Dames rule Game of Thrones this season, but what happened to the men?

Season 6 of HBO's hit series empowered its female characters, but the character arcs of the male protagonists have been neglected

Character arcs of the male protagonists have been neglected

The gents of Game of Thrones: Running around in circles while the ladies are running the show. From L to R: Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Kit Harington as Jon Snow, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister. (HBO Canada/Bell Media)

*SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses recent events on the show Game of Thrones

When Game of Thrones outpaced George R.R. Martin's books at the beginning of Season 6, one of the first changes viewers noticed was that the dames of the Games suddenly got a lot more fierce.

There was the perpetually victimized Sansa Stark emerging as the leader of the northern armies. Yara Greyjoy emerging as a formidable leader of the Iron Islands. Arya Stark defying the Faceless Men. Daenerys's pyro-power and defeat of the slave masters. Even a scene-stealing moment with the tiny Iron Lady of House Mormont, Lyanna, all of 10 years old.

It's a welcome change. In the past, the HBO fantasy series was criticized, and rightly so, for how it treated women: from the gratuitous amount of female nudity to using rape as a character development device.

But the cost of this progress seems to have been the stagnation of the show's male characters: from the brainy ones to the brawny ones, the men have been woefully underwritten this season, to the detriment of the show's plot as a whole. 

The Tyrion travesty

Peter Dinklage's speeches as the noble-hearted and politically gifted Tyrion Lannister used to be one of Game of Thrones' biggest treats. But don't expect him to add more hardware to his Emmy and Golden Globe collection — the material the talented actor has been given this season is simply not good enough. 

Game of Thrones resident smart guy Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage, is moored in Meereen in Season 6 of HBO's Game of Thrones (HBO Canada/Bell Media)

As Tyrion is moored in Meereen, leading Daenerys' provisional government in her absence, his lines sound colloquial and not intelligent enough for the show's smartest character. His cringeworthy drinking games with Grey Worm and Missandei were perhaps meant to illustrate his status as a fish out of water in this foreign land, but they sounded more like all that boozing had finally diluted Tyrion's famous wit.

The guy whose monologue about "cousin Orson smashing beetles" was a subtle metaphor about the brutish nature of the world, was now prone to such on-the-nose comments as: "I'll miss you, Varys" or "Next time I have an idea like that, punch me in the face."

Punch me in the face, indeed.

Jaime Lannister: The character-slayer

While Tyrion's regression this season seems mostly due to some bad writing, his brother Jaime's character arc seems to have run into a cul-de-sac. He's gone through things in previous seasons that have changed him but those changes are not acknowledged in the new season. 

At the end of last season, the Kingslayer had his first moment of connection with one of his children, Myrcella, only to have her die in his arms minutes later.

Not that the loss seemed to affect him in a particularly profound way.

Jaime Lannister, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, is a knight in shining armour in Season 6 of HBO's Game of Thrones. But his character has so far been outwitted by the Faith Militant. (Helen Sloan/HBO Canada)

Upon his return to King's Landing, he's all swagger and no impact, and seems to expend no energy on building a relationship with his son Tommen, now a plaything of the Faith Militant. Asked by Edmure Tully whether he knows he's a bad person, Jaime answers: he's a Lannister, and he loves Cersei. Which is basically Season 1 Jaime. 

Jon Snow: Undead and unmotivated

We can't talk about the men of Game of Thrones without paying our respects to the great hero we lost last season: Jon Snow. As in the loveable dreamer who saw the Wildlings as fellow humans deserving of help, and had a propensity for befriending chubby outcasts. Did all those endearing traits get cast off along with his Lord Commander coat? 

To be fair, the show-runners did warn us Jon was "changed" by his resurrection. 

But apparently "changed" means equally brooding and more indecisive. After his resurrection, Jon is a shadow of his former self, all puppy eyes and crippling self-doubt as Sansa (who's commanded no armies, ever) tells him what to do. Sure, Jon is still brave, as his scenes in "Battle of the Bastards" illustrated, but what is the aim of his courage? Surely he knows that the newly fierce Sansa, who always looked down on him as a bastard, won't share Winterfell's throne with him.

Supporting male characters

And that's just the male leads. Let's look at the supporting cast of male characters, shall we?

King Tommen: Most likely to die in the King's Landing showdown between Cersei and the High Sparrow in the finale.

Jorah Mormont: Grey scale.

Theon Greyjoy: Still Reek, just in nicer outfits.

In fact, if not for Jon Snow's righteous and hilarious posse of Davos and Tormund, the return of the Hound, and the fact that Bran is now the Three-eyed Raven (though still a teenaged brat dragged around by Meera), there'd be little to look forward to in terms of where the men of Game of Thrones are heading next. 

Everyone is here for a reason

It is possible, of course, that there's a grander narrative purpose to undercutting the power of men this season: the show-runners' desire to highlight the evolution of Westeros from a land of tradition and patriarchy to a land of opportunities for all (Daenerys's "I want to break the wheel" speech, if you will).

But when the show's moves become predictable, everyone suffers. When all women are strong just by virtue of being women, then the strength of individual female characters is neither surprising nor exceptional anymore.

But of course, all the characters' fates could change on a dime, either in the season finale, or next season.

After all, this is Game of Thrones, where anything is possible. This year, character after character kept telling us "everyone is here for a reason." Here's to the show-runners figuring out what those reasons are for this season's painfully underwritten leading men.


Deana Sumanac-Johnson is a national CBC News reporter for the entertainment unit. She appears regularly on The National and CBC News radio programs, specializing in stories on music and literature/publishing. Before joining the arts unit, she was an award-winning current affairs producer for CBC News: Sunday.