The Women Are Winning ‘Game of Thrones’
From Sansa to Dany to Yara, the women on the show are finally taking over.
Warning: Spoilers ahead if you aren't caught up to season six, episode nine.
Sunday night's episode of Game of Thrones, "Battle of the Bastards," was a treat for viewers who have been cheering for the rise of the women all season long. Dany has her dragons, ships, and an Unsullied and Dothraki army. Yara has her brother Theon, a loyal crew, and an alliance with the Mother of Dragons. Sansa saved her own (half-)brother's hide and is back at Winterfell with her head held high—it's her home, damn it, and no one is going to scare her away.
The episode was thrilling for its epic battle scenes, but also for its unexpected timeliness. Leave it to GOT to somehow tap into the greater cultural and political situation in the US, speaking to our contemporary conversations even though filming for the current season wrapped six months ago. Viewers on Sunday saw sadistic rapist Ramsay Bolton receive some much-needed justice following the Brock Turner outrage, a bit of queer positivity with Yara in the wake of the Orlando shooting, and serious progress in the overthrowing of patriarchies at a time when America might have its first female president.
A few weeks ago, I wrote an homage to the women of Game of Thrones for this website, as it finally looked like powerful women were getting what they wanted on the show. I've been watching this entire season as a pregnant woman, knowing that my due date coincides with this Sunday's June 26 finale. It's been awesome watching the rise of female power in Westeros as I prepare to birth a human, one of the most badass female experiences of all.
To top off this season of female empowerment, my greatest wish would be for a positive depiction of pregnancy, for once—enough with the pregnant-belly stabbings, Dragon Queen miscarriages, shadow-demon births, and newborns being eaten alive by ravenous dogs. But even if that doesn't happen, I can take heart in the current positions of many powerful women who seem, finally, to have arrived in full force, while also bringing some long-overdue feminine wisdom to ruling the Seven Kingdoms. Here's a list of the women shaking things up at the end of season nine.
"No One Can Protect Me. No One Can Protect Anyone." —Sansa Stark
At this point, Sansa is no longer the daydreaming damsel, flattered to have the attention of a twerpy prince. Six seasons in, she's suffered the folly—and often the downright evil nature—of the many men around her and has learned to rely on her own strength and wisdom. Watching her half-brother, Jon Snow, draw up battle plans with his all-male team of advisors, she points out a major flaw in the time-honored practice of war games, which are based on blanket strategy—avoiding an opponent's pincer move, for example—rather than understanding his psychology. "You sit around making your plans on how to defeat a man you don't know," Sansa says. "I lived with him. I know the way his mind works."
Ramsay Bolton and his pack of dogs were all set to wipe out any resistance to his hold on Winterfell, from Jon Snow to the Wildlings to even his own kin, but thanks in big part to Sansa, Wales's most sadistic singer-songwriter reached his extremely satisfying end at the jaws of his own dogs. Sansa doesn't forgive, and she doesn't forget.
"I Never Demand, but I'm Up for Anything Really." —Yara Greyjoy
Yara is a tough, but fair leader. She respects the democracy of the Iron Islands, participating in that voting system until it becomes clear that the will of the people is being thwarted by her Trumpian uncle Euron Greyjoy, who won't hesitate to kill her to suit his needs. She's earned the respect of her Ironborn followers, including Theon, through consistent action and skill—enough to flee her uncle's clutches, along with 100 of her kingdom's best ships.
So it's no surprise that Yara and Dany hit it off upon the Greyjoys' arrival in Meereen—both are strong, decisive women, and it must be heartening to find such a kindred spirit. There is no grandstanding between them, just a bit of girl power followed by negotiations with reasonable terms. When Dany asks Yara to give up the inhumane traditions of her culture (in this case, pillaging and raping), she doesn't refuse and hurl insults such as "beggar queen," like the slave masters did. Rather, she bristles for a minute then concedes to Dany, able to see the big picture and the overall progress being made for their futures. The two women acknowledge that their fathers were terrible rulers and exchange satisfied smirks that Westeros and the Iron Islands are each about to have their first queen.
Photo via Helen Sloan/HBO
"My Reign Has Just Begun." —Daenerys Targaryen
I love that both Yara and Dany are literally and figuratively wearing the pants in Sunday night's episode (the better to ride dragons with, I assume).
Dany is feeling pretty confident about her rightful place on the Iron Throne, and why shouldn't she be? She's emerged from two fire baths unscathed, commanded the respect of and support of powerful armies, and her reptilian babes have matured into straight-up killing machines.
It's telling, in his attempt to convince Dany that Meereen is just undergoing a few growing pains, that Tyrion says, "The city was ready to devour us. Now it's like a man reborn." The show has been suggesting for some time now that reborn men might not be the answer—case in point: reborn man Jon Snow's near-catastrophe on the battlefield.
Just as the Stark hold on Winterfell relied on the actions of a woman taking control, with Sansa calling on her ally Littlefinger, so does the entirety of Westeros need a gender shakeup. As Dany puts it rather on-the-nose to Theon, Yara, and Tyrion: "Our fathers were evil men, all of us here. They left the world worse than they found it. We're not going to do that. We're going to leave the world better than we found it."
"A Girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I'm Going Home." —Arya Stark
The Girl with a Name took her lessons from the Faceless Men without succumbing to anonymity, after all. Like her sister Sansa, she's traveled far and endured many physical and mental trials since childhood, and she's come out on the other side even more confident in her own identity and her rightful place in Winterfell.
"I Choose Violence." —Cersei Lannister
Cersei Lannister is up for trial in a land run by two men, the High Sparrow and her own son Tommen, but Lena Headey's character, a grade-A bully in her own right, isn't one to suffer bullying from others. She may not be able to use the zombie Mountain as she'd planned to trial-by-combat her way to freedom, but I can't see her going down without a fight. It may even lead to wildfiery results.
"I'm No Lady." —Brienne of Tarth
Like Arya, Brienne is headed north to Winterfell, which is quickly becoming home to some of the toughest women in Westeros. Like Davos, Brienne has beef with Melisandre regarding her role in the death of someone close to her (Renly Baratheon way back in season two). Their reunion in Winterfell should be eventful, indeed.
With powerful leading women like Sansa, Yara, and Dany firmly asserting their power in season six's penultimate episode, and a group of secondary women pushing forward, too, the women of Game of Thrones are taking the reins and learning to reign. Female rule seems all but inevitable. As Davos Seaworth says to Tormund Giantsbane (a man, incidentally, fond of throwing around the word "cunt" in casual conversation) during their pre-battle talk, "Maybe that was our mistake, believing in kings."
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