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Does Cersei’s Walk of Shame deserve an Emmy?

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The 2015 Emmy Awards take place next week, and Lena Headey’s nomination for her portrayal of Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones Season Five has got me thinking about a slightly old topic that I haven’t written about here before — her Walk of Shame in this year’s season finale.

Lena Headey is one of the favorites to win the Best Supporting Actress Emmy this year, and it’s easy to see why. Cersei’s Walk of Shame, where she is forced to walk naked in front of an increasingly hostile crowd as punishment for her sins, is as emotionally challenging to watch as it must have been to film. But although the scene has already become a well-known part of pop culture (try walking through the streets of Dubrovnik, where this was filmed, and listen to the number of people saying “shame, shame”), it has also faced a lot of criticism.

First, the scene has been criticized for being too long and too gratuitous, adding to the show’s history of sexually exploiting its female characters. But it has also been criticized for not being gratuitous enough, or at least not gratuitous in the “right way,” with Lena Headey’s use of a body double attacked as both a lack of commitment from Headey and a “deception” to the audience.

The second criticism is probably more troubling, but the first one feeds into it, so let’s start with that. The Walk of Shame scene is seven minutes long — seven minutes of full female nudity while a crowd throws things at her, threatens her and screams insults. When considered on its own, it’s a difficult scene to watch, but not necessarily a problematic one. The extended nature of the scene drives home the brutality of it, allowing us to see every moment of Cersei’s progression from defiance to fear to being completely broken to her vowing vengeance. The show has usually (although not always) portrayed Cersei in a fairly nuanced and sympathetic light, giving her more depth than she receives in the books, and although viewers may despise her, the extended, graphic nature of her Walk of Shame is intended to invoke sympathy and horror for the misogyny that this “evil” character faces.

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Game of Thrones, Mira, and the Illusion of Choice

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A few months ago, I wrote about how much I loved the Game of Thrones game from Telltale Games. I particularly loved the female characters in the game, especially Mira, the daughter of House Forrester and handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell, who must survive the manipulative landscape of King’s Landing around the time of the Purple Wedding.

But the latest episodes have been something of a let-down. Despite the appearance of Daenerys Targareyn and lots of gasp-worthy twists, the story isn’t quite coming together.

And the major problem is the game’s neglect of Mira, its only playable female character.

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The “Rape for Empowerment” Trope

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It’s an old truth of fiction: if you want to make a female character suffer, rape her. If you want to make a male character suffer, rape a female character he cares about. And rape is pretty much the default threat in most genre or “gritty” fiction. I read mostly young adult fantasy, and almost every single one I read features at least a small throwaway scene where the protagonist is threatened in this way.

This is almost invariably treated as a terrible threat, as it should, and rape victims in the majority of stories I read are treated with great sympathy. But in the quest for Strong Female Characters, for a way to give protagonists “empowerment” plot lines, some writers have been using the rape trope in a different way, using it as the impetus for that transition from “weakness” to “strength.”

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Game of Thrones: Kill the Boy

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Kill the Boy was a relatively quiet episode of Game of Thrones, focussing on a few plotlines in satisfying detail. Compared to last week’s offering, it was radically uneventful, with very little bloodshed, but everything felt tenser, weightier, as the show dug deeper into three particular plotlines — Sansa’s, Jon Snow’s and Daenerys’ — and gave them room to breathe. (more…)

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Game of Thrones: The Sons of the Harpy

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The Sons of the Harpy was an episode with a lot of violence, and not much cohesive action. It felt like a collection of scenes that reflected on the past and prepared for the future, rather than an episode that moved things forward, and although the scenes were enjoyable in isolation, they didn’t come together in any cohesive way.

This was unfortunate, because there were some very good scenes, and some very important plot developments — they just got muddled by the episode’s segmented nature. All in all, it felt like a lot of attempt at drama, without much actually taking place.

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Game of Thrones by Telltale Games

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When I finally picked up a copy of Telltale Game’s ongoing, episodic adaptation of Game of Thrones, I was more than a little bit skeptical. Video game adaptations don’t exactly have a reputation for quality, and the last attempt at a Game of Thrones game was considered pretty terrible even without taking its lack of female characters into consideration.

But Telltale Games do things differently, in the best possible way. The game is less of an RPG and more of a visual Choose Your Own Adventure (albeit one with pretty subpar graphics), where the player gets to select dialogue options and character choices, but where the movement itself is mostly out of your hands. It’s focussed on character and plot, and not on fighting at all.

The game has several playable protagonists, all related to House Forrester, bannermen to House Stark struggling to survive after the Red Wedding. Their lord and his heir are both dead, a young boy is now in charge, and the Boltons are threatening to take everything they have left away. Through that young boy lord, a squire who survived the Red Wedding, and Margaery’s handmaid/Forrester daughter Mira, as well as a few extras later on, the game considers the different ways that characters can contribute to, or disrupt, the delicate political web, and how each of their unique positions can help or hinder House Forrester’s recovery.

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Why Sansa’s new plotline is NOT about empowerment

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This post contains spoilers for The High Sparrow and for A Dance With Dragons.

I don’t think this can be said forcefully enough: Sansa’s plotline this season is not about empowerment. It’s about the idea of empowerment being used to manipulate her, while she continues to be a victim of an incredibly dangerous situation.

Yes, there’s something intriguing about the moment she meets Roose Bolton, when she visibly hides her feelings and switches on her courtesies. And yes, there are hints of a rebellion in Sansa’s favor, especially in the servant’s comment that “the North remembers.” But she’s still a victim, still a pawn, just under a different guise.

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Game of Thrones: The House of Black and White

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In The House of Black and WhiteGame of Thrones took a sharp turn away from the books, changing or inventing material for pretty much every plotline.

The results were, unsurprisingly, hit and miss. In some cases, the show provided intriguing alternatives to the book’s plotlines, streamlining the story while staying true to its spirit. In other cases, it veered off wildly, its changes reconfirming the show’s prioritization of violence and vengeance over any “softer” characteristics.

This post contains book spoilers.

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Game of Thrones: The Wars to Come

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Game of Thrones is back! And, as far as first episodes go, this was a good one. Well-paced, enjoyable to watch, and (gasp) relatively unoffensive, the episode did an excellent job of reintroducing us to the various characters and setting up their plot-arcs for the season. Although I went into the episode feeling uncertain whether I wanted to dive into this world of high and heart-crushing disappointments again, the episode reminded me why I fell for the series in the first place.

It also reminded me of lots of reasons why it makes me want to pull my hair out in frustration, but I suppose you can’t have everything in life.

Since character plotlines are getting more and more separate and no one really dominated this episode, this review is going to be split into sections based on key characters.

This post contains book spoilers.

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