Game of Thrones.
Even if you don’t watch the HBO TV show or read the books by George R. R. Martin, chances are you already know quite a bit about the fantasy series. And chances are, you’ve heard about how women are depicted.
First things first: is Game of Thrones feminist? Like the series’ famously unpredictable plot, it’s complicated.
On the one hand, it’s a kickass tower of girl power, with heaps of strong women commanding huge armies in their quest to rule the Seven Kingdoms, making their own decisions and taking orders from no man (especially in the latest season of the TV series).
But watch a few minutes of any episode or read a few pages of any of the books, and it’s perfectly understandable to come away with the feeling that it’s a medieval allegory about toxic masculinity. Here’s a terrible idea for a drinking game: watch any random episode. Every time a man rapes or kills someone, have a drink. You’ll be on the floor within five minutes. Seriously.
Honestly, if anything, Game of Thrones has taught me to seriously distrust cisgender men. Whether it’s the enormous walking muscle with a beard attached Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa, who screams and spits his lines so forcefully one would hope the crew were provided with plastic ponchos and earplugs when filming), slaughtering anything and anyone in his path, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) gleefully murdering women – including the badass warrior played by Kiwi actress Keisha Castle-Hughes (which makes him extra despicable) – or Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) having sex with his sister Cersei even though he knows she’s his sister, basically every man on the show is a monster. The violence against women is so gratuitous, so brutal, it can be triggering. In all honesty, it’s surprising the show doesn’t have a brief message before each episode about where to go to get help if you’re in danger.
Sexual violence and violence against women aside, even the language the men use (like the casualness with which they throw around words like “cunt” and “bitch,” or graphically describe their desire to rape women) is sickening. As someone from ye olden days might say, the cup of toxic masculinity runneth over, threatening to drown us all in the sludge that is dudes doing bad things.
Thankfully, there are badass women to put these dicks in their place. Every time Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) appears on screen, I have a little fangirl moment. And who wouldn’t? She’s stronger than and defeats every man who crosses her, and literally fights AN ACTUAL BEAR. She constantly puts herself in harm’s way out of a desire to protect others and do the right thing, making her one of the only truly good people in the whole series. Oh, and have I mentioned she does all this IN A FULL SUIT OF ARMOUR? She’s not sexualised (as so many “warrior women” in fantasy series are, unfortunately), either. Bloody refreshing.
Then there’s Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Her entire character arc can be boiled down to emancipation and a young woman claiming her power. The child of a mother who was raped by her brother, she’s married off without her permission to the incredibly violent (and intimidating) Khal Drogo, who has complete power over her. But over time she becomes a strong, confident woman, and after (spoiler!) Khal Drogo dies sets out to gather a vast army, become ruler of an enormous swathe of territory, and liberate slaves (and women) from abusive masters throughout the world. Oh, yeah, and she controls dragons; she’s not called the “Mother of Dragons” for nothing. Between Daenerys and Brienne, it’s hard to tell which character is more feminist.
Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) could also be seen as a feminist character, even if she is basically pure evil. As anyone who watches the show or reads the books knows, power is her main motivation – and she racks up a mountain of corpses as she seizes control, and keeps on killing in order to stay in control. Betraying close allies, slaughtering entire cities, blowing up castles (while casually sipping red wine, no less), going to war only so her rivals can be humiliated – there’s seemingly nothing she won’t do. But as terrible as the things she does are, she’s not doing them for any man; it’s all for herself (she also rocks some pretty enviable outfits while doing those things that just scream “evil queen”; you’d think the other characters would catch on).
Aside from characters, there are also particular moments that can be described as feminist. In an episode of the second season of the TV series, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) has her first period. What follows is a frank discussion with Cersei Lannister about what that means, and how being a woman doesn’t make you weak. There’s also the breathtaking sparring session between Brienne and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) in season seven, which features some of the best swordfighting ever seen on TV, regardless of the gender of the combatants.
And then there’s the powerful symbolism in the fourth episode of the sixth season, when Daenerys burns down a temple, killing dozens of large male warriors who were threatening to rape her. She emerges unscathed, though her clothes are burned away, and stands completely naked in front of a crowd of hundreds of people, all of whom bow down in loyalty to her. Accompanied by a soaring soundtrack, the scene is probably the most “girl power” moment in the series so far. And it’s totally kickass.
So, again: is Game of Thrones feminist? Just like the numerous theories about who will end up sitting on the throne when the series comes to an end, it depends on what evidence you use to analyse it. At the very least, however, it has given us some of the toughest, fiercest female characters currently on television.
As Cersei might say, we’ll continue to ponder this one over more wine.Support Villainesse