SPOILER ALERT! After eight seasons, “Game of Thrones” finally had its last war.
USA TODAY”Game of Thrones” has a woman problem. This isn’t anything new. Against a backdrop of gratuitous female nudity and frequent rape scenes, “Thrones” has long struggled to fully define the women who play its game. It’s had trouble with the men, too (character consistency is one of the writers’ biggest weaknesses), but heading into the final episode of the TV juggernaut, its mistreatment of the women who once made the series great might just be remembered as its original sin. As we ready ourselves for 80 minutes tasked with wrapping up a huge and complex mythological world, the series’ remaining female characters (and those recently departed) have been ill-served by a mad dash to a finish line with little regard how to get there. After all the smoke has cleared, the moral of “Thrones” might be that women are just too darn crazy. Groundbreaking, I know.Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and her brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) share what appears to be their final moment before dying. (Photo: Helen Sloan, HBO)In this final season, “Thrones” has wasted Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), once its most engaging villain, giving her little screen time and an anticlimactic death. It also featured Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) expressing gratitude for enduring rape and torture; the death of Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), its only woman of color; and Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) hurried transformation into a “mad queen,” as the woman who once freed thousands of slaves became a murderer of countless innocents because her best friend died, her boyfriend/nephew rejected her and she’s angry no one loves her. Dany’s heel turn into megalomaniacal villain is one of the most controversial decisions in the whole series. Many fans felt that her choice to murder thousands came out of nowhere, and while the writers planted seeds of her so-called madness over the years, foreshadowing isn’t the same as character development. Sure, writers made her seem cruel over the years, but there has to be a reason why. Coupled with a scene in Episode 4 in which Varys (Conleth Hill) extolled Jon Snow (Kit Harington) as a leader just because he’s a Targaryen and a man, and claimed that Dany is too unstable and too strong of a woman to rule, the writers seem like trolls who rant online about “crazy” ex-girlfriends.Emilia Clarke as Daenerys in “Game of Thrones.” (Photo: HBO)Had the series taken time to make Dany’s descent to villainy a slow slide instead of an air drop from 50,000 feet, it would feel more earned and far less stereotypical. Women don’t have to be virtuous heroes to be great characters. They just have to make sense. Cersei and Sansa didn’t make much sense this year, either. The smart, diabolical Queen Cersei turned into a spluttering mess in her final episode, which was a huge disservice to one of the series’ best characters.The Cersei who destroyed the Sept of Baelor would have had an exit strategy from The Red Keep during Dany’s siege. The Cersei who almost committed suicide to save herself and her son from failure at the Blackwater never would have cried about dying in her brother/lover’s arms. The Cersei who killed Robert Baratheon with a well-placed flask of wine would never have been dense enough to think her Lannister soldiers were so loyal and strong they’d defeat a dragon.The Cersei we knew would have done more than stand still and stare off into the distance in her last hurrah. But the writers weren’t interested in Cersei making sense. In Season 8, Cersei was a glorified roadblock to Dany’s war crime. And so, in service of a hasty and ill-conceived plot, Cersei was dispatched as indiscriminately as she once eliminated her enemies. In the middle of a race to firebomb King’s Landing, the show somehow found time to get in one last turn of the screw when it came to the series’ depiction of sexual violence. Sansa has been the woman abused most often over the years. The series drew its harshest criticism for the Season 5 storyline in which she married Ramsay Bolton and suffered repeated rape and torture at his hands. To add insult to a very raw injury, in Episode 4 this season, Sansa expressed gratitude for her abuse, claiming it strengthened her. It’s an offensive, inaccurate portrayal of trauma that undervalues Sansa as a character. But the writers had to justify that rape scene somehow, right?Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann), left, and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) have both been through a lot over eight seasons. (Photo: Helen Sloan, HBO)”Thrones” is just one big missed opportunity when it comes to women. George R.R. Martin’s novels feature several complex and fascinating female characters, but many of the supporting women in the TV series have been completely wasted. The Sand Snakes were boring sex objects with whips instead of personalities. Yara (Gemma Whelan) pops up only when we need to be reminded that the Greyjoys exist. Fan-favorite Arianne Martell from the novels was cut out of the series entirely. For 73 episodes and eight seasons, “Thrones” has credited just two women, Jane Espenson and Vanessa Taylor, as writers, with four episodes between them dating back to the show’s first three seasons. Only one woman, Michelle MacLaren, has directed episodes (four of them), but not since 2014. It’s painfully clear that “Thrones” is a series created by (and in large part written for) men. Sunday’s final episode, based on photos and a teaser, seems likely to cover Dany’s “Triumph of the Will”-style conquest of Westeros and who, if anyone, among our remaining heroes will take her out. There’s time to satisfy fans dismayed by Dany’s mass murder and tie up a loose end or two, but not enough to change the series’ reputation for failing its women. We probably should have known it would disappoint back in the very first episode, in which Drogo (Jason Momoa) raped his new wife Dany, which never happened in the books. But as a TV series, the women are props for spectacle and shock just as much as the dragons and white walkers.An obsessive guide to the ‘Game of Thrones’ finale: AutoplayShow ThumbnailsShow CaptionsLast SlideNext SlideRead or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2019/05/16/game-of-thrones-hbo-never-learned-how-write-women-characters-dany-cersei-sansa-mad-queen/3666640002/