Review: Game of Thrones 4:01 – “Two Swords”

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Alternatively titled Indira Varma Deserves Better, Damnit.

Ah, Game of Thrones. I’ve put up with a lot from you. From creating two female characters specifically so you could kill them off in horrific, non-canon ways — Oona Chaplin’s Talisa Maegyr/Stark and Esmé Bianco’s Ros — to general bumps in the plotting and changing character personalities, I’ve been through it all with only a dark mutter and a shake of my head.

But, I have to confess, Game of Thrones… I cringed when I saw how Prince Oberyn Martell, his lover Ellaria Sand, and the rest of the Dornish people would be portrayed.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s racism in the books, too. Lots of it. But at least Martin, on the whole, manages to steer away from fetishizing the Dornish. I can’t say the same for you, show.

From the second I saw that there were a bunch of white passing men wearing racist turbans being introduced as the Dornish, I knew I had to prepare myself. And I was right. We then meet Prince Oberyn Martell — brother to Elia Martell who, as he recounts in the one scene he honestly felt like Oberyn Martell from the books, was married to Rhaegar Targaryen, heir to the throne of Westeros — in a brothel, choosing whores for himself and his lover, Ellaria Sand.

Introducing the Red Viper of Dorne through his sexuality and fetishizing the bisexuality of both himself and Ellaria was a slap in the face. Oberyn’s actor, Pedro Pascal, is Chilean, so when Oberyn is introduced through his sexuality, the writers are reinforcing old stereotypes about Latino and Spanish men: They’re all aggressively sexual beings who will likely ignore it if you say no, as Oberyn did to the man in the brothel.

If they wanted to make the audience really know that he’s not a man to be trifled with, as I suppose the scene was meant to portray by how he stabs a Lannister in the wrist, well… the scene where he tells Tyrion “the Lannisters are not the only ones who repay their debts” was sufficient. So why the waste of time in the brothel, save for HBO trying to get in as many boobs and full frontal shots as possible within the first fifteen minutes?

(As a side note, I will never not laugh at the fact that this show wants to be taken seriously as a grim, dark, gritty affair… and yet won’t let the women be unshaved. We can handle beheadings and incest, but God forbid the women have full bushes and armpit hair!)

It’s a shame to me that they went this route with Oberyn because he’s a great character who deserves more respect and better writing. To make his sexuality the most important aspect of his character, instead of his intelligence or his deep loyalty to his family, is not only bad writing, it’s racist. And the only characters to ever be written in this way on Game of Thrones is, of course, the non-white characters.

(Indira Varma is such a good actress. Why does no one ever give her excellent roles?)

Possibly I’m more upset by this because the rest of the episode was actually good. Sansa had more than two scenes where she actually got to speak, plus the beginnings of an excellent storyline. Arya’s path towards becoming a twisted murderer is continued, though I wish they hadn’t played the triumphant music after her actions at the end of this episode. It’s not meant to be a badass thing, Arya’s storyline; it’s supposed to be a sad story of how murder and loss can turn a child into a killer. But the writers haven’t understood that from the beginning, so I can’t say I’m surprised they still don’t get it.

But besides all that, Two Swords had a good pace, and the writers waste no time in delving into the storylines that will propel the plot throughout the season. Given some slow starts to the seasons in the past, this was a welcome change.

So although Game of Thrones continues to fall into its usual failure of racism and sexism, I find myself coming back due to the overall strength of the actors, the design of the world, and the women characters. I only wish Game of Thrones loved them as much as they deserve.

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