It’s cliché to complain about how a movie or television show is ruining the source material by departing from the books. There’s nothing new about bitching that HBO is sabotaging A Song of Ice and Fire, the literary source for its program Game of Thrones, but what’s not being pointed out is why they are doing it.
The answer is feminism. Television needs to constantly reinforce the egalitarian narrative. The point of feminism is to absolve women from all responsibility for their actions. The show does this by creating simplistic explanations for the female characters’ actions and promoting Mary Sue style “strong women.”
Women in the books have complicated rationalizations for their actions, often deriving from deep seated insecurities and fears. Like real life women, they rationalize things to themselves based on deluded self-images, rather than reality. The show does its best to strip these away, the easier to blame everything on men.
For example, the character of Shae in the television series is a variation on the theme of a “whore with a heart of gold,” with a “strong woman” twist. She heroically tries to defend Sansa when she is assigned as her handmaiden. She bickers with Tyrion only over what she sees as threats to her dignity, not money or possessions. And she actually loves Tyrion, turning against him because of his comment (designed to get her to flee the city) that she is a “whore.” Needless to say, this is quite a departure from the manipulative, materialistic, and Machiavellian Shae of the books.
Whores are the real heroes
Or take Daenerys. The show turns her into a liberal fantasy figure—at the end of Season 3, literally a blonde savior exalted by a worshipful circle of helpless brown people. She kills people, but only “bad” people like slavers. Occasionally she makes bad political decisions, but this just shows the world isn’t moral enough for her.
Her translator Missandei, a child in the books, is of an age with Daenerys so they can share grrl power lines like “All men must die, but we are not men.” Apparently, you now have to believe that women are not only better than men, but so independent and strong they can overcome death itself.
Her affair with a sellsword is “empowering,” not an emotional decision that could have dire consequences. The complex motivations behind her willingness to kill to secure power is transformed into egalitarian pabulum, enabled by her royal birth and “magic” power as the “mother of dragons.”
Talk about pedestaling.
The show fundamentally changed the character of Robb Stark’s queen, creating one “Talisa Maegyr.” In the books, Robb’s queen is a minor Westerosi noble whom he feels he must be loyal to in order to preserve her honor. However misguided, he is chivalrous.
The show gives us a more PC, exotic woman who renounced her noble birth because of her disgust over slavery. She spends her days tending to the wounded created by the battles of men. Robb falls in love with her because she is the modern ideal of an independent woman who has renounced her family and background in support of egalitarian ideals—while of course, retaining high social status.
“Man up” Robb Stark. What could go wrong?
In the books, Brienne of Tarth is supposed to be ugly (except for her eyes) and huge. Catelyn Stark views her with pity and understands that her dedication to King Renly Baratheon comes from her unrequited love for him. After he dies, she psychologically needs someone else to protect and serve. Jamie Lannister admires her but doesn’t think of her as objectively attractive. He also fights her to a standstill even while handcuffed and out of practice. While she’s still an admirable and brave character, Brienne’s strength derives from a deep insecurity.
The show removes this complexity. She is portrayed by Gwendoline Christie, who is of unconventional appearance for an actress but not ugly. She defeats her challengers in combat, including Jamie. She even beats Sandor Clegane in a matchup that never takes place in the books. Instead of being a complex character, she’s just another fictional female superwarrior.
Invincible female warrior on TV? Boy, that’s original.
Even Cercei gets sympathetic treatment. In the book, Cercei Lannister is plagued by a mix of insecurity and self-delusion—Tyrion notes that his sister thinks she is “Tywin Lannister with teats.” Indeed, she looks up to her father partially because it enhances her own self-image as his equal. She also uses her sexuality as a weapon, betraying her brother (and lover) Jamie, who remains loyal.
The show’s Cercei is portrayed as reacting to her oppressed status as a woman forced to marry men she doesn’t love. She openly confesses her sexual sins to her own father and roars defiance, defending her independence. Oh, and a consensual love scene is transformed into a rape. She’s a survivor now and however brutal her actions, the audience is invited to sympathize with her.
George R.R. Martin is a traditional liberal, but his fiction contains characters with complicated rationalizations for their selfish actions. The television show gives us a morality play filled with characters whose motivations and actions make no sense in the context of Westeros, but make perfect sense in the 21st century liberal imagination. Even when a female character does something wrong, there is the kind of reason behind it that Tumblr users can understand.
The irony is that the “strong women” characters of Game of Thrones are being turned into cartoons. They are simply assimilated into the same narrative behind every other television show and movie—patriarchy and tradition are always to blame, and we must sympathize with everything a woman does to fight against her oppression.
It actually dehumanizes the women characters of the show. After all, they don’t actually make decisions—they simply react to what men do. But television isn’t about good stories—it’s about propaganda.