Game of Thrones Roundtable: Character Assassination Edition

 

 

After eight seasons, three dragons, and countless candidates to take the Iron Throne, Game of Thrones is officially over. But not without more than its fair share of murders. And no, we’re not talking about actual, physical deaths (of which there were plenty); we’re talking about outright character assassination. In the series’ eight season, Game of Thrones proved that no character development was important enough to go unpunished; so, the team here at Writes of the Roundtable got together to vent discuss all of the most outrageous character assassinations.  

Because Game of Thrones season 8 was too upsetting for just our staff alone, we were joined by Ashley Thomas, “The Nerdy Blogger.” From her bio on Fangirlish:

She holds a B. A. in English Literature from Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee (c/o 2007) and a M. A. at Signum University in Literature and Language, concentrating in Imaginative Literature (c/o 2018). She would like to be Brienne of Tarth, Leslie Knope, and Hermione Granger when she grows up.

And now, without further ado, our Game of Thrones roundtable! Spoiler alert: It was a bloodbath.

Shana: Ser Brienne of Tarth, first female knight of the Seven Kingdoms, you deserved so much better.

If Weiss and Benioff proved anything with Game of Thrones—and especially in the series’ final season—it’s that they absolutely can not stand a strong woman; and Brienne was just too much woman to let survive the series without being taken down several pegs. Brienne had always been an outcast—too big, too ugly, too boyish, too in love with the idea of becoming a knight, even when her gender dictated that she couldn’t—but at Winterfell, with Lady Sansa, she found a home. She fought, side-by-side with Jaime Lannister and countless other warriors, in the Battle of Winterfell, saving the entire realm from Death itself.

…and what did she get in return, immediately after? A bunch of men speculating about her sexual experience (or lack thereof) over drinks, as the butt of a joke. Tormund Giantsbane, constantly making lewd jokes about what he’d do with “The Big Woman.” And worst of all, Jaime Lannister breaking her heart.

For much of her time prior to Game of Thrones season 8, Brienne was the stereotypical “strong female character,” the type who was too closed-off to have any kind of romantic entanglements. All business, if you will. But after the Battle of Winterfell, she finally opened herself up to what had, for years, seemed like an unlikely budding romance with Jaime…only for him to decide that “nope, I really truly love my twin sister more and, like, I gotta run off and be with her to die.” One of the series’ precious few final images of Brienne was one of her sobbing, begging for Jaime to stay with her.

And just…My God. Are y’all kidding me here? It was bad enough that Brienne was often treated as little more than a vehicle for Jaime’s character growth, but for her entire endgame to be treated in terms of him is utterly despicable. Some viewers have noted that seeing Brienne in tears over a man was completely out-of-character; I would tend to disagree…but only slightly.

The crying? Seems legit. Heartbreak is just as becoming of a “strong female character” as of anyone else, and crying is a natural response to pain. But the repeated begging, even when Jaime’s basic response was “lol, nah, I’m a bad person. You don’t want this dick anymore; it belongs to my sis” or whatever was not only the opposite of what her character might do but outright assassination of it.

The Ser Brienne I’ve come to know and love would have been hurt. She would have expressed it. And then she would have cut her losses, moved on, and probably even told Jaime where he could shove it.

Adding insult to injury, Brienne’s appearance in the Game of Thrones series finale was, again, in service to male characters and against her ongoing characterization. She finished Jaime’s entry in the White Book, painting him as far more noble than he had ever been, and leaving him with a totally-undeserved legacy. In the process, she didn’t even appear to add herself, first female knight of the Seven Kingdoms(!!!) to the book. Because why give this character any kind of sendoff, when she could just be used as Jaime’s surrogate?

Furthermore, would Brienne, who had pledged herself to Lady Stark and sworn herself to protect Sansa have stayed in King’s Landing…rather than going back to Winterfell to protect the Queen of the North? I think the fuck not. She vowed to keep a promise to Catelyn and did it long after the Stark mother was gone; abandoning Sansa to pledge her sword to a man, who’d done basically nothing but sit around and watch everything play out until it was his foreseen time to rule—Stark or not—was absolutely not in her DNA. As long as Sansa was alive, Brienne had a promise to keep.

