Game of Thrones: 9 Female Characters that Represent Feminist Values
Warning: *Spoilers Ahead*
By now most Americans have watched--or at the very least heard of--the international franchise Game of Thrones (GOT). The television show, in particular, has received world renown for its graphic and often explicit nature, depicting such atrocities as torture, murder, and rape. As the struggle between the great houses of the mythic Westeros escalates, wars are fought, kings and queens take thrones with the speed and rotation of a bad game of musical chairs, and looming above it all are dragons, necromancing fire-worshippers, and an army of zombie snowmen.
Critics have attacked GOT in the past, decrying it as being “pornographic” and overtly “hypermasculine”. And I have to say that I wholeheartedly disagree. It’s true that the show (as well as the books for which the show has been modeled after) are set in a time and place where women typically hold less power than men but rather than diminishing women this actually makes the nine characters I’m about to discuss all that more amazing. Each female character represents some aspect of womanhood and has been crafted to specifically comment on female strength and subvert gender roles. For these reasons I actually think that Game of Thrones is one of the most feminist shows in mainstream television today.
Consider the season seven plot line; at one point all kingdoms are ruled entirely by women. Cersei holds the Iron Throne, Sansa is named Lady of Winterfell, Yara Greyjoy commands a large portion of the Iron Islands fleets as their queen, Ellaria Sand has overthrown her brother-in-law and taken the throne of Dorne for herself, Olenna Tyrell now rules Highgarden in lieu of her family’s demise, and Daenerys commands three dragons and several armies across two continents. Every major position of power is either ruled or directly supported by a woman.
And so, without further ado, I give you the women--in all their diverse and amazing glory--of Game of Thrones:
[A to Z (Because I just couldn’t decide a winner! Besides, Arya isn’t such a bad place to start.)]
Number one on my feminist list is none other than Arya Stark. The rebellious girl that wanted nothing more than be allowed to train with swords and bows like her brothers, Arya goes on to become one of the deadliest characters in the Game of Thrones. Arya trains under not one but three separate male warriors; a sword fighter, a brute, and a mystic assassin. The entire time she plots her revenge and vows to kill all those that have harmed her family. Arya is one of the most exciting characters to watch develop in the GOT series primarily because of her single minded determination. By the time she returns to Westeros, killing most of the Fray clan on her way home, she has become one of the deadliest characters, male or female. Something we see her prove when the sparring with Brienne ends in a draw. Arya demonstrates women are deserving of every benefit that men are allotted, including the right to wield a weapon. On a deeper level Arya breaks down stereotypes about war and killing being just for men. Truly, after the number of lives that Arya has claimed, nobody can say she’s squeamish.
Brienne of Tarth
In my opinion Brienne of Tarth is one of the most complex characters to have been written for television in quite sometime. A hulking woman who stands taller than most men, Brienne has dedicated herself to the ways of a knight despite being unable to claim the title for herself. In fact, because of her noble lineage, she is still referred to as Lady Brienne. She keeps her hair short, marches around in plain clothing (when she’s not adorned in armor), was so skilled with the sword that she served as kingsguard to one of the series earlier competing kings, and has bested all that have challenged her. Brienne conjures up conventionally thought of masculine stereotypes by everything from her actions to her appearance. And yet, despite this, she’s not immune to the complexities of love and passion. Kingsguard to Renly Baratheon--an early contender for the Iron Throne and well-known lover of men--Brienne couldn’t help but fall for one of the few men that had shown her kindness and regarded her with something other than disgust or triviality. Later, she shares a special bond with Jamie Lannister while he is her captor back to the Capital. Despite conventional notions of orientation and gender roles Brienne demonstrates her desire to love and be loved by men, while also breaking down the notion that women cannot be warriors.
Hated by everyone and loved only by her incestuous brother/father to her children, Cersei Lannister is one of those characters that you loathe because you can secretly admire her brutality. Cersei is an amazing example of motherhood and a woman’s capacity for ruthlessness. Despite her children all now being dead, the one thing nobody can deny the current Queen of the Iron Throne is her love of her offspring. Cersei has demonstrated on multiple occasions her cunning brutality towards those that threaten her and her own. If we’re talking about body counts nobody has a spilled more blood than her. If you doubt me then just watch the season six finale where she levels an entire temple containing hundreds of people because of the threat they posed to her family.
There are a dozen separate topics I could select to write about when it comes to Daenerys but the most important, I feel, is her effectiveness as a leader. Sadly, in the very real world we still have people who do not think that woman can, are, or would be effective as a ruler or leader. Daenerys’s character provides an amazing example of a woman who transcends that bias by not just being a good female ruler but the best ruler of anyone. Period. Though she missteps from time-to-time politically, Daenerys strives to be a Queen of the people. She fights against slavery, prejudice, and systems of governing which put the governor before the governed (*cough, cough* Cersei Lannister). Daenerys acts according to an unshaken concept of what justice should look like in the world. It is because of this moral compass that she has won the hearts and minds of all around her. It’s why she is constantly being awarded new titles from the people that surround her: Breaker of Chains and Protector of the Realm. She’s also one of the few characters that is actively shown assembling her advisors while reflecting on--sometimes even changing--her ruling. Daenerys is the little girl that dreamed of being president who then grew into a woman and actually went ahead and did it.
