After a recent episode of HBO's Game of Thronesprequel series House of the Dragon, when one of the show's two confirmed queer characters (Laenor Velaryon's lover, Joffrey) was brutally murdered, we wrote that the death fit into the tired "Bury Your Gays" trope. Many fans of the show disagreed.
Some defended the show, saying that "literally every character" in the GOT universe dies a painful death. But is that really true?
Jon Snow, Tormund Giantsbane, Brienne of Tarth, Arya, Sansa, and Bran Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Podrick Payne, Samwell Tarly, Gilly, Bronn of the Blackwater, Robin Arryn, Davos Seaworth, Grey Worm, Gendry, Daario Naharis, Jaqen H'ghar, and so many more straight characters survived the end of the original series.
But how many queer characters did? Just one: Yara Greyjoy.
It's not surprising, it's not subversive, and it's not clever writing. It's just old hat for the GOT universe, so much so that it's even a trope just within Westeros itself. If a gay character shows up on screen, you can be almost certain that they're going to die a painful death.
Others defending the show said that if queer characters can't die, we'll only get sanitized, all-ages media with queer characters. They want something better. They want subversive and complicated queer media, they want queer characters who can be bad, evil, and flawed. They want queer horror and action and science fiction, and that means that sometimes, queer people will have to die.
But do you know how we get better queer media? If we do something different. And this show killing gay characters is just about as repetitive and uncreative as you can get.
Gay characters can die without it being a trope. We just have to also know that gay characters can live for it to work. Lucius being thrown overboard on Our Flag Means Death wasn't Bury Your Gays, and neither was Dani drowning herself to become the new Lady of the Lake in The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Another recent example of a show nailing how to have unsanitized, complicated, and messy queer characters who can die is The Sandman. More queer characters died in the few episodes of Netflix's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's comic than in House of the Dragon, yet because of how it was done, no one has felt that those deaths fell into cliched and harmful trope-y territory.
In The Sandman, we see around half a dozen queer characters killed on screen, including a lesbian in a 24-hour diner, the cook of that diner, Johanna Constantine's ex-girlfriend, Alex Burgess and his boyfriend, and of course, the delightfully evil gay serial killer The Corinthian. Yet none of these felt like the death in House of the Dragon.
A show has to earn the right to subvert a trope. If you can't show queer characters being happy or successful, or even just surviving, why should queer fans trust you showing them die?
The Sandman succeeds where House of the Dragon fails by showing happy -- and living -- queer characters like Constantine, Desire, Rose's flatmate, and the drag queen Hal Carter. We get to see diversity in queer stories, and that makes it so that when a queer character dies, it's interesting and compelling, and not just a trope.
Even better, the show delivers the kind of complicated, "bad" gay characters fans want. This show features a manipulative and deceptive nonbinary sibling of Dream, it has a charming and charismatic gay serial killer who uses that charm to sleep with and murder gay men. And it all works.
The complaint against the Bury Your Gays trope is not "queer characters can't die." It's "why is death the only ending you can imagine for queer characters?" We don't want LGBTQ+ characters to stop dying -- we want LGBTQ+ stories to stop being so boring, predictable, and sad.
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