Too bad Game of Thrones’ writers don’t have one iota of Brienne’s nobility.

Game of Thrones Season 8 Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth
Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth (Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO)

Lizzie: 

Look: I think basically every character in this series deserved better, from Missandei to Grey Worm to the unnamed Dothraki no one cared about. Game of Thrones managed the unthinkable in the last few episodes; it did every character wrong, in ways I didn’t even think were possible. And it did the women worst of all, so it kinda feels like I should just be listing all the women here and going off.

But I’m going to focus on Brienne because I think that though Game of Thrones did Daenerys dirty every second of season 8, Sansa dirty for about half its run, Arya dirty at the end (and so on), it did Brienne dirty in a way that feels more insidious, more personal.

She was always the outlier, Brienne, the soldier and not the woman; and they went very far in trying to portray her almost like a man. She could do anything a man could do; she could be strong; she could be brave; and she could absolutely beat you in a fight of pure strength. She beat The Hound, after all!

In Season 8, however, Game of Thrones allowed Brienne and us to believe for a second that there was a chance for the character to be more—to be woman and a soldier. The writers let us believe that beauty was indeed more than outward appearance, that goodness, respect and compassion could indeed breed love, and that men weren’t just conditioned to look for the “pretty” face. And then they took that away from us, and in the end, treated Brienne like she was only worth being the one to protect the “pretty people,” never to be considered one.

During its run, Game of Thrones sent many wrong messages; and yet the way they treated the Jaime and Brienne relationship—and even the way they introduced Tormund into the dynamic—was so problematic, I could probably write essays about it alone.

Jaime did Brienne wrong—yes —and the writers did him wrong by ignoring every ounce of character development for the past six seasons. But the idea that Brienne should have “settled” for Tormund or that he somehow “deserved” her attentions because he was loud about his desires is ridiculous at best, offensive at worst. If Brienne wanted Tormund, she could have accepted his advances. The fact that she never did, and he kept at it…and the writers and some viewers expected him to be rewarded for it says a lot about the framing of women on this show.

And about the treatment of Brienne, in general: It was fine for her to be an “object of desire” when it was about Tormund joking, or about pulling Jaime momentarily away from Cersei, but that’s all she gets. Back to being the soldier, and almost a man, for Brienne. That’s, after all, the only way women are worth something in Westeros.

*insert barf gif*

Game of Thrones Roundtable: Maisie Williams as Arya Stark
Maisie Williams as Arya Stark (Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO)

Anam: Arya “a-girl-has-no-name” Stark running through the streets of Kings Landing like a scared little child was absolute bullshit. This is the same person who, two episodes previously, went full head on and killed the Night King. Death. She killed Death—only to be turned into a scared, little girl running away from a big, scary dragon.

Arya Stark spent nearly the entirety of the series reciting her kill list; and at the end, when she could finally off Cersei, she dropped it because the building might collapse? She survived much worse than that and came out on top, more times than not. She wasn’t the type to just back away when something got scary; she her own and didn’t run when the going got tough. But no, Game of Thrones season 8 saw her running away from the action in the penultimate episode.

There’s a moment at the end of “The Bells” where you think “maybe, just maybe, she’s going to go after another queen and get the justice she wasn’t able to with Cersei,” but no, not even that happened.

What exactly was the point of having her train in service of the Many-Faced God and spend years working out her revenge, only to run away from it all and not even play a major role in the series finale? Arya was literally cast aside in the Game of Thrones finale—overlooked by a white man, who sat around doing absolutely nothing. She wouldn’t want to be Queen, that much we all know; but claiming Bran’s story of being pushed out of a tower was somehow better than literally anyone else’s, especially Arya’s, is the Game of Thrones equivalent of the 2016 election.

Game of Thrones Roundtable Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark
Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark. (Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO)

Also, for the record, women do not need to be sexually assaulted for character growth. Sansa claiming that she wouldn’t be the person she was if it weren’t for Ramsay Snow was disgusting. She had the fire in her the whole time and did not need to be raped to find it. Claiming as such gives credit to her piece of trash rapist when all credit lies on her shoulders. The Queen in the North deserved better.

