HBO’s adaptation of George RR Martin’s series of novels, Game of Thrones, was taken a large space in pop culture for a variety of reasons. It’s intricate plotlines, long-form storytelling, deep character acting, complex motivations, and its very brutal depiction of women. AMC’s Kung-Fu/Mad Max infusion Into the Badlands receives much less attention, yet, both share some striking similarities now that the former has entered into its second season.
There’s clear similarities like both shows having a giant wall to keep out the more dangerous elements, magical young people, and both shows showing various people and groups vying for power against one another. In GoT, this is people trying to become the king or queen of Westros and the right to sit on the iron throne. It’s a complicated process that usually involves back-stabbing, power alliances and planning. The closer someone gets to achieving that goal, the closer they are to getting killed.
Badlands takes a simpler approach with seven barons who control territories in a fragile alliance to maintain peace. Almost every baron uses a population of slaves, called cogs, to perform a specific industrial purpose and a small army of soldiers, called clippers, highly trained in martial arts. The Mad Max comparison applies because while motor vehicles and gasoline are highly prized, guns are absent hence the need for martial arts and affiliated weapons.
Most of the conflict comes from Sunny, a clipper who wishes to end his career as a killer, The Widow, who is seeking to end the systems of slavery and violence in the Badlands, Quinn, who dreams of being the sole baron and ruling the entirety of the Badlands, and MK whose part of a group of people with the mysterious power of becoming invincible fighters once their flesh is cut.
Both shows are about expansive worlds in which their respective casts try to move up in power/status or escape the violence, but in a weird way, also take different approaches depicting the struggles of women. GoT takes a voyeuristic, and at times, gleeful approach as women are raped, killed, or otherwise suffer at the hands of cruel men who view them as less than. Some characters suffer at first only to grow stronger and more fearless because of it, such as Daenerys Targaryen or Cersi Lanister. Both women amass a respectable collection of power and allies, although Cersi seems much more ruthless and currently sits on the iron throne. The argument could be made that GoT doesn’t shy away from the real-life brutalities inflicted on women, and at times that seems valid. Most of the time though, the show seems more interested in titillating viewers than really saying anything important about the sexual abuse it’s depicting.
Badlands actually avoids this problem by showing women struggle with the same issues, and then act to prevent them. The Widow was married to a cold and abusive husband, whom she killed and assumed his position as baron. Other female characters either deliberately target men who share the same despicable behavior, or act to maintain high positions in this world where they could usually end up on the bottom rung. You see, in Badlands ,there is the possibility for a cog (or a slave) to become a clipper, then a regent (trusted advisor to a baron), and eventually a baron. GoT could also allow this, but Badlands seems to show the positive influence of female characters more often than showing them suffer because of their sex. It doesn’t shy away from the tragic nature of what happens to them, but does focus more on them becoming stronger people in spite of it.
It wouldn’t be charitable to call Game of Thrones the better show, its smart, dense, and compelling on several levels. Despite its faults, it is superb television viewing. However, it could take a page from Into the Badlands regarding its treatment of female characters. While Badlands places its emphasis on kung fu above all else, it still manages to share some traits with GoT and craft strong female characters whose tragic histories weren’t sexualized to an absurd degree.
Both could improve, but only one has a glaring fault that needs addressing in 2017.