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Beauty Battles Believability in Costume Design for Margaery Tyrell, Part 2

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We continue our analysis of costuming on Game of Thrones, picking up on the heels of the last analytical piece, A Song of Pins and Needles – Beauty Battles Believability in Game of Thrones Costume Design for Margaery Tyrell Part 1. As we move forward looking at Margaery Tyrell’s (hereinafter “Marg’s”) outfits, keep these important definitions in mind:

Watsonian – The in-universe explanation, view, or analysis of an aspect of media

Doylist – The real-life explanation, view, or analysis of an aspect of media

These terms will be used throughout this analysis. A more detailed explanation of them can be found in Part 1.

In the last piece, we looked at Marg’s early costume issues, including her infamous funnel dress and her variety of sexy dresses. Now we turn to her two final iconic looks: Marg’s wedding dress for her marriage to Joffrey, and her new set of pilgrim dresses introduced in season 6.

And while it won’t be discussed in great detail here, shout-out to whoever designed the gold dress that Marg wears in this scene with Tommen. It is not only beautiful but also a logical progression into a more regal style for Marg based on her original style. It’s a dress I’d love to own, which might betray its anachronistic touch – but I’m willing to ignore that in this case so I can have at least one ray of sunshine in this cloudy landscape of strange fashion choices and illogical accessories.

So let’s jump on in to another round of A Song of Pins and Needles!

Marg Went to Kleinfeld!

She got her shoes from Maggie the Fox.

Marg’s wedding dress from the Purple Wedding – the second wedding dress we ever see on screen, after Sansa’s (Talisa doesn’t have a special dress, she’s too busy being Empowered™) – presents a plethora of problems for an audience with any genuine concern for consistency or world-building. To break it down, let’s start first with a look at the dress itself as a garment.

I always found Marg’s wedding dress quite beautiful. I like the detail of the waterfall roses in the back, and I appreciate the work it took to not only make those roses (there must be hundreds) but also to embroider the back and bodice of the gown. I also like the detail of the leather thorns. I can see the connection between the physical thorns on the garment and Marg’s similarities to her grandmother, the Queen of Thorns. The design is a subtle hint that Marg is not as sweet as she appears, which is at least interesting.

I can also appreciate that this was likely a very difficult dress to construct. You can see the smoothness of the bodice and shoulder-area, which definitely required expert sewing skillz.

The chains crossing the gap in the cut-out is a nice touch, too.

There are a few minor floofs – the back closure doesn’t exactly lie flat, and the length of the front of the skirt is questionable. Overall, the dress itself is an acceptable garment, and whether a viewer likes it void of any Game of Thrones (“GoT”) context is just a matter of opinion.

My opinion? I want this dress! I’d wear this to my own wedding in a heartbeat, albeit with different shoes and no cage hidden in my hair. But the fact that I, a modern-day woman in her twenties, want to wear this dress, and that it would be perfectly acceptable for me to wear it to my own wedding, reveals the innate problem with this design: it is anachronistic.

The gown has a modern silhouette, basically an A-line skirt with a short train, with a bodice that clings to the body. Now, this is a simple design, and we can’t claim the A-line skirt belongs to the modern world by any means. Indeed, there are a number of A-line dresses within the GoT universe that are not anachronistic in any way. The issue here comes from a modern fashion trend.

The dress has a modern look largely because of the cut-outs at the waist and large exposed back. Skin exposure like this was not common in the medieval era and, entirely avoiding the issue of comparing a fantasy world to real-life history, this style is absent elsewhere in Westeros. The closest thing we see is Marg’s own selection of sexy dresses. But the previous wedding dress we saw did not resemble Marg’s at all, nor do later wedding dresses that appear in the show. However, cut-outs and exposed backs are hugely popular in modern wedding dresses. Wedding designers use exposed backs to create drama. Marg’s dress looks much more modern, and therefore appears out-of-place in the GoT setting.

The anachronistic feel permeates both the Watsonian and Doylist analyses of this costume. The in-verse understanding and explanation of this dress starts on a shaky foundation because of that anachronism, while the Doylist may provide yet another example of the show’s general disregard for the source material. At this point, having reviewed multiple female costumes thus far in this series, we should be able to begin to piece together patterns (no pun intended) when it comes to design in the story. With Marg, it appears the pattern is that perceived beauty will always trump believability. We can discern this from the absent or tortured explanation of Marg’s dresses provided by the designers, along with the conflicting world-building that makes her outfit choices unlikely or impossible.

Watsonian: Marg is Not Like Other Girls

Watsonian analysis focuses on the in-verse explanation of why something exists. So, the audience must imagine the process it took to commission, design, and create a wedding dress for the future queen at her big fat royal wedding. First, consider the purpose of having such a large wedding and the role of a young queen.

Royalty of medieval times functioned a lot like politicians today. They had some power to enact laws and control the kingdom, but a large part of a royal’s job is to be a symbol of the monarchy that inspires and influences her people. Two modern-day examples are Michelle Obama and Kate Middleton. As First Lady, almost all of Michelle Obama’s power came from influencing the public through good works and appearances done in the public eye. She set an example for everyone to look up to, solidifying her family’s position as the First Family with political clout. Kate Middleton is in a similar position, albeit a more permanent one, and also does good works in the public eye to represent the kindness and strength of the monarchy. Politics is largely about appearance because a politician sets an example for her people.

The kicker is that we actually see this played out in the show, so at some point in time the writers were aware of it. Early on in Marg’s plot, just after she arrives in King’s Landing, she personally visits an orphanage to talk (read: spread propaganda) to the children about their fathers’ bravery on the Blackwater. She knows the small folk will see her there, and that act of kindness will influence them along with making them adore her. Marg even gets the smallfolk to like Joffrey for a time, as shown when the two appear on the steps outside Baelor’s Sept together and the crowd cheers. Season three Marg seemed to understand her role as an example to the people and a representation of the new monarchy.

