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Winter is coming -- and the women of Westeros are ready

New book discusses the role of women, fans and violence in the Game of Thrones television series

Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Fans all over the world are eagerly watching season six of the popular HBO series "Game of Thrones". The TV show is based on author George R. R. Martin's popular book series, but the TV production has now surpassed the plot of the published book series so far. This means that virtually anything could happen during this TV season.

The Winds of Winter is the sixth of seven planned books in the series, and is coming out after the sixth TV season will air. This gave the creators of the series a lot more freedom when writing this season.

Regardless, the universe of Westeros, with its strong characters and bloody power battle among the seven kingdoms is well established among the showrunners, author and, of course, the fans.

One of the central questions is: who is Jon Snow's mother? Rumor has it that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had to give their answer to the author to be allowed to bring the Song of Ice and Fire to the screen.

"This question will undoubtedly be important during season six," says Professor Anne Gjelsvik at the Department of Art and Media studies at NTNU. She is the co-author of the just-published book Women of Ice and Fire, in collaboration with nine other researchers. The book looks at the phenomenon that is Game of Thrones from several different angles.

The fans are the driving force

GoT is more than just a series of thick books and a TV show. There are computer games based on the story and characters, and the fans have created comprehensive wiki pages that are updated as the story unfolds. You can see some examples at the web pages entitled Winter is coming and A wiki of ice and fire.

Fans have created comic books, and run debate pages. There are several YouTube channels dedicated to discussing the development of the series and characters. Gjelsvik and her colleagues discuss these YouTube channels in their book.

"Game of Thrones is an enormous and unique multimedia phenomenon. It is a conglomerate of different media expressions. The universe surrounding it is so big because there's so much material. This is part of the reason for the phenomenon engaging such a large fan base," Gjelsvik says. "The phenomenon is driven by incredibly dedicated and creative fans."

Less sex and violence?

The fans may also have contributed to making the coming season less sexual and violent, Gjelsvik thinks. There has been a lot of debate, both for and against the amount of nudity, sex, abuse and violence. A number of fans, especially female fans, have found that it has become too much, and Gjelsvik think that this may affect the showrunners so that they tone down the sexualized violence this season.

"The sexual, violent universe is an integral part of the series, but HBO has gotten a lot of heat for letting it go too far. I think that the coming season will still be violent, but the nudity and violent sexual abuse will be toned down," say Gjelsvik. This is certainly what she's hoping for.

Uniquely large female universe

Anne Gjelsvik's work in the book Women of Ice and Fire is about how violence, specifically violent rape scenes, are represented differently in the books compared to how they are in the series. This leads nicely into something know as adaptation studies.

She believes that the sexualized violence seems more brutal on screen than it is in the books, because the visual medium is much more striking, and because the filmmakers make the scenes more brutal, give them more time and make them less nuanced than in writing.

Several contributors to the book have analyzed how female characters are represented as much more one-dimensional and stereotypical in the TV series than in the books.

"Something that is unique to GoT is the large universe of female roles. GoT has a lot of strong women, which makes it differ quite a bit from previous popular HBO series such as 'Sopranos' and 'The Wire'," Gjelsvik says. "This large universe of women is fantastic. We meet women who are good and bad, manipulative and powerful. Women who are mothers and women who are fighters. I think that these all of these good female roles will help expand the way women are represented, and is another important reason why the series is so popular."

But in the process of adapting the books to the screen, the women of GoT lost some of their complexity -- in the dramatized version they appear more one-dimensional and cliche.

Cheering for Arya Stark

Anne Gjelsvik's favorite character in Game of Thrones is Arya Stark, Jon Snow's half sister and a tomboy who has lost everything--her family, her place in the world. But not her fighter's determination. What will she choose to do? What will get in her way? What battles will she have to fight, and which ones will she choose to?

"She's the one I'm cheering for," Gjelsvik says.

The book and research project came about after a discussion between two film researchers with an above-average interest in the TV series: Danish Rikke Schubart, at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, and Anne Gjelsvik.

"It's a big, powerful series with a grand audiovisual feel, fantastic costumes and breathtaking landscapes. It's TV that feels like film, with a production crew of incredibly talented people at every turn. We were both obsessed with the series, but discovered that we saw and interpreted it very differently, and were interested in different elements," Gjelsvik explains.

This was the humble beginning of the book project involving researchers from seven different countries.


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