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The Fallacy of GoT’s Women on Top Part 2: Characters

Kylie

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Welcome to the second installment of “Sexism & Season 6,” which focuses on tackling the horrifyingly common misconception that Game of Thrones (GoT) is somehow a feminist’s dream. Or even a remotely progressive narrative. That showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, along with their writing team (all referred to under the monolithic “D&D”) somehow “fixed” their “woman problem” this year, the problem that had been plaguing the HBO Series basically since its inception.

See, there’s this vague sort of consensus that women had their way this year!

The “dames of Thrones” were boss ass individuals who did not put up with those foolish men, and often as a result, found themselves in positions of power. Ellaria murdered Doran the “weak man” with the backing of all of Dorne, Daenerys and Yara made a queenly alliance centered on the promise that they’d rid the world of idiot dudes who don’t think women should rule, and Sansa actually found recourse against her rapist by murdering him.

Yara: We’d like you to help us murder an uncle or two who don’t think a woman’s fit to rule.

Daenerys: Reasonable.

Reasonable.

Then add to that the wonderfully intelligent Tyrell ladies, the wonderfully sassy Tarly ladies, and the wonderfully badass fighters in characters like Arya and Brienne. With all these strong female characters battlin’ the patriarchy, it seems like GoT’s “Women on Top!” marketing campaign was quite on the nose!

Except if you think about any of it for more than two seconds.

I already spoke in Part 1 of this essay series about how D&D’s setting has no sort of internal consistency and simply adapts to the needs of a scene. For that reason, there’s no way women (or anyone) can truly triumph and find themselves “on top,” since what they’re on top of is utterly meaningless. These are hollow victories, and frankly the focus that it’s now “women on top” comes across as nothing more than pandering, given the completely superficial exploration of gender dynamics this series offers.

In this section, however, I would like to focus on the actual scripting of the female characters. Because even if we pretend, just for a second, that their achieving power does have feminist takeaways beyond seal-clapping at their shiny crowns, it doesn’t change that the way they’re penned is strikingly sexist.

I’d say “surprisingly,” but I’ve also been saying this since before Season 6 began:

“I don’t really want to shock anyone, but these multitudes of “strong women” simply don’t exist.”

In the linked essay, I brought special attention to the characters of Dany, Brienne, Sansa, Margaery, and Myranda, and how through the past year, their scripting was not only not empowering, but quite offensive. And this was all after I painstakingly went through all of Season 5 to detail the primary sexist tropes D&D employed in the writing of all their characters.

Now this is not to say it couldn’t have gotten better in Season 6, of course. I’m just here to explain to you why it didn’t.

I think I’ll open with Dany, because “Khaleesi” is the face of female empowerment in modern media, isn’t she? She’s a queen with dragons who hates slavery; how awesome is that?!

Not that I’m defending slavery, of course.

Like, we can agree that this is a pretty dang low bar, yes?

Dany this year was interesting, because she sort of had a two chapter journey, if you will. The first chapter involved her navigating her captivity by the Dothraki, whereas the second chapter involved her return to Meereen to handle the situation with the slavers and make plans for the future.

This is where it becomes difficult not to retread ground with Part 1, because the utterly contrived nature of how the Dothraki treated her is part and parcel of the mystifying way in which she navigated it. But we just have to accept certain things, most importantly including the Dosh Khaleen’s magically disappearing authority within Vaes Dothrak.

I’m quite certain D&D meant for us to find Dany rattling off her titles to the khal in “The Red Woman” to be an empowering moment. After all, he was telling her that he’d rape her, and she had an ace in her pocket about why she wouldn’t. Except that…why didn’t she say this at the get-go? Does she live for the rush of high risk situations? I’m not trying to say that a character withholding information that would benefit her is definitive proof that the scripting is sexist, but what I am saying is that it betrays entirely a lack of care about the characters, and it’s all in favor of creating false tension and cheap moments of victory. In other words, it’s this facade of “women on top” when what we should be questioning is why she was on the bottom in the first place.

There’s also the issue of characters deciding to do everything off-screen. Yes, this allows for “reveals,” but when absolutely nothing is seeded to preserve the shock, what follows feels random. How are we supposed to have any grasp on a character when we don’t see them struggling or planning? Dany fell further victim to this in “Book of the Stranger,” the episode where she decided to burn down Vaes Dothrak. For profit. When did she formulate this plan? During her pee break with the other former khaleesi who seemed to like the idea of avoiding rape? Did Dany know that the Council of Khals (the suddenly existing legislative body of Vaes Dothrak) would decide her fate at night, that there’d be braziers in this tent, and that the dirt would be magically flammable?

The point I’m making is that her Empowered Moment falls apart with a minimal level of scrutiny. And even if we somehow manage to ignore the multitude of contrivances required for it to take place, there’s the problem of take-away. If the Council of Khals was supposed to make us feel as though this was Dany’s only way out, that was completely undercut by Daario and Jorah showing up and offering her escape in the scene prior. If we were supposed to believe that this was the “best course of action” because the khals were such a danger to her, then why were there no threats against Dany (and it seemed like they were going to allow her to join the Dosh Khaleen, the supposed ruling class of the Dothraki) until after she started insulting the khals by saying they were weak and only she was fit to rule?

The only conclusion I can reasonably come to is that we were supposed to fist-pump for Dany’s actions because Dothraki culture is gross and rapey and this is the best course of action for *humanity*. So therefore D&D’s idea of female empowerment is a white woman, with a family history tied to slavery and conquest, standing proudly after destroying another culture’s holy place, while the brown people who had outright called her a “witch” dropped to their knees. I hate strawman rapists as much as the next person, but there were people who actually felt…good…about this?

Sorry, but white feminism is not empowering. Or feminism.

You know what else isn’t empowering? Having a female character whose only good ideas come from a dude. This was a trend with Dany that started last year, and boy howdy did it continue into Season 6. The second she got back to Meereen, she began formulating ideas involving mass murder, and what a good thing for all of us that Tyrion was there to talk some sense into her. So then the entire Battle of Meereen scenario was the enactment of his plan on how to handle the slavers, and let’s not forget, he’s the one who fixed her mistake of locking up Rhaegal and Viseron so that they could help lead her victory as well.

Then Tyrion tells Dany to dump Daario and she does (though empowerdly not having emotions about it, because emotions are so weak). And of course when she and Yara, two women in positions of power, hash out terms of an alliance, we’re treated to this moment:

Oh well, at least Yara listens to her dudes as well:

And yes, people listening to advisors is fine, but it’s the pattern. A pattern which in the case of Dany, is completely infantilizing. I guess the best that could be said is that without her men, she’d have still won the loyalty of the Dothraki this year? But then we have to remember why it is that people who just saw their holy place get burned down by a witch would pledge their loyalty in the first place…

There’s one last thing about Dany’s scripting that I think is a bit of an elephant in the room, because it involves dreaded *book knowledge*. I’m all for ending the conflation of GoT and A Song of Ice and Fire, but it’s rather impossible for me not to notice that Tyrion’s plotline this year was Dany’s plotline from A Dance with Dragons. They more or less jettisoned her out of her own arc, and literally retconned developments away so that Tyrion could have her ADWD plot-points to tackle. Hizdahr’s deal with Yunkai and Astapor? Gone. The navy Daario won for Dany? Oh no, a random fire! Granted, everything Tyrion did doesn’t quite line up to the books since the show presents us with a ridiculously simplified situation, but it really does feel as though a woman was shoved aside and put in a position to be a prisoner of strawmen so that they could carry out her plotline with their preferred protagonist, a white dude.

Yikes, I had more to say about Dany than I realized. I guess it’s because of all that empowerment! But I do think it’s an important exercise to demonstrate how just because a woman wins victories and is a ruler in her own right, it’s not automatically progressive.

Same goes for this idea that if a woman is “badass,” then that’s that—it’s a feminist victory!

Arya is really the perfect example of that this season. Granted, her plotline actually came under major scrutiny when her plot armor rivaled that of James Bond’s in Live and Let Die. I do have to think the sheer ridiculousness of her survival detracted a little from her Badass™ status, though aside from these complaints and perhaps a few grumbles about her season finale teleportation, I’ve heard little criticism levied at her scripting.

Arya in and of herself I think is supposed to be a slightly disturbing character, right? Like, her overly violent murders of Trant last year and Walder Frey this year were supposed to be at least a little morally ambiguous? It’s hard to tell, because D&D went out of their way to paint both men as incredibly disgusting and “bad,” but I just don’t think I can imagine anyone who would be able to write or direct those scenes with the intent of them being 100% fine, fist-pumping moments of awesome.

Okay…maybe two or three names spring to mind.

However, the curious thing about Arya is that other than when she pops up to carry out these grisly executions, she’s actually quite passive. This was the case last year, and certainly continuing into this year, where a good chunk of her episodes revolved around being smacked with a stick. Even after she got her eyes back, we see more stick smacking. Then she was assigned to kill an actor and was so bad at her job that her mark ended up noticing her and they developed a friendly rapport. The one proactive decision Arya made was to not kill Lady Crane, which like, okay, I could totally buy doing that not jiving with her moral code, I guess. And then the plot required her to be stupid and go from sleeping with Needle drawn to smirking her way around Braavos:

Or did I mean “empowered”?

The rest was simply parkouring to victory.

Even despite her very passive scripting, all if this might have been somewhat forgiven if it weren’t for D&D’s mystifying pattern of injecting catty women into every corner of Braavos. I’ve explained the sexist underpinnings of this trope before:

“[‘Women are Catty’] is based on the assumption that women are always in competition with one another, because their mode of operation is based around getting a man. With intimate heterosexuality being needed to complete them, exclusive male attention becomes their ultimate goal, inherently pitting them against other women who are vying for the same thing. If a man strays from his woman, it is her fault, because she lost out to another woman. And of course, women are not mature enough to snap out of this dynamic, unlike ‘bros before hoes.'”

