I promise this post is not actually about Game of Thrones. But I can’t lie, and tell you the season 6 promo trailer wasn’t the final straw for this post. In the season 6 promo, we’re treated to the usual array of quick cut scenes, including one of two unidentifiable women kissing. One of them looks a lot like Sansa (some on Westeros dot org speculating one of the women is Asha/Yara); of course shortly after this realization, I remembered all the awful brothel scenes from earlier seasons, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume it’s something from there. Vomiting forever if both those speculations are correct at the same time. The main thrust is, for a brief moment, I was excited. Sansa! Alive! Maybe her happily ever after with Margery isn’t outside of the realm of possibility. But look at tv this year. It’s a trick.
(The rest of the post contains spoilers for all 3 seasons of the 100, and season 1 of the Shannara Chronicles)
When my husband starting watching the first season of The 100, he had to tell me I was hurting his feelings by making fun of it so much, because he was really enjoying it. I couldn’t help it – the first season is so CW teen angsty. (And he got his revenge with Shannara, so.) But over the past year, I’d been hearing a lot of buzz about the show. It had gotten a lot better, and what’s more, there was a canon queer relationship. Not just a side story, but the main character. The show creator was on record saying it was very important Clarke be seen as bisexual. We got this great feudal lady/handmaiden marriage-like scene. So, I caved. I skipped over season 1, and dove straight into season 2 which was, as promised, much better. A lot of it was courtesy of Clarke and Lexa – powerful women in over their heads, making tough choices. that shit is my jam.
We should have known better.
I was 2/3rds through Season 2 on Netflix when I heard. Lexa was dead, killed by a stray bullet bare minutes after having sex with Clarke.
LGBT fans of the show had been queerbaited.
Queerbaiting is when a media creator deliberately cultivates a following through promising LGBT representation in their show, and either never following through (every Sherlock fandom, ever, probably), or only if so they can pull a Bury Your Gays moment (Tara, from Buffy, and major trigger warning on that link to tvtropes for slurs, graphic image and for being fucking tvtropes). BYG is not a benign accident either, or a “just telling the story how it needs to be told”. In the early part of the 20th century, Hollywood actually put out a code to combat scandals plaguing the industry, called the Motion Picture Production code, or Hays code. Among other things banned in the code, like white slavery, interracial relationships and “ridicule of the clergy”, was “sex perversion” – queer relationships (helpfully lumped in with pedophilia and bestiality, so thanks for that, Hollywood). The Hays code was huge in how it defined – and continues to define – LGBT representation on the big and small screens. Overtly homosexual behaviour couldn’t be shown, so queerness was coded into behaviours (the “sissy” or the “predator” were two of the major ones). Later, when the code was relaxed so that you could show relationships, they still couldn’t be happy ones. Like pre-marital sex had to have consequences like STIs and unwanted pregnancy, queer sex had to be punished. Either one or both of the characters died; or one realized they were wrong and get happily married to an opposite sex spouse. In a way, portrayals became more explicitly homophobic as the Hays code faded into obscurity because it offered the opportunity to titillate viewers while also comforting heterosexual fragility.
This kind of stuff is like Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. It’s not that people can’t write stories outside that narrative; it’s just that they don’t question it. All too often, creators are high on their own farts and the mantra “It’s the story, I’m just the conduit”, without realizing that challenging ourselves to write them better makes us better writers. Why did Tara die? Why was she killed immediately after having sex with Willow? Why did Willow go on a homicidal rampage? Why did Lexa die? Rothenberg says it had to do with the actor’s departure from the show, but there are ways to write off characters without killing them. To kill them without it being meaningless, especially for a warrior commander type. To not so directly link lesbian sex with execution. Or demonic possession. Or mental illness.
The Shannara Chronicles were trash. I knew it, most of the viewers knew it. But it was very very pretty trash. It had Manu Bennett from Spartacus! And that show turned out okay! Sort of. Very early on, you see the main character Amberle’s tension with the other female lead, Eretria. Aha, they’re setting up a love triangle, but it’s not between the two women for the milquetoast blonde elf man! It’s Will and Eretria for the heart of the Princess. Amazing!
We. Should. Have. Known. BETTER.
But it’s not our fault, is it?
Yes, episode six has Eretria hitting on Amberle in the bath. Episode seven is a full-on adventure through an abandoned high school prom (don’t ask), where Eretria fusses over Amberle like an over-protective girlfriend, giving her a varsity jacket to keep her warm. When Eretria gets stuck behind, Amberle spends the next episode hollering about how they have to go back for her, they can’t leave her behind. And then… in the final episode, for no apparent reason, Eretria stays behind so Amberle and Will can have their hetero romance moment in a cave beneath a demon army before she has to go be a tree (don’t ask). Did I mention Eretria kisses Will goodbye, but not Amberle?
What hurts is that with the advent of social media, creators have never been more accessible, and they know it. Both The 100 and the Shannara Chronicles are ostensibly directed at teen audiences. Queer teens are a vulnerable population, with high suicide rates, due to experiences of homophobia and isolation. Clarke and Lexa’s relationship was one of the only things saving the 100 from getting shit-canned, and they knew it, and played to it, releasing “leaked” footage of their sex scene months before the episode aired, until it was time to act like clueless heteros:
I’m tired. And tired is still miles above the young queer women who’ve been online, feeling sick, depressed, suicidal, because yet another queer woman dies because she found some happiness. Another possibility for interesting storytelling gets pushed aside by the need for a heroine to “be a woman” before making an ultimate sacrifice. I’m tired of Game of Thrones before it even starts. We deserve better.