNA was involved with (and apparently approved of) the movie, but the movie of HHGttG is such a weak entry among his works (including things like Last Chance to See) that we needed to be explicitly told that he was involved and approved.

    • EmmEnnEff says:

      In the show, Arya and Danyeris’s entire theme is that incredible amounts of violence will fix all your problems.

      GRRM’s condemnation of war, and the cycle of revenge is conspicuously absent from the show.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    What are you doing,Bob?!We dont mention that word on this blog.Do you want to be swarmed in comments?

    Man,the rss feed for this one will be interesting.

  3. Syal says:

    Now, the books empower women through violence and sex. Much better.

  4. Bruce Marshall says:

    I found the fact that Jon took over instead of Sansa to be the most egregious part to me. As a person who has been, for seasons, eagerly awaiting Sansa to utilize all the political and personal knowledge she’s gained, I feel like her actual place is a notable step down. I thought “Oh she’s the stark daughter, a real one! surely when she goes around and talks with people they’ll join her army, because she knows how to talk to people!” and that clearly did not happen too much. Sansa has been suffering all season and without a great deal to show for it up until that point, no moments of awesome or especial competence. Even her riding in with the Vale army seems primarily driven by men instead of herself.

    So, we get to the big king in the north scene. Sure some people want Jon, but he’s a bastard and honorable. Remember that scene all the way at the start were he gave up his own wolf so the Starks could keep their own, highlighting his own position and loss for their benefit? I was sure that was what he would do. He has never shown a particular desire to rule Winterfell, and has much bigger fish to fry anyhow. It would make more sense thematically and narratively for him to hand off the throne as soon as it’s offered and go to do his actual job, IE leading an army against the others.

    And that’s not touching how thematically it makes far more sense for Sansa to have this power. This is what her character has been building towards! She has never been a fighter, an assassin, a magician. She amongst all the Starks has always been, and building up to be, the politician. This is like her perfect place! While Jon goes to fight the others Sansa could be Queen in the north, utilizing years of (painful) learning to motivate, unite, and rule the north so as to provide Jon his army. Why the hell is she even around if she’s just going to take the backseat all the time? Is she just meant to be the world’s punching bag?

    But no, of course this couldn’t happen because Jon is the writers pet just like Ramsay was. It wouldn’t do for him to ever lose out in the long run on anything, especially to a _womynly womyns_ who can’t even stab a guy. He has to be the Jesus and the King and the Master Warrior and Etc.

    I certainly hope this isn’t where Book Sansa is going, or else her storyline will stand as the greatest shaggydog story of that series. Also enjoying these so far. Best of luck in its continuation!

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      Jon has always taken second place because he’s a bastard, sure. But what if he has King’s Blood actually? Because that is where the story is going. Because he 100% does have it.

      • Bruce Marshall says:

        oh, yeah, totally, he has the kings blood and all that jazz. I don’t mean to say he’s not going to be important, because he totally is. But if he’s going to go off and be king/queen consort/dragon rider/whatever, can’t we at least give Sansa a cool moment of being queen in the north? Also putting aside for the moment that kingly blood would not legally nor at this point symbolically increase his claim to the northern throne.

      • sheer_falacy says:

        About that king’s blood: so what? The Targaryens were overthrown. They lost. The northmen won’t want to follow him because of Targaryen blood – really, they’d want to follow him even less.

      • guy says:

        Doesn’t matter in this context. Only Starks have been King In The North, Targ blood doesn’t matter for that purpose.

      • Harper says:

        The King’s blood only works in the context of the prophecies related to the Long Winter. Considering his creation was what set off a major civil war and overthrew a long-established monarchy, Jon’s pedigree won’t matter much beyond fighting the Others.
        Though in the books, Robb did name him his heir and there are still Lords and Ladies alive who know that and can connect with Jon when he’s resurrected, I’m not sure what that will mean in the long run

        • guy says:

          If Jon is legitimized and permitted to leave the Night’s Watch due to either death or a special “last male heir to a throne” exemption, he inherits unless the moon tea didn’t take on Robb’s wife. He is both male and older than Sansa, so he’s clearly ahead of her under male-preference primogeniture if legitimized.

          • Harper says:

            Those things won’t all happen at once. The people who know he was legitimized and made heir are in the Neck post ADWD, right along with Howland Reed who also happens to be the only one who knows Jon’s true parentage, Jon’s has to be resurrected and somehow leave the Night’s Watch before he goes there.
            He CAN be legitimized and made King in the North in the books( though it will be a short reign if the Three Heads of the Dragon prophecy pans out) but the detail of Robb’s will was left out of the show.
            In the show they basically elected him King of the North because of all that massive plot armor that deflected a hail of arrows and a cavalry charge

    • Stu Hacking says:

      Yeah but, but… Jon Came Back From The Dead!

      Don’t you remember how Jon was dead for all those significant events between the last episode of season 5 and the first episode of season 6? ;-)

      • Bruce Marshall says:

        He missed that whole 10 years of consolidation and rebellion to turn the north into loyal Bolton supporters! woulda been nice if he woke up sooner.

    • Syal says:

      I suspect Sansa being in Winterfell in the show was just avoiding hiring someone new and giving Sansa some scenes for the season. I’m wondering how much of this is due to mindless adaptation of the book storyline, where Sansa is still in the Vale and Jon has no competition.

      Also, it’s a foregone conclusion that the greatest shaggy dog story will inevitably go to Shaggydog.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    What was she afraid he would do if he knew?

    Probably squander it somehow.Really,jon is not that good at military.He is lucky as hell though.

  6. Bropocalypse says:

    I suspect there’s some idea, particularly in the entertainment industry, that women aren’t interested in kicking ass. By this line of thinking, only men could possibly be interested in Game of Thrones.
    Since therefore the demographic is constructed 100% of easily-spooked males, all actions shown must be in some way directed by creatures of their likeness, or they must be provided with a male to mimic when a female does something. The NOMA is the equivalent of a decoy in a duck pond, reassuring the target that things will be okay, we will overcome this difficult period of not-male screentime. Just keep stuffing your meat-flavored popcorn into your face, dear target demographic, and think about professional wrestling until it blows over.

    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

      I don’t think HBO is that stupid, they’ve certainly presented Jaime and Jon as different kinds of pretty boys to tease the female audience, presented romantic subplots (notably between Jaime and Brienne but also between Robb and his wife) for that possible point of interest, and finally, Arya and Dany have always gotten their due as “cool characters who are important and who win sometimes.” Sansa is the one who got the losing stick over and over again, it’s kind of a her-centric trait.