In my opinion, there’s really no way to reconcile the character of “The Waif” in GoT. What is her problem?! The best explanation is that she has a thing for Jaqen and feels threatened, but this is a woman who simply hates Arya. She smacks her with sticks repeatedly, and the one time Arya counters her blow, angry tears fill her eyes. Then we learn after Arya bails on her contract that The Waif had asked Jaqen for special permission to murder her in the case of such an event. Which she then skips off to do so with glee:

Swiggity swooty, off to kill that booty.

Maybe this wouldn’t have seemed quite so awful if it weren’t for the fact that Jaqen is presented to us as the voice of reason between the two? He’s the one who brings Arya back to the temple, he’s the one who grants her the eyes, he’s the one who gives her another chance, he’s even the one who after the killy-conclusion of their confrontation, gives Arya a bizarre Nod of Approval. Fighting is for the women, reconciliation is for the men.

Add to this the weird rivalry within the theater troupe, where the Sansa actor was very clearly the one who hired the Faceless Men to kill Lady Crane because jealousy, and Lady Crane in turn mutilated her.

What makes this worse is that I almost was won over by the positive interaction with Lady Crane and Arya because that’s how lacking it is on this show, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by Crane’s disturbing trait of stabbing ex-lovers and then, of course, her graphic Shock™ death, demonstrating that positive female interaction on this show is only to tug at the heartstrings.

But whatever, we can tell Arya is a badass because she pops in to murder people in season finales with inexplicably honed skills that we were never shown before. What were we shown instead?

Brienne is another character that you can tell is meant to be a Certifiable Badass because she like, carries a sword or something? And it was nifty of her to save Sansa and Theon from the disappearing hounds when she magically realized that they must have left Winterfell.

However past that, we were treated to another season of her failing at her mission. What was the point of her going to Riverrun, exactly? For a fanservice moment with Jaime that was immediately followed by the scene of him declaring his undying love to Cersei? Brienne failed to secure the Tully army, and failed to even convince Brynden Blackfish to personally help out his niece.

The killer is that with just few tweaks and this show could be so good. Tumblr user “turtle-paced” pointed out in her review of “No One” how easily Brienne’s exchange with Blackfish could have been altered to A.) make us feel that Brienne is more than just a convenient sword, and B.) actually make us feel like this show is more than a series of discrete moments of random shocks:

“Hey, remember when Catelyn dragged Brienne out of a perilous situation saying “fight for the living, not the dead”? Neither do I, it didn’t happen in the show. What show!Catelyn did say in that situation was “you can’t avenge Renly if you’re dead” which seems like advice that’s at least analogous to what’s going on here. Isn’t it neat that the adaptation made the space for a parallel where the beneficiary of that advice has a chance to pay it back to her dead advisor’s kin – oh. No. Brynden got killed offscreen.”

Someone, oh someone, please explain to me how Brienne is supposed to be remotely interesting or empowering? She stalks around killing the people the plot requires her to kill and failing at everything else. Sometimes she gets hit on by Tormund as a joke.

I think our last of the Badasses™ is Yara.

She’s at least supposed to be battle-hardened and stuff, right? And here’s the thing: I was really close to being won over by her after “Home,” when she yelled at her dad about the futility of the reaving lifestyle and later seemed to want to be Queen not just because it was her duty, but because she felt she could elicit positive change.

Then she screamed at Theon for being too traumatized to come with her (back in Season 4) and coldly yelled at him to stop crying. Then she stood passively in the background of her own goddamn queensmoot and let Theon argue everything for her. Then she screamed at him even more for his trauma because it was inconvenient to her, and told him to kill himself if he wasn’t going to be useful. Then she raped a sex slave because she apparently didn’t care about the iron price anymore, nor the concepts of slavery and consent. Then she tried to argue against Dany outlawing raping because that was the Ironborn “way of life”—the same way of life she had argued against in the episode I just praised. Then, of course, her season closed out with Theon’s Nod of Approval after she and Dany vowed to kill all those stupid men.

So am I seriously supposed to see an abuser like Yara, who also can’t seem to argue her own cases and make her own decisions without the help of her brother, as an “empowered” woman? If so, may I ask why?

Speaking of women standing quietly in a corner and being ineffectual at everything they do, there was Sansa this year. That’s right, Ms. “Boss Ass Bitch” herself, according to Sophie Turner.

Losing your voice as the plot demands is tough!

To be fair, there were a few scenes where Sansa really came out swinging. She whipped the letter from Ramsay out of Jon’s hands and read it in a cool, calm fashion. She met with Littlefinger and screamed in his face that his plan last year was stupid.

Those who voted in ballot for the Season 6 “Carol Awards” know that I often joke about the many different personalities of Sansa, but does it really need to be pointed out this assertive, in-charge, has-a-totally-accurate-reading-on-the-situation sits in complete contention with the Sansa last year who agreed to the world’s worst plan without so much as a follow-up question because of some amorphous promise of revenge?

The good news, however, is that it doesn’t overly matter because after only a few episodes of this Boss-Ass scripting, Sansa was reduced to a character who would stand quietly in a corner while other people argued her case for her. She failed to persuade Lyanna Mormont and Lord Glover to help at all (as did Jon, to be fair), then she sat quietly fuming during a war strategy session when a few episodes prior, we had seen her speak up in the exact same situation. She yelled at Jon for not calling on her, as if she was some school girl who wanted to present a report, only to claim that she didn’t know anything when he finally listened. Then why were you upset?  Plus Sansa also withheld crucial information about the Vale troops that cost some six hundred thousand of her countrymen their lives, only to be hand-waved away in the finale with an apology.

“Only a fool would trust Littlefinger. I should have told you about him, about the Knights of the Vale. I’m sorry.”

Oh. Okay then.

The one bright-spot of her scripting was that Jon fared even worse, so some critics praised her as the “smart one,” comparatively. However, this also came undone in the final episode, when every single Northern Lord forgot about her claim despite the fact that she was sitting right there. And like, this could have been so easily fixed if Sansa had been the one to argue for Jon’s kingship (also because it would have read as a middle finger to Littlefinger, and who doesn’t want that?). But no, that came from Lyanna Mormont, the 10-year-old girl with unquestioning authority who didn’t even consider the proper succession.

Sansa’s face at the end suggested that all of this was done for more tension. Once again, if she wasn’t for it, she could have spoken up. “Hey, how about a ‘Queen in the North’ instead? I’m literally Robb’s heir, and I’m the one who saved you. I’m the reason we have the support of the Vale, and my Tully connection even puts the Lords of the riverlands potentially on the table for us. My doofus brother did nothing but march everyone into a trap that I warned him about.” Wait, did her voice stop working during this scene again?

Literally the only proactive thing Sansa did this season was write a letter begging help that she had already turned down from the dude who sold her to her rapist. And then afterwards when Littlefinger told her he wanted to marry her and co-rule Westeros, she called it a “pretty picture.”

I should point out that I am purposely going to save discussing the full implications of Sansa’s arc with Ramsay until Part 3 of this series: The Fallacy of Violence as Empowerment (or something). However, given the fact that her murder of him was most certainly framed as the climax of her arc, and given the fact that it would have made far more sense for the Vale knights’ eleventh hour save had Sansa actually remained there the whole time (this would have avoided her weird and costly refusal to tell Jon about the troops), we need to take a moment to appreciate that Sansa was in fact displaced from her book-arc for nothing more than a two-season long revenge porn. She was raped in the most illogical context possible because the rape created two seasons worth of drama.

Even if we want to pretend this was a matter of D&D prioritizing Ramsay’s story over Sansa’s (which is very telling in and of itself), there’s the issue that the most important part of Ramsay marrying “a Stark” in the books was that he had the one thing Jon was willing to break his vows over—and at a great cost, ultimately. It’s why the Northern Lords outside of Winterfell were clamoring to get there as fast as possible, champing at the bit to go to war. To save “Ned’s little girl.” The Glovers weren’t praising the Boltons; Robett Glover was in White Harbor with Wyman Manderly trying everything they can to find Rickon Stark, while Sybelle Glover sent clansmen sworn to Deepwood Motte with Stannis to march on Winterfell.

What happened in the show though? D&D replaced that Stark hostage with Rickon, who was used only as a prop to die and make us feel bad. As for Sansa having married Ramsay, Lyanna Mormont held that against her. Aside from her, not a single person in the North gave any shits. Sansa in Winterfell affected nothing in the Northern theater other than motivating Theon to have a Stark-centric “redemption” arc that was punted out the window the second they needed him to head back to the Iron Islands, and spurring Sansa to become “strong” and “hardened,” because rape needed to be her teacher. That is never forgivable, and that is never feminist.

Hey, this is going to shock you, but you know one character who I unironically always have found feminist on this show? The character who was actually my favorite? Cersei. I mean it; this is not a bit of mine.

Now I should clarify, I 100% mean Show!Cersei here, because Book!Cersei has nothing to do with her. However, for the past few seasons, D&D have been telling a very consistent story of a woman who faces abuses, is very much shut out of power, and who sees her children fall victim to exploitative and dangerous situations. As a result, she does what she can with the recourse that she has. Arming the Faith was myopic, certainly, but by all accounts she was fooled by the High Sparrow who had been preaching tolerance and nonviolence up until that point.

You can count the “bad” things Cersei has done on this show on one-hand and have fingers left over. From Season 4 on, you would still have five.

This season continued that narrative…until it didn’t. In fact, it continued that narrative in every single episode but the last one. We saw a Cersei who was continually put upon: she couldn’t go to her daughter’s funeral because her son had found her slutshaming effective, she was barred from contributing to the Small Council, she was sent to stand in the gallery while her son delivered an announcement for the crime of being a woman… Heck, even when she “chose violence” it was because a group of armed bullies wanted to drag her out of the Keep for no discernible reason—though she really did luck out that the High Sparrow was apparently never told about this (or else why was he mystified when she didn’t come to her trial?).

And then she blew everything up and didn’t bother to check on how this might affect her son.

The weirdest part is that I seem to be one of the only people who views this as out-of-character. Because I guess her being snippy with Margaery is the same thing as her willingness to commit mass-murder, while drinking and smirking about it?

