Is Game of Thrones Sexist? Part 1: Lena Headey Woos Me Into Liking Cersei
By Alex Cranz
This is an eight part series examining sexism in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Each part examines one book with no spoilers for later books. So don’t be an asshat in the comments.
This first essay also includes spoilers for the first book/season of the television show. So do not delve into it until you are caught up!
Ten years ago I was a freshman in college and taking courses about feminism and writing terrible Buffy spoofs and learning that Anne was my favorite Brontë. I was also reading a lot because high school was over and I suddenly had a wealth of free time.
Two books (besides my beloved The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) really struck me that first year. Gone With the Wind which may feature one of the best female anti-heroines ever, and Game of Thrones. I read all three books that were available at the time but I tended to skim over a lot of it. Like…maybe I forgot Tyrion was a character because that story about raping his wife creeped me out and I was shallow and they kept calling him ugly so he no longer pleased me. And maybe I missed out on Brienne’s existence entirely (I guess I really was shallow). Also I hated Daenerys and Cersei and Sansa with the passion of a thousand suns.
I read the first three books. Wept when Ned died. Wept when [SPOILERS] died and decided that any future books could take a flying fuck because THEY KILLED [SPOILERS] WHO WAS THE BEST. I don’t care if she/he comes back as Zombie Robin Hood and pwns all the faces of Westeros. The living breathing woman/man is dead and can never hung anyone ever again.
I held onto these beliefs for many years. When the fourth book was released I went and read some bad Star Trek fan fiction where Crusher and Picard hooked up instead.
It was only this year, with the fevered love of the internet fueling me, that I revisited the books. First I watched the show. Verdict? Great casting and odd costuming and some set design that is legally an environmental hazard. There’s a lot to like about Game of Thrones and it’s a ballsy as hell show, but it’s trying to do the blow job monologue that Deadwood invented and it’s terrible at it. Al Swearengen and his simple pillowy whore weren’t fan service and exposition. That was straight up flawless soliloquizing with a prostitute thrown in to remind us that Al is pretty terrible.
Game of Thrones blow job monologues are fan service first and important character pieces third or fourth. If it continues we WILL get a scene of Joffrey raping some serving girl while ranting about his hatred for Sansa. I do not look forward to that or want it.
Despite the fact that the show is full of pointless fan service I still kind of like it. A lot of that has to do with my girl crush on Lena Headey. She was making squinty British hot way before sexy tomboy beanpole Kiera Knightly appeared on the scene.
And she takes Cersei, the absolute worst character in the book, and brings her to life. Headey’s Cersei is someone you can almost empathize with. Which will be important because really, Cersei is a problem.
She’s that feminist anti-feminists warn you about. You know? The one that wants to be a man but can’t handle a penis? Cersei actually has penis envy. Which is something I didn’t think actually existed outside of incredibly sexist media written by men…oh wait.
Cersei’s also a murderer and horribly impatient…and one of the two people that unleashed Joffrey on the world. But with a murmur Headey makes you get it. Her husband was a lech who started a war for some pootang then he became a drunk who regularly beat her, and she’s surrounded by men who constantly assume she’s an idiot because she has boobs. Wait a minute. Why do I hate Cersei again? Oh right….evil and horrible.
The other thing that powered me through was Emilia Clarke. Ten years ago I had problems with Daenerys. She was a thirteen year old fucktoy who was powerless to fight the cycle of abuse she’d lived with her entire life. Then she was a thirteen year old accidental queen who was having to deal with the affections of a bevy of much older dudes. It skeeved me out to no end. THIRTEEN. RAPE. MEEK. SAD. If I wanted to read such a girl’s story I could go read something not set in a fantasy setting and maybe with fewer titillating sex scenes you know? Like Precious. I could go read that, bemoan the horrors of society and then watch Star Trek and think about how great the future could be. I don’t need horrible abuse in my fantasy as fantasy is inherently escapism.
But the television series wisely aged Daenerys a good five or six years (Sansa, Arya, Robb and Jon were all age-rayed as well) and Clarke gives Daenerys strength and maturity that I never saw on the page. Suddenly things were a little less horrible and in my face. Maybe I’m a terrible person, but I actually found myself ready to re-read the books and reconsider Daenerys. Maybe I’d missed something important about this character, and about other characters as well. Maybe Sansa and Cersei weren’t as bad as I remembered. Maybe Arya wasn’t as nasty as I remembered. Maybe…[SPOILERS] lived (science fiction has taught me that time travel exists and therefore Michael J Fox could be gunning it backwards in time to save [SPOILERS] as we speak).
I’ve spent the last few months re-reading the books. And for the next couple of months I’ll be talking about these books. I think there’s a LOT to be said for them. Part of me agrees with Sady Doyle’s amazing, and amazingly decisive criticism of the books. The women DO frequently lack agency, there’s way too much rape, and Martin has a thing for nipples. I also think that these books might actually be a criticism patriarchal society, feudalism, and war. More importantly, I think they might actually be successful at this.
That’s surprising coming from me. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was written for two reasons. To give Larsson his jollies and to shine a light on the dangerous and violent sexism still actively engaged in in modern Sweden. A character is literally raped by the Swedish government. I can’t stand the book and I find it to be a massive failure in its second goal. Dragon Tattoo fetishizes victims, eroticizes rape and undermines any other authority it had when the lead character bangs every female he’s not related to–including the rape victim he recognizes to be massively damaged and possibly not capable of forming rational decisions.
How then, can I claim that Martin’s series is a successful criticism? That’s why I’m doing a series and reviewing each book, because sometimes even I’m not convinced. So come back tomorrow for the first in the series.