I have a problem: I kind of want to watch Game of Thrones again.
Not the actual show Game of Thrones, of course. I hate that show. But the imaginary Game of Thrones that I conjure up in my head, which is fun and dramatic and has these wonderful female characters that I love from the books. I really want to watch that show, especially since it now has new plotlines to offer.
This happens every year. The hiatus between seasons is long enough for me to forget how much I dislike the show, and instead imagine that it’s all the things I wanted it to be. It fades into pretty gif-sets on Tumblr, with book-related excitement filling in the gaps. And even though the show has beaten any optimism out of me at this point, I’m still curious. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time will be all Awesome Badass Moments, and not horrible misogyny and nonsensical plots.
It won’t be. Of course it won’t be. The show has almost free rein this year, and we’ve seen what happens when it invents its own plotlines. It’s the nonsensical story chaos in Dorne. It’s shock over substance. The show is capable of developing interesting characters and stories — Shae in seasons two and three, for example — but it doesn’t seem to want to make the effort these days, when pointless shock-value misogyny comes so easily.
And it seems that I’m not the only one who has a huge disconnect between my idea of Game of Thrones and the actual show. People involved in making the series seem to have a similar problem.
Take Sansa, for example. Sophie Turner has said that this season is “probably Sansa’s best yet. It’s her really coming into her own…. Viewers will finally get that storyline you’ve been craving for the past five seasons.” Which sounds great, except that we’ve heard it before. Before season five, Sophie Turner said that Sansa “tries to take command and begins to manipulate the people who are keeping her prisoner,” while the showrunners said that “she’s either going to die or survive and become stronger. She’s chosen the latter option and she’s learned from an incredibly devious teacher.”
We all know how that turned out. In fact, that quote from the showrunners was from an interview after the horrific Sansa plotline aired last year. And that same interview tells us what the writers’ priorities will be now that they can truly do whatever they like. “Sansa is a character we care about almost more than any other,” they said, as they explained why they added a plotline where Ramsay Bolton repeatedly raped her. “There was a subplot we loved from the books, but it used a character that’s not in the show.” So instead of removing it, as they did with stories like Arianne Martell’s or the Iron Islands Kingsmoot, they decided to bring in one of their “leading ladies.”
And I just want to underline that statement again: they loved this subplot from the books. Let’s be generous and say that they loved Theon’s plotline in Book 5, how he struggles to refind himself and escape from Winterfell. But if that was the case, they didn’t need to keep the Jeyne Poole plotline. They could have had almost anything else happen in Winterfell. But they loved that plotline, so it became Sansa’s big moment for the season. Her chance to “grow” into a heroism role. Because don’t doubt, even if by some miracle she doesn’t have a horrific and violent plotline this season, she’s only “earned” it by undergoing that trauma and surviving it first.
The exciting, thoughtful, well-written Game of Thrones that most of us like to hope for doesn’t really exist. It’s a wonderful lie that has somehow taken hold. The show isn’t magically going to reach its potential, because the writers don’t want it to take that direction. The shock and misogyny is what they want to sell, and so they’ll continue to do so, no matter how many times we imagine that this time will be different.