Yes, in moments of extreme stress she would talk about burning down cities to save her children, and this is probably what D&D consider “foreshadowing,” but again, saying and doing are different things. There’s simply a major disconnect between the woman who was backed into a corner and sad about it for three years, and the woman who packed the sept with C-4.

Oh and then Cersei went and turned the nun who had been in charge during her imprisonment over to Gregor Clegane, to be slowly tortured (and likely raped). Why the septa got this extra torture when the High Sparrow, who had literally ordered Cersei’s imprisonment and walk of atonement, was just blown to smithereens is anyone’s guess. I suppose we can pretend that the off-screen extraction mission to the sept (or to Margaery’s quarters…this is the same septa who was tailing her) could only handle a low-security target.

So as Cersei sat back and drank her wine, I had to sit back and see the death of the only feminist character on the dang show. Yeah, she randomly ascended to power as a result, but the entire framing of this was that she was a crazed villain. Are we supposed to be lauding the Wicked Witch of the West as a feminist icon because she had winged monkeys who answered to her? (Wicked fans, please don’t answer this.) How about Cruella de Vil? She was enterprising.

Speaking of enterprising ladies, while I have never been particularly compelled by Margaery the Sexual Manipulator, or even found her to be that good of person (did she have any ambitions in all of Season 5 beyond winning a cat fight?), I cannot deny that D&D have gone to great lengths to paint her as a savvy woman who is usually in control of the situation. Except that time last year when she inexplicably needs to summon her grandmother because she didn’t feel like bothering to try and have a conversation with Cersei about the Loras situation. Or bothering to go down to the Sept herself despite being well-loved by the people.

Yeah, no, just scream at your abuse victim…this is a much better solution.

Yes, there is the troubling fact that D&D penned Margaery to be a statutory rapist, and apparently didn’t realize it, because Tommen’s abuse is never actually addressed by the narrative. Like, you could make an argument that his suicide was that follow-up, so maybe they did understand; that Tommen was realistically penned as a young, impressionable kid who could not handle losing his abuser, and this was something that might happen as a consequence of that. Yet when you listen to D&D discuss his suicide, here’s what they have to say:

“Meanwhile, while this is happening, Tommen’s alone. This malleable, fragile, devastated child, basically is sitting there without anyone to comfort him, and if [Cersei] had been there, he wouldn’t have gone out that window. She failed him, and she alone failed him here.” —Dan Weiss

Then Benioff jumps in to talk about how Cersei’s children are the one thing that humanized her, because idealized motherhood isn’t sexist at all. But still, we are given the impression that despite their acknowledgements of Tommen’s impressionable nature, it is merely his tipsy mother to blame rather than, like, his rapist.

For this reason, when talking about Margaery as a feminist character, I’m truly at a loss. It’s great that she’s smart? But why the heck is she presented to us in a remotely positive light?

However, even ignoring that she’s accidentally a rapist (oh yay, she and Yara share in that girl power!), this season, her intellect was punted out the window too. Now, it is important to note that she’s not acting in her self-interest: her sole motivation was to save her brother from his [implied] torture. This wasn’t to improve her House’s position; this wasn’t to help her standing—it was all because Loras told her that he wanted “it” to stop, and she was going to make that happen.

This would have been fine, except the path she took to do so was utterly nonsensical. Rather than trying to even get time with her Grandmother to plan something, she immediately jumped to fake piety, selling out Loras’s claim, persuading Tommen to…establish a religious oligarchy?? (it was never made clear what this alliance meant past “the Kingsguard wear seven-pointed stars”), and despite all that, she couldn’t even get the dude out on bail. Also, she was forced to have a septa follow her around everywhere for her crime of perjury. Keep in mind that at the same time, Cersei, who was still accused of high treason, was prancing around with a reanimated corpse, crashing Small Council meetings, making out with her brother (this was still literally one of her charges), and killing Faith Militant members without anyone saying boo. Marg, honey, your deal really sucked.

Why did Margaery ask the Tyrell army to stand down when she did? Because they probably could have freed Loras right there and then. Even if we want to pretend that she truly thought the fake-piety-amorphous-Faith-union was the best path to saving her brother, you’re telling me that once she stepped out into the sunlight and saw largest army in the Seven Kingdoms, being led by her father, standing right there, it wouldn’t have maybe changed her read on the situation?

Also not to bring up the books, but in the books, just one of Mace’s bannermen marching to the city with his troops convinced the Faith to release Margaery from her prison (yay to Randyll Tarly for doing something other than being a jerk at a dinner table), when she had faced much more serious charges than her show counterpart.

Stepping back and looking at the season as a whole, Margaery was nothing more than a hapless victim. She was imprisoned for no discernable crime, and then came up with a sucky plan to save her brother that only resulted in the power of her House crippled and him mutilated. Then she blew up. And I am told that she’s a very feminist character.

We also have her grandmother, who is unquestionably the official negotiator of House Tyrell despite the patriarchy existing to punish her granddaughter and Cersei. How does she wield this power? By refusing to go to war repeatedly to save the future of her House. The only thing that eventually convinces her is the idea of Margaery also facing a Walk of Atonement. Though at least the walk would have freed her, which is more than Olenna’s plan of doing nothing involved.

Later, Margaery slips her a note that assures Olenna this piety thing is an act, and maybe also a warning, so she high-tails it out of King’s Landing. Then everyone she cares about blows up, so she decides her best course of action is to ally with a group of murderous women who just slaughtered their own House. Or maybe it was because of the possibility of an alliance with Dany? Who knows, but at least she sasses Obara for “looking like a boy” so that we know she’s empowered. And she wants revenge, which is being sold to us as empowerment too. Too bad she didn’t have this fighting spirit during a time where it might have helped anything.

While we’re in Dorne, please don’t make me rehash the awfulness that is the petty, catty Sand Snakes and Ellaria. I was confused why anyone talked about how great it was that they “took on the patriarchy,” when these women were A.) clearly presented to us in a bad light, and B.) embracing toxically patriarchal values by murdering men who didn’t mean their “strong” standards, aka out for blood and showing a refusal to make any sort of peace.

I would also prefer not to yet again dredge up my issues with how Gilly and the women of Horn Hill were penned. Yeah, it’s hard not to agree with someone yelling at Randyll Tarly. But it’s as utterly out of place and pandering as if bell hooks was zapped into Meereen to read Tyrion passages of Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. It’s not magically ~feminism~ if the actual condition of women in the established setting is ignored, or if the setting is too inconsistent for there to *be* a condition of women.

Speaking of pandering, we have Lyanna Mormont. Thanks to D&D’s insightful “Inside the Episode” commentary, we know that they thought it would simply be a “fun” scene to watch to have a 10-year-old girl be a tough negotiator. But despite intent, she actually was a bit of a joy to see on our screen. With her deeply rooted sense of authority and a refusal to be infantilized, she’s the closest thing to Arianne Martell we’ve had on this show to date. The only issue is that this is the same person who gave Stannis a middle finger because she only serves a STARK, yet then dismisses Jon and Sansa’s request for help (it’s a Snow and a Bolton, apparently), even after they tell her that Rickon [STARK] is being held hostage. She only agrees to join their cause when Davos mentions zombies. However, the next scene where she speaks, she’s shaming other Northern Lords for not joining the Starks.

But… You just…

I like the concept of Lyanna, however with her execution, it’s clear that there was no thought put into her character past “wouldn’t it be fun if…”

A similarly shallow line of thought seemed to be followed for Melisandre this season. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we revealed that she was old?” Would it? Do I really need to get into the sexist implications of sagging tits being framed as a Shocking™ moment (why was she naked in the first place?). Also why did this matter in the slightest? The only thing it seemed to influence, forgive me for suggesting, is a notable dialing back in her character’s overt displays of sexuality. She spent a good part of Season 5 sexually harassing Jon, but now that the audience knows her hot bod is an illusion, she’s desexualized?

There’s also the fact that Melisandre was pretty much shunted to the side for the entire season. It was Davos’s idea for her to resurrect Jon, and when she did so successfully, the people thought of him as a god. Why would they give two craps about the sorceress? Then she sat quietly through a war council meeting. Then she was basically off the screen. I guess it’s nifty that there is a woman with *magic powers*, but given that she only uses them when prompted by men is a bit… There’s a word for it. “Sexism.”

I’ll be perfectly honest: I almost forgot about Meera Reed this season. She uh…was sad about her brother for a scene until Leaf told her that she needed to stop it because Bran needed her. She did pretty well holding her own against zombies. She’s not not feminist, so much as she is a non-entity.

That just leaves Missandei. I’m not going to lie: I found it very refreshing and yes, feminist, when Missandei had the following exchange with Tyrion:

Missandei: How many days were you a slave?

Tyrion: Long enough to know.

Missandei: Not long enough to understand.

Unfortunately, that’s kind of it for Missandei this season. She gives public support for Tyrion’s crappy plans in front of other former slaves, and then fades to the background to be a prop for thinly veiled rape jokes, while Grey Worm is the only one who [rightfully] continues to challenge him.

Tyrion: Let’s play a game. You don’t play games, either one of you, ever

Grey Worm: Games are for children.

Missandei: My master Kraznys would sometimes make us play games.

Tyrion: There, that’s a start.

Missandei: Only the girls.

Tyrion: No, no, no. Not that. Of course not that. Innocent games. Fun games. Drinking games.

Not to mention we’re treated to at least four different scenes of Tyrion explaining some concept to Missandei and Grey Worm, be it dragon taming or drinking games, with the tone of a teacher patiently educating the inner-city kids. I *think* it’s supposed to be uncomfortable since his plans still result in the masters attacking, but at the same time it does mean that Missandei and Grey Worm are accorded almost no narrative space of their own; they’re props for that discomfort to play out. Yay.

Aaaaaand then, that’s Season 6! I gotta say, I’m looking for all these “strong women” that are propelling GoT to the status of a “feminist fable,” and I’m simply coming up short. Where are they? Can you help me locate them?

