Do the Game of Thrones writers deserve Star Wars after season 8?


As Game of Thrones finishes and its showrunners move onto their next impossibly large project, we need to ask ourselves why their new job galls us so much.

Going into the final season of Game of Thrones, we always knew it was going to be tough.

It was the culmination of eight seasons of material, with characters that we have spent nearly a decade getting to know, and it all rested on the vision of two mortal men, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff.

They said before season 8 even aired that the ending wouldn’t please everyone. But after the fifth episode – “The Bells” – and the backlash its airing spawned, that appears to be something of an understatement.

In a shocking turn of events, we watched Daenerys, breaker of chains, mother of dragons, gifted pyromaniac, burn down the entirety of King’s Landing, aiming specifically for the innocents in the street, rather than an extremely vulnerable (read: flammable, think of all the wine she drinks) Cersei staring out of a windowless stone tower. It made little sense then and it makes little sense now.

It was also the final straw for many fans, who had already felt that the show was rushed, after its inexplicably swift defeat of the evilest and apparently unkillable enemy ever seen in Westeros, the Night King. He died after an hour and a half of fighting, killed by a quick shiv up the ribs (we’re paraphrasing but still).

Mistakes appeared to have been made. Characters were assassinated and showrunners were blamed. Even episode numbers were side-eyed, because why on Earth did the makers of the biggest show on television feel the need to reduce their series length as they entered the final stretch of the story? No wonder it felt rushed!

But, as we all wondered just what the heck happened to our beloved show, we were reminded that Benioff and Weiss didn’t need to worry about the reception of this final season. They already have their next project lined up: a small insignificant movie franchise called… Star Wars.

They are writing a new movie series to follow The Rise of Skywalker that will be unrelated to the saga of Rey, Luke and pals. Such a small job, for such an easy to please audience — and they had proven adept at keeping audiences happy, hadn’t they? Hadn’t they?

Many had questions. Given the mess of the final season of Game of Thrones, how come they got to move onto to another billion dollar franchise?  How was it that Benioff and Weiss, who had just one credit between them before Game of Thrones, got to be showrunners on a show as enormous as this in the first place?

And why do they keep getting invited to these massive sandboxes, when so few are ever afforded that opportunity, even when they don’t completely eradicate Jaime Lannister’s entire character development in the space of 10 minutes? Did they really deserve to make Star Wars?

However, what we maybe should ask ourselves instead is whether our problem is really with Benioff and Weiss themselves, or rather with the deep-seated inequalities of the film and television industry as a whole?

In fact, we’d argue that whether or not Benioff and Weiss are talented enough to deserve Star Wars has little to do with it (after all, Game of Thrones is the biggest show on television for a reason – Weiss and Benioff wrote 50 of the 73 episodes, they can hardly be called an inconsequential part of that success).

The real problem is that opportunities like Game of Thrones or Star Wars rarely present themselves to people who aren’t white men. Any resentment towards these specific white men, on the whole, exists because they made such obvious mistakes. Mistakes that, ironically, could have been completely avoidable had they opened the door behind them and hired writers who aren’t as likely to get the chance to lead a show as big as this on the basis of a single credit and a lucky prediction of the end.

Yes, we mean women and writers of color.

If Benioff and Weiss, who however good have reached the position of showrunner through privilege, had shown any signs of listening, or understanding to others who didn’t look like them, we might have felt less resentment at them getting another massive job.

Women, for instance, have been telling the show for years that it handles sexual violence badly. It’s not that we think it should be banned from screens, but that it shouldn’t be used as character development for men, or for shock value. It has to be followed up and handled sensitively.

But nothing was done. Even the White Walkers had an air of sexual violence in the Battle of Winterfell, whilst in all the mayhem of Daenerys burning down the capital, there was still time to show a soldier attempting to rape a civilian.

Similarly, the Mhysa scene of Season 4, when the extremely pale, white-blonde Daenerys was held aloft by a sea of brown arms, was instantly criticized by fans as racist, with io9 saying that Dany “ends up crowd surfing over the brown people like some kind of Tagaryan [sic] Bono with all of the smug satisfaction of a gap-year backpacker that has just built an orphanage in a village somewhere.”

But this season still apparently saw the entire Dothraki army be slaughtered in the Battle of Winterfell in order to scare the white characters, who mysteriously all survived, and the apparently “liberated” Unsullied cheer for the queen who still enslaved them, in all but name.

Then there were the issues with just plain character development. It was mostly the execution we took issue with, not the ideas.

Mad Queen Daenerys has always been interesting, and as many have pointed out, relatively seeded throughout the earlier seasons, but you can’t just give Emilia Clarke a single episode – or worse, a single shot – in which to convey Dany’s emotional transformation and hope the audience will jump from A to B with you. It doesn’t make sense and, judging from Twitter, any one of us could have told them that.

The lack of understanding is what’s worrying about Weiss and Benioff. moving on to Star Wars. Star Wars is in much the same boat — yes, we love the spaceships, the bright lights and the pew pews, but what really has kept so many of us engrossed for decades is the characters.

Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo — these are all names ingrained in pop culture. That’s why it was so inconceivable to lose Han in The Force Awakens. We love these characters, they have a space in our lives, and we understand them. And once those characters are out in the world, they don’t just belong to the writers anymore.

You can’t please everyone, of course.  And this time, though they are playing in a shared sandbox again, they’ll be presumably writing their own characters.

But what concerns us is that they won’t even try to connect with them in any way beyond their own limited experience — that they will write characters in their own image, and what we’ll have is more instances of fundamental misunderstanding, like the Mhysa scene, or the scene where Brienne of Tarth sobbed, or the scene where Sansa Stark  implied she was thankful for being raped because it made her stronger.

Shock value should never be prioritized over story and character development. You’ve got to at least try to listen to how other people respond to the characters you’re custodians for — to truly empathize with a character means listening to points of view other than your own.

All in all, it’s not a matter of being deserving.

We’re all human, and far it be it for any of us to say people don’t deserve a job because they made some mistakes in the one previous. There are many people who are, in fact, happy with the choices Weiss and Benioff have made (although Jaime Lannister fans *cough* are not included in that number).

But the fact remains that not nearly enough women or people of color were hired in the making of Game of Thrones. Any resentment fans feel towards Weiss and Benioff is not simply because they made mistakes, but because so many writers are not lucky enough to get to make any of their own, let alone move on from them with a Star Wars movie, especially with so few credits to their name.

Weiss and Benioff have shown ambition and talent for bringing to life big, unwieldy stories in big unwieldy worlds, and we are sure that’s exactly why LucasFilm hired them. But to say they are deserving would be to imply that Hollywood is in any way a meritocracy – it’s not. The only way to help it become one is to not hold the door, but to open it.

Case in point? Hire diverse writers.

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