There is this show out there that you might have heard of. It has a “small” following. It’s called Game of Thrones. If you don’t know what it is, it’s fine. It just means you and I aren’t friends yet — but ya know what, I bet I can convince you to watch it so we can have something to talk about.
There are entire courses that could (and need to) be taught on this show, but let me set up what we will be discussing today: Game of Thrones is the best television show for female empowerment.
What started as a dick swingin’ contest ended with an arrow. The men of House Stark watch as their brother, Bran, hones his archery skills. Moments later, his arrow is outdone by an unseen archer, the archer’s name is Arya Stark, the daughter of Eddard “Ned” Stark. Arya is at first glance clearly a tomboy — but she is so much more. She’s a girl who is not content to follow customs. In a scene with her father, we hear how he wants her grow up to marry well and birth the future knights and lords of the realm and be a lady. She responds: “No, that’s not me.” She wants to be more than her world’s idea of what a lady is.
As Arya’s develops, we see how her show her gender is not the handicap men view it to be, but rather, her greatest strength. Had Ned’s reaction been different, we might have had another Cersei on our hands.
Similar to Arya is Brienne of Tarth, a highborn maid rejecting her duties as a lady to be a warrior. Despite judgment, Brienne proves wrong all who mock her, as she fights with more than just a sword; she fights with determination and drive. People have an idea in their head that Brienne, because of her look, is a lesbian. Brienne isn’t overt one way or another about her sexuality, but we see though subtle moments (and in the books) that she isn’t. Brienne’s truest passion is battle and loyalty to those she serves. The fight gives her focus; it’s a reason to rise in the morning and something to love.
As of now, we haven’t seen much of the character Yara Greyjoy (known as “Asha” in the books), but Yara commands a fleet of (for lack of a better word) pirates that would proudly lay down their lives for her because of the respect they have for her. They stand in awe. She proves her wit, smarts and skill with every breath. Just wait, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Remember Arya? (I mentioned her literally a paragraph ago.) Well, she has a sister called Sansa. In every way that Arya isn’t a “lady,” Sansa makes up for it. Her wish is to marry well — and marry well she will as she becomes promised to the next in line(-ish) to the throne, Joffrey. This puts her on cloud nine and she begins to support her betrothed blindly.
Except something happens, I won’t give too much away but it goes something like this:
Death. Death. Death. Heads on Spikes.
Death. Texts from friends, “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK IS HAPPENING?”
Respond back, “GIRL, I DO NOT EVEN KNOW, BUT STOP TEXTING ME WHILST MY STORIES ARE ON! YOU KNOW IT IS
SUNDAY AND WE HAD THIS CONVO DURING SEASON 1 OF DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES.”
Death. Death. And boom!
Sansa is stuck defending her fiancé who, in the middle of all of that death and texting, becomes king. Sansa’s dream has turned into a nightmare. Learning customs, traditions, and etiquette have seemingly been for naught. Sansa’s story is not about living the life she wanted, but accepting who she is and through sassiness and growing guile, coming out on top.
Season 2 gives us the radiant Margaery Tyrell, the Queen to throne claimant Renly Baratheon (who is in love with her brother, Loras). Margaery isn’t a woman who needs to love her king in any way; she just loves what he has: power. She knows the game of thrones is played by men, but she is determined to make sure she’s the woman who wins it. Once you meet her grandmother, Olenna, you begin to see that Margaery isn’t the only bold woman of House Tyrell. Ultimately all Margery wants to do is good. She believes in charity for those who need it, she believes in helping all, not just the rich few. She knows the world she lives in, she knows how to play the game her own way, and she knows with victory comes riches beyond gold dragons.
To put it neatly: Margaery Tyrell is the Hillary Clinton of Westeros.
Speaking of Queens, we come to Daenerys Targaryen, a woman forced into marriage by her power- and throne-hungry brother. However, her seemingly dire situation doesn’t break her. It shows the strength within her to not just persevere, but lead. She isn’t a woman who wants money, jewels, or furs — because she could have all of those. She wants only what she believes is hers, and when she realizes what power she has, she soars in ways that she believes will get her to her goal.
There are two other very central female characters that deserve the final recognition here. They are women who couldn’t be more different in terms of personality but are perhaps the most alike. These women are Catelyn Stark and Queen Cersei Baratheon. Catelyn is the wife of Ned Stark, while Cersei is the wife of King Robert. Their husbands are best friends and yet they cannot stand each other. They are women who show the most traditional ideas of womanhood. If this were the 1950s, they would be housewives.
Cersei and Catelyn find themselves at great odds yet what they are fighting for is the same: to keep their family together. No matter how flawed their husbands or sons are, they will unconditionally support them and their choices while always offering the best possible advice. The most interesting thing is that as their two sides wage war, they are the women who are always trying to control the marionette strings. When their sons listen, it helps, when they don’t, it costs. Game of Thrones shows that not only is a boy’s best friend his mother, but also, his best council.
In Game of Thrones — both the books and the show — women aren’t just characters, they are symbols. Game of Thrones might show the women treated as objects secondary to men, but the reality paints them as the symbols: symbols of power, symbols of resolve, symbols that we all wish we could have in our lives. The storytellers use incredibly smart juxtaposition to make their point about a woman’s true strength. They will show men degrading these women only while the story unfolds the lesson our mothers try and tell us from day one: a woman always knows best.