This year, rather than making best-of lists, which I always regret as soon as I make them, I’ll be writing about the art that helped me understand 2016. You can find the previous parts of this series here.
The biggest question of Hillary Clinton’s second campaign for the presidency was whether the former first lady and secretary of state could persuade Americans to see her in a new way, escaping decades of narratives that portrayed her as a phony on a quest for power she didn’t deserve. When the results came through on Nov. 8, the verdict seemed clear and bitter: Even with a looser style and more progressive message, Clinton couldn’t escape the image that had hardened around her.
But if the poll results failed to prepare Clinton and her supporters for this result, and for the disappointment of failing to break a centuries-old gender barrier in American politics, maybe pop culture should have. Some of the biggest television shows of 2016 followed women who tried to take power — or had power thrust upon them — but who found themselves constrained, knowingly or not, by the traditions and means of exercising that power proscribed by the men who came before them. Rather than ushering in transformational ages, these queens and rebels were fated to use the tactics, uphold the decisions and even carry out the narratives made by men who came before them.
This spring and summer, the sixth season of “Game of Thrones” gave us a troika of women who moved to consolidate their authority with consequences that were more devastating than inspiring.
In King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) blew up the Sept of Baelor with the wildfire a previous king from the Targaryen dynasty had stockpiled, killing all of her enemies with a single, terroristic stroke and bringing about the massacre that her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) had killed that king to prevent. Across the sea, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) abandoned her efforts to build a more enlightened society in the cities she had conquered in Slaver’s Bay and sailed for Westeros, determined to reclaim the realm from which her family had been expelled. And in the North, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) learned from the cruelty of a husband who had raped and abused her, trapping him in a brilliant, bloody military maneuver and then feeding him…