CALL FOR PROPOSALS for a new essay collection:
You Win or You Die: Performances of Gender, Death, and Power in Game of Thrones (tentative title)
Called “the world’s most popular show” by TIME magazine, Game of Thrones has changed the
landscape of serial narrative during an era hailed as the New Golden Age of TV. While an
adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy A Song of Fire and Ice, the television show has
taken on a life of its own, including creating original plotlines when the story advanced past the
books that Martin has published.
With the death of protagonist Ned Stark at the end of Season One, Game of Thrones launched
a killing spree in television: major characters die on popular shows every week now (for an
excellent analysis of this trend and a demographic breakdown of who’s getting killed off, see
https://www.vox.com/2016/6/1/11669730/tv-deaths-character-best). While many shows kill off
major characters for pure shock value, death on Game of Thrones produces seismic shifts in
power dynamics and resurrected bodies that continue to fight on in war.
War in early seasons is solidly the purview of men, but by Season Six, women are literally and
figuratively changing the battlefield, overthrowing the men who have dominated and controlled
them, and vying for thrones. For a show that’s been accused of mishandling rape, using it for
titillation and voyeurism rather than condemning it, the writers seem to be playing a different
game with female characters as the narrative rushes toward its conclusion.
The complex dynamics of how gender, death, and power are performed in Game of Thrones
warrants rigorous analysis by scholars in performance and media studies and beyond. Our
proposed anthology will be divided into overlapping sections on gender, death, power, and
Possible topics include:
– What kinds of performances of masculinity and femininity do we see in this show?
– Women as nurturers, women as vengeful assassins, women as queens
– Dany’s retinue includes two eunuchs and a dwarf, and by the time she arrives in
Westeros, none of her closest advisors are alpha males. What does this say about
gender and power?
– How does the show handle hypermasculinity?
– Jon Snow’s hair
– Sansa’s fantasies of marrying a prince, and her harsh realities
– The men who manipulate Cersei, and the way she takes her revenge
– The Sand Snakes and the trope of desert people being hypersexualized and violent
– Yara, Brienne, The Waif, and female masculinity
– Arya, marrying a nobleman, and “that’s not you”
– Gender, politics, and regionalism: how do politics and gender intersect differently north
of the wall, in Dorne, in the rest of Westeros, and across the sea?
– What’s the significance of the men of the Night’s Watch swearing a vow of chastity, and
why does Jon Snow get away with breaking it so easily? Why does Sam?
– Does the narrative critique the characters’ misogyny enough, or reify it?
– Motherhood (Cersei’s incestual children are all dead, Dany’s children are dragons)
– Sam’s gentle demeanor and academic nature
– What does the show seem to say about death, given that for so many characters, death
is not the end?
– What is the distinction between alive and not?
– What do the narrative’s rituals related to death say about its values?
– Wights as zombies
– The distinction between White Walkers and their army of wights
– The relation between those resurrected by Red Priests/Priestesses and those
resurrected by ice
– How does death often lead to new life or new dynamics of power (dragons, killer
zombies, a king)
– “In the light of the seven,” “the night is dark and full of terrors,” “what is dead may never
die,” and religion’s disposition toward death and resurrection
– Religion used to fight zombies and create them
– Arya’s list
– Supernatural and Faceless men, Three-Eyed Raven
– What’s the show’s attitude toward war and violence?
– How does the show represent war?
– How does the show braid together issues of gender, violence, power, and war?
– Endless war
– Religion used as a weapon, a justification for violence, a political tool
– White trash (Freys, Greyjoys) and inbreeding
– The dynamics of color; ethnicity and race; rehearsal of Western hegemony under a
slightly different name
– How does the show use accents to imply power and authority
– New languages–who speaks which language(s) and how does language interact with
– Low / no-tech world, pre-industrial society–does that give the show a pass on
– The above ideas relate to power within the narrative, but what about the power of this TV
show? HBO’s budgets are some of the highest per episode of any television show in
history, and GoT has influenced not only serial television but also films and novels. What
kind of cultural and industry power does the show wield?
PERFORMANCE and REPRESENTATION
– Performances of gender, sexuality, and power
– What gets performed around the show—fandom, social media, criticism, ComiCon,
cosplay, watching parties
– The performance of the actors
– How do characters perform nobility, authority, power, family?
– Theater has a powerful impact on Arya Stark–how and why?
– The show has been criticized for the way it represents: sex, love, romance, same-sex
intimacy, race, and violence. How are these criticisms apt? What do these criticisms
– What stereotypes does the show trade in, especially in conflating region, geography,
accent, class, and race?