A fairly new contender Ellaria started out as a character we loved, then hated, and then just felt sorry for. In the end though, Ellaria (whether she is alive or dead) represents some pretty big themes for Game of Thrones. Not only does she bring some much needed ethnic diversity to the table, Ellaria also represents a sex positive movement for women. Bisexual and a bastard daughter, Ellaria speaks many times about the importance of bastards, her pride in the unconventional Dornish customs of marriage and children, and the naturalness of sex. Early on we get the feeling that Ellaria is going to look us right in the eye and begin a conversation about the need for women to feel empowered sexually and for everyone else to stop slutshaming those that choose not to live a chaste lifestyle. Sadly, Cersei gets her sadistic hands on her before we get the chance to see her fully step into her own. Who knows, maybe Ellaria will be coming back with a vengeance in the future. We can only hope.
I could write about Olenna Tyrell until she rose from the dead. The Queen of Thorns--a name given to her because of her blunt and often scathing disposition--coordinated some of the most subversive political manuevers before her death. The grandmother of Loras (swoon) and Margaery Tyrell (double swoon) Olenna was one of the few people that ever dared to call Cersei a “tart” to her face or blatantly refuse to help her. In the end she paid for it with her life but not before confessing that it had been her that killed Cersei and Jaime Lannister’s son and former king, Joffrey. Olenna is a fantastic character that shows the unyielding will and wisdom of a woman who refused to play by the rules of a patriarchal monarchy. Her splendid final words to Queen Daenerys sum up her character perfectly: “I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them.”
I guarantee I’m going to lose about half my readers from the sight of Sansa Stark’s name alone. Let’s all just agree on something right away; we hate Sansa. For the first five and a half seasons the majority of us probably fast forwarded through most scenes involving her because we couldn’t stand to listen to another word she had to say. When your sister is a magical assassin, your brothers are a warg and the resurrected Lord Commander of the Wall, and your personal guard is the completely badass Brienne of Tarth it’s hard to stand out as a strong character. Yet, despite my own biases towards Sansa, let’s take a look at all that she has endured: witnessing the execution of her own father, Cersei Lannister wanting her dead, abuse at the hands of Joffrey, forced marriage, Littlefinger’s (Lord Baelish) manipulations and betrayals, and the horrors of Ramsay Bolton; which included violent physical and sexual abuse. Sansa has long been one of the most controversial characters for feminists, often depicted as a victim without any real power. But Sansa has an indomitable will to survive through anything. In the this last season we see her step into her own as she takes control of Winterfell and saves the day by summoning an army loyal to her to defeat Ramsay Bolton’s own forces and save her brother John Snow. Sansa represents the terrible reality that women endure horrors and abuses every single day and yet somehow manage to find an inner strength to continue one. Sansa has never been the smartest or most tactical character, and she certainly isn’t a warrior, but she had this to say just before one of the most amazing GOT scenes. Having out-maneuvered Littlefinger, Sansa orders Lord Baelish to dead with a final comment on her own ability to see through his schemes: “I'm a slow learner, it's true. But I learn.”
Yara is an interesting character because she also blatantly has nothing but contempt for gender roles. She is the only woman to command/captain a fleet--from the Iron Islands nonetheless--and is one of the only lesbian characters in the series. On top of which, were it not for her psychotic uncle returning when he did, Yara might have been named Queen of all the Iron Islands (and not just of her own men/fleet) and become the first woman to rule there. Yara is as ruthless as Cersei and as protective of her brother as Margaery Tyrell. She’s also the ONLY female character (yes, this includes even Brienne of Tarth) that has never been seen in a dress. She actively declares to the world that she is every bit as capable of commanding and enduring the hardships of their difficult life as any man.
Honorable Mention- Margaery Tyrell
I debated whether or not to put the beautiful Margaery on this list for a number of reasons. Primarily because she played into a lot of stereotypes about women utilizing their beauty as manipulation. In the end I decided that Margaery deserved a spot on this list for her survival skills and aptitude towards nobility. Through her life three separate kings took her hand for marriage (with only one living long enough to succeed). Margaery also deserves a spot on this list because of her brother Loras. Despite Loras being the lover of Renly--the first king to try to take her hand in marriage--and despite Loras’s relations with men landing them both in dungeons, Margaery never once stopped trying to protect her brother. In the moments just before Cersei destroys the temple where her brother is standing trial for his sexuality, Margaery defies the religious zealot who is persecuting her brother and tries to flee with him. She senses something is wrong and fights to protect Loras even though it will cost her life to do so. Margaery sacrificed much to her brother’s happiness regardless of his sexuality and, in the end, represented a champion character for protecting the LGBT community.
*All photo credits go to Entertainment Weekly and common sourced photos. All credits and rights belong to those of the photographer(s).