    • TMC_Sherpa says:

      Aww, low blow man. They let the women folk wrastle and, most of the time, it isn’t even a piss break match anymore. Heck I can think of…uh….three that don’t have boob windows in their outfits? Progress!

    • Derek Mose says:

      That was excessively inflammatory.

      • Bropocalypse says:

        You might be right. I’d hate to offend all the network executives who frequent this site by satirizing their gender politics.

        • Shamus says:

          I think this was a misunderstanding. The way I read it, Derek took the line “we will overcome this difficult period of not-male screentime. Just keep stuffing your meat-flavored popcorn into your face, dear target demographic, and think about professional wrestling until it blows over” as you patronizing “dudebros”, not as you mocking executives for patronizing dudebros.

          (I’ll admit I kind of made the same mistake at first because I was skimming. “What?! What’s Bropocalypse saying? Oh right, I see.”)

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Sansa is not really a good example.From the very start she was the passive character,one that others tug around as they please.Her real problem is not that she is weak,but that she never grows out of it.Now that too can be fine,because some people indeed never do grow and remain stagnant in their lives.But the problem with sansa is that we had the hint of her growing as a character when she came back to the north,what with the scene with the dress and all.But nope,that was scrapped for some reason,and that makes me sad.We always have hints of her finally doing something on her own,only to revert to her passive self.Which is a big shame.

    As for the female empowerment through violence,we had females who were powerful without violence.Margaery being the most prominent one.So the pattern you mention does not permeate through the whole show.Thats why we have cersei contrasted with arya,one using others to do her dirty work and holding power through words,titles and money,the other doing all the violence and revengence herself.

    TL;DR Sansa is a bad character not because she is a woman,but because they simply have no idea what to do with her.

    • Geebs says:

      To be honest, the “only empowered through violence” thing is endemic in genre media. It’s applicable to both genders, but female characters do seem to have the biggest problem with having nothing to them but violence and snark.

      • Joe Informatico says:

        So much of our genre fiction owes a huge debt to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, both works where the hero saves the world by trying to redeem enemies everyone around them has written off as lost to darkness. It’s kind of sad how many of the works they’ve influenced tend to rely on violence as the ultimate arbiter.

        • Tizzy says:

          in that regard, i feel like Return of the Jedi never gets the respect it deserves for its first act. The good guys put themselves in a lot of danger, simply so that Jabba gets several chances to be merciful. Of course he doesn’t and the heroes get to kick ass, and let’s be honest, any other outcome would be a bit of a letdown.

          But rewatching the film as an adult, I can’t help but be struck by how bold of a characterization this was.

          • Soldierhawk says:

            Honestly, I think that holds true for all of Jedi. It’s why, despite ESB getting all the love, Jedi will always and forever be my favorite Star Wars film. The fact that Luke goes from running off to do violence to save his friends–and paying for it terribly dearly–to surrendering himself and walking, unarmed, into the Emperor’s captivity just for the *chance* to redeem his father (and pulling himself back from the brink when violence is dangled in front of him as a temptation again) is my single favorite character arc in any movie, ever, bar none, full stop, and I feel like it never gets the respect it deserves.

            Yeah it’s a semi-cheesy line, but “you failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi. Like my father before me” was absolutely and 100% okay with me. Luke earned and PAID for that line with blood, sweat and tears over three movies, and it still gives me chills when he throws that lightsaber aside, every time.

  8. Christopher says:

    I’m not sure if this is where you’re going with this, but I never really feel satisfied when awful things happen to awful people. There was that shitty brother of Daenerys in the first season who was marked for death from scene one by how shitty he was acting, but I didn’t actually feel good when he got melted gold poured on his face. It seems even worse with Sansa, because at least the gold puring guy was a barbarian. Sansa feeding someone to the dogs is like… I don’t know, Batman killing the Joker in retaliation for the Joker killing a bunch of people? It’s not unbelievable, but it just feels like the nicer character has failed.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      But you have to admit that even you enjoyed seeing joffrey choking on that poison.

    • Harper says:

      The worst part is its completely against Sansa’s character, she’s not sadistic at all. Even in the Eyrie, she was still horrified by how Joffrey died, the guy who made her life hell and abused her

      • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        This is what most bothers me. With both Sansa and Danny, they keep hinting that they are sadists keeping it under control. But I can’t tell if they are doing this on purpose -Danny as the Mad Queen, Sansa having learned the wrong lessons from Cersei -or if this is just all they know to do to make the women “powerful.”

        In my headcanon, where Sansa is Elizabeth I, feeding Ramsey to the dogs is actually a sign of weakness. A sign that Ramsey somehow got one over on her. Elizabeth wouldn’t have fed him to the dogs. She’d have just dragged him out in front of everyone, and had him beheaded. Look, if you want Sansa to be violent -then have Jon hand her Longclaw, and have her take Ramsey’s head off. This isn’t complicated!

        • Harper says:

          Yeah, like Syal mentioned, Ramsay basically won, he got in her head as only the Villain Mary Sue could

        • potatoejenkins says:

          Look, if you want Sansa to be violent -then have Jon hand her Longclaw, and have her take Ramsey’s head off. This isn’t complicated!

          Woah, woah, this I like, friend. Considering how much they build up the “thee who passes the sentence” thing with Ned and later Jon, this would’ve put her right up with the cool hero dudebros again. Still violent, yes, but it would’ve given the execution this “worthy of a queen” official touch.

          Letting the dogs nibble on Ramsey was just petty. If that scene doesn’t say “this one won’t be leading anyone”, I don’t know what does. (I don’t think Sansa would ever be queen material but they don’t have to telegraph it quite this obviously imo. It’s boring.)

          Anyway. I like this series. Don’t always agree, but I like it. Back to lurking.

    • Syal says:

      I always felt Viserys’ gold death was supposed to be Daenarys trading a nasty brother for even nastier people; I don’t think it’s supposed to be a fulfilling moment like Joffrey or Tywin.

      Thinking about it, that feeling might be tied to how much the villain fails to accomplish. Joffrey’s comeuppance feels good because Joffrey’s done a lot of bad things, but none of them have fully succeeded. He tries to kill Bran, and fails. He kills Ned, which disrupts the nefarious schemes of all his relatives. He strips Sansa naked but it ends when he gashes himself on the sword chair. Every plan is frustrated in some way, and when he dies there’s a sense of relief that they got him before he managed to get his act together.

      Tywin succeeds a lot more often, but his plans are more far-reaching and as such are only partially fulfilled, and his comeuppance comes directly from his repeated failures to deal with Tyrion. Weaker version of the same relief, thank goodness his plans didn’t come to full fruition.