Because really, all I’m seeing are female characters written by two dudes who don’t seem to be aware of any of the sexist assumptions they’re making in the writers’ room, nor any implications that might come out of it. Why did the Waif hate Arya? Why did Theon argue for Yara at the kingsmoot? Why was Sansa’s path to empowerment told through rape (especially when that path had already been established in Season 4)?

And all I’m seeing are critics who think a woman giving an order is inherently feminist, without bothering to listen to what that order actually is.


The final part of this series the concept of “violence = empowerment,” and why this is not the pathway to a feminist narrative.

Images courtesy of HBO

Kylie is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals on a mission to slay all the tropes. She has a penchant for complex familial dynamics and is easily pleased when authors include in-depth business details.

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Sansa’s Shithole Siblings Part 1: Family Disunion

Kylie

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Welcome, welcome, welcome, to the penultimate Unabashed Book Snobbery retrospective series. As is fitting of anything penultimate, it will be shocking and titillating.

That’s right, Julie (the combined brain of Julia and Kylie) has returned after a long rest, and is thrilled to be diving back into Game of Thrones season 7, courtesy of genius showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D).

As she’s done for two seasons before, Julie has begun to rewatch the Emmy-caliber masterpiece plotline by plotline, so she can truly appreciate the dramatic satisfaction and thematic significance. Just like Rogue One! Season 7 had many great contenders, from Cheryl stalking around a giant map to Sam slopping soup. However, Julie is going to start things off with what was sure to be everyone’s most empowering plotline: Winterhell 3.0, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Conspiracy.

The Players

Julie is still committed to preventing the conflation of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones, even though she’s unsure who would be mixing these two up anymore. To ensure that there’s no confusion, she will be using her exceedingly clever nicknames, as she’s done in the past.

This season also vaguely starred:

Full explanations of these nicknames can be found in the world famous Book Snob Glossary. But for now, Julie will take you through exactly what happened in a humorous…

Part 2 of this retrospective will be the more serious analysis, for exceedingly generous definitions of serious.

Patience, Enjoy It, Revenge Can’t Be Taken In Haste

So. Just thinking over the beginning of this plotline has thrown us into an existential crisis.

Hey guys. Remember the ending of last season? You know, when Arya Todd got her revenge by empoweringly slitting Walder Filch’s throat, after baking his sons into pies and feeding them to him? We mean…with the price of meat what it is, when you get it.

Well, turns out a fortnight has passed since then, or at least we think so, since the dialogue is a bit unclear. We know this is the second feast at The Twins within a fortnight, so it’s possible it’s also the day after. But we doubt it. However, regardless of if one or fourteen days have passed, Arya Todd has been posing as Walder Filch the entire time. You see, all his sons are there, and his child-bride, and everyone’s acting like it’s business as usual.

Arya Filch (?) requests that some nice red Arbor Gold be served to the hall full of Frey sons (but not daughters, because she won’t waste wine on women), and launches into one of the weirdest toasts to date under that roof. You see, she’s like, dropping hints that she’s a Stark.

“You’re my family, the men who helped me slaughter the Starks at the Red Wedding. Yes, yes. Cheer. Brave men, all of you. Butchered a woman pregnant with her babe. Cut the throat of a mother of five. Slaughtered your guests after inviting them into your home. But you didn’t slaughter every one of the Starks.”

And as she drops these clues, the Freys begin dropping to the ground. Because that Arbor Gold Red was poisoned. POISONED!

The Filch child-bride looks reasonably freaked out that everyone she knows is dead now, and even more reasonably freaked out when Arya Todd rips off her Halloween mask to reveal the face of an eighteen-year-old woman. Give or take. “Tell them winter came for House Frey,” she says. Okay. Should she also mention how Arya was posing as Filch and probably shared her bed for two weeks also?

“Um. I have a few questions.”

Arya Todd leaves with a Smirk of Empowerment, not a single person there to stop her. For some reason.

Meanwhile, Branbot 1000 seems to be fritzing due to some bad crapware. He’s flashing to the army of the dead (and zombie giants!), while poor, gloveless Meera pulls him all the way to The Wall.

Lord Commander Edd greets them personally, because there’s nothing else he should be doing right now, and Meera tells him who they are. When Edd asks for proof, Branbot finishes his updates and informs Edd that he (Edd) was at the Fist of the First Men and Hardhome. That’s… as legitimate as having a driver’s license. Edd shrugs and says that they should be brought inside. Onion soup all around!

This brings us to Winterhell proper, where Johnny Cardboard is demonstrating why he deserves that crown he randomly got last year. He’s apparently discovered delegation, and instructs everyone to get dragonglass. Wait, has two weeks passed here too? Is it the same day? Brittany’s wig sure looks different.

He also says that they need to bone up on Winterhell’s defenses, since an army of the dead is coming. First order of business: the Wildlings will man The Wall. Beardy loves this idea, and the historical irony inherent in it, and to be honest… we kind of do too.

However, things get contentious when Jonny says everyone is going to be trained to fight—including GIRLS. Lord Glover doesn’t want to put a spear in his granddaughter’s hands (“Hey, how does she feel?” said no one ever), but it’s settled when Lyanna Mormont disparages typically female wartime roles, like provisioning the army. “Who in seven hells needs socks?” she asks, tossing a sassy look to Lord Glover. “Ima fight naked because I’m a feminist!” Everyone is convinced, because Lyanna is the ultimate bellwether lord.

Knitting is lame. We’re going to have empowered, naked soldiers!

Finally, it’s time to deal with the castles of the KARSTARKS and UMBERS. Lord Royce and his giant breastplate are miffed, so he wants to tear them down brick-by-brick. However Brittany finally speaks up, and points out that demolishing defensive strongholds that stand in between Winterhell and The Wall is really fucking stupid. “Of course they’re going to be manned by our allies,” she says. Reasonable. Giving land and castles as a reward for loyalty is a thing kings tend to do, especially when some lords marched a great distance to bail out an army from a sticky situation. The Northern Lords cheer in agreement.

However, Jonny had a different idea in mind, and completely didn’t run it past Sansa. He wanted to give the castles to the younger generations of KARSTARK and UMBER, because he knows how much their feelings would be hurt if he displaces their families from their ancestral homes. Brittany disagrees, but Jonny doubles down. The Northern Lords cheer in agreement. Brittany rolls her eyes and looks annoyed.

To be clear, they both have points, but neither the narrative nor the characters can seem to decide what they are, and Jonny only ends up being “right” because he spoke last. It’s a theme.

Speaking of thematic consistency, we almost forgot to point out one of the season’s strongest motifs: Wall Spot. It’s Batfinger’s new, designated space. He either is very fond of it, or he lost his teleporter and is permanently stuck there.

Afterwards, Jonny gets mad at Brittany for challenging his decision in front of the Northern Lords. Hey Jonny, it’s almost as if you should have talked to her before the meeting. Specifically so these kinds of things wouldn’t happen.

Brittany points out that good leaders allow themselves to be challenged, and it’s people like Joffrey who don’t.

Jonny: Do you think I’m Joffrey?

Looks like his hurt feelings need to take priority! Brittany soothes his ego, but then says that he has to be smarter than Ned and Robb, who both died for making stupid (but principled) mistakes. Jonny asks if that means he has to listen to her. Oh the horrors!

Yeah, babe, it might just be a lost cause.

Brittany then explains that Cheryl is still a huge fucking threat, and they can’t just have Army of the Dead blinders on, or they’ll get creamed.

Jonny: You almost sound as if you admire her.

Does she, Jonny? Is that how you admire people? Does this mean he admires Shogun, cause he never shuts up about that threat.

Meanwhile, Brienne the Brute trains Pod ineffectively, while Tormund continues to creep on her. Haha.

Brittany watches from the gallery above, when Batfinger schmoozes on up. Brittany has NO patience for him today, and asks what he wants in an exasperated tone. When he says his usual Batfinger idiocy, she shuts him down, even outright saying:

“No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish. I’ll assume it was something clever.”

Jeeze. Why is this guy even alive? No really.

Brienne asks Brittany the same thing, but Brittany waves it off, saying that they need his men. It’d be a whole thing to tell the Vale Lords about Lysa’s death. Who has time for that?

He’s not *that* annoying…

An indeterminate temporal relationship to the previous scene later, Arya Todd comes across a group of Lannister soldiers in the woods on horseback and potentially still wearing Walder Filch’s clothes. One of these chaps is singing “Hands of Gold” because he just read A Clash of Kings, and looks an awful lot like a teenage heartthrob. The patriarchy is also on a questionable temporal plane of existence here, since the soldiers don’t question Arya being alone or offer to protect her, but do want to know if she’s old enough to drink wine. William Tecumseh Sherman made it in a toilet; it’s blackberry. Kylie gets unpleasant Manischewitz flashbacks.

“How’s the war?” “War is hell. Have some rabbit and sit down next to Ed Sheeran.” Maisie Williams Arya Todd seems thrilled and friendly and not at all like some kind of feral animal who has been the victim of brain trauma. Then she “jokes” about how she’s headed to Cheryl’s Landing to kill Cheryl. Everyone laughs and the scene ends. Too bad we never got Ros’s woodtime adventures on her way down to Carol’s Landing.

Us too.

You should want a détente

Back in Winterhell, Tyrion has sent a raven of great importance to Jonny, asking him to come visit Deadpan because they’re super, super nice, and also they have dragons and an army. Brittany and Jonny discuss this, while observing the co-ed archery classes. Which is probably something that happened anyway. Hawking is a thing, except for poor Tiffany Tarly.

Brittany tells Jonny that this is really stupid and dangerous, and even if Tyrion was a SUPER NICE not-rapist, this is still probably a trap. Davos pipes in with his folksy wisdom to note that fire kills wights, so dragons might be cool, but Tyrion didn’t really have much chill mentioning that army. (Oh yeah! Davos is a thing!)

Speaking of no chill, Arya Todd has arrived at the Inn at the Crossroads, everyone’s favorite hangout for coincidental meetings. She eavesdrops on the world’s most boring conversation about how it’s a good idea to go to Cheryl’s Landing now before war breaks out again, when Hot Pie spots her! She steals a pot pie from his tray, and seems to have forgotten how to use utensils. Hot Pie sit down to talk to his old friend, and she can’t be bothered to make eye contact, because she’s too busy eating like some weird feral creature.

