Writer and YouTuber Lindsay Ellis has made a name for herself analysing and critiquing popular cultural media. And of course as a Game of Thrones fan, the final season could not pass her by without some warranted criticism. Across two in-depth video essays, totaling almost two hours, Ellis delivers some interesting and eye-opening commentary delivered in hilarious fashion, on HBO’s fantasy hit series, which concluded this May after eight seasons. So what are some of the take-aways from Lindsay’s analysis?
Lack of Consequences
Perhaps not a point immediately obvious to some Lindsay points out the severe lack of consequences to some characters’ actions that permeated the final two seasons. One of the core themes within Game of Thrones was the impact of consequences on characters. Characters may carry out actions which may seem noble and even heroic, but within the game of thrones, said actions would often deeply influence the direction of multiple characters and even whether they lived or died, see one Ned Stark (Sean Bean) about that one.
However, Lindsay points out in later seasons that sometimes even the most colossal actions are void of consequence. Making for epic visuals and memorable moments, but ultimately not changing the environment of the story. She uses the example of Cersei (Lena Headey) blowing up the Sept, the Westerosi equivalent of the Vatican, in the Season 6 finale.
Game of Thrones/HBO
She still becomes Queen, she faces no descent from the other lords, no revolt from the citizens of King’s Landing, no persecution from other members of the Faith Militant who may not have been present, or followers of the Faith. The incident is barely mentioned thereafter nor do we ever see the devastation of the blast. Such a scene solidifies Cersei as the villain many saw her as already, and definitely has fallout straight after. But as for Ned’s death being the catalyst for the War of the Five Kings, which was the driving force for Seasons 2 and 3, Cersei’s actions fail to have as much if any impact in the seasons after.
Sunk Cost Fallacy
The Sunk Cost Fallacy as Lindsay describes in her first video, is the practice of investing oneself in continuing certain behaviours based upon previous actions. When applied to Game of Thrones, it means that long-time fans of the series, and the books, hope that stories and their themes would have certain meanings made clear in their conclusions.
It’s ultimately the action of defending a piece of media and hoping for the best because you’ve invested and dedicated so much time, emotion and perhaps even money into this franchise, and wish to see certain storylines and character arcs concluded in a satisfying way. It is perhaps this practice Lindsay suggests that allowed many fans critical of the series once it had past the book material, to overlook problems with the writing and structure of the show, in the hopes that these problems would be addressed and resolved in good time. For many fans, it would seem that they were not.
As an outspoken female YouTuber Lindsay has been critical of female representation within pop culture, and Game of Thrones is no exception. She specifically points out a common trend in approach to writing a number of the show’s female characters. That is that the show promotes a message that in order for a woman to be strong and capable, and therefore worthy of being a Queen or even respected, she must be void of what are traditionally perceived as weaker and more female-coded emotions, such as kindness, vulnerability, compassion and empathy.
In a segment bluntly titled ‘Sansa is a Hot Mess’ Lindsay points out that Sophie Turner’s character had become unnecessarily hostile and lacking in compassion over the course of the series, ending with her being crowned Queen of the North. Not only does Lindsay state that Sansa’s hostility towards Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is completely unwarranted after the latter aided in defending Winterfell against the Army of the Dead, but she makes comparisons to Sansa’s behaviour in Season 2. During the Battle of the Blackwater, a scared teenage Sansa comforts the women and handmaidens of the Red Keep, leading them in a hymn. Compare this to her behaviour when hiding in crypts in Season 8’s The Long Night, and Sansa does little to reassure her own people.
Game of Thrones/HBO
Compassion was once one of Sansa’s greatest traits and throughout earlier seasons she learnt who was genuinely worthy of it, and when to fake it for her own advantage. This perhaps unknowingly or not connotes that in order for women to transform into admirable female characters that can hold their own, they must harden and adopt more traditionally masculine traits such as stoicism.
Many have discussed the somewhat botched execution of the show’s main characters in the final couple of seasons, and here Lindsay provides her own interpretations. In her second video, she goes in-depth into the motivations and personalities of many of the show’s most prominent and fan-favourite characters. She bemoans another core problem with the show not valuing the consequences of characters’ actions. The plot of earlier seasons was perceived as sociological, meaning that characters were impacted by huge societal constructs and institutions such as power, war, politics, wealth and slavery. In later seasons the stories were arguably psychologically-focused, emphasising the characters’ own motivations and desires, with little shown of the impact made on the world outside these great houses.
Because of this shift of focus in regards to storytelling, plot now drives the character’s actions, rather than plot growing organically from the consequences of character’s actions. Lindsay points this out as being most notable when Varys (Conleth Hill) begins to grow weary of Daenerys’ state of mind all because she looks sad and lonely at dinner. This is despite his character following and supporting her for four seasons at this point, but the show has decided particular characters need to end up at a certain destination regardless of the journey to get there.
Lindsay however does have an interesting perspective on Jaime’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) ending. She argues that Jaime’s arc was never about redemption as many state, as him being a Kingslayer was a noble heroic act. But rather his arc was about loving and caring for people outside of his family, learning to love beyond loyalty or obligation. That’s why Jaime’s ending to choose Cersei over Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) in the end is a depressing conclusion for his character.
The Theme of Power
Lindsay opens her second video summarising the works of Robert A. Caro, who analysed the behaviours of American politicians in the 20th Century. His view was that power does not necessarily corrupt, but that power reveals. Give power to a person and they will use it to their own desires, revealing what they always intended. With this in mind, the show ultimately fails in applying this to one of its biggest power players, Daenerys.
In a weak attempt to link Daenerys’ new world order in the final episode to fascist authoritarianism, Lindsay tries to break down what that means. Hilariously she pokes holes in the show’s representation of this idea, labelling Daenerys as “Super Hitler! The Hitler who could fly!” She argues that the show has already spent seasons establishing what Daenerys would do with power as she already had power before achieving the throne. Lindsay points out that fascism often targets specific individuals or groups, based on such factors as ethnicity, religion or political ideology. Daenerys’ main vendetta across the series has not been against a specific group, but rather the institution of slavery. Therefore, Lindsay argues that the problem suggested with Daenerys’ ideals is that she wants to liberate too many slaves? She’s just too woke!!
This ultimately pushes us to ask what is the point of this theme and what is the show trying to say? Is this series attempting to commentate on such themes and their meaning in 2019? Or is it merely a form of detached fantasy-based entertainment? Lindsay concludes by saying the message appears to be that believing in something too much is bad, and that believing in nothing is good, hence why a character as passive as Bran was selected King. And that that ultimately adds nothing of value to our understandings of contemporary politics and power. So… maybe Dragon Lady Not That Bad?