      Ramsay’s never shown to balk or fail at a scheme. His plans accomplish exactly what he wants them to, whenever he wants them to. There’s no relief that we won’t see him at his worst. Instead his death leaves an unpleasant feeling that he achieved complete success during his life.

      • Syal says:

        Thinking about it a bit more, I think the sense of fulfilment is actually coming from a victory over the forces that allow the villain to have power. Joffrey’s comes from right of inheritance and the backing of the most powerful family in Westeros, and his death is a blow to both. Tywin’s comes from his scheming and his gold, and Tyrion manages to outscheme him in the long game.

        Viserys isn’t particularly fulfilling in part because Viserys never actually had any power; he exists because the Khal put up with him, but when the Khal decides not to, it doesn’t change the power dynamic, it’s still “what the Khal says, goes”. Same with Gregor Clegane; his power comes from Tywin, but Tywin’s okay with losing Gregor so his death is unfulfilling.

        Ramsay’s power is supposed to come from Roose, but when killing Roose somehow makes him more powerful, it becomes clear his power actually comes from the writer. His death is unfulfilling because it doesn’t affect the writer’s power at all.

        And I’m left with the intriguing question of whether a writer can write a Ramsay character’s death in such a way that it feels like the writer has been defeated by the other forces at work in the story. Would Ramsay’s death be more fulfilling if it was preceded by several minutes of the writer trying to write a way out of it, only to realize that no, it’s too late, he made a mistake letting things come this far and the character’s going to die now.

    • Chris Davies says:

      To me, Sansa’s character rings true. After all, she’s had two educations, the fairytale she learned from Ned and Cat where it is expected that nobles should be the embodiment of virtue, and the practical education from Joffrey the coward and sadist, Petyr the murderous, duplicitous schemer, and Ramsay the psychopath.

      Without any examples to model of people who operate in the real world yet remain uncorrupted by it, why wouldn’t she believe that feeding your enemies to the hounds is the way a noblewoman ought to behave?

    • Joe Informatico says:

      I’ll paraphrase this from a comment above: So much of our genre fiction owes a huge debt to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, both works where the hero saves the world by trying to redeem enemies everyone around them has written off as lost to darkness. It’s kind of sad most genre fiction just goes in for violent catharsis. I’m not saying every genre work has to have some Uplifting Message or anything, and I like reading or watching bloody violence as much as the next guy. I just like to see a hero triumph through methods other than “I punched the other guy harder” too.

      • Christopher says:

        I would feel better if the killings happened during conflicts, personally. Pouring gold on someone isn’t a fight or self-defense, it’s an execution. It reminds me of crime shows. Action scenes are hard. It’s much easier for them to just have lots of talking and then moments of intense, one-sided murder.

        • guy says:

          I found the golden crown scene satisfying mostly because it’s Viserys’s flaws coming back to bite him. He’s too hot-tempered and arrogant to wait for Rhaegal’s birth, he’s too dismissive of Dothraki culture to understand that he gave a gift that obligates a return gift rather than a trade with strictly defined terms, and he’s too much of an idiot to recognize the distinction between “can’t shed blood” and “can’t kill”. It is an execution, yes, he violated a sacred law in the most brazen manner possible and the sentence is death.

      • Syal says:

        works where the hero saves the world by trying to redeem enemies everyone around them has written off as lost to darkness

        As a tangent, it bothers me when a Batman-type show never shows a criminal turn away from crime after an encounter with Batman. Sure, the Joker’s never going to stop, but show us Thug #4 working an honest job 4 months later, still jumping at shadows whenever he doesn’t do something he was supposed to.

        EDIT: I guess the blockquote tag broke? Back to using italics I guess.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          EDIT: I guess the blockquote tag broke? Back to using italics I guess.

          It seems that wordpress decided to remove the border.It still works,but its less noticeable now.

  9. MarsLineman says:

    This analysis of Sansa/ Theon’s escape leaves out a critical detail- it was Sansa’s act of defiance- being willing to die at the hands of the Kennel Master’s daughter rather than be re-subjugated- that inspired Theon to finally break free of his own bondage. This moment was the triumphant climax of Sansa’s arc- the moment when she finally stopped being led and started leading. Theon’s strength in the wilderness afterward is understandable- he has finally himself broken free of his tormentors, and is now for the first time on the path to redemption. But again, it all started with Sansa’s moment of strength.

    Sansa doesn’t tell Jon about the Vale knights because she is deeply conflicted about further indebting herself to the man who effectively sold her to her recent tormentors. She only calls on Littlefinger out of desperation.

    Jon wishes Sansa had trusted him to be able to handle the truth of the situation and make the right decision. Which he might have failed to do, given that he would still likely be angry at Littlefinger for gifting Sansa to the Boltons. If Sansa had told Jon about the Vale army, he might have refused their aid and lost the battle. Sansa’s secrecy was an act of strength- the act of a leader who must make difficult, personally-costly decisions. Decisions which she was vindicated for, when the battle was won.

    • silver Harloe says:

      Your moment of strength is my moment of just gave up fighting anymore at all.

    • Harper says:

      That’s the kind of defiance that could have come before her rape and even further back in season 2.
      The showrunners never understood Sansa as a character, she was never the passive girl waiting for others to make her decisions for her, that’s just what the other characters around her perceived her as.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      That is a wonderful answer, that is emphatically not in the script.

      After the battle, Jon point blank asks Sansa why she didn’t tell him about the Vale knights -and she dodges the question. Why even bother having the scene if they aren’t going to have Sansa reflect on what has happened to her in the past 2 seasons?

      • MarsLineman says:

        It’s true that Sansa never tells Jon the exact reason why she kept him in the dark. Sansa keeping her own council (and not sharing everything with Jon) is a continuation of the same silent leadership style that kept her from telling Jon about the Vale army before the battle. She has learned that she is the only person that she can fully trust- a hard-learned lesson, one that is established over many episodes. And Jon cedes Winterfell to her, stating that she was responsible for their victory. Her leadership is acknowledged, even if its manner is never openly discussed.

        That Sansa can only trust herself is clearly established in the script, and her secretive leadership style is a natural extension of this theme.

  10. This about only way to show women being capable just like men with violence has brought to my head the Folding Ideas video in Youtube on Fight Club and toxic masculinity.

  11. Mr Compassionate says:

    Sansa not claiming Winterfell is probably the most obviously bad writing decision I’ve seen in a long while. They spend 6 seasons teasing the audience with a character arc that never happened and this was basically their last chance to solve it.

    ps: I’ve had feminists be dogmatic and toxic to me IRL despite my support of the cause so I’m far less enthusiastic about their cause now but still, in media it’s hard to deny the male bias.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      in media it’s hard to deny the male bias.

