** SEASON 6 FINALE SPOILERS! **
As if 2016 was not bloody enough for LGBT characters on television, we have yet another LGBT casualty to add to the list. Ser Loras Tyrell, the fabulously gay Knight of Flowers on Game of Thrones, met his untimely end during the season 6 finale on June 26. In general, Ser Loras’s treatment on the show versus the original books has been criticized for being superficial and cartoonish. But the narrative surrounding Ser Loras’s appearance in the finale brought it all to a head and portrayed Loras’s death as his comeuppance for his transgression of being gay.
Last season, Loras was arrested and imprisoned for being homosexual by the puritanical Faith Militant, a violent sect of Faith of the Seven extremists. Before the season finale, Loras appeared in only one other episode in season 6, as a broken prisoner, piteously begging his sister, Margaery Tyrell, to end his torture and suffering.
When Loras reappeared in the finale to face his trial by the Faith Militant for his "crimes," Loras's gorgeous head of curls had been shorn as part of his shaming before the crowd that had assembled to condemn his sexuality. But a bad haircut was just the tip of his humiliation iceberg. In what seemed to be a compromise plea bargain brokered by Margaery, Loras avoided a trial by "confessing" his sins of sleeping with other men. Loras was forced to renounce his former lover, Lord Renly Baratheon, as a traitor (heartbreaking), abandon his knighthood and title as heir of House Tyrell, and "unburden" himself of his homosexual desires. As a final brutal sign of his gay conversion and his new loyalty to the Faith of the Seven extremists, a seven-pointed star was gruesomely carved into his forehead. The final image of Loras was of him looking utterly disgraced and mutilated, blood oozing from the ugly wound on his face.
The look of a SuperCuts customer who is fully comprehending the gravity of his poor judgment.
Moments later, Loras and dozens of other people were killed in the public bombing of the trial, which was rendered in extravagantly detailed CGI. The close proximity of his violent murder to his trial for homosexuality effectively conveyed popular media's age-old message: being gay is a crime punishable by death.
It's true that Cersei Lannister, a straight female character, similarly faced mortifying and violent public disgrace by the Faith Militant for her crime of incest during her walk of shame ("...Shame!...Shame!") in last season’s finale. But at least Cersei lived to fight another day, and specifically, to orchestrate the trial bombing and murder Loras and Margaery along with Cersei’s other rivals.
And yes, Game of Thrones is famous for its unflinching willingness to kill off even the seemingly most critical protagonists. Secondary characters like Ser Loras die with nary a bat of an eyelash. After all, one of the most famous catchphrases of the books and series is "All men must die." Yet of the hundreds and hundreds of characters that have been killed on the show, being an identifiably gay person is virtually a guaranteed death sentence: Lord Renly Baratheon? Assassinated by a magical shadow monster. Oberyn Martell? Skull brutally crushed in a deathmatch. Ser Loras Tyrell? Imprisoned, tortured, publicly humiliated, disfigured, and vaporized.
We recently learned that the venturesome Yara Greyjoy, the would-be queen of the Iron Islands, is lesbian, and she survived season 6 after forming an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen. But even in the context of an inordinately high body count of characters of diverse orientations, the percentage of LGBT characters who have died seems much closer to 100% than the percentage of dead versus living straight protagonists.
Sure, there are a couple of other LGBT Game of Thrones characters that have survived, but they have done so at the expense of becoming Treacherous Gay Villains. For example, Olyvar, a minor character, is probably still skulking around somewhere, but he was last seen in season 5 betraying Loras and Margaery to save his own skin.
Granted, Olyvar’s skin is flawless and probably worth saving, but that's beside the point.
And Ellaria Sand, formerly Oberyn Martell's paramour, has also survived, but she has become duplicitous and vengeful after Oberyn's death. It seems that if you can’t escape the gay corpse stereotype in the Game of Thrones universe, you’re pretty much stuck with the gay antagonist stereotype.
The real life timing of Loras's death was also unfortunate. First, the season 6 finale aired on the last Sunday of June when cities like New York, San Francisco, and London were celebrating Pride. The graphic portrayal of Loras's humiliation and death was a deflating way to punctuate the weekend’s celebrations of LGBT visibility and participation.
Then there was the way that Loras perished in a mass murder. The showrunners could hardly have anticipated that, just weeks before airing the finale, 49 LGBT people would be killed and at least 50 others wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in US history. But in the context of that horrific violence against LGBT people, Loras’s death in a mass homicide immediately after such intense emphasis on the character's homosexuality added an unintended but haunting dimension to the scene.
It's too bad that Ser Loras's death was so troubling because the finale was otherwise gorgeously conceived and executed. That musical scoring under the trial scenes and bombing: to die for. The photography of Daenerys's armada: jaw-dropping. Cersei's coronation gown:
Yaaas, queen… literally.
For a full recap of the outstanding Game of Thrones season 6 finale, be sure to read the weekly Geeks OUT feature, Gay4Game by @johnabalash.
But despite its overall quality, the Game of Thrones season 6 finale echoed and amplified the questions that LGBT fans have been asking all year (and for many years). Will 2016's bloodbath of LGBT characters eventually subside? Will it ever be replaced by a reality where the media portrays LGBT heroes and protagonists who get some form of a happy ending? Specifically, will Game of Thrones vindicate its many dead gay characters by seeing Yara succeed in her bid to become queen of her homeland, perhaps with Daenerys at her side? For more information and to keep the dialogue going, make sure to follow fan groups like We Deserved Better and LGBT Fans Deserve Better, and leave your thoughts in the comments below.