OK. Let’s talk about the Emmys.
Last night, Game of Thrones won 12 awards, breaking the record for the show with the most wins in one night. Among those awards, it won best drama for the first time in its history, and best director and best writer for its season finale, Mother’s Mercy.
The fact that it won for best drama this year is laughable. Even ignoring all the show’s misogyny, its changes to Sansa’s plotline simply for shock value, its overuse of rape as a plot device, its decision to burn Shireen to death so that Stannis could become a villain… even ignoring all of that, Season Five was not a well-written season. Episodes lacked flow, with the sense that we were working through a checklist of “gotta see every character for five minutes before the episode ends.” Character plotlines fell apart. Brienne spent weeks staring at a window. Myrcella lived and died with no discernible personality or characteristics. Everything was misogynistic and nothing made sense.
But the real sting comes from the wins for Mother’s Mercy. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Lena Headey’s nomination for her work in this episode, and how the power of her performance shouldn’t be dismissed because of its context. Lena Headey lost that award to Uzo Aduba — a very worthy surprise winner. But while Lena Headey lost, the writers and director who created that context of misogyny won.
This wasn’t a pointed message from the voters, but its connotations are still skin-crawling. Those who create stories about misogyny deserve commendation. The women who bring those stories to life, who have to experience those emotions and recreate that humiliation, do not.
An Emmy for the man who chose which camera angles to show Cersei’s full-frontal naked walk through the streets. An Emmy for the man who chose to have Cersei descend into shot so we could see her whole body before we saw her face, and who decided what other nudity to have in the scene. Basically, an Emmy for the gazer, the one who constructs how we see Cersei, how we see all of the story.
And an Emmy for the men who wrote the scene. The men who put the words in each character’s mouths. The ones who chose to use misogyny for shock value. Not much writing was needed for the Shame scene, since it was lifted straight from the books and was short on dialogue, but they were rewarded for the writing in the whole episode… killing Myrcella, after a season where she was given no real personality, no apparent goals, no explanations for her actions. Including the Sand Snakes as interchangeable figures where one literally says “you want the good girl, but you need the bad pussy.” Hanging Selyse in grief over her husband killing her daughter. Deciding that Stannis needed to be killed off-screen, because that would be gratuitous.
But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that this is considered Emmy-winning stuff. These days, “good drama” seems to have become interchangeable with “shocking drama,” the more painful to watch the better. And although Game of Thrones has pulled off major shocks, most notably Ned Stark’s death and the Red Wedding, a really good drama needs to inflict that shock value on women. Nothing is more award worthy than a rape story, especially one where an emotionally broken male character can win his redemption by helping the victim. Showing the screams of a young girl burning to death while her father watches is a powerful way to transform him into a villain, and that’s good TV. And a woman forced to walk naked through the streets for seven minutes of unbroken TV time while a mob screams misogynistic abuse has the triple threat of being painful, shocking TV, being a vivid “critique of misogyny,” and providing the audience with full-frontal nudity. Thanks to our culture’s toxic mix of viewing women as delicate flowers/helpless victims while also treating them with distrust and contempt, nothing is more shocking yet somehow acceptable as seeing a woman forced to suffer, especially if she suffers for being a woman.
And nothing is more Emmy worthy than shocking an audience in a way that they can ultimately feel comfortable with — by mistreating women, erasing their stories, and calling it unpredictable, brutally realistic art.