So where does the wedding dress from Kleinfeld come in? Here’s the basic problem with the dress (disregarding the anachronism): it’s too plain. We are talking about the most extravagant wedding of the century here! They had seventy-seven courses planned for the feast! Thousands of people attended, and all the smallfolk of King’s Landing cared about and paid attention to this ceremony. Think about how batshit people went over Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, or even Princess Diana’s dress back in the day – and those dresses were fashionably on-point (for their era) and made of expensive fabrics, like silk. Marg is rolling around in a linen-silk blend cut in an unknown, not-popular style. This dress should have been extravagant.

Even Sansa’s wedding dress was more queenly than Marg’s. Take a look at the hand-beaded embroidery happening here, and the beautiful brocade fabric!

Fangirl over dat brocade doh.

The only Watsonian explanation is that Marg completely dispensed with her known purpose at the wedding – to look like the new queen for the audience – and decided to YOLO in a dress I guess she liked? I don’t think it’s possible for Marg, having acted how she did and having been present for Sansa’s marriage, to have thought this dress was appropriately queenly. And if this was meant to be another “experiment” or a statement piece, it was executed at a HIGHLY inappropriate time (a royal wedding?!) and it clearly didn’t make an impact, as we never see any dresses like it again.

Finally, while the Watsonian explanation is lacking (I really can’t think of any other reason that makes any sense), I do like to imagine that someone in-verse put thorns on this dress in a symbolic way. It could have been the city’s most meta seamstress, maybe the same that made the Bjork dress. But my personal headcannon is that Marg herself added the thorns, giggling as she picked them out from the bead section at A.C. Moore, saying to Megga, “Now I’ll really be a thorn in Cersei’s side!”

Doylist: Just Look at the Flowers

Based on the Watsonian analysis, I think it’s a somewhat fruitless effort to compare the show’s wedding dress with the description from the books. It’s clear to me that Michelle Clapton’s driving motivation in designing this garment was just for it to be a beautiful wedding dress. The only tie it has to the GoT universe at all is the presence of roses as the symbol of House Tyrell, and otherwise the style does not make any sense in the context. But for consistency sake, let’s look at the book description.

“The bride was lovely in ivory silk and Myrish lace, her skirts decorated with floral patterns picked out in seed pearls. As Renly’s widow, she might have worn the Baratheon colors, gold and black, yet she came to them a Tyrell, in a maiden’s cloak made of a hundred cloth-of-gold roses sewn to green velvet.” – A Storm of Swords

Book!Margaery clearly chose her wedding dress with care, making sure to appear in the colors of her house with not a hint of her former marriage. This is a major part of Margaery’s ability to marry Joffrey, and remains part of her public persona in the books when she marries Tommen – that she is a maiden according to Westerosi standards, and therefore able to marry royalty. This certainly could not have been the goal of show!Marg’s dress choice, since it is significantly more revealing than other dresses we have seen on screen.

In addition, the book version is clearly more exquisite. The fabrics themselves are of higher quality, specifically silk, a very rich fabric, and “Myrish lace”, which is made expensive by the fantasy universe since the lace comes from across the Narrow Sea. The image of the entire skirt being designed in seed pearls is spectacular – seed pearls are very small, and would require thousands to be sewn on individually to create a skirt-covering pattern. The hundreds of cloth-of-gold roses, too, would have to be individually hand-made and sewn onto a draping velvet cloak. Damn I wish there was a visual adaptation of this novel!

The decision to alter this design baffles me. If this were any other show, I might be able to explain away some of the issues. For instance, a floral design “picked out in seed pearls” may not show up well on screen, since seed pearls are like small beads. But then instead we got tiny chains and tiny thorns all gathered around the middle of the bodice, which also did not show up well on screen! And there are countless examples of hand-beading that must have taken hours that is barely visible. And then of course there’s the six hundred masks issue. If this were any other show, I might say that making hundreds of roses by hand to put on a costume would be too much labor, but then we literally get exactly that in a way that is less dramatic and less beautiful (and less symbolic, since gold is a Tyrell color and mottled grey is not).

There is no logical reason to change this design, which seems to be a running pattern for a lot of these costumes. Clapton basically made a sexier, more dramatic version of Marg’s earlier series of sexy dresses, lightened the color a bit and called it a wedding dress. We know this for a fact because she told us. When asked about her inspiration for the dress, Clapton said:

“Really just a play on her sigil and following the style that she has developed since her arrival at King’s Landing. It had to be very different from Cersei’s style and taste.” – Michele Clapton

We know the costume design wasn’t deeply thought-out here, based on Clapton’s own words. And at a certain point, that’s fine – sometimes a pretty dress is just a pretty dress. The impetus to make Marg’s style markedly different from Cersei’s probably comes from D&D, who set Marg up as the scheming sexual manipulator who must always be working to undermine poor put-upon Cersei.

It appears the design of this wedding dress is just another key-jingling moment for the show, getting the audience excited by making them look at the flowers on that gosh darn pretty dress! At the end of the day, there isn’t a complex Doylist explanation, and the whole thing comes up to a kawaii shrug.

It should be noted that I did got back and re-watch the crowd scenes of the Purple Wedding, and there are in fact extras wearing some of Marg’s series of sexy dresses with large cut-outs and exposed backs. This just begs the question yet again – what’s the temperature in King’s Landing??