      Sure,the bias does exist in media.However,that doesnt mean that every instance of a woman being a bad character is due to it.

  12. Grudgeal says:

    Well this comment thread sure isn’t going to end up a minefield, nosiree.

    Anyway, let’s just toss in my own rocks and blow some stuff up: Game of Thrones promoted series 6 with “women on top”. It was, as I recall, a magazine promo thing with Marg and Cersei and Sansa on the front page. It was bold, and in-your-face, and looked really feminist, and when the show came we did, in a way, get a lot of ‘women on top’. If your idea of ‘women on top’ is to have female characters be openly sarcastic or flip out and kill people or burn stuff down in various ‘badass’ ways.

    Personally, I got my introductions in feminist literature from the Brontés and from reading about people like Simone de Bevouire and Olympe de Gouge, people who spent time and ink talking about “what is woman?” and “what is woman’s role/standing in society?” so I may be too high-falootin’ for the writers’ “women on top” sensibilities, but I don’t really see how being sarcastic and blowing stuff up is all that “empowering” for women. Is the show saying that the only way women can be “on top” is by tearing men down? Because that’s sort of what people who oppose feminism say about feminism.

    Again, in the original book you get a lot of stuff on womens’ role in Westeros, from Sansa’s mantra of “a lady’s armour is courtesy” and Brienne of Tarth and her role as a woman who cannot fill the Westerosian idea of “woman”, to Cathelyn’s chapters of what it means to be the wife of a high lord and the mother of her children to Cersei who’s internalised the misogyny she’s suffered from her father and husband all her life to become this sort of “all other women suck; I’m powerful and special and deserve to be heard” figure that you may have seen in certain real-life figures. And that seems a lot more actually feminist to me, talking about what it means to be “woman” and the “role of woman” than having female character burn stuff down and kill men while being sassy.

    Anyway, if anyone didn’t get entirely turned off by that there’s this essay series I found on tumblr that is a lot more eloquent (and inflammatory) about it than I could ever be.

    • Sannom says:

      If you want people talking shit about Game of Thrones as an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, the Fandomentals is probably on the best places to go. It gets some time to get used to the nomenclature, but I think it’s worth it.

  13. Matt Downie says:

    Maybe the problem is the idea of Sansa as feminist hero in the first place – there are plenty of other characters who are better qualified for that role. If I think of Sansa as basically the same dumb kid she was in season one, her actions make a kind of sense.

  14. Dev Null says:

    My usual response to this topic is to say that Sansa is a weak character. And then someone will get outraged about all of the trials and tribulations that she has been through and how much strength it would take to survive them… which is not my point at all. She is not a weak _person_, she’s a weak _character_. Shallowly written. She’s basically a cardboard-cutout target for bad things to happen to, with no real personality, or hopes and desires of her own. We don’t really know anything about her, umpteen books into the series. Because her character hasn’t been developed (by the show writers or Martin, I’d argue) she just gets dragged around by the writers to wherever they need a crash test dummy next; her actions don’t seem to make a lot of sense, because there is no context (a developed personality) for them to make sense _in_.

    Sansa is outwardly depicted as the quieter more demure one, and some will argue that that is why she seems to have no depth. But I don’t buy it. If she was just the quiet one then we should be seeing hints and facets of her inner life. A decent writer ought to be able to bring even the quiet ones to life. Sam’s a good example of this; he’s a mostly introverted bookworm, but we still get enough about what’s going on in his head, one way or another, that he ends up a reasonably 3D character. Sansa seems to get written off and abandoned by the writers really early on, so she never develops into a person that feels “real”. When you take a character with no depth like that, and make them the center of your story arc… anything the character does is going to feel out of place, because there literally is no place to be in.

    • silver Harloe says:

      In the books, we last see her basically apprenticing Political Scheming from Littlefinger. She’s starting to learn it, too. There was that scene with the various knights of the Vale where one of them abuses Littlefinger’s hospitality and the rest capitulate to let him stay in charge for a while, and Sansa’s first comment to LF after that is “what did you give him to [abuse] you?” (I forget the exact wording, sorry). She’s developing an eye for scheming.
      Then she wasn’t in book 5 that I remember, so who knows where the heck all that is going, but it seemed to me like the start of character development.

    • Harper says:

      I don’t agree with the idea she’s a weak character, she’s a twelve year old girl with hopes and dreams that are clearly established and no matter how powerless she is, she resists however she can, be it subtle or otherwise.
      She’s still idealistic and kind-hearted no matter what life throws at her and no matter how paranoid Littlefinger makes her and she’s very politically astute even before Littlefinger’s guidance.
      I think the problem most people have with her is where she is, not who she. Character-wise she’s as well rounded as Sam, but for much of the series she’s essentially a captive involved in the Game of Thrones side of the story while Sam is fighting or helping to fight the Others.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        That may be true for the book sansa,but the show sansa is a weak character.

        • Harper says:

          Yeah, but why accept that? Why accept any of them- the incompetent,entitled Jon Snow, the rude, Terminator Brienne, the incompetent, ambitious Stannis, the Loras defined only by his sexuality,etc, etc?
          I’ve never seen an adaption of characters as bad as what they’ve done on this show

        • Sannom says:

          The most indulgent critics recognize that doing Sansa right in the show is very hard because most of her development and acts of resistance are internal and hard to see without the POV narration. But then most of those critics say “Why the fuck did they make her kneel during her wedding to Tyrion?” and usually answer with “Oh, right, Saint Tyrion is a thing, I forgot!”.

      • Geebs says:

        I don’t buy that at all. What has Book Sansa actually done? Apart from letting Joffrey kill the baker’s boy and a direwolf, blaming a man she knows to be innocent for murder, and being Littlefinger’s stooge in his plot to take over the Vale? If anything, Show Sansa is showing more strength of character.

        • Harper says:

          Sansa saves Ser Dontos, she treats Sandor Clegane with kindness and basically sets him on his path to redemption, she insults Joffrey and others whenever she can get away with it, she’s one of the few captives in the series that actually resists Stockholm Syndrome( compare her to Theon, Jeyne Poole and even Dany), she remains loyal to he family no matter what, she comforts the women and children in the Red Keep during the Battle of Blackwater while Cersei gets drunk and does her best to destroy their morale, she’s active in her own rescue from the Red Keep, and she resists Tyrion as another Lannister( even refusing to bow for him to put his red cloak over her).
          She’s also politically astute, she’s able to understand the game of thrones more than a normal twelve year old girl and she puts on a performance of being slow-witted to such a degree that even Tyrion doesn’t know just how smart she is
          She’s not passive and she certainly doesn’t agree to marry into the family that betrayed hers for no discernible reason.

