This essay serves to analyse and discuss the elements of quality T.V and how it applies to HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. The study will first explore the brief history of the development of television, the characteristics of quality TV and its application to Game of Thrones especially on the topics of Feminism and Gender Archetypes within the character development of two of the major women on the show, Sansa Stark and Cersei Lannister. Their character developments display strong narrative and thematic social issues that reflect the ones women face in society today.
The attitude towards television was simply seen as someway to pass the time through entertainment or something that lacks value. Early television was devised in such a way that exaggerated the commercial factor, that is, it was priming its audience for advertising. In 1988 the Writer’s Guild of America held its longest strike in History. According to CBS News, the airwaves then were filled with reruns.The strike also allowed for a change in the cultural landscape of television. To fill the time lost with shows other than repeats, networks began looking towards what was then called alternative programming. HBO and Showtime began producing shows on the opposite end of the spectrum of television which engaged in thematic complexity and reflected social issues. It then began gaining popularity and critical acclaim. According to Pearson “the 1980’s higher value of production and dense narrative rose TV standing in cultural hierarchy.
As such the 1990’s saw the significant development of television into what is now called ‘Quality TV’, with shows arising such as The X Files and HBO’s The Sopranos with its higher production value and complex thematic elements. Where traditional television was created to run ads alongside it, HBO and Showtime was subscription based, which allowed for more creative freedom. They did not have to adhere strictly to media regulations which resulted in them being able to broadcast controversial elements of television such as nudity and violence. Although the shows ratings were of importance, they placed even more importance on creative expression.
Quality TV is defined by “what it is not, it is not regular T.V”. Cardwell describes quality TV by containing “high production values”, “thematic complexities” as well as “careful characterisation” and “Higher level of engagement from the audience” combined with the exploration of contemporary political and social issues. When applying these characteristics to HBO’ Game of Thrones, it coincides with the series high production and cinematography while highlighting and commenting on social issues. Additionally, the series also uses complex and interwoven storylines, complex narratives with equally complex characters and intertextual use of literary and cinematic themes.
One of the main social issues reflected in Game of Thrones is gender, particularly with women. The genre of fantasy has a certain stereotype in its depiction of women, according to Jones. She states that “the genre depicts not only societal norms but also the chivalric standards and gender roles of medieval times, which it often emulates”. The genre often follows knights in shining amour and damsels in distress. In Game of Thrones the audience encounters a spectrum of female characters such as Cersei Lannister and Sansa Stark with a range of ages, roles and personalities. According to Jones these women become empowered and rise through their political ranks while facing various trials and tribulations that allow for character development. These developments then manifest themselves into multiple archetypes of Mother, Queen, Heroine or Anti-Heroine. The show has a key focus on the character development of the women and is entered around their transformations. Each of the aforementioned woman, when taken into consideration their position at the beginning of the series, has risen through the ranks to become powerful women. At first they were portrayed to be naive and weak. For example, Sansa was first shown to be the spoiled damsel in distress previously mentioned, and her sole dream was to marry her prince, while being blind to his violent and abusive tendencies. Her character develops from a naive and innocent child into womanhood. To the modern audience, Sansa would’ve been disagreeable in her ‘spoiled brat’ persona at the beginning of the series. She is then forced to open her eyes due to the multitude of trials she faces such as an abusive marriage with Joffrey, her forced marriage and horrifying rape with Lord Bolton she then grows into a woman who now sees the reality of her situation and the world around her and comes into the understanding of how she must change to survive. Many compare Cersei with Sansa, as they both were young naive girls who were thrown into the world of dominating men, forced to see the reality and must do what they can to survive it.
The Feminist Theory states that women in the media are constantly being portrayed as objects. Additionally, feminists have created a term used to emulate the sexual objectification of women in the media called the ‘male gaze’. The female body has always been subjected to the male gaze, especially that of a male dominating society. When analysing the female transformations, it is clearly shown that all of them have been subjected to some form objectification in the forms of physical and verbal abuse and rape. One of the strongest examples of this is the ‘Walk of Shame’ that Cersei was subjected to where she is stripped naked and forced to walk on the streets of King’s Landing for all to see. These themes are a representation of the reality that many women face today. It is shown in the series as well that it is through these issues that the women become stronger as Cersei then sets upon her revenge. Although the audience generally understands her to be malevolent character, the show develops her as a complex yet flawed character who loves her children and would do anything, even twisted things, for them. She is subjected to an arranged, loveless marriage as a political tool and is even abused by her husband early on in the series. When her husband Robert hits her he then turns to Ned Stark and says “You see what she does to me”, which translates to his excuse is Cersei provoked him. Even Sansa faces this when Joffrey hits her when is is not pleased with her actions and blames her actions instead of himself. It reflects society’s tendency to blame the women of rape and domestic abuse.
What makes Game of Thrones held in such a high regard is its ability to make the audience feel pity for hated characters and allow them to feel conflicted in their reception towards that character. The series falls under Quality TV as these female characters are striving for happiness but it is not always shown as attainable as they face more and more obstacles.The audience is more receptive towards these female characters as they make the audience reflect upon themselves and what decisions would they make if they were in the characters’ shoes ? For example, what are the lengths they would take for their own children, as Cersei did? What would it say about me as a person?
In conclusion, when applying the characteristics for Quality TV, it is abundantly clear that Game of Thrones comments on social issues, especially around the topic of feminism and gender archetypes. This series is an important media product for research as it explores social issues such as gender and power. Although Game of Thrones fall under the realm of the fantasy or medieval genres, the story it produces is not blatantly the traditional knight and damsel story the audience typically knows. The show now caters to a society who’s standards for television has changed and as such resulted in a change within the genres. The women discussed in this essay showed the audience a large spectrum of pressures that mirror and impact upon what women face today.
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