“Um, not to be ‘that guy’ but I do have work to do…”

After sharing baking tips, they finally get into politics. Cheryl blew up the sept! Arya already knew this from being Walder Filch, we suppose. Also, this being common knowledge has no social ramifications or implications, right? However NOT common knowledge is that Jonny won the in-verse named “Battle of the Bastards” and is ruling the North as king. There’s no reason anyone would tell Walder Filch that.

Arya is shaken by this news. She tries to pay Hot Pie, still being far colder to him than she was to Ed Sheeran, but he refuses because he’s a mensch. Or thinks she’s pretty. (Or both.) We then get a shot of her debating which way to go: Cheryl’s Landing for more murders, or Winterhell to threaten the murder of her family? Oops. Spoiler.

She turns North.

Speaking of brand new information, Jonny gets a raven from Sam saying that there’s DRAGONGLASS on DRAGONSTONE.

Oh yeah, Stannis told us that already!

Jon is shaken, so he calls another meeting in the Great Hall without bothering to talk things over with his sister. We’re sure there’s no important political decisions being made this time.

You see, Jonny is so desperate to get this DRAGONGLASS that he makes the unilateral decision to go to DRAGONSTONE himself. Literally everyone in the room thinks this is a terrible idea. Even Batfinger is smirking from Wall Spot about how stupid he is.

Anyway:

  1. Brittany points out this is obviously a trap, and one rather evocative of their own family’s history (riding south for Targaryen rulers doesn’t always end well, yo)
  2. The Northern Lords say he’s abandoning them
  3. They point out Robb lost his kingdom by riding south
  4. Winter is here and they kind of elected Jon on this point
  5. Jonny’s impassioned speech to counter these points is really beyond Kit Harington as an actor

The gist of what he says is: tough titties—only a king can request dragonglass from a queen. “Send an emissary,” Brittany points out.

Think of your poor, sockless soldiers!

No, no, it’s fine, because the North will be in good hands.

Brittany: Whose?

Jonny: Yours.

Boy this didn’t need to be talked about ahead of time. Everyone in the room kind of nods and accepts this. Brienne looks proud for some reason.

Batfinger is so moved by this decision that he leaves Wall Spot to find Jonny in the crypts, who’s busy saying goodbye to Sean Bean’s statue. Batfinger says (and we’re paraphrasing), “Give Tyrion my best. Your dad and I both loved Cat. Cat underestimated you. You’re the best hope for the North. I’m not your enemy. I love Brittany.”

Jonny gets full of protective paternalism and shoves Batfinger up against a wall. We kind of suspect Batfinger is into it. “Touch my sister, and I’ll kill you myself.” Cool, she’ll love that. She didn’t just ask you to stop protecting her or anything, and we’re sure sexual agency isn’t important to her at all!

Jonny then leaves with the smallest fucking retinue possible for a king, and he and Brittany exchange an awkward wave.

“Heyyyy brother”

This is…something.

What isn’t something is Arya’s next scene. Wolves surround her and her horsey in the woods. One of them is Nymeria. “Come with me!” Arya says. Nymeria turns and leaves. “That’s not you.” Let’s hope Nymeria watched Season 1 recently and got it, unlike the fandom that assumed it meant the giant fucking direwolf wasn’t, in fact, Nymeria. The end.

No Hugs for Brittany

Back in Winterhell, we see the consequence of Jonny leaving Brittany in charge: shit is actually getting done. Like…shit that really should have been getting done already.

Brittany is running around, organizing winter rations, overseeing winter armoring, and showing us the value of traditionally feminine skills during times of battle preparations. Batfinger keeps trying to get stupid advice in, like how she should be completely paranoid at all times and assume everyone is her enemy. It’s a nice trailer line, but she doesn’t seem to care.

What she does care about is the arrival of her brother, Branbot. Brittany runs down to the gate to greet him with a hug, but robots cannot love.

She then brings him to the heart tree, and in her hyper-ambition casually offers to give him her seat. He’s Father’s legal heir, after all. Bran refuses because he’s the Three Eyed Raven now. Brittany—like all of us—doesn’t know what that means. “It’s difficult to explain.” Okay then. When she presses the matter, he gives her a demonstration of his powers, by speaking about the night she was raped in a lot of detail, with a dispassionate and detached inflection. Fun!

Brittany—like all of us—gets reasonably freaked out and upset, and gets the fuck out of dodge. We’re glad this happened instead of Bran sharing the information about their family he just discovered.

Batfinger is also glad to see Bran again, and decides to just randomly give him that dagger from Season 1. You know, the one the hired assassin tried to use on Bran that quasi-started the War of Five Kings. He then delves into this awkward monologue about how the dagger reminds him of Cat stopping it, and how he’s loyal to Bran, just like Cat? We’re a bit confused, and assume this is a really inept attempt at getting on Bran’s good side, but thankfully Branbot is even less interested in it than we are. “Chaos is a ladder,” he says. What he meant was, “Shut the fuck up.”  

But he seemed so engaged

Meera then pops in to say goodbye to Bran. He can’t emote, but is like, “Thanks I guess. Crazy times.” She gets pissed at him for this complete underreaction, while he shrugs and tells her that being the Three Eyed Raven makes him not Bran anymore. “You died in that cave!” she says, tearfully leaving.

Hey. Brittany would have totally hugged Meera.

But hold your tits; Arya arrives at Winterhell and demands entrance. “That’s not you,” the guards tell her. Arya points out that she’s going to get in (and her delivery is creepy enough where this is entirely believable). So either they let her in and tell Brittany, and if she’s an imposter then the jig is up, or she’s real and they’d get in trouble for not having told Brittany. The guards find this convincing, but rather than wait for five minutes, Arya decides to recreate her Season 1 scampiness by just fucking off to the crypts.

The guards then have to tell Brittany that they lost someone claiming to be her sister, but Brittany just sighs and is like, “you tried.” Apparently she knew Arya would go to the crypts, and that’s where she finds her. Then we watch five minutes of Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner trying not to giggle as they film a scene with each other for the first time in six years.

LYLAS!

For the characters, Brittany tries to hug Arya, who is about as receptive to it as Kylie’s six-month-old niece. Use your arms, Arya. Arya gets funny about Brittany being Lady of Winterhell, but her sister doesn’t seem to care. “I remember how happy [Jonny] was to see me. When he sees you, his heart will probably stop.” That ambitious bitch! Then they allude to the trauma they suffered, before Arya makes another list joke. It just keeps on giving.

Brittany then takes Arya to see Branbot 1000, who’s recharging at the Heart Tree again. He can’t even make it one sentence without being sufficiently weird, so Brittany explains that he has visions. Then Bran confirms that Arya has a murder list. Brittany asks for a little clarification on this, but then Bran just whips out that dagger. “Wait, where did you get this?” Brittany wants to know. However neither Bran nor Arya can seem to care about this obviously weird thing for Batfinger to have given him, which is probably worth digging into. So Brittany asks these futile, but probably important questions, while her robot brother hands her murdery sister a blade.

“Can we just fucking focus for like, three seconds?”

Arya and Brittany take Bran back to the Winterhell courtyard now that he reached 100%, as Brienne and Pod watch. Pod points out that she completed her mission and will receive 50,000 XP, while Brienne argues that she didn’t really do anything. Yeah, we know.

Later, Arya asks Brienne to train her, and they duel for a few minutes while epic battle music plays. Ramin Djawadi, chill—it’s just a sparring session. Brittany looks concerned at the burned screentime.

Sneak vs. Sneak

Later, Branbot’s plugged into the Heart Tree again (he really needs to disable his background apps; this battery life is ridiculous), and sends some ravens to check out what Shogun is doing. There’s honey bunches of dead people! He then asks the maester to send out ravens, because Jonny totally needs this reminder.

Meanwhile in the Great Hall, the Northern Lords are lonely without their Jonny. They’re also a little confused why he is their king. Afterall, Brittany is here and in front of them! …Yes. This is what we were screaming at the TV screen at the end of last season. Though this seems to be less about any kind of birthright or governing capabilities, as much as it’s like dogs who are confused during their owner’s vacation since someone else is feeding them.

Lord Glover goes as far as to say that he wants her to be the queen, while Royce is all like, “we rode North for you.” This is…a fairly treasonous casual conversation. However Brittany handles it with much aplomb, saying that while she’s flattered, Jonny is their king and that’s the way of it. What an ambitious bitch! She learned from Cheryl, alright. Arya watches with stink eye.

Afterwards, Brittany vents to Arya about how she warned Jonny this would happen. But Arya is too upset to listen because Brittany is sleeping in a bedroom befitting her rank. Also, apparently her solution to this would have been to execute Glover and Royce on the spot. That worked out great for their brother Robb, and he actually had some justification about Karstark.

When Brittany points out how fucking stupid that is, Arya accuses her of wanting the Northern Lords to like her because Jonny might get himself killed and then she’d be running everything. Yeah, this is a reasonable concern when your king sails into what could easily be a trap with only like, five other dudes.

But apparently Glover and Royce keeping their heads is a sign that Brittany may be disloyal to Jonny. That checks out.

Traitor!

Arya is so suspicious that she decides to tail Batfinger, of all people. Like, he’s around Brittany a bunch, but if Arya had checked with her sister she’d see that there wasn’t really too much being entertained there.

Batfinger is the sneakiest sneak though, as has been established in previous seasons, and he can apparently read minds. You see he KNOWS if he gets a copy of a certain raven’s scroll from the hapless maester, then Arya will be sure to be tailing him, and will find it in his bedroom. Then she’ll not question why Batfinger was digging it up, but instead jump straight to blaming Brittany for the downfall of her House.

Which is exactly what she does!

In the next episode, Arya has taken over Brittany’s favorite Observation Spot overlooking the bailey. However, there aren’t any coed archery lessons to look at; only meaningful memories. Maybe everyone is inside with coed sock knitting? Please? We’re very concerned about the soldiers’ feeties.