The City’s Most Meta Metalworker

“The idea of the briar rose is continued into the crown where it wraps around the Baratheon antlers [Joffrey’s sigil]. This was to show her creeping influence, which is not lost on Cersei.” – Michele Clapton

Both Joffrey’s and Marg’s crowns display this motif of rose vines intertwining with stag antlers. As Clapton explains above, the point is to show the “creeping influence” of the Tyrells over the Baratheons/Lannisters. When I first discovered this, I thought it was an interesting detail.

But then I thought: who made this??

Looking at the in-verse explanation, I must know what goldsmith made these two crowns. Did the goldsmith design the crowns himself? Did he sit there thinking, “Yes, I’ll express my concerns about the encroaching influence of the Tyrell family on our glorious monarchy by crafting briar roses creeping between the stag antlers, so everyone knows the king is truly under the control of these upjumped servants”? I assume by now Marg must be followed by a tail of meta designers who all attended the School of Taking-Things-From-the-Source-Material-Way-Too-Literally. Oh, and also one Bjork fan.

There’s also the option that the Tyrells designed these crowns themselves. I can imagine the Queen of Thorns sketching out a design and showing it to Marg, while Marg shows off the badass thorn beads she picked up from A.C. Moore earlier. Maybe the Tyrell ladies just have so much fun tormenting and scheming against poor Cersei they just couldn’t help but make the crowns symbolic of their attempt to take over the monarchy. Crowns worn at a wedding where they planned to assassinate the king. Yeah. Sounds right.

We know Marg couldn’t have designed the crowns alone. She’s just not that good a sketch artist.

This is a fine example of a cool-sounding Doylist explanation, but a completely absent Watsonian one. The neat thing about symbolism and metaphor in literature is that it happens in a way that is natural in the story and isn’t terribly contrived. For example, in A Game of Thrones the book, the direwolf found dead with the stag’s antler in its throat is symbolic, foreshadowing with its symbolism the fall of House Stark at the hands of the Baratheons. But it also makes sense – stags and direwolves would fight in nature. It would be weird and contrived if, say, the characters had come across a large dead squid in the middle of the woods near Winterfell, its tentacles wrapped around a dead direwolf. The symbolism would be about the same, but the quality of the story and its believability is lost.

The crown idea was neat, but without a Watsonian reasoning, it is useless. Again we see a cool idea poorly executed, ending up in nothing useful.

Though I would love to meet the meta designers. Maybe they went to the art school near Talisa’s nursing college.

The Schools of Anachronism and Meta Design must be in Volantis.

A Pilgrimage to Nowhere

Going into season six, GoT lost Michele Clapton (seven save us!) and gained a new lead designer, April Ferry. By this point the show’s writing and plot was completely off the rails, and it shows in the last few costumes designed for Marg. I’ll be referring to the last two outfits as the “Pilgrim dresses,” since they look like a fantasy version of what Pilgrims wore. Their creation undoubtedly stemmed from D&D’s disregard for and misunderstanding of the source material, so let’s recap a bit on that first.

The Faith of the Seven is NOT Christianity

Regardless of how D&D characterize it, the Faith of the Seven is not, in fact, a fantasy-version of Christianity. The Seven does not contemplate original sin. It does not hate gays. And it does not, importantly, abhor all sex. Instead, the Faith of the Seven as worshiped in Westeros is a projection of their toxically patriarchal society, and simultaneously reinforces that patriarchy through the seven “aspects” of the gods.

In brief, a toxic patriarchy is when certain roles are allowed for people based on their sex and social class, and that proscription is so strong that it limits people’s freedom and dictates their lives. Patriarchy brain, as discussed on the Unabashed Book Snobbery podcast in great detail, is when people living in such a society internalize those limitations in one way or another. The seven gods worshiped in Westeros are both a projection of patriarchy brain and a mode to reinforce the toxic patriarchy. We have:

The Warrior – Male, strong, meant to protect

The Maiden – Female, graceful, beautiful, virginal

The Smith – Male, strong, makes weapons and tools for men, the “hard worker”

The Mother – Female, loving, caring, meant to bear children, NOT virginal and embraced for not being virginal (sex is required for motherhood in Westeros)

The Father – Male, meant to protect, head of the household

The Crone – Female, old, useful for her wisdom and her ability to guide you

The Stranger – gender unknown, representation of death

Through these seven figures, this religion delegates everyone in Westeros to a specific archetype. Acceptable roles for women include maidenhood, motherhood, and old age; acceptable roles for men include knighthood, fatherhood, or as a skilled laborer; and both genders ultimately bow to death. The societal organization of people into simplified categories is a reflection and tool of a toxic patriarchy.

Note that, in this system, it is the characteristics of the aspect that applies to a person that matters when determining their social acceptability. A man can, for example, be a gay knight. Indeed, the seven most revered knights in the kingdom are specifically required to be chaste, limiting their ability to be fathers. Knighthood is premised on chivalry, not sexuality. An old woman can speak her mind more freely than a young woman, since she is used for her wisdom, not her virginity or reproductive capabilities. A married woman is encouraged to have sex with her husband to fulfill her role as a mother, while an unmarried maiden is pressured to remain abstinent. There isn’t a single set of rules applied to everyone across the board – the Faith of the Seven allows for different standards depending on the role a person fills in society.

Based on what we’re given from the show, it’s clear that D&D do not understand the Seven. We are shown a religion that abhors homosexuality, degrades women’s bodies, is against drinking alcohol, and, through the multitude of High Septon speeches, seems to have a concept of original sin. The show!faith also denigrates wealth and the material things that come with wealth, even though it exists in a feudal society built on stable class distinctions. Basically, show!faith is trying to be Christianity – or more accurately, a version of Christianity crafted without actually knowing much about it. D&D just picked the “Christian” issues that are hot-button in the modern world: gays and wealth, and a little bit of sex.

