Editor’s note: The following article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 2.
Last night, HBO’s violent fantasy series Game of Thrones showed two of its female characters — the sea-faring Yara Greyjoy and vindictive widow Ellaria Sand — flirting and kissing moments before their ship gets attacked by Yara’s usurping uncle Euron (a man who looks quite hot naked, by the way).
Soon, both women began battling Euron’s bloodthirsty crew, and while their fate remains uncertain — were they killed or taken hostage? — LGBTQ fans of the show feel divided over their treatment, worried that the show will continue the long-running TV trope of “bury your gays.”
How has Game of Thrones treated bisexual and gay romance so far?
Let’s be clear: The show has given none of its characters, gay or straight, a happy ending. But thus far, the show has only fleshed out one same-sex relationship: that of would-be-king Renly Baratheon and his “Rainbow Guard” knight Loras Tyrell in Season 2 (a romance tragically cut short by the Baratheon’s murder by a magical shadow wraith).
The show’s other same-sex relationships have occurred in brief, passing moments rather full-fledged romances.
When Sand got introduced alongside her husband Oberyn Martell in Season 4, they were both implied to be bisexual, something treated as a sort of foreign decadence from the vaguely Middle Eastern shores of Dorne. They loved one another and in an open relationship, but their queerness was mostly implied rather than explicitly shown.
Comparatively, when we first met Yara in Season 2, Episode 2, her younger brother Theon unwittingly tried to feel her up during a horseback ride, something she seemed to enjoy. Then, in Season 6, Episode 7, we got to see Yara seduce a female sex-worker on her way to pledge loyalty to Daenerys “Mother of Dragons” Targaryen.
Yet again, we got a queer character, but one whose same-sex activity got treated as a passing side-moment.
Then, in last night’s episode, we found Yara and Sand sharing a small moment of queer happiness on Targaryen’s invading fleet before possibly losing their lives, leading some queer fans to complain that GOT uses “gay and bisexual trauma as a plot device, but it doesn’t ever seem willing to actually let us be fully formed people with our own agencies and in charge of our own destinies.”
Why does Game of Thrones treat its bisexual and gay characters so violently?
Culturally speaking, the show regularly dabbles in problematic misogynist, racist and homophobic tropes, mostly as a way to highlight the show’s brutal setting. While the show’s heterosexual relationships get a lot of development — the incestual relationship between Jamie and Cersie Lannister, the supportive relationship between Sam and Gilly, the violent affair between Jon Snow and Ygritte, the tragic marriage of Rob Stark and Talisa and the tense relationship between King Joffrey and Queen Margaery, to name a few— it’s partly because the fictional world of Westeros is so invested in lineage, bloodlines and heirs (that is, consequences of heterosexual coupling).
In some instances, the show has actually highlighted its queer characters’ sexuality moreso than George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones book series. Renly and Loras’ relationship, for instance, was nowhere as explicit in the books. So that’s a small but significant victory. Some fans also appreciate that the show’s same-sex encounters are acknowledged in quick, matter-of-fact moments rather than paraded in heavy-handed demonstrations of diversity.
Either way, LGBTQ fans may be disappointed if Yara and Sand get little more than a single scene, but it’s still exciting to know that two of the strongest female warriors in the series desire each other and that their passion sought to bring down a wicked monarch, even if it got engulfed by a battle at sea.