Game of Thrones Roundtable Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen. (Credit: Courtesy of HBO)

Sarah: Daenerys Targaryen, Queen of the Andals and the First Men (etc.). Before she was thrown under the bus in less than one season to become the “Mad Queen,” she was the Breaker of Chains.

I’ll be straight up: I loved Dany for seven seasons and was hoping for all these years that, one day, she’d get to that Iron Throne. The second it became clear that these writers were throwing everything she’d been through and who she was away to prove her “madness,” though, I experienced a kind of rage I can’t quite put to words.

This was a woman who’d been terrorized by her brother, hidden away in exile most of her life, and then married off for her brother’s ambitions. She fought for respect in a life she didn’t choose and overcame so much to earn the respect of those who followed her. She wasn’t perfect—and she knew it—but she believed in herself. God forbid that belief had simply remained part of her character journey. No, it had to be about letting power bring out madness because suddenly power was what mattered most.

It kills me that the Mother of Dragons’ story ended this way because Emilia Clarke brought Dany to life so eloquently, from her struggles as Khaleesi, to freeing slaves, and gaining confidence in her ability to lead…but most of all, Clarke showed us her humanity and her compassion. All of it was thrown away And for what? Nothing.

Game of Thrones, you utterly fucked up in more ways than I can count. I will never forgive you for ruining what was one of my favorite characters, who didn’t deserve this one bit.

Game of Thrones Roundtable Brienne and Jaime Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gwendoline Christie (Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO)

Ashley [The Nerdy Blogger]: These folks have already done a fine job discussing the injustice Brienne received, so I am going to focus specifically on the injustice Jaime and Brienne’s relationship received. I’m focusing specifically on their relationship because there comes a point in the books (Jaime’s chapter in A Dance With Dragons), and we got there in the show (Jaime leaves Cersei), where Jaime and Brienne’s arcs cross and will never separate. If they do, they fall apart because not only do their individual arcs run parallel, but also their inverse Beauty and the Beast arc is guiding the action and their character development. You saw what happened in the show. D&D had them separate for no reason. Now, Jaime is dead for no reason whatsoever.

Jaime is one of the most incredibly nuanced characters in the entire series. He’s a scoundrel to start. He’s sleeping with his sister, has sired three children with her, and is an absurdly handsome jerk. I will fully admit that I hated him for the first two books and most of the third book, as well as across multiple seasons of Game of Thrones. I couldn’t even find him to be attractive because I hated his character so much.

Once I got to A Feast for Crows, my heart began to soften towards him. I found myself rooting for him. I hated the way Cersei treated him. I started to understand a little more about where he was coming from. The pain that he hid at being reviled as The Kingslayer. The emotional abuse he received from Tywin. The emotional and sexual abuse he received from Cersei.

His name is spelled Jaime for a reason. If you add an apostrophe to his name, it becomes “J’aime,” which is “I love,” in French. Jaime has never been sex-starved, but he has been love-starved. “The things I do for love,” indeed. Love has always been the carrot dangled in front of Jaime, but he has always been denied it.

Keeping all that in mind, one of the things that the show has always struggled with is handling characters who are multi-layered. Characters who have depth and nuance. George R. R. Martin is great at that; D.B. Weiss and David Benioff are not. Jaime and Brienne are perhaps two of the best examples of this in the story. Jaime has an arrogant and haughty facade, but he deep down just wants to be loved as he is, not for his name, wealth, or skill.

Brienne has a tough exterior. She’s strong, smart, and stoic. She’s loyal and kind. She’s a fierce fighter. But one huge disservice Game of Thrones did with her character was that they failed to show how deeply romantic Brienne is. Because why would they do that? Ugly girls shouldn’t dare to have romantic dreams because they will never be fulfilled, especially not about the most handsome man in Westeros, even though he’s done nothing but pay special attention to you, save you from being gang-raped, save you from a bear when he was without a weapon and down a hand, give you a priceless Valyrian steel sword, and equip you with everything you need to fulfill your dream of becoming a knight in all but title. Oh wait, and then he knights you because he doesn’t care for tradition and knows you deserve it more than anyone else he’s ever met. Let’s not forget that the multiple scenes of longing stares, the mutual pining, and the “It’s yours, it will always be yours,” are all just extremely platonic.