This fundamental misunderstanding of Westeros’s main religion seeps into the costume design for Marg in season six. I think it can go without saying that these dresses are ugly, only coming out as Marg’s second-worst outfits because of the Bjork dress (at least the pilgrim outfits aren’t cones). Some of the fabric is nice, but none of it is brocade, so I’m not about to fangirl over here.

Let’s take it one step at a time and consider the Watsonian explanation for Marg’s pilgrim dresses.

Watsonian: The Best Septa Cosplay in the Seven Kingdoms

Marg comes to wear the first of the two mournful pilgrim dresses after she is released on holy bail from the Great Sept of Baelor, awaiting her trial for perjury. You read that sentence right – her trial for perjury. For the reigning queen to get out of jail pre-trial on her perjury charge, she must start dressing like a pilgrim and be followed around everywhere by a septa. The logic here seems to be that, to show she is pious and virtuous, she dresses in a less revealing way (in comparison to her series of sexy dresses). This might make sense if her charge had anything to do with her virtue or virginity, or if her sexual life was called into question at all, since that is high treason. But that is not the case – Marg is only charged with lying about her brother’s homosexuality, a charge that has nothing to do with her own sexuality. The new costume choice having a sexual origin doesn’t seem to hold water.

Additionally, the other character awaiting trial – a trial that is about adultery and fornication – is Cersei Lannister. Cersei is still given free reign to roam around the Red Keep in her regular old wrap dresses, no high-necklines to be seen. Indeed, the only other character wearing anything similar to Marg is the septa following her, loving known here at The Fandomentals as Septa Spoonella. Perhaps Marg’s goal is to appear pious by dressing like a septa. This is actually a compelling honeypot, especially given the High Sparrow’s multiple long monologues about how wealth is bad and shoes are awful.

I had fun once. It was awful.

But this reasoning falls apart under scrutiny. If Marg wanted to dress like a septa to be pious, why not go full-out and get a septa costume? Marg is still wearing a dress made of nicer material than a septa. She’s still wearing her golden crown. She still has her hair perfectly done, probably by all of her serving ladies. She also still lives in the most important castle in the Seven Kingdoms. Even the pilgrim dress she wears to her trial, when she is in the Great Sept of Baelor, is way fancier than what a poor smallfolk could afford.

Still rockin’ those Tyrell colors – blue and grey!

If the point is that simpleness is pious and wealth is sinful, Marg isn’t actually doing that good a job of putting on those pious airs. Maybe this is why the narrative decides to literally blow everyone up – because of their continuing sinful behavior!

Really, there is no good Watsonian explanation for Marg’s transformation into slightly fancy potato sacks. There is no precedent for it – the other queen awaiting trial isn’t wearing this shit. There’s no demand for it – Marg isn’t awaiting trial on anything sexy. Finally, there’s no need for it – the faith of the seven demands piety and purity, but not virginity for a queen who is proscribed in the role of a mother. Indeed, the High Sparrow himself tells Marg she needs to start gettin’ sexy with Tommen to make an heir!

With no stable explanation from the Watsonian perspective – even considering it from the warped view of the faith as Christianity that D&D employ – we should move on to the Doylist lens.

Doylist: D&D are So Brave™

I think the Doylist reasoning behind these costume designs is pretty clear: D&D think the faith of the seven is Christianity, and the costume designers went with that. The costume department was told “Marg needs to be more religious” and the reaction was to cover her body. There are two main problems here: the first is that this was the reaction at all; the second was that this reaction was employed in this fantasy setting.

First, the fact that the new design team, April & Co., or maybe D&D as well, decided the only way for Marg to show her newfound piety was to forcibly cover her is a problematic view of modern religious women. Piety and piousness are not innately connected to a woman’s sexuality, especially considering the hundreds of religions that exist and have existed in human history. The emphasis on sexuality is Abrahamic and western, and different for many other religions (*cough* including the Faith of the Seven *cough*). Additionally, plenty of religions include forms of covering for both men and women that are free and part of the faith. The fact of the matter is that religions, and forms of worship within those religions, are highly diverse. And the representation of that diversity in media reflects the intentions and opinions of the creators.

That this was the design route the show took reveals a western, negative outlook on religious covering, since Marg was forced into these outfits by the High Sparrow. The only other women dressed the same are the septas, who tortured multiple people and hold Marg hostage, and Cersei’s final outfit which she dons as she blows up the sept:

Cersei went to Hot Topic.

This has some unfortunate implications on the creator’s understanding and vision of religion, since the only similar designs adorn bad people. And we know this can’t be just a result of the confines of the universe – as discussed above, there is no Watsonian basis for this costume choice. This is another piece of the larger pattern that D&D, bleeding also into the costume department, have an agenda against portraying religion in a positive light.

The second issue, largely addressed above, is that the designers would bother trying to pass off these glorified potato sacks as costumes in this setting. Nothing about them makes any sense, and the deviation from the source material makes the show’s story worse, not better. The show dug itself into a massive grave by aging Tommen up so they could make exactly two sex jokes, even bringing down the costume department with it. This is a prime example of how the entire production is dependent on the tone set by D&D, and how the patterns of sexism, racism, homophobia, and others in their writing does permeate the whole show.

Conclusion: A Rose by Any Other Name..is probably dead from the sept explosion.

Coming to the end of our two-part analysis of Marg’s dresses from season two to season six, I think we can pick out some clear patterns. The overall pattern is that believability will always give way to perceived beauty. Marg’s “experiment” dress was high-fashion and couture in Clapton’s eyes; her series of sexy dresses were pretty and flowy, though out of place; her wedding dress was beautifully anachronistic; even her pilgrim dresses were made of nice fabrics and adorned with a golden crown, though she was trying to not be so darn rich!

