From left: Oberyn Martell, Loras Tyrell, Renly Baratheon.
Spoilers ahead for the season-six finale of Game of Thrones.
After the heartbreaking events of recent weeks, there was little that could draw crowds away from the Gay Pride festivities in New York on Sunday afternoon. But there was something even more powerful than rainbow flags and Jell-O shots: Game of Thrones. Plenty of people, myself included, rushed home from the sea of men in chaps to watch Cersei Lannister put on a S&M outfit of her own to seize the crown. You better work, queen!
And so, when Loras Tyrell died within the first 15 minutes of the show, it was a huge disappointment for gay fans. Not only was he killed when Cersei’s dragon-fire bomb went off under the Sept of Baelor, but just moments before his death, he was forced to renounce his sexual orientation and the man he truly loved. “I have laid with other men, including the traitor Renly Baratheon,” he says in his confession. “I’m guilty of depravity, dishonesty, profligacy, and arrogance.” Then the seven-pointed star was carved into his forehead and he had to repudiate everything he once held dear.
Over the years, gay characters on Game of Thrones have met especially bloody and ignominious deaths. Renly was killed by a shadow monster that climbed out of Melisandre’s womb. Oberyn Martell, who put the B in the LGBT, had his face literally caved in by the Mountain. And Loras had to suffer both physical and psychological violence. This was also the season we lost Hodor. The character was presumptively asexual, but Kristian Nairn, the actor who portrayed the lovable oaf, was the only openly gay actor in the sprawling cast.
The only remaining gay characters are Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand, who is bisexual, and we’ve only seen them cavorting with female prostitutes. When Yara ostentatiously announced that she is “going to go fuck the tits off of this one,” referring to the slave girl, it seemed more like she was a woman in a man’s world trying to fit in with their customs and traditions. (Though flirting with Daenarys Targaryen seemed as gay as Tegan and Sarah doing a Subaru ad.) Ellaria, meanwhile, is relegated to Dorne, which, for the most progressive kingdom on Game of Thrones, has been one of the least interesting plotlines in GOT history.
This latest gay death comes at a time when fans are more sensitive to queer characters getting offed than ever. When Lexa, a popular lesbian character on The 100, was killed earlier this year in the same week as Denise, the lesbian doctor on The Walking Dead, gay fans had a conniption fit. It’s not just that fan favorites were being written off the shows — it’s that there are so few gay characters of note on popular TV dramas, it’s hard whenever we lose one of them.
It also plays into a long and tired trope called “Bury Your Gays,” which rarely allows gay characters a happy ending. They’re often depicted as murder victims, psychologically damaged, or scheming villains, which is something of a flash point for gay viewers who are tired of seeing their lives reflected in such a negative way. When Loras Tyrell has to undergo the world’s sickest conversion therapy, it’s traumatic for a population that is not only underrepresented on television, but is still trying to shake off the effects of decades of oppression.
To their credit, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss made the queer sexuality of these characters more explicit than it is in the books. For his part, George R.R. Martin has been resistant to adding gay characters to the series. “I’m not going to do it just for the sake of doing it,” he said at a book convention in 2014. “If the plot lends itself to that, if one of my viewpoint characters is in a situation, then I’m not going to shy away from it, but you can’t just insert things because everyone wants to see them.”
But it’s not just that everyone wants to see them — it’s a matter of making sexual orientation explicit in a world where it is already implicit. What has drawn so many fans into Game of Thrones, gay and straight alike, is that it represents an immersive and well-crafted universe that has parallels to our own, but with dragons, resurrections, and the majestic beauty of Daario Naharas’s naked ass. Depicting gay characters as a part of that universe, outside of having their faces bashed in or their gorgeous faces defiled, just adds to its verisimilitude. And while Yara and Ellaria are great, they’re both still in peril, and if lesbian sci-fi and fantasy fans lose one more of their characters they’re going to go all Xena: Warrior Princess on someone.
Now that Loras is a pile of smoldering ash in the middle of King’s Landing, gay fans need someone they can get behind. But it’s hard to imagine the show adding any more major characters, gay or otherwise, this late in the game. It would also be difficult to retrofit an existing character with a newly revealed orientation, as J.K. Rowling did with Dumbledore after the Harry Potter series was over. Though there’s always Robert Baratheon’s bastard, Gendry, who might be able to come out of the closet and start a nice life with a Dothraki he met somewhere between Volantis and Myr, if he ever stops rowing.