Brittany senses the opportunity for more bonding (or maybe she’s angling for a hug again, because she still didn’t get one), and goes up next to her. Arya then goes down Ned Stark Memory Lane (a Carol Award category!) in a monologue that’s just a click above Maisie Williams’s acting talents. You see, when she was a girl, Brittany was an asshole who liked to knit and had pretty penmanship. But Arya, because she truly loved their father, wanted to practice archery instead. So she did! And he slowclapped for her. This checks out.

“And he clapped JUST LIKE THIS”

What’s weird is that Brittany is just smiling like, “oh what a nice memory. Touching story, Arya!” But then Arya finishes on the note of, and we QUOTE, “Now he’s dead. Killed by the Lannisters. With your help.” Has she been hanging on on westeros.org boards again?

Brittany is legitimately confused by this, until Arya whips out the letter. Brittany explains the concept for duress, but Arya rejects this because she didn’t have a knife to her throat. Yikes. Brittany then points out that she was, you know, eleven and told that this is what would help their father stay alive. “And you were STUPID enough to believe them!” Which is it, Arya: is it that she was actively trying to betray your father, or that she was a young girl who didn’t understand political intrigue?

Amazingly Robb and Cat managed to wrap their minds around this in about 2 seconds.

They literally didn’t even need to read it to know what was up.

Then Arya decides to shame Brittany for wearing societally appropriate clothing to their father’s execution, even though she had thought he was going to be released. As did everyone else there, Cheryl Carol included. It’s not like she was still betrothed to the King or anything.

Brittany finally gets a little mad at these accusations, pointing out that she’s gone through hell and back for her family, and she’s the only reason they regained any kind of political power at all. Arya, apparently unmoved, tries to compare the size of her PTSD dick to Brittany’s, because this is healthy and sisterly bonding. Arya is convinced Brittany’s letter was the downfall of her house, and mentions how Lyanna Mormont would not have been so weak as to write it. So therefore, if the Northern Lords read it, they’ll think Brittany is a traitor!

To be fair, they probably are that stupid and would have that kind of overreaction to the most innocuous diplomatic letter clearly written under duress ever. Brittany understands that, so she later expresses her worries to Batfinger, since Arya ended the conversation basically saying she was going to “expose” her.

Batfinger pretends he has no clue where Arya got the letter, while Brittany worries about the “wind vane” Northern Lords, since Jon hasn’t even written in weeks, so who knows how they’re feeling about anything right now. Brittany thinks Arya would definitely betray her if she believed (for no reason) that Brittany was willing to betray Jon.

“‘Reclaim your ancestral home,’ they said. ‘It’ll be dramatically satisfying,’ they said.”

Batfinger’s solution? Lady Brienne. She’d be “honor bound to intercede” because she’s committed to protecting both Stark sisters.

We’re not sure why, but this is greatly distressing to Brittany. We guess because Brienne and Arya bonded with their epic duel, so she’s worried that Brienne would now…cut off her head or something, if Arya asked. That checks out.

But logical leaps aside, when Brittany gets invited to the Great Wight Moot of Incoherence, she insists that Brienne go as an emissary. Also, this is a legitimately good use of an emissary; why would she march her ass to Cheryl’s Landing while Cheryl is ruling? We got the feeling she didn’t enjoy being a political prisoner so much.

“Brienne, how too exciting, just when I need it. Brienne, such elegant writing, so chic you hardly can read it.”

Brienne seems very concerned, and suggests leaving Pod behind, but apparently her duel with Arya was so chummy that even he could pose a danger to Brittany at this point. At least, this is what we think is going on, but we can’t be sure. She also may be trying to protect Pod and Brienne from Batfinger’s machinations somehow, or she may be really, really concerned with having a proper emissary to this clearly important meeting that will totally have an actual function in the plot. Whatever her reasons, she basically snaps at Brienne until the Maid of Fail retreats sadly away. Bye bye! Have fun in Cheryl’s Landing!

High on that accomplishment, Brittany then decides to creep around Arya’s room, because she doesn’t want to be left out of the sneaky sneak game. FOMO is real, friends. We suspect she may be trying to locate the letter, but instead she finds a pretty nice leather messenger bag. It’s only $500 from Neiman Marcus and goes great with their battle cardigans (temporarily out of stock).

Inside the messenger bag are some halloween masks that were definitely not purchased at Neiman Marcus. Our guess is Party City.

A Carol Award winner!

“Not what you’re looking for.”

No Arya, that’s not what anyone is ever looking for. Unless they’re planning to rob a bank. For the Joker. Brittany, reasonably freaked out, asks her what these are and where she got them. “My faces.” Okay. Arya goes on to explain she got them in Braavos, training to be a Faceless Man. “What does that mean?” Brittany asks. No one knows!

Arya tells her that it means you get hit with a stick any time someone catches you lying. She offers to play this fun game with her sister, the first question being, “How do you feel about Jon being king? Is there someone else you feel should rule the North instead of him?”

We personally feel that this test really should have been calibrated with some dummy questions first, like any good polygraph. Also, Jon is a complete fucking idiot, and Kylie’s cat would be doing a better job ruling the North. So it’s kind of a Catch-22 for Brittany.

She filibusters by asking more about what the hell these faces are and how did Arya get them. Remember that time Branbot confirmed her murder list? Yeah… However, Arya soon puts her fears to rest (except not at all). You see, her murders and masks are feminist statements. Growing up, both she and Brittany wanted to be other people. Brittany wanted to be a queen (what? She was betrothed to Joffrey, so that’s not really being anyone else at all), while Arya wanted to be a knight. But in Weisseroff, little girls don’t get to choose what they are. Except when they do.

With her masks, she can be anyone. Even Brittany, with her title and pretty dresses that Arya isn’t jealous of at all. To prove this point, she points a dagger in her sister’s direction. As one does.

TFW your sister threatens to cut off your face and wear it.

With Brittany almost in tears, Arya twirls the dagger around and hands it to her. Psych! That filled us with warm tinglies.

“None of you knows the truth!”

Good news everyone, winter is actually legitimately here. So is a raven from Jonny, that tells Brittany he bent the knee to Deadpan—pass it on. Boy did Brittany really not know what she was getting into when he asked her to take care of the North for him.

She vents to Batfinger that he didn’t even ask for her opinion. We’re a little mad Batfinger is even around for this, but a) she sent away Brienne who was really her only friend, b) if she vents to any Northern or Vale Lord they’ll probably do something horribly stupid, and c) one of her siblings is a cyborg and the other just threatened to murder her. So frankly, we’d probably be chumming it up with him too.

“I wonder if the Maester is down to hang”

Batfinger doesn’t seem very surprised by this, especially since he knows what sexual tension there surely is between Jonny and Deadpan. So he just shrugs and casually suggests a coup where Brittany asks the Northern Lords to unname Jon as king. No biggie.

Brittany maybe entertains this (it’s impossible to tell), but pretty much immediately shuts it down because her absolutely crazed sister would most certainly murder her. In fact, she might just murder her anyway. Batfinger decides to ineptly stoke her paranoia more by telling her about a game of his: assume everyone has the worst motives ever, and then see how well that explains their actions.

We can’t believe it’s not confirmation bias! Batfinger would be a really successful YouTuber.

Brittany then tries it out, talking about how Arya is probably there to kill her, and then unearthed her duress letter so that she’d be able to get away with it. But the thing is, this really does explain Arya’s actions well, so the scene ends with Brittany looking distressed, and as if she knows what she needs to do. Because again…her sister is a murderer who threatened her. With more murder. And wearing her face.

This is weighing on Brittany, or perhaps some exhausting off-screen shenanigans are, so we get a scene of her on the battlements with her hood drawn up.

TFW you just came out of the HGTV department.

She sighs heavily and asks a random nearby guard to bring her sister to the Great Hall. Shit’s about to go down! Or she’s trying to bait-and-switch the guards too? It’s this kind of ambiguity that makes this show the masterpiece that it is.

In the Great Hall, Bran and Brittany sit at the High Table.

Arya: Are you sure you want to do this?

Brittany: It’s not what I want. It’s what honor demands.

Arya: And what does honor demand?

Brittany: That I defend my family from those who would harm us. That I defend the North from those who would betray us.

Arya: All right, then. Get on with it.

We imagine the Northern Lords are very confused by this exchange. Why do they think they’re there? Do they understand why Arya isn’t at the high table? Does Arya? We think the above conversation was rehearsed, but…are they trying to dramatically satisfy the Lords too?

Anyway, the surprise is that when Brittany says, “you stand accused of murder, you stand accused of treason,” she’s not actually talking to Arya…she’s talking to BATFINGER.

He can’t believe it so much that he peels himself off of Wall Spot and asks for clarification.

“Lady Sansa, forgive me; I’m a bit confused.”

So are we, Batfinger, and this is why you got a Carol nomination for meta-ness.

Brittany then explains his charges, finally telling the Vale Lords that he murdered her Aunt Lysa. Like, literally in front of her. She could have told them this three seasons ago but didn’t, for reasons. And yeah, now that we think about it, Brittany being in the Vale would have made so much more sense for so many reasons. Someone should write a book about that alternate universe.

However, she also starts whipping out some odd charges. Like, how he murdered Jon Arryn, and that time he betrayed Ned. We mean, he did, but how does anyone know that? Batfinger asks this reasonable question. The answer? With spectral evidence, of course!

Branbot 1000 tells the room all about Batfinger holding a dagger to Ned’s throat. We guess they’ve all been told about his role as the Three Eyed Raven and perfectly understand/accept it, since no one really bats an eye. We’re jealous. We also thought it was difficult to explain.

Batfinger then tries to ask why Brittany is doing this, since his love is so pure. She plays the motive game back in his face, also pointing out that his way of expressing love included selling her to her rapist, so sit the fuck down, dude. Then he asks for a defense, which apparently includes begging Lord Royce to take him away and escort him to the Vale. He refuses, probably because he rode north for Brittany, as he already said. Wait. What was Batfinger doing here at all for two seasons then?