Marg’s costumes also add to known patterns regarding storytelling devices. First, her costumes solidify her as the scheming, sexual manipulator of all men. Second, subtle details in her wedding dress and in the royal crowns place her purposefully opposite Cersei, adding to the “scheming” Marg does. Third, her pilgrim dresses compliment the woeful misunderstanding D&D have of the Faith of the Seven.

At the beginning of this two-part analysis, I emphasized that a good costume strikes the right balance between in-verse believability and real life expectations while also functioning in its role. Overall, I do believe Marg’s costumes functioned in their various roles as much as can be expected. My problems lie not with how the costumes function, but rather with the situations the costumes must function in. It’s not the designer’s problem that Marg is scripted as a sexual manipulator and that the costume design must follow that path. The intersection of writing and design makes it difficult to judge a costume as a stand-alone piece.

Through the art of costuming, the show emphasizes some of its greatest flaws: its internal inconsistency, its general illogic, and its plethora of meta-designers expressing their concerns about the monarchy through clever goldsmithing. This is simply not the world George R.R. Martin envisioned, and the costuming, while sometimes very impressive, is just not helping matters.

Let’s all take a moment and reflect on the one lovely costume in season six, which graced our screens for a few minutes.

Now THAT is Myrish lace!

Moving on from our looks at Dany and Marg, we will move on next time to a close critical analysis of “Sansa Stark”.


Images courtesy of HBO

Caroline is a lawyer by day, geeky media fan and critic by night, afternoon, and lunch hour. Caroline enjoys long walks on quiet beaches so she can mentally over-analyze fictional characters and settings, and candlelit dinners that don't cause a glare on her TV screen.

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The Unattainable Beauties of BioWare

David

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Happy week after Valentine’s Day! For those of you in a relationship, I hope you were able to spend time with your loved ones and maybe have a little romance. For those of you who are single, I hope that it wasn’t a terribly bitter or frustrating day. In honor of both these states, I’m going to be writing about Bioware characters. But not romanceable characters, oh no. Enough ink has been spilled about them. No, today, we are going to be talking about the ones who for whatever reason are non-romanceable. In fact, it’s going to be a list of who I consider to be the best non-romanceable characters in Bioware games.

A few ground rules first though. First, this list is completely and totally subjective. If you feel like I’ve missed a character, let me know in the comments. Most of these characters are either from the Mass Effect Series or the Dragon Age series. Those are the games I know the best have have played the most. Finally, I’m only going to list five male and five female characters. I could go on all day if allowed.

So, with that out of the way, let’s start with the guys. And first on that list is…

Black Whirlwind

Right off the bat we get a character who seems to contraindicate my first two points. He’s from Jade Empire and isn’t normally the type of character I’d enjoy. But let me justify his place on my list. First off, he’s just a fun character. Pretty much his entire character is dedicated to fighting things with his axes, drinking, and drinking while fighting with his axes. Second of all, given what we do see of his backstory, he’s fairly sympathetic. He was abused by his father until he was finally to defend himself and killed his father, and then was tossed out by his mother. He fought in the arena until he thought he killed his brother. And finally, his voice. Victor Brandt voices him in the game, and that man could read from the stock exchange and make it sound like he was trying to seduce you.

Nathaniel Howe

I can understand why they chose not to have any love interests in Awakening. A lot of the companions are missable and even if they aren’t, there’s better than 50-50 odds that they would die at the end of the expansion. That doesn’t excuse them from making Nathaniel Howe though. He has a compelling and sympathetic backstory, an interesting perspective on the location and events, and a sardonic sense of humor that lets him either play the straight man or the funny man in conversations. And! He got an easter egg quest in Dragon Age 2. I just wish they had followed through and included him in Dragon Age Inquisition (and gave us the chance to smooch him.)

Teagan Guerrin

Bann Teagan gets a bit of a bad rap now, particularly after Trespasser. Time (and the switch to a new engine) were not kind to him, but I remember a different Teagan. A Teagan that stood up to Loghain. A Teagan that risked his life to defend Redcliffe, and then walked straight into a demon’s clutches to buy your party sometime. From a story perspective, having a female human warden marry (or at least be involved with) an up and coming Bann would make just as much sense politically as marrying her to the new king. And from a purely personal standpoint, I would have loved for him to respond to the “Who is dis women Tegan?” quote by saying “My future wife.”

Jeff ‘Joker’ Moreau

Ever since Mass Effect 1, Joker’s presence at the front of the Normandy has been very welcome. Snarky, quick with a quip and a comment about any of your companions, the only fault I have with him was that he was far too quick to abandon the Alliance and hook up with a bunch of racist, human supremacist terrorists in Mass Effect 2. But the fact that he’s loyal specifically to Shepard always melts my heart. I was hoping that in Mass Effect 3 he finally would be a romance option, but alas he was infatuated with EDI. It took a great deal of self control not to sabotage that relationship.

Ser Barris

And here we come to my favorite non-romanceable male character: Ser Derin Barris of the Templar Order. Dude has it all. Good voice and one of the few male PoCs in the series. In addition, he’s everything that a Templar is supposed to be: brave, intelligent, loyal, and willing to defend the weak and the innocent. And yet, after the quest to recruit the Templars, you only see ever see him one more time. The cutscene where he is promoted to Knight-Commander. (A promotion he deserves.) I can only hope that he reappears in Dragon Age 4 as a full romanceable companion.