          • Joe Informatico says:

            And she knows most of the nobles in Westeros by reputation. Tyrion notes at one point in Storm of Swords how she seems to know every lord and lady, and is able to ask after their children or happenings in their lands, etc. She’s already a master of mingling, which is an extremely useful ability I feel a lot of the nerdy, introverted sections of the fanbase really don’t appreciate as much as they should. I mean, Tyrion’s book-learning and wits made him really successful at tactics and long-distance diplomacy and finance and nobody cared, because they still saw him as the snarky drunk Imp!

          • Geebs says:

            Book Dontos is just as dead as TV Dontos. I guess getting him shot saved him from cirrhosis?

            As for “active in her own rescue from the Red Keep” – being capable of bipedal locomotion is impressive from an engineering standpoint, but it’s otherwise kind of baseline, isn’t it?

            Personally I think the “knows the coats of arms of all the houses” is supposed to demonstrate that she is invested in being a lady at court, with the ultimate aim of marrying well rather than developing any practical skills – which would be fine, but the inapplicability of that skill-set to her actual situation is kind of the point.

            • Harper says:

              Book Dontos is just as dead as TV Dontos. I guess getting him shot saved him from cirrhosis?

              As for “active in her own rescue from the Red Keep” – being capable of bipedal locomotion is impressive from an engineering standpoint, but it’s otherwise kind of baseline, isn’t it?

              So because Dontos dies later, Sansa saving him didn’t mean anything? You might want to tell all those firefighters of the world that they’re fighting a losing battle, nothing they do matter because everyone they save will die…
              The point is she risked a beating to rescue a complete stranger a drunkard who everybody else looked down upon.
              And its not just being able to walk that made the difference in Sansa’s escape, she had to risk herself everytime she went to the Godswood, she had to make the rest of Kings Landing believe it was for prayer rather than meeting Dontos.
              She had to be much more active in her escape from captivity than on the show.

              …with the ultimate aim of marrying well rather than developing any practical skills – which would be fine, but the inapplicability of that skill-set to her actual situation is kind of the point.

              In that world that knowledge IS applicable to her actual situation, knowing the Houses, their heads, mottos, politics it all makes the difference in political situations and its what allows her to charm the hell out of the Vale social circle, which means loyalty later on when she discovers Littlefinger was the one who killed her father.
              That knowledge is essential in that world, one could argue even more essential than a sword

            • Sannom says:

              “As for “active in her own rescue from the Red Keep” – being capable of bipedal locomotion is impressive from an engineering standpoint, but it’s otherwise kind of baseline, isn’t it?”

              You shouldn’t take all of your info from the show. Her escape from the Red Keep included a lot of prep work in the book and she had to keep herself constantly informed on how things would work.

              • Geebs says:

                I’ve read all of the books and I really don’t buy that, either*. Littlefinger orchestrated the whole thing; all Sansa really does is manage not to piss off a character who is already well disposed to her for no particular reason other than that it’s his redeeming feature**.

                *my general take on GoT is that, really, the books dive in quality after the second one and that, far from being a desecration of some perfect work, the show is surprisingly good considering the increasingly turgid source material.

                ** the main problem with series-Sansa isn’t, in my opinion, so much the writing as that of decent child actress grows up into bad adult actress. Someone with actual range could sell this material much better.

                • Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Doubtful.She keeps flip flopping from inches from becoming competent to useless once again.Thats due to writing,not acting.

                • Harper says:

                  I’ve read all of the books and I really don’t buy that, either*. Littlefinger orchestrated the whole thing; all Sansa really does is manage not to piss off a character who is already well disposed to her for no particular reason other than that it’s his redeeming feature**.

                  Who’s redeeming feature? Joffrey’s? You do know he beats her and threatens to rape her later on, right?
                  Sansa sneaks off when she can and she’s clever enough to cover it up when she does it, both LF and Dontos need her to go to those meetings, they can’t just spring the escape on her like they do in the show.

                  *my general take on GoT is that, really, the books dive in quality after the second one and that, far from being a desecration of some perfect work, the show is surprisingly good considering the increasingly turgid source material.

                  The third book is probably the best in terms of quality, AFFC is pretty slow, but ADWD picks up again and TWOW is going to really ramp it up if the sample chapters are anything to go by. Meanwhile the show took a nose dive in quality right around the third season, where the plots started to diverge more from the books and Martin himself stopped writing his special episode-per season.
                  Fast forward to season 5 and 6 where we have rape in place of character development, the utter disaster that is the show’s Dorne plotline and a battle between two plot-armor protected idiots.

                  Someone with actual range could sell this material much better.

                  This sentiment always makes me feel bad for the actors on that show, there is no amount of charisma that can make “You want a good girl but you need bad p***y” work.

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            “and she resists Tyrion as another Lannister (even refusing to bow for him to put his red cloak over her).”

            This is a point against her, not for her. She aids in the public mockery of a little person for no benefit to herself and can’t tell him apart from any of the truly horrible members of his family. This speaks poorly to both her intuition and kindness.

            • Harper says:

              Tyrion is a Lannister, regardless of his conidition, Sansa knows this.
              He has it in him to be a better person but the narrative makes it clear he is his father’s son through and through.
              Let’s not forget he tried to rescue his brother by sneaking people into Riverrun under peace banners, destroying any chance of Robb Stark ever trusting a Lannister peace treaty.

      • Dev Null says:

        I guess I didn’t get… really any of that from the books.

        She has hopes and dreams? Really? What are they? In book 1 I’d say “to wear a pretty dress at her wedding” (which, you know, cut her some slack; she’s 12) and after that I’d say “to go home” even though she’s well aware that it doesn’t exist by that point. Apart from that I have no idea if she dreams of finding and rescuing her siblings, or finding a man that she loves, or regaining power over her life by becoming the focus of a new Stark clan, or opening a needlepoint shop in downtown Hardhome.

        She resists? Really? How? She _survives_ a lot of terrible crap, but I don’t see a lot of signs of resistance. Again, not blaming anyone who had to go through that kind of crap, but just because there is a perfectly good reason for you to NOT exhibit certain character traits, doesn’t make them your character traits even though you don’t show them…

        She’s idealistic and kind-hearted? Really? What does she do to be kind to anyone? I guess she’s reasonably nice to Robin, but at knife’s point so-to-speak so… Not that I’d blame her; when you’re busily getting dragged through hell yourself is maybe not the best time for that aspect of your character to come through, but I don’t recall seeing much evidence of it.

