'Game of Thrones' Has a Woman Problem (And It's Not What You Think)

Warning: This post contains major spoilers for both the books and the show.

Much has been written about the supposedly misogynistic slant of Game of Thrones, a show set in a sort of fictional Middle Ages with added dragons, ice zombies and other assorted instances of magic that is also a terrifyingly accurate depiction of what the Western world would be like if conservatives and religious fundamentalists had their way. George R.R. Martin, the writer behind the original books upon which the show is (now loosely) based, has called himself a "feminist at heart" and seems to have a very clear view of what happens when women are stripped of all rights and made to submit to a patriarchal authority which considers them utterly disposable.

Martin's feminism doesn't come across in the form of kickass characters, although the books and the show have plenty of those. It is detectable in the way all of the women of Westeros define themselves based on their position with respect to the patriarchal system they inhabit. Whether they seek to overthrow it (like Daenerys Targaryen and Ellaria Sand), try to seize control within its limits (like Yara Greyjoy), rebel against it and become outcasts (like Arya Stark, Meera Reed and, to a certain extent, Brienne of Tarth), try to survive its perils (like Sansa Stark), use their position of authority within it (like Catelyn Stark or Olenna Tyrell) or manipulate their way forward (like Cersei Lannister or Margaery Tyrell), all of the women of Westeros have one problem in common: they are not men.

If Game of Thrones has a woman problem, it does not lie in its source material. Season 5 of the show has made it painfully clear: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the men behind the adaptation, seem to find female characters even more disposable than the people who inhabit their worlds. When called upon to excise a character from the original books  --  which by now are filled with dead ends, residual figures and complicated subplots, and have officially been overtaken by the show  --  they are more likely to eliminate women than men.

Take Arianne Martell, the heir to the Dornish throne, whose story of sibling rivalry and obscure plots has been partially preserved in Ellaria Sand's clumsy, not very well planned coup d'état. Arianne is gone, like her brother, Quentyn; but while the latter has turned out to be completely irrelevant to the story (he goes to Meereen to marry Daenerys and ends up getting himself roasted by the dragons: well done, Quentyn -- pun intended), Arianne's scheming had a vision. The original Sand Snakes possessed distinctive personalities and did not blend into one another like a three-headed murderous-sexy monster. Myrcella Baratheon has been disposed of, too: wounded and disfigured in the books, she has been killed off in the show. 

Shireen Baratheon and her mother Lady Selyse (who in the books are still alive and well at Castle Black) met a dramatic death in Season 5, while other pivotal characters, like Jeyne Poole (Ramsay Bolton's original wife and the girl Theon Greyjoy rescues from Winterfell), Mya Stone (one of Robert Baratheon's many illegitimate children and Sansa's friend at the Eyrie), or Val, the Wildling Princess, do not appear at all. Most painfully, Lady Stoneheart (a resurrected, bloodthirsty Catelyn Stark) seems to be gone for good. All this apparently serves the higher purpose of making existing characters stronger and more recognizable, but it also suggests that, unlike Martin, Benioff and Weiss often need the essence of two women to generate one; or, to be less charitable, they feel that women can be squeezed together with little harm.

If Game of Thrones has a woman problem, it is not the rapes and killings, which are par for the course in a violent patriarchy: it's the fact that its writers do not seem to believe that women are as interesting as men.

This post appeared originally on Athena Talks.