That covers my five favorite non-romanceable male characters. But what about the ladies? Let’s start with…

Gianna Parasini

Gianna Parasini was one of those characters I didn’t expect to find myself liking as much as I did. When you first meet her in Mass Effect 1, she’s working (undercover) for Novaria’s Internal Affairs. She quickly shows herself not to be completely amoral. Just overworked, overstressed, and tired of being a Yes-Woman to a corrupt executive. When you see her again in Mass Effect 2, she’s much less stressed, and much more willing to joke with Shepard.  She leaves far too soon, leaving a male Shepard with a kiss and a promise to see him around. A promise, unfortunately, left unfulfilled.

Dr. Karin Chakwas

Dr. Chakwas is an interesting addition to this list. She is much older then Shepard. She seems at first to be a poor match. But much like Joker, she offers Shepard a sense of continuity aboard the Normandy. She even mentions that as one of the reasons why she stays aboard the Normandy in all its various incarnations. And, unlike some returning squadmates or even Joker himself at times, her presence aboard the ship never seems forced. Of course Dr. Chakwas will be in the medical bay. Of course she’ll be happy to see you. And of course she’ll be waiting to share a drink with you.

Dr. Lexi T’Perro

Unlike Dr. Chakwas, Dr. Lexi doesn’t really provide much in the way of continuity between different versions of the ship. Instead, she almost provides a mirror for Ryder to see himself and his actions. When she’s first brought aboard as your team’s doctor, she’s nervous. And she channels this nervous energy into annoying practically everyone else on the ship. But as she gets more comfortable with the ship and how things work, she starts to relax a little. Not much, but a little. Add to that her backstory in addition to the fact that she seems to care for the team’s mental health as much as their physical health and you get a character who would be perfect to romance. Shame she’s not an option.

Emily Wong

Emily Wong is one of the most frustrating examples on this list. In Mass Effect 1, she filled the ‘plucky reporter’ archetype so well that I missed being able to speak with her or give her an interview in Mass Effect 2. As the release date for Mass Effect 3 drew closer and rumors of a romanceable reporter on board the Normandy began to swirl, I had hope that it would be Emily.  I was bitterly disappointed. The reporter character on the Normandy was quite weak compared to the strong impression Emily gave in Mass Effect 1. And Emily Wong herself? Unceremoniously killed off in a marketing ploy before the game was released. She deserved better.

Vivienne

Vivienne is a ‘love her or hate her’ type of character. As you can tell by her inclusion on this list, I am in the former camp. Aside from being one of the few women of color companions in the game, Vivienne brings to the table a unique perspective: A mage who fully supports a return to the Circles. Not only that, but she has clear, eloquent arguments to back her up. In addition to that, she has a very striking character design and a wonderful voice actress. Most important of all though is that if her approval of the Inquisitor is high, she seems to genuinely care about them and their well being. I just wish that she didn’t politely shoot you down every time you flirted with her.

So there you have it. My five favorite male and female non-romanceable NPCs from Bioware games. However, there is one person that I have thus far neglected to mention. Or rather, one group of people. That’s right, I’m talking about…

EVERY SINGLE DWARF FROM DRAGON AGE

In Dragon Age: Origins, it was just a bit of trivia. “Hey, did you know that you can’t romance Qunari and dwarf characters?” When Dragon Age 2 came out and we were introduced to Varric, it became a joke. But at least the dwarf fans could still console themselves by remembering that there hadn’t been any Qunari romanceable companions either. By the time of Dragon Age Inquisition and the introduction of Iron Bull and Lead Scout Lace Harding, it’s become one of my main problems with the series.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. Why wouldn’t Bioware let us romance Scout Harding, or any other dwarf for that matter? Is it because the animation would look awkward? Too much work? In the end, I can only repeat the refrain so many others have, pining after characters who they couldn’t romance: “Maybe next game.”


Images courtesy of Bioware

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Analysis

Kingdom Come, Representation, And Layers Of Privilege

Barbara

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Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a brand new Czech video game that just came out last week. And ever since its development started, there has been one big controversy connected to it: its almost complete lack of characters of colour.

It isn’t exactly helped by the fact that the chief mind behind the game, Dan Vávra, is right-leaning, and also a bit of an asshole when it comes to responding to these complaints. He doesn’t go far for an insult and refuses to listen to any kind of criticism. Not exactly the kind of person that makes one want to defend him.

So…this is where this article should end, right? A jerk makes a racist game, news at seven.

Well. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Vávra isn’t the only person working in the development. And the most important thing to know about the game in this context is that it’s not a generalized medieval setting. Instead, it takes place in a particular set of villages and towns and the surrounding forests, villages, and towns that exist until today and that aren’t and never have been big or cosmopolitan in any way. A number of events in the game are based on historical events. It isn’t just a story, it the story of Česká Skalice just before the Hussite wars.

In this context, the usual arguments of “there were plenty of people of colour in Europe in the Middle Ages” fall kind of flat. The usual argument of historicity that is pulled for this is frequently false because Western history is whitewashed and contained markedly more people of colour that we like to pretend. But it’s not always false. There actually were parts of the world where only white people lived. And not only are there no particular historical marks of black, brown or Asian people being present in the particular time and place where Kingdom Come takes place, it would also be very unlikely.

Honestly, the most likely place to find a person of colour in the time period would be Sigismund’s armies, and since those play more the role of the antagonist in the game, that’s not exactly ideal. So this is not, in fact, a case of ignoring the real historical presence of black and Middle-Eastern people.

Instead, the first question to ask here is: is it ever legitimate to create all-white media? If we’re depicting a situation where there realistically wouldn’t be any people of colour – not just history, there are still plenty of towns in the world a non-white person has never set foot in – is it all right to make it whiter than new house paint?

On the face of it, the answer should be yes. As long as we’re depicting an actual situation, we’re depicting. And yet. It may be “accurate,” but it might at the same time be unwise in the current climate, where every all-white piece of media contributes to a narrative that is far from inclusive to people of colour.