        She’s politically astute? When? Before or after Littlefinger? I don’t see either.

        • Harper says:

          I think this post summarizes her intelligence, her rebelliousness and her personality well-
          http://turtle-paced.tumblr.com/post/155894039887/sansa-smart

        • Sannom says:

          “She has hopes and dreams? Really? What are they?”

          Well, her internal answer to Cersei’s assertion that you can only reign through fear is a rather good example of what she believes in.

          “She’s idealistic and kind-hearted? Really? What does she do to be kind to anyone?”
          She’s kind to Robin, managing to pull him out of a seizure while they’re crossing a very dangerous bridge. And her kindness seems to endear him to her, probably proving to be part of Littlefinger’s soon-to-come downfall as he doesn’t realize that she’s playing him.

          • Dev Null says:

            I’ve got to put “you didn’t just walk past a child having a seizure on a bridge and let him fall to his death” as kind of a low bar for human kindness.

  15. Phantos says:

    bad feminism is bad.

    I think that’s fair. I agree with this sentiment, regarding most causes or ideals or… stuff. Groups? Basically it can be frustrating when someone is opposed to something you ally with, but it’s almost more frustrating when people damage it from the inside, well-meaning or no-

    …Wait. Is this that “no true scotsman” fallacy?

    I looked up the definition for that, and I didn’t understand the explanation.

    • Shamus says:

      Aside from causing flamewars, this is one of the main reasons I hate political arguments.

      Yes, it’s annoying if someone is using MY blog to promote their obviously bad and wrong ideas instead of my awesome correct ones. But that’s not NEARLY as bad as when someone from “my team” shows up and argues my cause in a shitty way. Then I’d find myself having to make cringeworthy arguments like, “Sure, that person is a horrible human being, but if we ignore that…”

      Ugh.

      I’ll admit I kinda panicked when I saw Bob’s opening line. Obviously I don’t tend to show my hand that much in terms of politics, but he kept it pretty gentle. I’m reasonably confident this thread won’t burn down.

      (And if people are curious: Yes Bob and I discussed the series ahead of time. He gave me fair warning that he might skirt around this topic, and I gave him some guidelines and some tips on defusing fights before they start. He didn’t just spring this on me without warning.)

      • Phantos says:

        “There’s nothing I like less than bad arguments for a view that I hold dear.”

        I’ve seen that quote attributed to Daniel Dennett AND Rose F. Kennedy. I can’t confirm at this time if either of them were true scotsmen…

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      No,thats not the “no true scotsman” fallacy.Because you can present the argument badly,if you dont understand the position.You can say that someone is a bad X if you show how what they are doing/saying disagrees with the tenets of X.But,if you simply say that no true X behaves like that,thats the fallacy.

      A clarifying example:
      Not a fallacy:”Jack says that he is a gamer.He never played any game in his life.You have to play at least one game in order to be a gamer.Jack is therefore not a gamer.”
      Fallacy:”Jim says that he is a gamer.He doesnt like zelda.No true gamer dislikes zelda.Jim is therefore not a gamer.”

  16. boboyle says:

    While I agree with you on most topics you’ve addressed in this post, and personally think that the Season 5 – 6 storyline with Sansa was the beginning of the end for my interest in the show, I do have a small defence to provide for the plot.

    Specifically, the fact that Sansa never tells Jon about the army of the Vale. When I watched the show, and realized that she was never going to tell Jon before heading into battle, I actually thought it made a great deal of sense. Sansa has learned how people work, and especially how Ramsay works after being a captive of his. She knows that Ramsay is a bully and loves striking at people from a position of invulnerability, and, like all bullies, will retreat if the situation at any point looks sideways.

    So Ramsay is holed up in Winterfell, which is a siege the Stark army cannot risk in the middle of winter. He has to be baited into open battle and more importantly, can’t retreat halfway through with his army. Ramsay has to believe he’s winning right up until the situation blows up in his face. Jon is a nice guy, but’s he a hothead and prone to reckless decisions. If he knew about the Vale army marching to his side, he would have acted differently during the battle – perhaps more cautiously, perhaps he wouldn’t have engaged the Boltons until the knights had joined them. But then Ramsay would get wise, because at the end of the day, he’s a lot more cunning than poor Jon.

    And Sansa understands this. She ends up turning her brother into the big dumb heroic pawn he is, and has him believe he needs to go on a desperate last stand against the Boltons even when backup is coming. So what Ramsay ends up seeing is the outnumbered Stark army charging bravely to their deaths, and he thinks he’s won… right up until Sansa’s revenge turns up, and by then, it’s too late for his army to get away.

    Granted, this might be crediting the show for more than it was trying to get across. And it doesn’t explain how an army snuck up on Winterfell across the ENTIRE FUCKING NORTH. But it’s a start.

  17. Grampy_bone says:

    The real problem with the Sansa storyline is that, like almost all TV, it writes women as the writers wish them to be, not as they actually are.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matilda_of_Flanders#Marriage

    Duke William II of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror) sent his representative to ask for Matilda’s hand in marriage, she told the representative that she was far too high-born to consider marrying a bastard.[a] After hearing this response, William rode from Normandy to Bruges, found Matilda on her way to church, dragged her off her horse by her long braids, threw her down in the street in front of her flabbergasted attendants and rode off.

    After that, Matilda refused to marry anyone *but* William the Bastard. She gave him 9 kids and bought him a ship with her own money.

    • Mike S. says:

      Given that the first words in that paragraph on Wikipedia are “According to legend”, at best we’re be looking at two different fictional accounts of (two different) women.

      But it’s true that real people tend to be more complicated and less illustrative of consistent themes than their fictional counterparts, which is one reason biopics and historical dramas have a strong tendency to sand off the details. (No matter how complicated and contradictory the fictionalization, generally the historical record is even more so.)

    • Rutskarn says:

      What is it you’re arguing?

      • byter says:

        When discussing gender politics type stuff on the internet there’s a lot of factors going into it for everyone.
        a) How you think men behave*
        b) How you think women behave*
        c) How you think men and women interact*
        Naturally each of these can be very subjective and differ wildly between individuals. On top of that when we are speaking about media we’ve got d,e&f which is how we think media depicts men, women and their interactions respectively, which is just an ‘additional’ layer of subjectivity.

        In the case of Grampy Joe, the OP, he seemed to be arguing that e & f do not match with b & c. Or in his own words: “The real problem with the Sansa storyline is that, like almost all TV, it writes women as the writers wish them to be, not as they actually are.”.

        Whilst I think what nature women have and how well (or not) that is represented in media is an interesting topic, it is a bit too much of a political or flame-war-y type topic to really delve into.

