In response to Programming Notes…
Spoilers, of course.
Thank you, Stephen, for recapping the best episode this season of the best show on television. I’d summarize episode four as “Lucy finally lets Charlie Brown kick the football.” One of the more frustrating aspects of both the books and the show is the way in which George RR Martin lets you think there will be an actual Stark reunion — then yanks it away in often-bloody ways. It’s as if Lucy doesn’t just move the football as Charlie Brown kicks it, she decapitates him when he falls to the ground. I must confess that when Jon Snow embraced Sansa, the moment was almost worth the five-year wait.
There are two joys to watching Game of Thrones, however — the joy of the show itself and the endless amusement of reading race and gender-saturated progressive recaps. It really does boil down the most absurdly reductionist analysis. It’s bad when a man rescues a woman. It’s good when a woman rescues a man. It’s bad when a man kills a woman. It’s good when a woman kills a man. It’s good when when slaves are rescued. It’s bad when white people rescue the slaves. I get the feeling that if the show creators invented a race of dark-skinned, genocidal Amazon women, had them invade the seven kingdoms, and kill every single living male, the entire progressive internet might just melt down with joy.
In the meantime, we have to content ourselves with paragraphs like this, from The Atlantic’s weekly recap series:
Certainly, Danaerys’s final moment of triumph—having all of Vaes Dothrak fall to their knees before her (Mulan-style!)—echoes the uncomfortable white-savior undertones of season three’s “Mhysa.” But my optimistic reading of this scene is that it’s an affirmation of the way many of Game of Thrones’s female characters (Sansa, Brienne, Yara) have managed to remain more than whole in a world that still skews toward viewing them as objects. You could see Sansa and Danaerys’s utter coolness in the face of rape threats as the ultimate declaration of their superhuman spirit—a potentially fraught way of framing the experiences of those who have been sexually assaulted, as Parul Sehgal explained in The New York Times. And yet, I’ll be the first to say that I’m just happy for the perpetual victimhood of Sansa Stark to be over. Yes, we’ll have to sit through still more gang-rape threats and the humiliation and deaths of characters like Osha—such unnecessary horrors are baked into Game of Thrones’s DNA by now. But “Book of the Stranger” went a long way toward amending some of the cruel (often gendered) injustices of the past without erasing them entirely; that alone made it the standout hour of the season.
A friend of mine suggested that I should live-tweet the next episode of the show from the standpoint of an SJW — a “Social Justice Westerosi” — but it’s too easy to be fun. In the meantime I’ll just go on liking and disliking Thrones characters based on their actions and virtues. I like Danaerys not because she’s a woman but because she’s so compelling that I think Khaleesi could Make America Great Again. As for Cersei Lannister and Ramsay Bolton, my loathing is gender-blind.
Let me close with my favorite-ever strained social justice take on Game of Thrones, courtesy of Vox.
Social justice warriors, don’t you ever change.