“I am a slow learner, it’s true. But I learn.”

Oh fuck you, Benioff and Weiss. You backdialed her characterization and bent the plot into a windsor for her stupid rape/revenge plotline, and have the gall to say it’s because she’s a slow learner?

Arya then slits his throat. We mean, we should point out that he’s literally on his knees begging for his life at this point. But she just slits his throat. Brittany didn’t even pass a sentence; she just thanked him for his service in a kind of sarcastic tone. He falls to the floor and blood goes everywhere. This is why you execute people outside, damnit!

 

Honor!

Some time later, Sam shows up and bonds with Branbot. But we don’t want to bore you. It has nothing to do with this plotline. We just think it’s important to note that Branbot is legitimately happier to see him than his sisters, and thinks Sam would be more interested in Jon’s parentage than they apparently are.

Meanwhile, back up at the battlements, Brittany and Arya have their season-wrap-up-bonding-session, exactly like the one Brittany had with Jonny last season. “You did the right thing.” “No you did.” Okay, girls.

Arya points out that Brittany passed the sentence, but she literally didn’t, so we’re not sure what to make of that. Or why they’re calling attention to splitting up the sentence with the sword swinging, when Ned’s whole point was that you can’t escape consequences of decision-making as a liege lord, which is why that role needs to be coupled.

Arya acknowledges that Brittany is Lady of Winterhell now that she’s proven her willingness to kill people…or demonstrated her loyalty to her family by killing people…or something. We’d have thought bringing troops from the Vale to the “Battle of the Bastards” might have accomplished that, or even her murder of Ramsay, but hey. Lady of Winterhell.

Brittany’s touched though, and says Arya’s the strongest person she knows. She totally could have survived the trauma that Brittany experienced.

Also, she still thinks Arya is “strange and annoying.” That’s an interesting way to phrase “murderous and creepy.” Then they both quote Ned talking about lone wolves dying but packs surviving. Awww, sisters.

Finally, Bran has a vision of the Army of the Dead busting through The Wall. The end.

That was…definitely something. However fear not: we will unpack all the meaning and significance in Part 2, coming in a few days. See you then!


Images courtesy of HBO. This piece was co-written by Kylie and Julia. If you liked this, be sure to subscribe to their podcast, Unabashed Book Snobbery, where they will also make the audio accompaniment to their retrospective series available.

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Analysis

Batwoman Isn’t Built For One-Shots Or Fill-Ins

Griffin

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[Danny Elfman Theme DOES NOT Play]

Wow. Just…wow. Okay, I was already keenly aware that any solo outing for Kate needed a very strong writer to actually work. Someone who did the homework, and understood that you can’t just throw her at things and expect it all to make sense later. That’s all a given, considering how atypical a character Kate Kane became. She’s not idealized. She’s not an icon, or an immovable concept.

All of that I knew. After Batwoman #11, written by Kate Perkins* and illustrated by a criminally underused Scott Godlewski (Copperhead was great until he stopped doing the art) however, I learned something new. I learned that Kate is just not a character built for one-and-dones or fill-ins. Because that was the single worst Batwoman story I’ve read since that time she got raped by a vampire for like eight issues.

Pictured: someone who can write Kate. Not pictured: that time she got raped by a vampire for eight issues

Which, okay, not a super high bar, but it’s still worse than that abysmal hyper-goyish Batwoman “Hanukkah” story from last year’s DC Holiday Special…which was also written by Kate Perkins. She just wanted pie or something. It was bad.

Anyway, the problems Batwoman #11 has are emblematic of how this kind of story just doesn’t work for Kate. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s even a meta-textual reasoning behind all of it, too! Because of course there is; it’s Kate.

Kate’s continuity has always progressed forward since 2006, having never actually been reset or rebooted. She’s in a weird position that leaves her extremely well-characterized, but also makes it nigh impossible to write her “passably”. That is, mediocre. She’s sort of all-or-nothing just due to her own context.

This is also why cameos for her are either pitch perfect or laughably bad. For example: Kate’s brief appearances in Mother Panic and Red Hood and the Outlaws were excellent (though the latter had a weird art problem where it didn’t match the tone of the script, but that’s minimal), while her extended existence in Batgirl and the Birds of Prey was…abysmal.

More to the point, the fact that Kate has never actually stopped developing (EVEN ANDREYKO KNEW THIS AND HE IS THE WORST) means that any narrative where she’s the focal point in which it’s just “filling dead air” isn’t going to work. And no matter how you look at it, that’s exactly what Batwoman #11 was.

It was a series of beats that were hit by a writer who seems to have a very odd “blueprint” of what a Batwoman story needs to have to be a Batwoman story. Despite the fact that that’s not how any kind of story works, unless it’s supposed to be formulaic by design. Perkins seems to be under the impression that a Batwoman story is the following things:

  1. Reference Family
  2. Fuck up
  3. Relate to Larger Arc, somehow
  4. Kate blames herself and mopes

In all fairness, this is technically correct from a certain point of view. If I were to explain how to write a Batwoman story, I’d probably tell you make sure her family is somehow involved. Aside from that…you kind of need to understand who Kate is if you’re going to have her mope or blame herself.

You have literally never done this.

Uh. No. That’s the opposite of what Kate does. She doesn’t get distracted like that while working, because that’s the only time things “make sense” for her. Also, that’s not how you soldier. I don’t have an issue with her getting clocked on the head by Pyg (his Grant Morrison Weird Factor justifies quite a bit) but I do have a problem with inverted characterization. Also, hey, uh, you can’t just like drop a huge revelation like Beth used to wear glasses but Kate didn’t on us???

They’re twins. Identical twins. That’s not how this works. We have NEVER seen either of them with glasses before, and also it took me several tries to realize that the one in the pirate costume wasn’t Beth because literally every other flashback we’ve ever seen with those two had Beth be the happy one trying to cheer a mopey Kate up.

That’s sort of an important tonal through-line that Perkins wanted to subvert without realizing how confusing and inconsistent it would be? Or…got them mixed up? Or just didn’t care? I have no idea. Look, this whole issue is just one big hot mess. Julia Pennyworth, an SAS operative who unlike Kate actually is a professional soldier getting captured by Pyg and…being helpless for the entire story after being absent from this book since issue #4 is just really stupid and bad.

Kate’s inner monologue is overwritten to the point where any nuance that may have been there is drilled into the dirt. Her tattoos are, once again, missing, despite those actually being super important, and everything Kate says sounds like someone trying to do a really half-effort impression of how a good writer writes Kate.

What even is this

She still talks “weird’, but the wrong kind of weird. “Creepazoid” is very much the wrong decade, to put it lightly. And then it just sort of ends, with nothing happening or changing (since it couldn’t because it was a fill-in and that’s still the largest issue) and we’re back exactly where we were so we can slip into another flashback issue next month. Which would have been perfect right after #10, but alas that was not to be. As for why that is, why any of this exists at all, well, it’s pretty simple.

Because, uh, yeah, Perkins is gone now. Bennett is back next month, hopefully forever, but…see, here’s the thing: Bennett is about as busy as a writer in her industry can get without literally dying. Not quite Brian Michael Bendis, but y’know he was just in the hospital for like a month so…probably better that she’s not doing that.

As of this moment, she is/was concurrently writing:

  • Batwoman
  • DC Bombshells
  • Animosity
  • Animosity: The Rise
  • Animosity: Evolution
  • Sheena: Queen of the Jungle
  • InSexts
  • Josie and the Pussycats
  • At least three other things we don’t know about/I couldn’t find/I forgot about

Can you guess which one on that list can actually have a fill-in writer? It’s Batwoman and only Batwoman. Ironically, the one thing that absolutely should never have a fill-in was the only one that truly could due to how schedules work with the Big Two.

God, this is just gonna be bad in trade, huh? Ugh. I’d shoot the fail counter up by 52 or something but this isn’t Kate Kane’s fault; she doesn’t choose her writer. If she did, she sure as hell wouldn’t choose Perkins, that much I know for sure.


[*Editor’s Note: The name of the writer for this issue has been corrected from Kelly Perkins to Kate Perkins throughout.]

Images courtesy of DC Comics

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Analysis

Star Trek Voyager Tackles Historical Revisionism

David

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Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a good holiday. Today, I’d like to talk to you about a sci-fi setting near and dear to our hearts: Star…Trek. Specifically, a “message episode” of Star Trek.

A “message episode” of Star Trek is one with a particular moral applicable to modern life. The franchise has made a great deal of these sort of episodes. Many have withstood the test of time and remained good or have morals that still reverberate (Such as the Original Series episode “Day of the Dove”). Some have aged rather poorly or the message was badly told in the first place (As was the case in the Next Generation episode “The Outcast”). For me personally, there is one episode that stands head and shoulders above every other message episode. Star Trek Voyager’s season 4 episode “Living Witness”. Why this one specifically? Not only is it’s message more relevant now than ever and because it is the only one to actually acknowledge what its specific theme is: racism and Historical Revisionism.

   The Voyager Encounter

The episode opens in a way that for any other show in the series, would seem like it’s taking place in the Mirror Universe. The lighting is dim on the ship , Captain Janeway is monologuing to an alien visitor about how if diplomacy fails the only answer is overwhelming force, and worst of all…she’s wearing black gloves. During the conversation Janeway reveals that she is making a deal with the alien, who identifies his species as the Vaskan. In exchange for directions to a stable wormhole, Voyager will capture the leader of another race, the Kyrians.

As Janeway walks to the bridge, viewers see more clues that show this isn’t the normal Voyager. Neelix has a console and is wearing a uniform. Captain Janeway refers to the ship as the ‘Warship Voyager’, and the doctor is an android. What’s even worse, the Captain orders the use of Biogenic weapons against civilian targets. Clearly, something is not right here.

Just before the opening titles we see what is actually going on. The Voyager we were watching was a holographic recreation of an event that apparently happened 700 years ago. The curator of the museum (a Kyrian named Quarren) tells the people watching the recreation that “Even today, seven hundred years later, we are still feeling the impact of the Voyager Encounter.”

