The reaction to the final season of Game of Thrones has been unprecedented and, from a certain perspective, very amusing. Someone started a petition calling the writers, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, “woefully incompetent” and demanding the entire season get a do-over. That petition is now available in four languages and has been signed by 1.2 million people which gives you an idea this isn’t just a handful of people having a bad reaction to the show. [Lots of spoilers from here on.]
Much of the upset over season 8 is focused on the arc of Daenerys, the character played by Emilia Clarke. Daenerys was a fan favorite who started with nothing but a dream to one day control the Iron Throne. Along the way, she freed a lot of slaves and talked about the need to “break the wheel.” It wasn’t entirely clear what that meant but it sounded vaguely political and revolutionary. It seems a lot of Game of Thrones fans thought that despite the generally poor treatment of women on the show, Daenerys was going to be a long-awaited fantasy-feminist moment, a sort of She Guevera with dragons.
And then came season eight. Daenerys went from being occasionally violent and unstable to being completely mad and murdering hundreds of thousands of people. It turns out “breaking the wheel” looked a lot less like Democratic Socialism and a lot more like fascism and colonialism. Moments after everyone realizes she has become a mad queen obsessed with power, she gets murdered.
This has led to a lot of anger, disappointment, and excuse-making. Last week the New Republic published a piece arguing it was the “patriarchy” which had driven Daenerys mad. Today, after the airing of the final episode, Vox has a piece decrying the “deeply regressive” conclusion which saw a man surrounded by a group of mostly male advisers ruling Westeros:
The gender gap is probably partly because there were always more men than women on Game of Thrones, and in its final chaotic season, the show actually managed to kill most of its major remaining female characters. So on one level, it’s hardly surprising that Bran’s council is mostly men.
On another level, however, it’s … more than a little disappointing. Game of Thrones was initially built on a premise of subverting established high fantasy tropes, and surely one of the most innate fantasy tropes of all involves the idea that only men are fit to rule. After a final season that saw two powerful queens reduced, respectively, to going mad and dying whimpering in a cave collapse, the show’s choice to place the future stability of Westeros on a bunch of male shoulders feels deeply regressive and thoughtless…
In its last two seasons, Game of Thrones killed off nearly all of its most active and powerful women: Olenna Tyrell, Ellaria Sand, Lyanna Mormont, Melisandre, Cersei Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen. As hard as it’s been to say goodbye to all these fascinating characters, losing them would have been less bitter had their storylines not furthered a regressive narrative. After all these women fought for — for survival, for conquest, for power, to save humanity, and/or for a better world — they all died so that Game of Thrones could ultimately establish a council of mostly white dudes sitting in rulership over Westeros.
Many of the people upset with GoT season 8 seem to be approaching it from this perspective. They wanted a progressive happy ending and they got “white dudes” in power. Of course, you could say that the white dudes were in power because the powerful women (and most of the powerful men) made a hash of things. But all the show’s left-leaning fans can see is a regressive message. Some of the show’s actors aren’t amused by the fans’ response. From Fox News:
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, [Isaac Hempstead] Wright lambasted the idea behind the viral call to action.
“It’s just absurd. I can’t even fathom it. It’s just ridiculous. (Laughs.) It’s ridiculous that people think they can just demand a different ending because they don’t like it. I have stupidly taken it quite personally, which obviously I shouldn’t. In my opinion, it’s a great ending,” he shared…
Wright isn’t the only cast member to respond to the petition directly. Jacob Anderson, who played Grey Worm on the show, called the petition “rude.”
Rude is one word for it. Another one that the media has used before in situations like this is toxic, as in toxic fandom. Remember when the Ghostbusters remake came out the director spent a lot of time complaining that critics were frustrated, male haters because of a negative reaction to the first trailer. That led to pieces like this one:
The sad truth is that sometimes fandom goes wrong, and becomes something quite toxic. In these situations, fandom seems to have a sense of entitlement, as though the fandom itself owns the concept or character. This is the kind of fandom that’s been described as broken. Ghostbusters has become one of the worst cases because fans essentially kept the brand alive during the long decades where Sony paid it no attention. Now they feel they’re owed something…
Few have been more vocal in supporting the film than Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s motion picture group. Rothman told The Hollywood Reporter:
“Everybody says I’m making the female Ghostbusters, but I say, ‘No, we’re making the funny Ghostbusters.’ Yes, it happens to be four women. It’s original. You get p***ing and moaning on the Internet — sexist comments – but, you know, f*** ’em.”
There was also a lot of criticism of the new Star Wars films and again the explanation was toxic fandom which meant male fans who didn’t like some of the progressive elements of the story. I didn’t think that was fair. The problem with Star Wars was decades of bad writing. Social justice signaling was merely a kind of bad-storytelling-cherry on top.
So here we have a very similar reaction to a major TV show. Lots of outraged fans who feel they were owed something and yet…I don’t see the media talking about “toxic fandom.” Can fans be toxic if they’re frustrated feminists? So far it seems that’s not a possibility the media is willing to consider.
Update: Kit Harrington faces off with the fans: Daenerys was always brutal, you just liked who she was killing.
Ultimately, Clarke looked back at Daenerys’ journey throughout the show, saying “It’s a very beautiful and touching ending. Hopefully, what you’ll see in that last moment as she’s dying is: There’s the vulnerability — there’s the little girl you met in Season 1. See? She’s right there. And now, she’s not there anymore… But having said all of the things I’ve just said… I stand by Daenerys. I stand by her! I can’t not.”
Harington also gave his thoughts on Jon killing Daenerys following her downward spiral, saying “I think it’s going to divide [fans]. But if you track her story all the way back, she does some terrible things. She crucifies people. She burns people alive. This has been building. So, we have to say to the audience: ‘You’re in denial about this woman as well. You knew something was wrong. You’re culpable, you cheered her on.’”