A Plea to 'Shadowhunters': Please Don't Follow 'Game of Thrones''s Lead

2:33 PM Amanda Prahl 0 Comments

A handsome knight, brave and bold and a defender of all that is good. It's a trope we all know from fairy tales, but in today's media, the knight-in-shining-armor has grown into a much more complex character type- a neo-knight, if you will, whose classical qualities are accompanied by traits one would not expect from your usual knight archetype: some hard past, some less-than-heroic quality, or just a secret that causes problems in their given society. So tell me if this sounds familiar: a young male character in a fantasy series based on a popular book series, a fan favorite though a supporting character, very handsome, very brave and skilled in combat, loyal to his family- oh, and gay. Who did you think of? My guess is you thought of Game of Thrones's Loras Tyrell. But he won't be the only one for long- and that's what worries me.

The complaints about Loras started a year or so ago, scattered across my social media accounts and pop-culture discussion boards and comment threads on articles: complaints about how his character had been taken from a three-dimensional character in the books and turned into a one-note, stereotyped throwaway on television. As someone who loves both books and TV- and is fascinated by the ties between the two- I ended up really following the debates over the changes in this particular series for the small screen. Then, this past week, I suddenly found my online world flooded again with GoT-related complaints: people feeling like this was the last straw re: Loras, an ambitious, self-assured, loyal, knight with unmatched combat skills who has, by most accounts, been reduced to a sassy, promiscuous gay stereotype for the purposes of TV. Here's why I care.

In a short time, ABC Family will soon be the home of Shadowhunters, an adaptation of The Mortal Instruments, a YA urban fantasy focused on half-angel warriors fighting an ongoing supernatural war. Among its diverse cast of complex characters are the warlock Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood, one of the titular demon hunters. I do worry about how Magnus will be "boiled down" for "easy" TV viewing; it's all too easy to focus on his centuries of partner-hopping (with both sexes and various supernatural races) and his penchant for sass and glitter, rather than his political smarts, his power, and his outsider complex. But it's Alec I worry about. It's Alec who is a neo-knight like Loras, and it's Alec who I fear will be influenced by the most powerful genre show in modern TV.

There's no way around the fact that the creation of new shows is influenced by the ones that are popular at the time. Grey's Anatomy was at its peak; a slew of sexy-pretty-people-in-hospitals soaps followed. CBS has essentially built an entire network on CSI clones. Mad Men and Breaking Bad got acclaim; cable was flooded with antihero dramas (and network TV with watered-down attempts at the same). And, alongside clone shows, there were clone characters: plenty of would-be Meredith Greys and Don Drapers populated these universes. Game of Thrones is so influential on genre TV- all TV, really- and this is the show that took a man known and feared and made him an in-universe punchline. It had a character who has beautiful lines about his dead true love like "when the sun sets, no candle can replace it" and "I will never betray [him], by word or deed."

Instead of using this excellent character material, the show recharacterized him halfway through the series as someone who spouts sass, moves on when the story whim demands, and is mocked or punished for his sexuality. Here, the neo-knight is forced to drop half of his designation: he cannot be both a knight and something else.

This makes me (understandably) concerned about the possible influence this could have on the portrayal of Alec in Shadowhunters. Alec is prickly, a badass warrior, protective of his siblings (and his partner), and brave as they come. He also happens to have enormous self-doubt issues, a fair bit of reserve, and is definitely gay. But as one terrible choice looms near, and his partner is captured and his family and friends prepare to fight, they suggest he stay behind to avoid being used against them. This is his reaction:
"I will not hang back here... while Magnus is in danger," said Alec, in a surprisingly cold, adult voice. "Go without me, and you and you disrespect our parabatai oaths, you disrespect me as a Shadowhunter, and you disrespect the fact that this is my battle too."
As a true neo-knight, Alec exists in a modern setting (urban fantasy) with non-classical elements (his low confidence, his sexuality) but retains his knightly inheritance of courage, goodness, and skill.

So this is my plea and my hope: don't take a page from Game of Thrones, dear Shadowhunters. Don't be tempted to make TV-Alec another TV-Loras. The neo-knight is such a wonderful character type to explore, precisely because of his (or even her) dual identity, blending the expected qualities of a classic knight with those traditionally unexpected. The fact that Alec and Loras are gay does matter, of course it does; in 2015, we shouldn't have to talk about a character being written as a punchline and punching bag for their sexuality (or any form of "Other"-ness), especially when 1) it's a fantasy world in which the writers can make the rules, and 2) the source material already managed to avert these problems. Writers of adaptations: fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice... still, shame on you.