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The Women of Westeros

The Women of Westeros

Game of Thrones (GoT), an epic fantasy TV series has now become a cultural sensation. The show which is based on the book series, A Song of Fire and Ice, by George R R Martin is presently the most pirated TV show. Each episode of GoT is reportedly watched by 25 million people. The show known for its unpredictable storyline, gory deaths, fire breathing dragons and sexually explicit scenes has also revived interest in medieval studies. Many prestigious universities like Harvard and Virginia Tech have started offering GoT inspired courses on medieval studies.[1] The popularity of the show has also increased tourism in Northern Ireland and Croatia, where a large part of the series is shot.[2] Hardcore GoT fans have also argued that the show is an allegory of the current political and social situation. Along with themes of power, corruption, violence, the show has also evolved its own strong feminist theme.

The women in GoT are portrayed as strong and formidable characters who have overcome adversity and challenges. Each female character in Got is powerful and influential in her own way. They are shown to be wilier and more resilient than their male counterparts. The allure of the women of GoT lies in the fact that they are portrayed neither as saints nor sinners but as real people with shades of grey. The society of Westeros as shown in GoT is patriarchal and medieval in its treatment of women.  While the men of GoT indulge in senseless violence for quixotic goals, the women are more grounded and practical. The end of some of the heinous villains of the show have been at the hands of women.[3]

Daenerys Targaryen, the lost princess, starts out as the scared younger sister of the heir of the Targaryen family who is married off to a savage Dothraki, Khal Drogo, in return for military help. Daenerys loses her husband and unborn child later in the show but becomes a powerful Khaleesi who frees slaves and leads an army of former slaves in hopes of regaining the Iron Throne. As a young girl who was terrorised by the very brother who was supposed to protect her Daenerys becomes the emancipator of the enslaved. However, she is not above using unscrupulous means to obtain her goals as shown when she trades one of her dragons for an army but uses her dragons to destroy the very city whose traders sold her the army.

Arya Stark, the playful and tomboyish daughter of Ned and Catherine Stark, is a stubborn and naughty girl in the beginning of the show. However, after her father is beheaded for his ‘treachery’; and her mother and brother are betrayed and killed at the Red Wedding, she transforms into a fearsome warrior who takes revenge on those who killed her family. She transformed the very traits that her mother disapproves in a lady to become the avenger of her family.[4]

Sansa Stark who comes across as frivolous and girly in the beginning of the show endures the worst treatment of all. Inherently feminine, she dreams of marrying Prince Joffrey and becoming the queen someday. She is married against her will to Tyrion Lannister and later to Ramsay Bolton. She suffers sexual and physical abuse at the hands of Ramsay until she is rescued. Upon her return to Winterfell, she joins her half-brother Jon Snow to defend Winterfell. As of Season 7, she becomes the regent of Winterfell during Jon’s absence. Throughout her suffering, Sansa shows immense strength and spirit which help her tide over the worst of her troubles.

 Yara Greyjoy is raised as a boy by her father who loses two of his sons to death and one as a hostage when he rebels against the Iron throne. Though her people despise the idea of a woman who fights, she becomes a powerful figure among the Iron born. Her father favours her over her brother to lead the attack on Winterfell in the second season. She claims her right to the throne when her father is killed but faces opposition due to her gender. She later forms an alliance with Daenerys to win the throne.

Cersei Lannister, who has an incestuous relationship with her brother, is married off to Robert Baratheon by her ambitious father to forge a political alliance. She is a strong and scheming woman who doesn’t let anything get in between her children and their claim to the Iron Throne. She uses her sexuality as a means to achieve what she wants.  Though found guilty of adultery and subjected to a humiliating punishment by the High-Sparrow, she later becomes the Queen when all the heirs of the Baratheon family are killed. Though not an ideal symbol of feminism, Cersei in her own way becomes a power to be reckoned with in the male dominated Westeros.

There are other female characters like Brienne of Tarth, Lady Melisandre, Olenna Tyrell, Margaery Tyrell, Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes who also manage to hold their own in the tumultuous and unpredictable political scene of Westeros. The modern feminism which seeks for equal treatment of women alongside men do bear a few similarities to these women of Westeros.


[1] Michelle Castillo, The cultural impact of HBO's 'Game of Thrones', Metro, (March 23, 2013), available at https://www.metro.us/entertainment/the-cultural-impact-of-hbo-s-game-of-thrones/tmWmcA---84l5tCmWJdHiM.

[2] Oliver Smith, The Game of Thrones effect – how the TV series has been a blessing and a curse for tourism, The Telegraph, (January 15, 2019), available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/articles/game-of-thrones-effect-tourism.

[3] Jordan Lauf, 'Game Of Thrones' Season 7 Is Feminist, But Only For One Kind Of Woman, Bustle, (July 26, 2017), available at https://www.bustle.com/p/game-of-thrones-season-7-is-feminist-but-only-for-one-kind-of-woman-70659.

[4] Jincey Lumpkin, 23 Incredible Feminist Moments In Game Of Thrones, HuffPost, (August 30, 2017), available at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/23-incredible-feminist-moments-in-game-of-thrones_us_59a33cfee4b0d0ef9f1c151e.

 


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