Flames crackle in the fireplace, the pops and snaps penetrating the heavy silence. The Army of the Dead, led by the Night King, looms, closing in with each passing hour and this unusual collection of warriors sits in the Great Hall of Winterfell, trading war stories while they wait.
At one point, Tyrion Lannister addresses Brienne of Tarth as ?Ser,? though he quickly corrects himself to the more appropriate ?Lady Brienne.?
Beside her, a surprised Tormund Giantsbane asks, ?She?s not a Ser? You are not a knight??
?Women can?t be knights,? Brienne explains. When he presses for a reason, she tells him, ?Tradition.?
?Fuck tradition,? Tormund quips, adding, ?I?m no King, but if I was I?d knight you ten times over.?
This innuendo is the latest in a long line of affection Tormund has directed at Brienne from the very first moment she rode into Castle Black and crossed paths with his adoring gaze. He?s lovesick, following her around and giving her suggestive looks over dinner. Hours before he championed her Knighting in the Great Hall, he arrived at Winterfell and the first thing he asked was, ?The big woman still here??
Fans have gravitated toward the pair from the beginning, finding Tormund to be a much better suitor for Brienne than the other corner in this love triangle, Jaime Lannister. The internet is dark and full of memes, the hashtag #Tarthbane has gained traction, and major news outlets like Marie Claire, Newsweek, and even Time have pieces examining the relationship.
There?s just one problem most of these shippers seem to be ignoring: Ser Brienne of Tarth is very much not interested.
On May 23, 2014, Elliot Rodger ? a 22-year-old college student from California ? went on a stabbing and shooting rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, killing six and wounding a dozen more before ultimately killing himself. Earlier in the day, Rodger uploaded a disturbing video titled ?Elliot Rodger?s retribution? which outlined his plan for mass murder. The crux of Rodger?s manifesto was his ?existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires, all because girls have never been attracted? to him.
The self-proclaimed ?ideal magnificent gentleman? was a virgin and could not understand why woman consistently chose other men over him. Society and the rejection of women left him ?no choice but to exact revenge? on a world that had ?denied? him sex. Two of the women who died were members of Alpha Phi. He targeted that particular sorority house because he considered the women the most attractive on campus, representing ?the kind of girls I?ve always desired but was never able to have.?
At the end of his manifesto, Rodger declared himself the ?true victim? in all of this, boldly stating, ?I am the good guy.?
In the five years since, certain corners of the internet have lifted Rodgers as an ?incel hero? ?incel being a term for men who describe themselves as ?involuntarily celibate.? Their celibacy is not an active choice, but a fate-worse-than-death thrust upon them. Frustrated by their virginity, incels believe they are entitled to sex, and rage against the women who dare deny them. According to some, being rejected is worse than being raped, and anyway women should be grateful for being raped because they at least had sex. Angry at not having what they believe is their God-given right to sex, they shout suggestions into the incel echo chamber, offering up The Handmaid?s Tale-inspired ideas such as selling women at markets as ?sex toys/domestic servants/breeding slaves,? with the more attractive women participating in a beauty competition. Of course, it?s not the women who would take home the glorious cash prizes, but the incels who entered them, as if we are nothing more than animals at the county fair.
These like-minded men gather together in online communities, and while places like Reddit attempt to scour their sites of misogynistic content, the incels just create another one.
To incels, women are just another piece of property to own, borrow, and barter away, and feminism is often blamed for the shift in power. Prior to the rise of women?s rights, women knew their place was in the kitchen. They were subservient and submitted to the demands of their husbands, sexual and otherwise. Now, women are given free reign to choose which men they want to sleep with, if they choose to sleep with men at all, and have the audacity to reject men they aren?t interested in.
They have the audacity to say no.
Tormund?s attraction to Brienne was not originally planned but, instead, came about organically after showrunners saw the interactions between actors Krisofer Hivju and Gwendoline Christie. In an interview with TV Guide, Daniel Sackheim, director of that first meeting, originally didn?t know if Tormund?s affection was obvious when he initially shot the episode. ?It was a fun little bit,? he said, ?but I wasn?t sure it was really clear that he had these amorous feelings for Brienne. I?m always amazed what fans pick up.?
But while Tormund?s feelings were clear, Sackheim was well aware that the exchange and attraction was one-sided. To him, though, that?s okay, stating ?There?s nothing like a challenge. Men love a challenge.?
But what if the woman doesn?t want to be someone?s prize?
When it comes to dating, men are told to be persistent and not take no for an answer. But persistence is not romantic, it?s creepy and harassment. It supports rape culture and the idea that a woman doesn?t really know what she wants and ?Her mouth said no but her body said yes? and she just needs some encouragement or you just need to wear her down.
Meanwhile, women?s publications offer up tips on foolproof ways to get rid of a guy who just won?t give up which basically come down to ?Just lie to him? because simply saying ?no? isn?t enough. Even if you do simply say no, there is a chance he?ll go on a murderous rampage and you?ll be one of his targets.
I?m well aware that Tormund ?Bearfucker? Giantsbane is as far from incel territory as it can possibly get. And no, I don?t think he?s going to force himself on Brienne (versus Jaime, who has a history of not taking no for an answer). But that doesn?t absolve Tormund from his inability to take a hint. Nor does it excuse shippers for feeling slighted when Brienne shows preference for Jaime. Which she does. Often.
I?ve written before about how some Game of Thrones fans struggle with a woman choosing her own path when it comes to sex and relationships, and this is no different. The show as a whole also struggles with the concept of consent, with multiple rapes happening over the course of several seasons. The only reason Brienne herself didn?t fall victim was because Jaime stepped in.
The issue I take with #Tarthbane is that it removes all agency from Brienne and places fan wish-fulfillment ahead of what she wants. Or, in this case, doesn?t want. Just because Tormund finds her attractive doesn?t mean Brienne owes him a relationship, just like incels are not owed sex just by sheer fact of existing and men, in general, are not owed a ?yes? merely for asking. Fans advocating for Brienne to just say yes perpetuate the belief that the wants and needs of a woman don?t matter in the end, not when there is a man standing before her.
It also reduces Brienne to a sex object and boxes her into a traditional gender role. The fact that the fans argue over the Brienne-Jaime-Tormund love triangle suggests a shared belief that she?s destined to end up with one of them, rather than considering the possibility that Brienne, like Arya, does not want a traditional feminine future. While Brienne is perhaps attracted to Jaime, she may not seek a life tied to him, or anyone, as a courtly wife. As Ser Brienne herself told Catelyn Stark, ?I?m no Lady.?
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