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When Big Moments Took Over: How Game Of Thrones Lost The Plot

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By Karthik Shankar

Spoiler Alert

Yet another year a Game Of Thrones finalé blew up the internet. With Jon Snow, everyone’s favourite blue eyed boy (not the White Walker kind) seemingly dead, people freaked out on Twitter and Facebook. Even actor Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, expressed her disbelief in a Twitter Q & A.

Seemingly this is what Game Of Thrones seems to be doing best lately. Like an expert troll, unexpectedly kills off a fan-favourite or employs a plot twist that upends the narrative. Most of these moments are taken verbatim from the book, so it would be unfair to blame the showrunners for these decisions.

The difference is that, in its first three seasons, the show used to be good at telegraphing the quiet before the storm. Some of the most indelible moments in the earlier seasons were dialogues between characters. The tête-à-tête between Cersei and Robert Baratheon that illuminated their loveless marriage, Brienne and Jamie’s conversation in a communal bath, or the far too cleverly veiled discussions of the empire between Varys, the scheming master of whispers and Peytr Baelish, the master of coin. The show also managed it in part this season in Cersei’s tragic storyline which ended in the distressing walk of shame.

It’s unfair to compare the show to the books since TV shows are different beasts; especially in a season which charted its own course (Stannis, Sansa and Tyrion’s plots were quite different from the books). However, the show has bested the book in the past by adding dimensions to characters who were one-note in the books, like Cersei. It’s all the more concerning then that the show seems to be simplifying its characters. Two of the show’s pivotal focal points, Jon and Danaerys, are pretty much flawless, noble, and heroic. The scene where Jon dies in the books is a culmination of many poor decisions he has made, including sending an army to fight Ramsay Bolton (thus breaking The Watch’s vow of not getting involved with the Seven Kingdoms). On the show, he comes off as the wronged hero, who just wanted to help the Wildlings. Similarly in the books, the Meereen plot exists solely for the purpose of twisting the white saviour narrative, as Daenerys realises that the system of slavery cannot be dismantled by someone who has no reading of a different culture. On the show, Daenerys is the well-intentioned queen dealing with troubled subjects.

Moreover, in the last two seasons, big moments have taken over the show. Due to Game Of Thrones’ fragmented narrative where each episode moves across several locations, each one of those have had to count and the show has followed suit by trying to make every location count. The only way to do that is to throw in a cavalcade of surprises ever so often. Unfortunately, that is a strategy that numbs viewers after a point. Not every moment has to match the Red Wedding in its boldness.

Worse is how badly the show has been paced lately. We’ve spent more time on some seemingly inconsequential plots like Arya’s training and less on more momentous ones. In just the span of an episode Stannis went from a hard-nosed military commander with a fanatical bend to someone who was willing to sacrifice the daughter he loved. The moment where Shireen was burned at the stake was powerful, but it also felt like a moment that wasn’t earned. In the next episode, Stannis’s wife kills herself and he unsuccessfully wages a battle with the Boltons. The sudden fall of Stannis is powerful in illuminating how broken Stannis is by the time Brienne gets to him. But it took some dragon-sized leaps to get to the natural culmination of his character arc.

And then there are characters like Sansa who have regressed. After displaying some steel last season at the Vale, her politically motivated marriage to the show’s inferior Joffrey, Ramsay Bolton, has seen her become a passive victim again. Her rape on their wedding night was the last straw for many viewers, considering it has repeatedly been used as a plot point on the show. The rape also represented a return to the Sansa of season 2 who was a prisoner at Kings Landing. When Theon finally escapes with her, it was hard not to stifle a yawn, considering it was a rehash of what we saw just last season when she fled Kings Landing with Littlefinger.

The biggest misfire all season has been Dorne. Despite having excellent talents like Alexander Siddig and Indira Varma on board, all the Dorne characters were poorly etched and their motivations unclear. Most of all the much touted Sand Snakes were a colossal disappointment due to a mixture of poor material and horrendous performances from the three women playing them. Keisha Castle Hughes, who plays Obara, was an Oscar nominee at the age of 14 for ‘Whale Rider’! Yet you wouldn’t know it. Even worse was Tyene, a sexual wild-child, who existed solely for the purpose of titillating Bronn and the audience. She also delivered what a line that belongs on a Game of Thrones porn parody, not the actual show itself, “You need the good girl but you want the bad pussy.” The Dorne black hole also sucked in Jamie and Bronn, two of the show’s most entertaining characters.

It might seem unfair to heap all the criticism on a show that still manages to be unlike any other on television in terms of its scale and its magnificent visuals. The Battle at Hardhome and the attack of the Harpys proved that the show can outdo the book when it comes to visual poetry, but Game Of Thrones has shown us it’s capable of more. In its first three seasons, it felt like a cohesive whole. Now it feels like an endless collection of climaxes. It’s also further exacerbated by the fact that the show seems to revel in its misanthropy. ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’ has more than its fair share of distressing events, but there’s also a strong strand of optimism that the series no longer possesses. That will hopefully change soon. Fantasy novels can be dark, but ultimately they are also about hope. Maybe that will change when one character is reborn in fire (Deus ex Melisandre anyone?). Hopefully winter has come and gone for Game Of Thrones. Can we get to spring next?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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