So the second question: does it even matter? That is, is historical realism such an important goal to achieve?

Most media that supposedly take place in the past play hard and fast with history to make things more convenient for the narrative, so why should the amount of diversity, of all things, be what is kept realistic? It shouldn’t, that is the answer. As long as other things are changed freely, the argument of historicity is irrelevant one way or another.

Kingdom Come, however, is a game that takes great care to be as realistic as possible. The most frequent complaint from players at the moment is the insane difficulty of lockpicking because that isn’t easy in real life either. So does this change anything? Is the argument of historicity valid in such a case? In other words, even in those media that do their best to stay historically faithful, is such an ambition a worthy goal? Is it more important to have something fit history perfectly than to provide representation?

Accusations of rewriting history would naturally follow a negative answer. First, it’s important to point out that it’s no more rewriting than the constant whitewashing, and with a much better intention. But it is true that with a game that boasts of its realism, it presents a problem. It would discredit their claims of historicity if they simply ignored these kinds of facts. You cannot painstakingly reconstruct medieval Skalice and then add random representation from all over the world without becoming a laughing stock. Not the least because this sort of rewriting of history would play down the racism of the past, and that is not an excuse we should be making for ourselves.

Unless we say that media has to abandon goals of high historical realism, then, we have to admit that in certain setting an all-white cast is appropriate. So that brings forth another question: is it legitimate to choose such settings?

And this brings us to the more complicated power dynamics at play when it comes to Kingdom Come.

As I’ve said, Kingdom Come is a Czech game, dealing with events from Czech history. My history. We, as a country, have always played the lovely game of being both oppressors (towards Slovaks, the Jewish and the Romani people, and even Germans after WWII) and oppressed (by the Austrian empire, Nazi Germany, USSR). In the global world of today, we’re far from being the ones in the most desperate situation, but we’re also hardly the top dogs. On the global scale, we’re a minority.

And both our history and our present are mostly white.

Just to be perfectly clear, this is not a good thing. I’m not saying it as a good thing. It massively contributes to the widespread xenophobia in the Czech Republic. But it is what it is. The fact remains that our by far biggest minority are the Romani people, who form about 3% of the population. So every time you tell a Czech story, it is going to be overwhelmingly white.

So should we be allowed to tell our own stories?

Kingdom Come, of course, is not made for the Czech market. It’s distributed globally, and it means it has a global effect, on people who know nothing of our particular context. As an all-white medieval game – which is all most people will take out of it – it perpetuates exactly the image of whitewashed history that we need to rid ourselves of. It becomes part of the problem.

So does this mean, then, that when we want global money, we have to change the image of our own history to avoid exacerbating the global problem of racism? That is problematic as well, especially as making the game for Czech audience only is not a real option. Our ten million people total don’t make for a big enough audience to pay for a game with this kind of budget. It’s another kind of disadvantage global minorities have. It shouldn’t be necessary to pay for it by adjusting our stories.

And even disregarding that, what if we want to show our stories and our world to the rest of the planet? What if we want to share ourselves? We should be able to do that.

Yet…what if what we want to share turns into a white fantasy in others’ hands?

It seems it shouldn’t be such a big deal. Who cares if we change the skin colour of some characters in the story? It’s still going to be a Czech story. But the problem is, it doesn’t quite work that way. After all, that is the “I don’t see colour” argument, only in reverse.

What I’m about to say will sound insanely racist to anyone from a more cosmopolitan country, but when I was little, I didn’t like watching Sesame Street because the multi-ethnic children there were making it so very foreign to me. I saw them and instantly knew it wasn’t my world. Outside of my travel abroad, I spoke to one non-white person total before adulthood. And I live in the capital, the most multicultural part of the country. Whatever it says about us, the truth is that if we populate historical Czech stories with black people, most Czechs will not regard it as their story.

But there is a reason I was specific in this last sentence. There are truly very few black people living in this country even now. You know who is living here, though? The aforementioned Romani. The presence of Romani people in the game would not make any Czech person feel like it was not our story. It would make them angry — because the racism the Romani face in the Czech Republic is something incredibly ugly — but it would not make the game feel foreign. The Romani minority has been here since the Middle Ages, and there are definitely historical records of them being here in large numbers shortly after Kingdom Come takes place. In fact, there are even complaints of there being “more and more” Romani people in our records because of course our racism would be traditional.

We don’t know, of course, if there were any Romani around Skalice, but it was a way to include people of colour that wouldn’t break with general Czech history. It wouldn’t have gone against our own understanding of who has lived here for a long time. And yet they were never mentioned in any of the diversity complaints I have seen. There are also Cumans included in the game, and no one seems to care much either. And that brings me to my last point.

Demanding diversity in Kingdom Come with a particular idea of diversity in mind, the idea that is based on the ethnic composition of the US, is not only American-centric but also offensive to the oppressed minorities of the Czech Republic.  And complaining about such lack of diversity truly does not come across in a way that would endear the author of the complaint to anyone Czech. Especially if the person complaining is white. If a person of colour is offended by so much mayo in their game and would like to feel represented, I can understand that.

But when a white privileged American talks about what sorts of representation a Czech game should contain – particularly with arguments like that Czechia is “just north of Italy” and Italy is by the sea so obviously there’d be plenty of people of colour in here, which is an actual argument someone presented – it suddenly gains whole another tone. Because whiteness is not the only privilege in the world, and while we certainly benefit from it, we do not benefit from the privilege of being American, and anyone from the US telling us how to tell our own stories without knowing anything about us is always, always going to ring a very uncomfortable bell with us.

