#WomanRising: The Women of GoT
The seventh season of Game of Thrones will air Sunday, July 16th on HBO, and with the upcoming premiere, I’d like to take a moment to recap season six. In 2015, Game of Thrones was harshly criticized by many sources for having a “woman problem.” This line of criticism peaked with the Ramsay/Sansa storyline, which, for many viewers and critics, became a figurative line in the sand. It seemed clear to many that Ramsay was the new Joffrey, and far from the prying eyes of any of Sansa’s possible allies, Ramsay was able to make manifest all of the acts that we had previously held our breath about—sighing in relief when someone, Hound or Imp, swooped in to save her.
Despite the fact that the showrunners actually pulled back quite a bit on the awfulness that is Ramsay Bolton (compared to the book), the “Sansa Problem” came to represent the ill-treatment of women throughout the series. I’d be lying if I said that A) the depiction of women in the series has never bothered me; and B) the depiction of women in the series has never been problematic. As a woman, of course, the depiction of women in the series has bothered me at times, but so does the treatment of women in real life. I don’t believe the series overtly glorifies abusive misogynistic behavior; and I don’t believe that the abusive misogynistic behavior has no real world parallel. As to whether or not the depiction of women in the series has ever been problematic, regarding the series as a whole, the jury is still out. Season six, in 2016, which I have affectionately dubbed “woman rising,” gives me, and numerous others, plenty of reasons to hope for the women of Westeros and Essos. Let’s take a closer look at some of the powerhouse women of last season.
We left Cersei in King’s Landing where she recently used wildfire to lay to waste the High Sparrow and Margaery Tyrell—among many others—, prompting the suicide of King Tommen. Having destroyed her immediate opponents, she’s now claimed the Iron Throne for herself, basically appointing herself Queen.
I realize that Cersei is the character everyone loves to hate, but I’ve got a little more love for her than hate. There are many moments throughout the entire series that have emphasized her powerlessness and vulnerability while affirming the fact that she’s a product of a rigid, patriarchal system. Remember how she was forced to marry Robert who neither tried nor pretended to love her, ever? How about when her son Joffrey insulted and disrespected her by refusing to take her counsel and threatening to kill her? Or when Tywin orders her to marry Loras, a gay man, and to bear more children—because, duh, that’s what women do? And let's not forget the High Sparrow and his cult of Sparrows demanding she parade down the street naked as penance.
Cersei is a bully, no doubt, but she bullies others because she can’t control her own life, which is limited and restricted by cultural norms and ideologies; and she amasses power because, in this world, it’s her only source of insurance against death: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
Daenerys is currently making her way across the Narrow Sea with Tyrion at her side. She’s also being accompanied by Yara Greyjoy as well as, possibly, House Tyrell and the now defunct—at least in name—House Martell, led by Ellaria Sand. We’ll have to wait and see who is actually traveling with her.
Daenerys is probably one of my favorite female characters, and she developed a little bit over the course of this season (i.e., got even stronger). With Tyrion’s help, she’s become a little more politically shrewd; she’s beginning to see grey now, seeing that sometimes situations cannot be treated as starkly black or white, but that a middle ground, for the sake of politics and prosperity, must be found. Yet, I don’t think it’s going to be smooth sailing for her—even with all her power. She’s been her own master for a long time, and Westeros has a way stripping women of their worth and dirtying the naïve and overconfident. Daenerys, thus far, hasn’t really had to compromise or been put into terribly compromising positions as her heritage (which allows her to withstand fire) and her dragons have provided her with a source of power that allows her to be unyielding. It will be interesting to see if she maintains her level-headed, fair-judgment ways when she gets to Westeros. We might see some slippage; I doubt riding into Westeros unchallenged and unmatched (in terms of power) is going to be on the agenda, and her father was the Mad King.
Sansa’s in the North, at Winterfell, with Jon Snow, the new King of the North, at her side.
My feelings about Sansa are in a constant state of flux. I respect her quiet perseverance, her will to endure, which is clearly forged out of Valyrian steel, but I wish she’d fight. Her rise was interesting this season primarily because I never quite know what to expect from her. She’s a bit of a wild card. I’m constantly wondering how intelligent she actually is and what her values actually are—is she cunning or dim. What does Sansa Stark want? At the end of the season, she was sitting next Jon Snow at the head table, lording over Winterfell. Considering her position in basically every other season, this season saw her rise high and fast.
Sansa often relies too heavily on these back-door deals that inevitably go wrong. She trusts the wrong people. Or maybe she trusts the right people (depending on the game she’s playing). And maybe that’s the crux of my confusion, what’s her motivation? I have no idea. Do you? To be fair, Sansa’s chief goal has been surviving for so long that she probably hasn’t considered the question of what she wants, and she certainly hasn’t had the power to manifest her wants…until now. Showrunner David Benioff has said, “Sansa is a character we care about almost more than any other, and the Stark sisters have from the very beginning been two characters who have fascinated us the most.” Sansa’s got a lot of emotional baggage that could easily warp her actions now, and she’s got people willing to exploit that side of her, but a Stark reunion is also on the horizon. Only time will tell who will wield the power of the North and how it will be channeled.
Arya just killed Walder Frey and his sons—vengeance is a human meat pie—and is, presumably, on her way home to Winterfell. I remember Arya’s killing of Frey being met with some criticism (i.e., she enjoyed it too much). The fact that women have to have a reason for cruelty or violence in a series about violence and its relationship power, and that they are judged and rebuked if they appear to enjoy it too much, bothers me. When men do it, we rarely have these conversations—and Ramsay is not a valid comparison in this instance because Arya had a contextually honorable reason for her actions and her pleasure in those actions while Ramsay did not.
One of the best moments in season six was when Arya was like, “I have a name. It’s Stark.” We finally came full circle, which is great since I can stop screaming at my tv, “Yes you do!! It’s Stark! [Insert expletive]” in response to every, “A girl has no name.” When she reclaimed her name, she reclaimed herself; names are a serious business. Now, a face-morphing assassin, it seems like she’s headed back to the family seat, which will further expand and round-out the Stark’s power resources. Daenerys has dragons, but the Starks have a dire wolf, possibly two as Arya’s is still unaccounted for, a Faceless (Wo)man, a Warg, and a man resurrected by the Lord of Light. They certainly aren’t without otherworldly resources, and their House inspires and instills loyalty.
Shout-outs are obviously owed to Yara Greyjoy who has some serious skills, and who we will likely get to see more of in the next season; Olenna Tyrell who, if this were Survivor, would be the current outwit, outplay, and outlast front-runner—but really, what is GoT if not a Survivor parallel—;and Ellaria Sand and the “Sand Snakes,” her daughters by Oberyn, who I hope will get much more screen time this season.
One thing is clear, season 7 is ripe with powerful women; it's a Game of Thrones game-changer, and I'm stoked.
It’s not too late to start prepping for season seven’s premiere! If you haven’t watched all of the season 7 trailers, be sure to check them out and scour them for clues. The Inn at the Crossroads has numerous theme recipes for all your party planning needs, and it’s not too late to grab some party decorations from Amazon, among my faves are the Kurt Adler’s GoT shield twinkle lights, and the “I drink and I know things,” wineglass. I’ll see you on the other side of the premiere!