But no. It’s much more important for Jaime to be viewed as a tactless douchebag who had “victory sex” with Brienne, forgetting that he was really in love with his sister the whole time, but decided to stay with Brienne long enough to get a “taste test” before leaving. It was much more important to act like the character development Jaime underwent from season 2 to even halfway through “The Last of the Starks” didn’t mean a thing or didn’t happen. It was much more important for him to, for some reason, try to get to King’s Landing by way of Dragonstone, you know, an island, instead of directly going to King’s Landing. It was much more important for Jaime to die in the most meaningless way possible with Cersei, HIS ABUSER, when if he’d stood maybe a few feet over, he’d not have gotten buried under the rubble and survived.

Yes, please, let’s show everyone that no matter how hard you try to change or be a better person, you’ll never be able to reach that. You’ll never be able be free from the clutches of your abuser. That’s “real love,” according to David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. That is vile.

Let’s shift back to Brienne.

We see one moment of her crying, and who could blame her? I cried, too. Gwen deserves an Emmy for that scene. She was incredible. She broke my heart in that moment because Brienne never once doubted Jaime; she doubted herself. She doubted that she was good enough for him. The abuse that had been hurled at her her entire life came bubbling up to the top. And D&D left her there. That’s what you get for having an emotion, ugly girl. You’re only good for protecting the pretty people.

The next time we see Brienne, she’s all composed. There’s no processing of the emotional devastation she’s received. She didn’t go after Jaime, which is completely out of character. Remember Jaime’s words to her, “Have you ever run away from a fight?” No, she hasn’t. Canon Brienne would have gotten on her horse, rode after him, and slapped some sense into him like she did at the Dragon Pit. But Weiss and Benioff put her back exactly where she started. Guarding someone else, stoic, celibate, and only there to serve, never to pursue her own interests or needs. Never mind that she’s apparently shirked all responsibility to her house as the only living heir to Tarth. It’s so like Brienne to forget about any responsibility that she may have. She breaks her word all the time. *rolls eyes so hard they look like a slot machine*

I have a bit of a different take on the White Book scene than Shana. Look at the scenery. Brienne is commander of the Kingsguard. There’s a lion statue on the shelf behind her as the scene opens. She still has Oathkeeper, which is on the table where she’s writing. The song that is playing is called “The White Book.”

That song is a variation on “I am Hers and She is Mine,” which was used in seasons 2 and 3 over Robb and Talisa’s scenes, as well as Shae and Tyrion’s.

As Brienne finishes out Jaime’s entry, she caresses the page. Look at Gwen’s face as she writes the final sentence, “Died protecting his Queen.” She blinks, she looks up, she swallows, even her nose looks like she’s trying to stifle a sniffle. Brienne has never stopped loving Jaime. And she knows Jaime loved her. She was Jaime’s true Queen, not Cersei. Nuance is lost on D&D; but Gwen, Ramin, and the set designers all know the truth, and I thank them for acting on it. Even in the final shot we see of Jaime and Cersei, he didn’t die in the arms of the woman he loved. Cersei isn’t holding him. She’s only next to him. Jaime already had a metaphorical death in the bath with Brienne. He died in her arms and was reborn. It’s a shame that D&D are too stupid to understand that.

I lift my glass to Gwen, to Nik, to Bryan Cogman who wrote the best episode of the season, showcasing the love Jaime and Brienne have for one another in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s shameful that D&D took that beautiful set-up and tossed it down the garbage chute in favor of telling the most dudebro fanfic ever seen on television.

Someone find Septa Unella. We need her services now more than ever. She should follow them and shout, “Shame!” while ringing her bell through all eternity.

Was your favorite character screwed over in the Game of Thrones finale? Got questions you need answered? Sound off in the comments!

 

 

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