After the opening credits, we quickly learn through exposition that according to this museum, Voyager attacked and killed the leader of the Kyrians, a man named Tedran. Tedran’s death led to centuries of Kyrian oppression under the Vaskans. In a good line of dialogue, before resuming the simulation and showing Tedran’s death, Quarren gives the visitors a content warning, telling them that this next scene will be disturbing. And it honestly is. Captured after a brief scuffle with fully Borg Seven of Nine simulation, Janeway has him brought before her and the Vaskan ambassador. She then executes him herself.

Tedran’s murder…according to the simulation.

After the simulation ends, a Vaskan patron confronts Quarren, claiming that the story presented is inaccurate. That the Kyrians are always blaming the Vaskans for their problems. The patron is also quick to point out that he doesn’t have a problem with Kyrians. Some of his friends are Kyrian after all! It’s at this point in the episode, a little over a third of the way into it, that we start to see that theme of racism start to appear. It will remain a background element for a while though, simmering and only really making itself known near the end of the episode.

Later, after the museum closes for the night, Quarren starts working on a new Voyager artifact. He identifies it as some sort of data storage device, possibly Captain Janeway’s personal logs, but can’t seem to access it. As he pokes and prods, he realizes it that it has far too much data for it to be a simple log…and then the Doctor appears. More specifically, the Doctor’s backup.

Immediately fascinated by the Doctor, Quarren begins to question him. An actual member of Voyager’s crew! He could shed so much light on that era of history. He is a literal living witness! The Doctor, for his part, is nonplussed at discovering that it’s over seven hundred years since he was last ‘awake’, and all of his friends are dead. The Doctor becomes even more upset when he discovers he’ll be tried for war crimes. The Doctor protests his innocence claiming (truthfully) that he never created weapons of mass destruction, and that most of the information presented in the museum is inaccurate, distorted, or flat-out wrong. The Doctor demands to see the recreation of the “Voyager Encounter”. After viewing it, the Doctor, incensed, says that somewhere, hopefully on Earth, Captain Janeway is spinning in her grave.

The Doctor then tells Quarren that Tedran, far from being an innocent martyr, actually led an attack on Voyager. Now it’s Quarren’s turn to get angry, accusing the Doctor of lying to protect himself. The Doctor counters by saying that Quarren is also protecting himself…from the truth. The Doctor points out that the simulation paints Kyrians in the best possible light. He ends his thoughts with this line: “Revisionist History…it’s such a comfort”. Enraged, Quarren states flatly that his people were not the aggressors in the war, and that the oppression continues to this day. He then shuts down the Doctor’s program.

Revising Revisionism

This last scene has so much to unpack, so let’s start with the smaller stuff. As you can see, the racial issues aren’t quite front and center yet, but still remain just behind the curtain. Quarren’s anger is seemingly justified at first. How dare this…mass murderer question historical truth! But his actions do not back this up. Earlier he had told the Doctor that synthetic beings had the same rights as organics on his planet. But he still turns the Doctor off while the Doctor was speaking, as if the Doctor were just some sort of toy. And then there’s the Doctor’s line.

Historical Revisionism. It’s a phrase that conjures up images of Holocaust deniers trying to spread their conspiracy theories under the guise of ‘research’. And indeed that can be a downside of Historical Revisionism. Changing events to suit one’s own agenda, or simply viewing the events and seeing what we want to see. However, there is a positive side to Historical Revisionism. Without it, we would still view Andrew Jackson as a war hero, instead of the man who created the Trail of Tears. We would see the Spanish Conquistadors as brave explorers instead of the death knell of an entire civilization.

This sort of Historical Revisionism is hard to do, however. The majority of us don’t like having long held beliefs attacked. Of having things we’ve believed true for years suddenly becoming false. Of hearing “No. You’re wrong”. Put in this context, Quarren shutting down the Doctor becomes far more understandable, if still an awful thing to do.

When we see Quarren again, he’s dictating an entry into his log. He reflects that, perhaps their histories are wrong…after all, they thought the doctor was an android, not a hologram. And if they could be wrong about that, what else could they be wrong about? Coming to this conclusion, he reactivates the Doctor and apologizes, saying that he will not turn off the Doctor’s programming again. Quarren then asks the Doctor if they could recreate what the Doctor claims to have happened. The Doctor agrees, if only to clear Voyager’s good name.

The Doctor’s recreation starts the same way as Quarren’s, with Captain Janeway speaking to a Vaskan ambassador. But instead of plotting genocide, it’s a simple trade negotiation. Voyager will give the Vaskans medical supplies in return for fuel. As the medical supplies are being prepared for shipment, a group of Kyrians, led by Tedran, attack Voyager.

They board the engineering deck, killing three crewmen and taking Seven of Nine hostage. The Kyrians then proceed to a conference room with their hostages. Captain Janeway, The Doctor, and the Vaskan ambassador quickly follow them, with the doctor offering to lead the way since he is immune to phaser fire. They confront Tedran, who accuses Captain Janeway of plotting to destroy his people. Before Janeway can talk him down, the Vaskan ambassador shoot Tedran, killing him.

Tedran’s real killer.

In a different episode, it might have ended here, with Quarren seeing and accepting the Doctor’s version of what happened. Instead, we finally see the second issue that this episode deals with finally steps out: racism.

Some of my best friends are Kyrian!

Quarren and the Doctor show this version of events to three representatives—two Vaskan and one Kyrian. The Vaskans seem more than to accept this version of what happened. After all, this means that their ancestors weren’t the aggressors. They were simply defending themselves against Kyrian aggression. The Kyrian representative is a much harder sell, first demanding that they arrest the Doctor and then asking what proof he can offer that this really happened.

The Doctor shows them a tricorder that we had previously seen as an exhibit, confirming that this was the same one he used to examine Tedrin. If he can power it up, it’ll show that the shot that killed Tedran came from a Vaskan weapon. The Kyrian representative responds by saying that this doesn’t matter. Tedran was killed on Voyager, a victim of a conspiracy. She calls for the Doctor’s arrest again, only to have one of the Vaskan representatives overrule her. The Kyrian responds bitterly, stating that she’s just the token Kyrian for this commission. Quarren interjects, stating that the issue isn’t about race. The Kyrian representative responds bitterly stating that “It’s always about race” and then accusing the Vaskans of seizing at every opportunity to keep themselves in power. The commission departs, with no real decision reached and leaving Quarren and the Doctor to try and power up the tricorder.

This scene requires more unpacking than even the the doctor’s line about Historical  Revisionism. When I was re-watching this episode for this article, I was kind of shocked how bluntly and directly they approached this issue. To my knowledge, there was only one other episode of Star Trek ever to even use the word ‘race’  in this context. And yet, here we are. The other thing that jumped out at me was the delivery of the line by the actresses who played the Kyrian representative: bitter and resigned.

With this exchange, you get a sense of how entrenched the Vaskan oppression of the Kyrians must be. Of how hard they must have struggled to get their version of history accepted. How much harder it was to even get this museum built instead of sugar coating history. And now here comes this hologram, someone they believe to be a mass murderer who is telling them that their people deserved what happened to them. Nevermind the fact that the Doctor isn’t saying this at all, it’s what the Kyrians believe that he is saying. And perhaps worst of all, it’s what the Vaskans believe he’s saying. Finally, they can wash their hands of the guilt. The Kyrians attacked us. We were only defending ourselves. All that oppression was simply the result of your actions. They only accept the story because it makes themselves look good.

That’s not to say that the Kyrians are completely innocent in all this. After all, they want to kill the Doctor for crimes he didn’t commit. To hide the historical truth, and to continue to venerate a man who attacked a third party and killed innocent people. That neither side is exactly innocent comes across just as clearly as the racism does in this scene.

Things don’t really improve after this. Later that night, as the Doctor and Quarren work to try and get the tricorder operational, an angry mob of Vaskans storm the museum. They smash it up, angry that all the ‘history’ they learned was a lie. When I first saw this episode, I sympathized somewhat with the Vaskans. Finding out that not only are your ancestors innocent of the crime they were accused of and that the history were they were portrayed as monsters was a bald faced lie? I would have been angry too.

Now though, I see this mob for what they probably supposed to represent. Racists rioting under the guise of ‘telling the truth’, ignoring the real facts of Kyrian oppression in the present day. It reminds me of the riot in Charlottesville. The next morning, the Doctor and Quarren are picking through the rubble trying to find the tricorder, which was lost in the chaos of the previous night. Quarren tells the doctor that a race riot broke out and two people were killed. Quarren goes on to tell the Doctor that there is talk of another war brewing. The Doctor is horrified by this. He was programmed to do no harm, and now his presence is the catalyst for a planetary war. He tells Quarren that he will deny everything. “Tedran was a martyr for your people, a hero, a symbol of your struggle for freedom. Who am I to wander in seven hundred years later and take that away from you?” The Doctor asks.

The Doctor’s crisis of faith.

Quarren shows now how much he’s changed since the beginning of the episode, angrily saying “History has been abused! We keep blaming each other for what happened in the past.” He then implores the Doctor to help him. As they keep looking through the rubble, the camera pans, and we that this was another simulation, from some point even further in the future. This tour guide tells the group listening that thanks to the Doctor’s testimony, a new dialogue was opened between the Vaskans and the Kyrians. That Quarren died six years later, but he lived long enough to see the beginning of true peace between the two races. The Doctor stayed as Surgical Chancellor of the united races for years before getting a small ship and setting off for Earth, wanting to return home.

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations

As I mentioned before, this is an incredibly strong message episode of Star Trek, one of the best of Voyager, and one of my personal favorites. Everything in it, from the story to the acting, helps to hammer in the themes and moral that the episode is trying to get across. The moral is timeless, a reminder to not let your personal feelings or cause to get in the way of trying to find the truth. As for the theme of racism? In Star Trek, there is the idea of “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”, a celebration of all the variables in the universe. The idea being that we shouldn’t limit or disregard someone because of how they look, their background, or anything.

Living Witness is a reminder to respect that Infinite Diversity, and I can think of no better moral.


Images courtesy of Paramount Television

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