'Game of Thrones' Has Shortchanged Its Strong Female Characters, Fans Say

Scores of people are talking about Game of Thrones online ahead of its last-ever episode this Sunday, but probably not for the reasons the talent behind the HBO epic would have hoped. The show's final season has been widely considered a disappointment, and women across Twitter have been particularly vocal in sharing their dismay, claiming the show's powerful and complex female characters have been reduced to mere caricatures of their former selves.

Spoilers ahead through Episode 5 of Game of Thrones Season 8.

Conversations grew more sharply critical after last Sunday's episode, "The Bells," which saw Daenerys Targaryen burning the innocent citizens of King's Landing alive, as the walls of their city crumbled. Daenerys' sudden transformation from "Breaker of Chains" to the "Mad Queen" is just one of many examples viewers argued perpetuates a harmful message about the idea of women in power, leading some to question whether the show's creators ever truly supported female leadership at all.

For the past seven seasons, Daenerys has wanted to "break the wheel" and avoid becoming a tyrant like her father, Aerys Targaryen. When she resorted to violence, it was with the goal of protecting innocent people who could not defend themselves. Daenerys had a plan to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and along her journey focused her attention on the goodness of the people she met, all of whom repaid her in support.

But in Season 8, Daenerys quickly transformed into a power-hungry, emotional leader, who used her dragons to kill thousands of civilians without further consultation from her advisors. Fans were disappointed by what they saw as an undermining of her character development in "The Bells," as she embraced a personal vendetta over the safety of any of her own people, or her new followers.

To some fans, Dany's villainous turn seemed to conform to the old stereotype that women are too emotional to lead successfully. Others weren't impressed that one of the tipping points for her violent rage was Jon Snow's romantic rejection, which they saw as suggesting that heartbreak and hormones alone would lead a woman to ultimate insanity.

Game of Thrones fans were equally unimpressed by Episode 4's brief romance between Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister. After losing her virginity to the Kingslayer, suddenly the formidable warrior who bested The Hound in single combat was reduced to weeping in a nightgown after Jaime decided to return to Cersei. Memes circled instantly, arguing the scene implied women will do anything for an undeserving man, no matter the cost to their dignity. Brienne's heartbreak became springboard for many who claimed the women of Westeros deserved better.

Even actor Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne, has subtly hinted at being upset by the character's development in Season 8. "This character has been very impactful in my life and in the way I think about women and in the way they're portrayed in the media and the way they're treated in society," she told Entertainment Weekly. "[Playing Brienne] has challenged many of my beliefs and has been really resonate. So there were some things I didn't expect."

That wasn't the only scene that rubbed fans the wrong way in Episode 4. Talking with The Hound about her past abusive relationships, Sansa Stark claimed "Without Littlefinger and Ramsay, I would have stayed a little bird my whole life," which some viewers took to mean she was grateful that abuse and rape made her stronger. Fans and critics alike slammed the Game of Thrones writers for characterizing sexual violence in this light.

Fans haven't directed their anger about the show's treatment of it's female characters to the actors, but showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who many claim have unnecessarily rushed the final season to move on to other projects. A petition asking HBO to redo the entire last season of the show has garnered more than 600,000 signatures.

The Game of Thrones series finale airs Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET.

'Game of Thrones' Has Shortchanged Its Strong Female Characters, Fans Say | Culture