So yes, making all-white games should be avoided when possible, because it reinforces an uncomfortable narrative. And representation is a good thing, especially representation of those who hardly ever find themselves on screen. Whenever at least a little possible, diversity should be supported. Warhorse Studios really should have included Romani people in their game, just as Czech filmmakers should try casting some in their films. But not all representation fits one muster and demanding medieval Skalice should look like medieval London only makes stories more identical to each other and less interesting. There is more than one kind of diversity.


Images courtesy of Warhorse Studios

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Analysis

Barbara Kean From Housewife to Mobster

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Gotham had a tall order ahead of it at its inception. It had to take some the most iconic characters from the comic page and meld them in a story that takes place before they were iconic. Any prequel adaptation has to grapple with this in one way or another. But Gotham had the unique challenge with Batman’s famous rouges. The origins of so many of his opponents are intertwined with his. Gotham would have to reinvent these characters and their origins. The series has made these characters its own by allowing their development to move away from their comic book counterparts. There is no character with which this is more prevalent in than Barbara Kean.

In the comics, she’s anything but a rival to Batman. She’s the wife of one of Bruce’s closest allies and the mother of one of his sidekicks.  Yet she herself plays but a small role in the narrative. Gotham’s Barbara Kean has made herself a part of the narrative in ways that have seem to have completely change the character we first meet. Gotham has taken a woman destined to be the mother and wife of heroes and made her one of the most prolific members of the Gotham City’s underworld.

We meet Barbara in the pilot engaged to James Gordon, the perfect place to lead to her becoming her comic book counterpart: married to James Gordon and the mother of his children. They’re in a good place in their relationship. As James finds himself confronted with the corruption of Gotham, Barbara becomes a pillar of support for him. She reaffirms his values when he doubts himself. But this can only last for so long. With James fighting against so much of the darkness in Gotham, it was only a matter of time before it got back to Barbara.

Even with the first bit of tension seeping into their relationship, Barbara’s still willing to stand by James. When she learns James’s life is at stake she goes to Carmine Falcone, the king of Gotham’s underground, to beg for his life. But after she’s terrorized by Falcone’s men, her own faith in James is shaken. She’s seen the true dangers in the mission he’s tasked himself with. She can’t share the burden he’s willing to take on.

At first, she falls back into old habits for the comfort and familiarity, drugs, and her ex-girlfriend, Renee Montoya. It doesn’t last with Montoya, and Barbara finds herself in a state of flux. During this time she meets Selina Kyle, who later becomes a close companion. She also meets Jason Skolimski. He becomes an inciting figure of change for her. A serial killer and psychopath, he takes Barbara captive and she almost doesn’t make it out alive.

Her time with him drives her to edge of sanity. Under his influence she kills her parents. She almost kills Lee Thompkins, James’s new girlfriend. The love she has for James becomes an obsession. It doesn’t end well for her with James stopping her. She’s arrested and sentenced to Arkham Asylum. But it ends up putting her in the perfect position for the next wave of her development.

Her stay in the Asylum is short lived. She’s broken out by Theo and Tabitha Galvan, the latter of whom she enters into a romantic relationship with.  It’s through them she’s truly indoctrinated to Gotham’s underground. Barbara’s sanity at this point is shaky at best. Having a girlfriend willing to kidnap her ex-boyfriend and his current girlfriend doesn’t help the situation either. Though even when the last remains of her sanity seem all but gone, the compassion she held for James still comes through. Her kidnapping attempt unravels and her escape ends with her falling out a second story window. Before that happens she helps James, giving him the information he needs to take down Theo.

After some time in a coma, she’s released back onto Gotham streets. Though her love for James still borders on unhealthy obsession her pursuits become more personally motivated. She opens a nightclub with Tabitha. It’s successful but she’s gunning for more, namely to get out from under Oswald Cobblepot’s thumb. She’s openly contentious of the Penguin when he all but runs Gotham at this point. Only a few people could have gotten away with this without fatal consequences.

She gathers some powerful allies with the intention of overthrowing Penguin. And it works. She becomes the queen of Gotham, taking over the city’s underground. Unfortunately, it’s a short-lived reign when conflict brews among the very allies who helped her take down Penguin, and she ends up dead.

In the true fashion of comic books and their adaptations, Barbara doesn’t say dead for long. After she’s brought back to life she returns ready to take on the city again. Reaching out to Selina and Tabitha, they work together running a weapons racket to rebuild their status. Death seems to have tamed Barbara, she’s more rational with her return. She’s even willing to work under Penguin. If only for a short time until a better opportunity presents itself for her, Tabitha and Selina.

At this point, I think it’s important to note Barbara could have easily fallen into the old stereotypes of the ‘crazy bisexual ex-lover’ or even the ‘villainous queer’. But similar to the way the Carmilla series defies its negative tropes, Gotham’s exploration of these narrative tropes doesn’t feel like it steers into the negative aspects. Gotham also avoids these tropes in a way few other series could. The villains make up a huge portion of series. They are the lungs that breathe life into the series. As much as this series is about Bruce and James growing into the heroes we know they’ll become, it’s also about watching the other characters grow into the villains we know they’ll become.

Barbara earns her place among the villainous elite in Gotham. She’s gone from a mild-mannered Gotham socialite to one of its most conniving criminals.

She’s still a woman capable of deeply caring for someone. But now her way of showing she cares for someone involves fewer words of empathy and more shooting their enemies in the head. She learnt to thrive in a city where so few can even survive. She adapted in ways that not even James has been able to. Her place in the story going forward is still uncertain. The possibility of her and James come back to each other is small but stranger things have happened in this city. Though at this point it seems more likely one of the many colourful adversaries Bruce will face when he truly dons the cowl.

Regardless of where she’s going, watching her get where she is has been a wild and entertaining ride.


Images courtesy of Fox 

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