Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) embraces her identity in the finale of the first season of “Westworld.” (John P. Johnson/HBO)

This year, rather than making best-of lists, which I always regret as soon as I make them, I’ll be writing about the art that helped me understand 2016. You can find the previous parts of this series here.

The biggest question of Hillary Clinton’s second campaign for the presidency was whether the former first lady and secretary of state could persuade Americans to see her in a new way, escaping decades of narratives that portrayed her as a phony on a quest for power she didn’t deserve. When the results came through on Nov. 8, the verdict seemed clear and bitter: Even with a looser style and more progressive message, Clinton couldn’t escape the image that had hardened around her.

But if the poll results failed to prepare Clinton and her supporters for this result, and for the disappointment of failing to break a centuries-old gender barrier in American politics, maybe pop culture should have. Some of the biggest television shows of 2016 followed women who tried to take power — or had power thrust upon them — but who found themselves constrained, knowingly or not, by the traditions and means of exercising that power proscribed by the men who came before them. Rather than ushering in transformational ages, these queens and rebels were fated to use the tactics, uphold the decisions and even carry out the narratives made by men who came before them.

This spring and summer, the sixth season of “Game of Thrones” gave us a troika of women who moved to consolidate their authority with consequences that were more devastating than inspiring.

In King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) blew up the Sept of Baelor with the wildfire a previous king from the Targaryen dynasty had stockpiled, killing all of her enemies with a single, terroristic stroke and bringing about the massacre that her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) had killed that king to prevent. Across the sea, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) abandoned her efforts to build a  more enlightened society in the cities she had conquered in Slaver’s Bay and sailed for Westeros, determined to reclaim the realm from which her family had been expelled. And in the North, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) learned from the cruelty of a husband who had raped and abused her, trapping him in a brilliant, bloody military maneuver and then feeding him to his own dogs.

A surface reading of each of these stories might have felt triumphal. Cersei queened herself after years of marriage to a man who raped her and hated her. Dany had spent years dithering in exile. Sansa freed herself from a fate that at its best would have meant mutilation and an early death. But to do so, each woman had to become the thing she hated and that had harmed her. Cersei visited abuse on a nun who had shamed her. Dany left an unstable society, an unfinished social project, in her wake. Sansa, her dreams of chivalry destroyed, adopted the amoral reality that had so disillusioned her.

And so just as Clinton’s fans could have read her commanding debate performances against Cersei, Dany and Sansa’s victories, in defeat, their compromises feel more glaring. The post-election postmortems are a reminder that the Clintons, like Cersei, have been dogged by unfair criticisms and investigations so often that they struggle to recognize and respond to legitimate critiques, and often make problems worse by digging in. The conflicts that the Obama administration, which includes Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, is leaving behind for the next administration are reminiscent of the scenario Dany flies away from as she mounts her invasion of Westeros in the “Game of Thrones” finale. And in Sansa’s bitter smile of victory, I see Clinton hardened by decades of punishing criticism that shaped, and perhaps deformed, her character.

The first seasons of HBO’s science fiction drama “Westworld” and “The Crown,” Netflix’s look at the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, offered less-direct parallels, but they were still powerful portraits of women hemmed in by men.

In “Westworld,” those limitations were literal: Androids such as Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maeve Millay (Thandie Newton) were literally programmed by men, including theme park founders Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) and Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), first to please park visitors, most of them men, and then to develop the consciousness that would allow them to rebel. One of the saddest moments of the first season came when Maeve, who believed her evolving consciousness and decision to flee the park were her own, discovered that even this liberation narrative had been scripted for her. In “The Crown,” a young Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy) hopes that she can help her younger sister Margaret (Vanessa Kirby) marry the divorced man that she loves, but finds that her prime minister, Winston Churchill (John Lithgow), and secretary, Tommy Lascelles (Pip Torrens), have been elusive about the limits of her room to make her own decisions.

The shows differ, and not merely because of their genres. “The Crown” is a story about a woman learning to play a game designed and dominated by men, accepting the rules and constraints of the contest. “Westworld” is following women who are determined to tear the game to pieces.

Hillary Clinton, despite some of the language in the commencement address she gave at Wellesley almost half a century ago, has never been a revolutionary. She has tried to play by the rules of the game in any number of ways, from baking those damnable cookies, to asking female journalists how to present herself more appealingly, to adopting foreign policy positions that prove she’s just as tough as any man, to publicly acknowledging the role that gender had played in her political career. None of it won her the highest office in the land. The women who try for the highest prize after her will have to decide whether to play by the rules or try to destroy them, all while keeping an eye out for the changes that come from playing the game at all.