Hello, hello, hello.
If you watch Game of Thrones, then you know that we’re nearing the end of the sixth season. This one seems to be fairly divisive. There are those who have found some of the episodes to be very slow because they involved a lot of setup and little action, and don’t even get people started on the whole Dorne debacle (although at least it seems like we aren’t going to return to that shit show, so yay). Personally, I’ve enjoyed the season a lot—I rejoiced at Jon’s return and was devastated by the Hodor/”Hold the Door” reveal—but ever since the trailers for this season were released, I have been dreading one scene in particular. This past Sunday ended up being the fateful day with its episode “The Broken Man,” and let’s just say . . . I was thoroughly disappointed.
What is the occurrence that dared to stick in my craw, you’re wondering?
It was the reveal that Yara Greyjoy, older sister of Theon Grejoy and almost-queen of the Iron Islands, is a lesbian.
Before you freak out on me, no; I do not have a problem with anyone on the GLBTQA+ spectrum. I believe that sexuality is open and fluid, and we should all be able to love who we want to love without worry or fear or judgement. So this is not some bigoted argument about how I “don’t want to see that kind of thing.” Bring on your queer characters, GoT and other shows. My issue is that if you’re going to do it, do it right, and Yara’s characterization was not done right in my opinion.
So let’s talk about why it’s getting me down.My first thought was, of course, “But she was straight in the book!” I know, I know. Typical book > adaptation rhetoric. But hear me out. Asha Greyjoy (as she is named in the books) is a bad-bitch sea captain. What she might lack in looks (to her brother’s critical eye), she more than makes up for in swagger, bawdiness, and overall badassery. In a world dominated by men, she has taken up the role of the Greyjoy heir and gone above and beyond the expectations for a woman in Westeros. And her sexuality plays a big part in that.
I find Asha’s sexuality empowering. Some may think Cersei Lannister is empowering because she is constantly using her sexuality as a weapon; they’re wrong. Asha doesn’t need to use sex for power because she has actual weapons for that. She simply loves sex, and she’ll bed down any man she wants; they just better not try to make her their wifey because she is NOT having that. Big parts of her POV chapters are the fact that people expect her to get married off and that one of her regular hookups expects to be the man who wins that prize, and she is just not about that life. While her disinterest in getting married could come through by her being a lesbian, that seems like an easy way out, and I think it loses some of the complexity. Even though she’s a lesbian, people might just expect her to pull a Renly Baratheon and marry some dude for the purposes of making heirs. Being a straight woman who challenges the ideas of marriage would lead to a bigger discussion about the rules of succession (something that is already relevant considering our Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen, can no longer birth children), and that would be a fuller story to me.
Then, I can’t help but feel, based on Yara’s appearance in the show, that her sexuality kind of rewards the people who would have assumed she was a lesbian. By no stretch of the imagination do I believe that women need to “look like women” and men need to “look like men.” Do whatever you want with your look; be you! But we also can’t deny that there are people out there who associate a certain look with a certain sexuality. When those people think “lesbian,” they think a woman who is not very “feminine” and prefers to “act like a man.” And there are women who do embody that idea of a lesbian. And Yara does. But I still feel like the showrunners/writers aren’t even trying to provide better representation. Brienne of Tarth probably subverts those expectations because she’s a non-feminine woman who is attracted to men (JUST HOOK UP WITH TORMUND ALREADY! YOUR BABIES WOULD BE TALL AND FIERCE), and if we ever go back to Dorne (ugh), I’m sure no one would be surprised to find that Obara Sand’s orientation leans to the same-sex side of the spectrum. So what’s the real benefit of rewarding assumptions with Yara?
Finally, the thing that really bums me out is the fact that her sexuality feels like an afterthought. You can’t just throw a queer attribute onto a character several seasons after their introduction. I honestly can’t say that I know the best way to introduce the fact that a character is queer (because it’s not like people are “introduced” to straightness), but I know it wasn’t how “The Broken Man” did it. Yara’s “coming out” was almost horrifying to me because it essentially acted as yet another reminder of the fact that Theon was castrated by evil incarnate Ramsay Bolton.
The last time we saw Yara and Theon, they were running away from the Iron Islands in anticipation of their newly crowned uncle Euron wanting to kill them. When we return to their story, we find them and their crew in a whorehouse of sorts. There are boobs everywhere, and Theon looks visibly uncomfortable as he sits by himself in the midst of the debauchery. Then, Yara plops down at his table with a topless girl and starts making out with her. In the initial framing of this shot, Theon is in the foreground, his discomfort the clear focus. So, much in the way that people thought his reactions were taking away from Sansa’s rape in season five (which I don’t agree with there), I think the rehashing of his lack of peen is taking away from the reveal of his sister’s sexuality. To me, it just really felt like the writers shoe-horned in her sexuality as an additional foil to Theon’s missing genitalia. Not to mention some of the first words out of Yara’s mouth in this scene are teasing Theon for having “no interest” in sex anymore. Uncool, you guys.
So what I’m asking for here isn’t a straight Yara. Yes, I prefer her characterization in the books, but I think that’s because she’s actually treated like a character! Super Hubs and I were watching a GoT theory video recently, and the creator brought up a relevant point: author George R.R. Martin adjusts the frequency and length of original characters’ chapters to make way for new characters’ perspectives, and the show does not do that. It tries so hard to keep its “main player” characters at the forefront that new characters end up not being as fleshed out. As such, viewers haven’t really been given enough information about Yara to see her as three-dimensional. Some might say that means the suddenness of her sexuality shouldn’t pose any problems, but I really have to disagree. I don’t think that those in the queer community should have to take what they can get by way of a flat character who only offers the most basic idea of the community. I may not normally be super vocal with my opinions on things like this (mainly because I’m afraid of being yelled at for how aggressively neutral I tend to be), but I really feel the need to take a stand here. Demand better, fuller representation, y’all! Don’t let them try to shut you up with some sloppy character development like this!
Based on some conversations I’ve had on Facebook about this post, I think I’ve zeroed in on what I think would’ve been a better way to develop the reveal of Yara’s sexuality. What would have made me happier is if, at some point before Balon’s death, we had seen him ask Yara how she expected to truly be his heir if she “wasn’t interested” in making any heirs of her own. This is a mysterious phrase that would leave viewers wondering what exactly he means (because in my head, one or the other is walking away from the conversation, and this question is the last thing said). Then, when we finally see the scene presented in “The Broken Man,” the mystery is at least semi-solved; someone brought up a very good point that just because the only person we’ve seen her get physical with was a woman doesn’t mean she’s a lesbian. So whether she is a lesbian or bisexual or whatever, I think this scenario would’ve given me less pause about learning that. I hope that helps clarify things for you all!
So there you have it—my take on the whole thing. I really love the way Asha is represented, a fact that I’m only now remembering as I reread the series and realize how truly disappointing her show self is in comparison. I don’t mind when adaptations veer away from the source materials; there are some things that can’t be accurately portrayed in the visual medium, and there are even times when it works better by taking a slightly different approach. But in this instance, I feel let down. Perhaps you might answer in the affirmative here, but should a character’s sexuality really be used to make them seem more interesting? Should it really be treated like a prop? I have to say no.
But sound off in the comments to let me know what you think! I’d love to hear it (provided that you are respectful, of course)! Until next time. . .
May your TBR piles tower but never topple,