Sadly, 'Game of Thrones' never fixed its problem with women, even in the series finale

Kelly Lawler

"Game of Thrones" had a woman problem. And it always will.

This isn't anything new. Against a backdrop of gratuitous female nudity and frequent rape scenes, "Thrones" has always struggled to fully define the women who play its game. It's had trouble with the men, too (character consistency is one of the writers' biggest weaknesses), after the final episode of the TV juggernaut, its mistreatment of the women who once made the series great will be remembered as its original sin.

The last two episode of "Thrones" were a particular insult to some of its most beloved female characters. The remaining women (and those recently departed) have been ill-served by a mad dash to the finish line with little regard how to get there. Now that the smoke has cleared on the series, one of the many mixed morals of "Thrones" is that women are just too darn crazy. Groundbreaking, I know.

In this final season, "Thrones" has wasted Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), once its most engaging villain, giving her little screen time and an anticlimactic death. It also featured Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) expressing gratitude for enduring rape and torture; the death of Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), its only woman of color; turned Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) into a sappy rom-com character more concerned with her lover's destiny than her own; and Daenerys Targaryen's (Emilia Clarke) hurried transformation into a "mad queen," as the woman who once freed thousands of slaves became a murderer of countless innocents because her best friend died, her boyfriend/nephew rejected her and she's angry no one loves her. And when it came time for Dany to meet her fate, it was as anticlimactic as Cersei's death, and shedied while begging Jon (Kit Harington) to take her back.

It's all over: 'Game of Thrones' series finale was a disaster ending that fans didn't deserve

Dany's heel turn into megalomaniacal villain is one of the most controversial decisions in the whole series, perhaps even with the decision for Bran to rule Westeros at the series' end. Many fans felt that Dany's choice to murder thousands came out of nowhere, and while the writers planted seeds of her so-called madness over the years, foreshadowing isn't the same as character development. Sure, writers made her seem cruel over the years, but there has to be a reason why. Coupled with a scene in Episode 4 in which Varys (Conleth Hill) extolled Jon Snow (Kit Harington) as a leader just because he's a Targaryen and a man, and claimed that Dany is too unstable and too strong of a woman to rule, the writers seem like trolls who rant online about "crazy" ex-girlfriends.

Had the series taken time to make Dany's descent to villainy a slow slide instead of an air drop from 50,000 feet, it would feel more earned and far less stereotypical. Women don't have to be virtuous heroes to be great characters. They just have to make sense.

Cersei, Sansa and Brienne didn't make much sense this year, either. The smart, diabolical Queen Cersei turned into a spluttering mess in her final episode, which was a huge disservice to one of the series' best characters.

The Cersei who destroyed the Sept of Baelor would have had an exit strategy from The Red Keep during Dany's siege. The Cersei who almost committed suicide to save herself and her son from failure at the Blackwater never would have cried about dying in her brother/lover's arms. The Cersei who killed Robert Baratheon with a well-placed flask of wine would never have been dense enough to think her Lannister soldiers were so loyal and strong they'd defeat a dragon.

The Cersei we knew would have done more than stand still and stare off into the distance in her last hurrah. But the writers weren't interested in Cersei making sense. In Season 8, Cersei was a glorified roadblock to Dany's war crime. And so, in service of a hasty and ill-conceived plot, Cersei was dispatched as indiscriminately as she once eliminated her enemies.

In the middle of a race to the happy ever after finish line, the show somehow found time to get in one last turn of the screw when it came to the series' depiction of sexual violence. Sansa has been the woman abused most often over the years. The series drew its harshest criticism for the Season 5 storyline in which she married Ramsay Bolton and suffered repeated rape and torture at his hands.

To add insult to a very raw injury, in Episode 4 this season, Sansa expressed gratitude for her abuse, claiming it strengthened her. It's an offensive, inaccurate portrayal of trauma that undervalues Sansa as a character. But the writers had to justify that rape scene somehow, right? Sure, she got her own throne in the North in the end, but only after the lords of Westeros picked her robot brother to rule the other six kingdoms because he was the least objectionable man around.

The disservice done to Brienne is perhaps the most heartbreaking, considering her arc over the course of the series has been so strong, and Christie's performance so consistently brilliant. But the independent warrior spent most of the final season pining over a man, in a wild turn. Yes, it was nice to see Brienne's vulnerable side when she slept with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), but the writers took it too far. She gets her dream job in the finale just like everyone else, now lord commander of the Kingsguard, but instead of writing her own history into the order's historical record, we see her update Jaime's. Brienne deserved better.

"Thrones" is just one big missed opportunity when it comes to women. George R.R. Martin's novels feature several complex and fascinating female characters, but many of the supporting women in the TV series have been completely wasted. The Sand Snakes were boring sex objects with whips instead of personalities. Yara (Gemma Whelan) popped up only when we need to be reminded that the Greyjoys exist. Fan-favorite Arianne Martell from the novels was cut out of the series entirely.

For 73 episodes and eight seasons, "Thrones" has credited just two women, Jane Espenson and Vanessa Taylor, as writers, with four episodes between them dating back to the show's first three seasons. Only one woman, Michelle MacLaren, has directed episodes (four of them), but not since 2014. It's painfully clear that "Thrones" was a series created by (and in large part written for) men.

Sunday's final episode was a mess for many reasons, but in particular it will be infamous for cementing the series' reputation for failing its women. We probably should have known "Thrones" would disappoint back in the very first episode, in which Drogo (Jason Momoa) raped his new wife Dany, which never happened in the books.

But as a TV series, the women are props for spectacle and shock just as much as the dragons and white walkers.

An obsessive guide to the 'Game of Thrones' finale:


This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sadly, 'Game of Thrones' never fixed its problem with women, even in the series finale