Game Of Thrones is about its queens
Game Of Thrones is back with its eighth and final season. More than the men on the show, it’s the Westerosi women who have made GoT an arresting affair
Women in Game Of Thrones are more layered characters than the men
Men in Game Of Thrones are mostly one-note characters
Game Of Thrones season 8 started on April 14 on a lukewarm note
Winter is finally here. We have spent eight seasons believing it will be “the prince that was promised” who’ll deliver humankind from the army of the undead, but it’s really the women of Westeros that make the fictional world of the seven kingdoms so compelling.
Perhaps, Jon Snow will ultimately assume the role of the prophesied reincarnation of Azor Ahai — the legendary hero responsible for defeating the Walkers. Or perhaps, the saviour would belong to “that noun has no gender in High Valyrian”, as Missandei says in season seven — which means it could just as easily be a princess.
Any which way, it’s always been the many moods, motivations and machinations of the Westerosi women that oiled the wheels of the complicated Game Of Thrones (GoT) machinery. Mostly, because it’s difficult to decide how to feel about them.
Consider the men first. It’s easy to admire Jon Snow and Ned Stark, who would rather die than live without honour, just as it is easy to hate Ramsay Bolton and Joffrey Baratheon for their gleeful savagery. You can’t help but feel sorry for Tyrion Lannister as he navigates a largely friendless world. Littlefinger, Euron Greyjoy and Walder Frey are detestable. Samwell Tarly and Jorah Mormont are devoted sidekicks while Bran’s evolution as the recordkeeper of history requires him to be emotionless. Among the men, only Jaime Lannister, Theon Greyjoy and The Mountain force us to reassess how we feel about them. For the most part, the men are one-note, with unfluctuating emotional trajectory
The women, on the other hand, are unpredictable masses of contradictions. Daenerys Targaryen traverses from being a powerless child bride who is raped by her husband on her wedding night to a Mother of Dragons and the queen of an army she builds by proving herself. Her mission is to govern, not dictate. “I’m not here to murder. All I want to destroy is the wheel that has rolled over everyone both rich and poor, to the benefit of no one but the Cersei Lannisters of the world,” she asserts.
Yet, she is not all noble, not above using her dragons to mercilessly burn those who cross her. Her rage flies in the face of her noble intentions.
Cersei, on the other hand, harbours no delusions of benevolence. “I don’t care about checking my worst impulses. I don’t care about making the world a better place. Hang the world,” she tells Tyrion. Cersei is evil incarnate except when it comes to her family. She loves her children and her twin brother/lover Jaime with a ferocity one can’t help but grudgingly admire. And yet, she’s now commissioned someone to kill him as well!
Catelyn Stark, the dutiful wife and mother, accepted Jon Snow as her husband’s illegitimate son but couldn’t hide her dislike for him. Sansa started out as an impressionable girl but has evolved into the calculating Lady of Winterfell. She has survived bad marriages, violent rapes, and being sold like cattle, yet underneath all her cynicism she’s trying to do what’s best for her family and the North. Arya, now a killing machine, is also a young girl discovering love and lust.
Yara Greyjoy’s claim to the Iron Islands is her valour, but it won’t stop her from accepting her cowardly brother Theon back into the family. Little Lady Lyanna Mormont might have a steely constitution, but she also looks uncertain while trying to find her bearings as the Lady of Bear Islands. Brienne of Tarth is among the most honourable warriors in the GoT universe, which makes her friendship with “kingslayer” and “oathbreaker” Jaime an unlikely subplot.
The show’s deliberately feminist turn was undeniable last season, but if you paid attention it has been quietly subverting gender norms from its early days. Whether it was Catelyn Stark firmly guiding her son into his role as Winterfell’s new ruler, or Cersei plotting the deaths of all those who threatened her children’s ascent to power, or Daenerys literally walking through fire to bring alive a species of creatures considered extinct, or Sansa who survived only because she refused to die, or Arya who gave up her lady-ship to become one of the faceless men, the women of Westeros have seldom allowed their fates to be controlled by men, or their ambitions limited to becoming an important person’s wife.
Cersei, Daenerys, Yara and Ellaria have even take charge of their sexual appetites and openly taken lovers, much like kings. For a show often criticised for its graphic sex and nudity, seeing its lead women shatter the Madonna-whore binary is an impressive balancing act. GoT’s women are both Madonna and whore, depending on what they feel like. They aren’t ashamed.
Whoever ends up sitting on the iron throne, the women of Westeros have already won the game of thrones in many ways.