        Suffice to say. Some people think about mnoa, agency and such. Whilst others might look at completely different factors..

        *In general and specific.

      • Grampy_bone says:

        That many women like violent jerks, and even if you qualify “not all women,” Sansa Stark is absolutely one of those women.

        She was so hot for Joffrey she ruined her family and doomed the seven kingdoms to war, and learned her lesson by mooning over the scumbag Littlefinger. This is not a person who makes sound decisions over her love life. Most likely, based on prior behavior, she’d be tearing Ramsay’s clothes off with her teeth.

        I know, it’s not a flattering picture. This whole thread is like 90% men arguing over how women should be written More Awesomely, I’m the only one saying Sansa’s oddly heroic turn doesn’t fit reality *OR* the source material. All things considered, her suddenly less-bad judgement and worthiness to the plot is unearned, intended to erase her past sins; she was a very hated character in the book fandom for good reason. When I first read Game of Thrones I thought GRRM was trying to tell some kind of dark cautionary tale about rebellious wives and daughters, since both of Ned’s do him in.

        Hollywood can’t let women be truly evil and/or stupid, so Sansa gets to be a good character now, but oh no not good enough for people, she needs to personally lead the armies, take over the kingdom, defeat the walkers herself, etc. Give me a break.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Like Ive said somewhere else,the problem isnt that she is “not conquering armies” or whatever strawman you built there,its that she is flip flopping.She has a few scenes where it looks like she learned something which she can put to good use(her talk with cersei for example),but nope,completely forgotten in the next scene where she goes on being useless.Pick one or the other.

          • Grampy_bone says:

            I’m exaggerating, but you get my point. Everyone wants Sansa to have “more agency,” but only to do good things they approve of, not to do stupid, wrong, or selfish things. Then she can’t have agency.

            Mr. BTongue claims/implies the writers won’t give Sansa more agency because they’re sexist, and he’s right, but not in the way he thinks. Sansa can’t have agency because if she did someone might hold her accountable for the horrible things she’s done. I mean, she brought Littlefinger, the guy who put a knife to her dad’s throat, to save the day. When will Jon throw this idiot into irons where she belongs? Sure, he’s dumber than her with his moronic battle plans, so I guess they deserve each other.

            This is something Gillian Flynn (author of Gone Girl) talks about. Hollywood doesn’t like genuinely flawed, stupid, or pragmatically evil women.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gillian_Flynn

            “The one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing.” ~~ “I’ve grown quite weary of the spunky heroines, brave rape victims, soul-searching fashionistas that stock so many books.”

            Compare Theon and Sansa’s storylines. Both of them betrayed the Starks with catastrophic consequences, both were manipulated by powers beyond their control, and both were horribly tortured, by the same guy no less. But look how everyone reacts.

            With Theon, even if you think his punishment was excessive, everyone can see how his actions at least led him there, and set him down the path. Plus, plenty of people have said he deserved to be sexually maimed for what he did; karmic justice, serves him right.

            But Sansa? Hell no. Sansa’s not at fault, she has no agency, can’t be remotely responsible for going along with the Lannisters’ and Littlefinger’s plans. She is blameless and deserves nothing. Only a total monster would suggest rape as a punishment.

            To be clear I am NOT suggesting she deserved her fate, but she certainly doesn’t deserve the high regard being paid to her either. It is not some kind of horrible crime against the female gender that Sansa is not given more credit for her accomplishments.

            She hasn’t even shown any guilt or remorse. She hasn’t said to Jon, “BTW I betrayed the family and got Ned killed; I’m really sorry.” What a piece of crap.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              What you said would be true if the show did not have cercei and margaery in it.

              And really,comparing what theon did to whant sansa did?Seriously??Even if we accept sansa not listening to her father as a betrayal(which would be ridiculous),it wouldnt be anywhere near to what theon did.

              • Grampy_bone says:

                Sansa ratted out Ned to Cersei, tipping her off about his plan to sieze King’s Landing, directly leading to his death. It was an absolute, unforgivable family betrayal, and no on seems to think it’s that important.

                Cersei and Margery prove my point. Cersei is a friggin queen and she still spends all her time moping how powerless she is and being manipulated by men (her father, uncle, the high sparrow). Also even she gets raped.

        • Harper says:

          She’s twelve… she’s a twelve year old girl and she wasn’t the one that doomed Westeros to war

          • Grampy_bone says:

            She betrayed Ned’s plans to the Lannisters, which got him killed, which prevented him from taking control of King’s Landing and stopping the Lannister coup, which caused everything else. She’s basically the pivotal person who borked everything because she wanted to be married to a bad boy king.

            Like I said, she’s hated in the fandom for good reason.

            • Harper says:

              She’s basically the pivotal person who borked everything because she wanted to be married to a bad boy king.

              To which I’ll repeat, she’s twelve. She’s a twelve year old girl raised on the idea of chivalry and romance, the Queen and the Good Prince are all she sees until she’s exposed to the reality.

              Like I said, she’s hated in the fandom for good reason.

              No fandom is perfect, certainly not one in which a good portion blame a twelve year old girl for total chaos

  18. PatPatrick says:

    “Female agency exists primarily as a reaction to male agency”

    I’m sorry for the unthemed question, but can anyone explain to me the meaning of the word “agency” (female of male) in this sentence? :) I understand that is not something like “Blue Moon Detective Agency” but still I can’t catch the context.

    Thanks ^)

    • TheJungerLudendorff says:

      From how I understand it, how much “agency” a character has basically means how much they actually DO in terms of the plot. How much they (try to) steer the story, and how much do they get pushed around by the story and events?

      For example, character A moves to location X, talks with character B to try and get him/her to do something, and attempts intrigue to undermine/asssassinate character C. Or perhaps they know that their very presence will change how characters D and E behave, thus changing things indirectly.

      As for what mr Bob meant with “Female agency exists primarily as a reaction to male agency”: I believe he meant that the agency of female characters is usually not rooted in their own characters, but in the actions of other, male characters.

      Most or all meaningful actions a female character takes is not because of her own desires, idea’s or initiatives, but because a male character ordered her, suggested the idea, or otherwise convinced her to take those actions.

      It doesn’t mean that those actions cannot be impactful, meaningful, or in line with her character, but ultimately it’s the male character who steers her actions and influences the narrative. The female character is then always in a kind of subordinate/pawn role.
      And while this isn’t necessarily bad in and of itsself, it get’s rather suspicious if all female characters are (almost) always in this role, meaning the ladies always play second fiddle to the men, whether it makes sense or not.

