In advance of the finale, the internet is on fire with disappointment about season 8 of Game of Thrones. Most of my feminist friends are lamenting the sexism in the writing: from the tired tropes that have twisted Dany’s story to the tone-deaf line Sansa delivered to Sandor about her past trauma.
I need to share a thought I’ve carried with me for the last five years of watching and re-watching this show: I hate Tyrion, and I find it impossible to root for him in tonight’s finale.
I’ve never forgiven Tyrion for killing Shae. I don’t know how this isn’t talked about more. He choked a woman to death and then MINUTES LATER told Tywin that he LOVED HER. Spoiler alert: it is not possible to love someone and also choke that person to death.
We all talk about the GoT show runners being sexist for their treatment of rape, but I never hear anyone talking about the show’s representation of intimate partner violence. This disparity is maddening. Globally, over a hundred women are killed by “loved ones” every single day. Slayings by partners and ex-partners account for over half of all female homicide victims in the US. Deadly intimate partner violence is a real problem and it is a feminist issue. It’s really frustrating to me how little we talk about the way it’s portrayed in pop culture.
I rant about Tyrion killing Shae a lot, and I know all the excuses people make for him. They are flimsy! To Tyrion’s supporters: ask yourself why you’re so quick to forgive and forget about that.
Don’t get me wrong. One evil act doesn’t make someone irredeemable. An incalculable number of men are perpetrators of intimate partner violence, and I believe they can change and be better and be forgiven. The fact is, GoT has never held Tyrion accountable for Shae’s murder, and he never had a redemption arc. Shae was ‘fridged’ in the worst possible way so that Tyrion could carry around a melancholy for the rest of the show, and that’s disgusting. So gross.
Tyrion murdering Shae never made sense in the show. In the books, Shae’s affection for Tyrion is all an act, but the show runners allowed her actress, Sibel Kekilli, to bring much more dimension to the character. Their romance was real, and in the end she was in extreme danger because of it. She was trapped in the lions’ den, alone and fighting for her life. Getting into Tywin’s bed was a matter of life or death. As often as people call Tyrion “clever,” you’d think he would understand that. There’s no justification for it; it’s lazy writing that betrays how little the show runners value the humanity of their female characters.
The viral conversation surrounding GoT now is one of disappointment. It’s coming to light that many of the actors themselves are disappointed in how their stories ended in such contrived, lazy, and sometimes sexist ways. Sibel Kekilli as Shae is the OG of all that. Kekilli created this character with her performance; Shae on the page is flat and insignificant. In an interview in 2014, she told reporters that she tried to avoid filming Shae’s final scene. I wish she had been able to convince them to leave it out.
How great would it be if he had been forced to leave her behind, leaving that character’s fate open-ended? Then, he would have every reason to be frantically trying to protect the citizens of King’s Landing; he assumes the woman he loves is still in there.
I recognize that Shae isn’t anyone’s favorite character in the show and that Tyrion is, but she deserved better ending than she got and he deserved a reckoning. Kekilli’s performance deserved a better wrap-up — even George R. R. Martin agrees that her version of Shae was better than his own. Most importantly, fans who are victims of intimate partner violence deserved better than to see their experience represented this way, with the victim forgotten and the perpetrator glorified as Hand of the Queen.
Leah Hedrick is a feminist writer and writing teacher from the midwest. Her creative work has been published in Columbia Poetry Review, Manifest West Anthology, F(r)Online, and other places.