      At least that’s what I made of it :)
      Hope this helps!

    • Joshua says:

      You’ll sometimes hear stories discussed where the main characters lack agency, despite being main protagonists.

      A common example brought up recently is Bella from the Twilight series, who the books/films revolve around but is affected by the plot, not the one driving it. This can be somewhat frustrating to the reader/viewer, and that’s why TV Tropes has terms like Pinball Protagonist and Useless Protagonist.

      Forrest Gump is sort of an example, where he’s more caught up in events than actually doing anything about them, although he does have a few examples. My personal favorite target of annoyance is Harry Potter. He often tries to do things, but usually it’s the *wrong* thing. He manages to overcome his adversaries and trials mostly through luck or other characters doing all the heavy lifting.

      Thus, those characters are showing agency while the main protagonist is simply reacting. Think also of the term “agent of change”.

    • Syal says:

      “Agency” in this sense is essentially “choices”. Is a character making choices about what will happen to them, or are they passively letting other characters maneuver them? “Strong” characters make lots of choices, “weak” characters wait for other characters to tell them what to do.

      The choices don’t have to actually change anything. If two prisoners are sentenced to death, and one bribes a guard to send a message that the guard destroys, that prisoner still has agency. He didn’t change anything, but he made choices to try.

    • guy says:

      In this context, it basically means “makes decisions on their own”.

      I’d take issue with that particular formulation as either applying here or necessarily being a problem in a situation where it does apply. Essentially, as described Sansa doesn’t have agency; Theon tells her to do things and she does them. That’s fine in the limited context of a noblewoman running for her life alongside an experienced hunter through a forest, but when she’s in her element she should at least propose courses of action, or make it clear that when other people suggest them she takes it under consideration and makes her own decision, even if that decision is “he knows more about this topic than I do so I’ll follow his advice”. See book Dany: she relies on her bloodriders and knights for military guidance, but sometimes overrides them.

      As formulated, I’d read it as “women make decisions in response to decisions men make” and that basically means that a lot of the influential characters are men; Asha’s bid for the throne is in response to a series of decisions by her male relatives. This is sort of meta-problematic, in that individual stories can have it happen because it fits the setting or just because the arrangement of character roles limits direct interaction between women, but on a macro scale it’s true more often than the reverse even discounting settings with explicit inequality.

    • Bloodsquirrel says:

      Agency is how much a character actively advances the plot. Other people have mentioned choices, but it’s not just about making choices. A character who is forced to make a choice between A and B still isn’t showing a lot of agency. It’s about being proactive and doing things that the character has independently decided to do.

      Ned and Rob are characters that didn’t show much agency. They have to make decisions, sure, but they tend to be driven into them by external factors. Ned became the Hand because Robert rode to Winterfell to ask him. Rob is declared king by his bannermen, and mostly just does from there what he thinks honor demands of him.

      Littlefinger shows lots of agency. He’s got his own agenda, and his schemes are usually what everybody else is reacting to, rather than the other way around.

      That’s actually typical- villains often have more agency than heroes, since they’re the ones creating the problem that the hero has to solve. But a hero does need to have *some* agency, and it’s probably the best way to characterize them. A character having to make a hard choice between two people they love is great for drama, but it doesn’t say much about them. A character deciding to change an aspect of the status quo that he doesn’t like says a lot about him.

      • Syal says:

        I disagree about Ned and Robb not having agency. Duty brings them a long way, but no one forced Ned to investigate Cersei or Robert’s sons, and Robb picked every battle his army fought.

        The agency of a character being forced to choose between A and B depends on how A and B became the only two choices. If someone tells them to pick A or B and they do, it’s not agency, but if they’ve independently decided only A or B can work, and C, D, and E are doomed to fail, it is agency.

        (…I’m going to link to one of the Wikipedia articles, even though I think it’ll make things less clear. Agency’s a pretty loose term.)

      • Shoeboxjeddy says:

        Ned and Robb both have agency… agency that directly leads to their deaths. Ned decides to warn Cersei instead of moving against her immediately, this basically allows the rest of the series to play out as it does. The smart play would have been to NOT do that, but Ned decides it’s the more honorable way. It is completely intended as a theme of the series that Ned’s sense of honor about the outcome of one person’s life gets THOUSANDS of small folk killed… and also much of his own family, retainers, and subjects.

        Robb meanwhile, marries for love, breaking his alliance with the Frey. Then, he follows in his Dad’s footsteps by deciding to execute his banner man, rather than sending him to take the Black or offering a lesser punishment or even pardoning him since he’s so politically important. These two decisions (which he makes over the advice of all his advisers) lead directly to the Red Wedding.

        • Harper says:

          It is completely intended as a theme of the series that Ned’s sense of honor about the outcome of one person’s life gets THOUSANDS of small folk killed… and also much of his own family, retainers, and subjects.

          Its a common sentiment that Ned’s honor gets him killed but there no way that’s an actual theme of the series and I would even argue with that sentiment.
          Ned’s problem is that he doesn’t understand the “game of thrones” or his place in it. He’s Hand of the King, he has the same powers as the King, he can appoint one of his own men to command the Goldcloaks, he can dismiss and imprison anyone on the Small Council, as Tyrion demonstrates after him.
          He uses his power once effectively when he declares Gregor Clegane an outlaw and it would have screwed over Tywin Lannister very badly if Robert hadn’t been killed.

          Robb meanwhile, marries for love, breaking his alliance with the Frey. Then, he follows in his Dad’s footsteps by deciding to execute his banner man, rather than sending him to take the Black or offering a lesser punishment or even pardoning him since he’s so politically important.

          He clearly didn’t marry for love, he married because he took Jeyne’s maidenhead and it was the honorable thing to do. Now you can argue honor did Robb in more than you can argue for his father, but Robb was doomed the moment Edmure turned Tywin back at the Trident. Stannis taking the Trident means the Freys and Boltons would never dare act against him.
          And his killing of Karstark is actually one of his smarter decisions, Rickard had went directly against his authority when he killed those kids.

  19. Shen says:

    Considering the bizarre floundering the comments seem to be having throughout, I just want to say unambiguously that I’m supremely enjoying these articles and hope you keep doing more!

  20. My name is Michael (really) says:

    I’m holding off on commenting about the analysis until the series is done, but I wanted to say that I really appreciate that you took the time to include the preface. Acknowledging that nuance exists on a polarizing topic and clearing defining your terms is something that isn’t done nearly as much as it should be.

  21. Kbob2525 says:

    Enjoying the series. Is Mr. Case going to continue writing for the site after he finishes with Game of Thrones complaining or do we have to go back to waiting for videos to get complaining?

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