Monday, May 20, 2013

The Women of Game of Thrones

I read an article recently that tried to suggest to me that, because I am a woman, I cannot like Game of Thrones. This came as news to me because I thought I spent a lot of my spare time loving A Song of Ice and Fire and of course the television version Game of Thrones.

You can read the article here: but be warned, it is stereotyped tripe.

The rebuttal is here:

A lot of the women I know love this show and this book series. In fact, people love this show. Just people in general. Because it is one of the best we’ve been treated to in a long time.

A lot of female friends, acquaintances, colleagues, article writers and twitter followers have told me there are many reasons that they love Game of Thrones. They love the complex plots, the magic, the dragons, and the world of Westeros and beyond. They love the characterisation, the twists, the relationships between characters and the way that people play the game or get caught in its clutches. Many also cite the multitude of strong female characters from many different walks of life.

Under the cut I pay tribute to some of the awesome women of Game of Thrones in season 3, because why not actually celebrate one of the most fantastic things about this show? Be aware, the post contains spoilers up to and including the  episode, The Bear and the Maiden Fair.

1. Daenerys Targaryen – Emilia Clarke

Dany starts out as a young girl who has been sold to a ferocious horse lord by her sadistic brother; the only family she believes she has in the world. Through her marriage and the growth that it necessitates she forms important relationships, learns to love and also learns of her birth right as the last Targaryen heir to the Iron Throne. Now we see her laying siege to slave cities because of her belief that every man, woman and child should be free. She’s smart, brave and principled. In short, she kicks arse!

2. Margaery Tyrell – Natalie Dormer

Natalie Dormer has taken the sweet seeming Margaery Tyrell of the book series and fleshed her out into an intriguing woman, full of intelligence and ambition. Margaery has been schooled by her Grandmother Lady Olenna in the ways of leadership and manipulation, and also in the weapons a woman wields in the game of thrones. Now, soon to be wedded to King Joffrey, she has convinced him of her sweetness and fabricated some darkness to convince him that she is just as much a monster as he is. In the last episode, we see her talking to Sansa Stark about the different types of men and the different kinds of love. She offers wisdom beyond her years and certainly more than anything Sansa has ever been offered by anyone but Littlefinger. She is one of the most compelling characters of the television series so far.

3. Arya Stark – Maisie Williams

Arya has had a terrible time since we began watching her; she’s been traded, sold, lost, and of course orphaned. However she still shows a deep sense of right and wrong and she keeps fighting, quite literally, for what she believes in. She is resourceful, even at her young age, and a quick learner. By herself she has done very well; the only girl in a sea of men. Arya also has a vengeful side; counting off the people she wants to kill every night and mentioning to Beric that the only God she worships now is Death. But she also has a very vulnerable side that grieves for her dead father, her lost siblings, her home, her life, the baker’s boy Micah and her Direwolf Nymeria.

4. Melisandre (The Red Woman) – Carice van Houten

Melisandre is interesting. She’s manipulative and unlikeable in some respects and at the same time she is both engaging and mysterious; a woman enlightened after being sold into slavery. It’s sometimes difficult to decipher her motivations although outwardly they seem to come from a devotion to the Red God. I don’t think that she necessarily believes in people as much as she makes them believe that she does, though her devotion to her God seems real and seems to have been fuelled by intense events. A question is does Melisandre truly wield as great a power as she claims? She seemed to be perplexed by Thoros’ gifts. Nonetheless, I think that her true talent is in making other people believe that what she sees in the fire is real and that only she has the power to truly interpret the word of her God.

5. Olenna Tyrell – Diana Rigg

Olenna Tyrell is the wise, scathing and no-bullshit matriarch of her family. Watching her throw down with the likes of Tywin, Tyrion and Varys has been an absolute treat. Especially given that many of these scenes are not from the book series, although one can definitely assume that that could have happened. Lady Olenna strikes me as a woman who not only knows what she is doing, but is willing to prepare those in her care for the challenges of their lives. I absolutely adore her.

6. Ygritte – Rose Leslie

I don’t much care for Ygritte in the book series, but Rose Leslie has completely nailed her in the television show. Though her chemistry with Kit Harrington is zero, her ability to play this feisty warrior woman is off the charts. Although she is a skilled hunter, lover and fighter, adapted to life beyond the wall, her curiosity and longing for freedom has always lead her to want to be on the other side, where Jon Snow points out, she would be far less adapted. She has a wicked sense of humour and honour and Jon better watch his bits if he betrays her. Kissed by fire, she is also sought after by other wildling men, many of whom believe that she should not be with an outsider like Jon Snow, but with one of her own.

7. Sansa Stark – Sophie Turner

I know there are a lot of people who don’t really love Sansa Stark and sure, in the beginning she was an annoying little girl who sold her own sister out for JOFFREY no less. But can anyone really blame her for the way that she is? Her naivety is a consequence of nobody teaching her the realities for a woman of her age in her world. The only people who have truly tried are Margaery Tyrell and Littlefinger, and we are yet to see where this leads, though it seems like Sansa’s journey is only beginning.

8. Cersei Lannister – Lena Heady

I don’t like Cersei Lannister but her verbal spars with Tyrion are fantastic. Cersei is a woman who has always thought that she was the son that her father was supposed to have. She is cruel and manipulative, dangerous in some situations, but is often outsmarted as she is not nearly as intelligent as she believes herself to be. She is not a woman without compassion however; her kids and Jamie hold a special place in her heart and she is ruthless in defending them. Cersei, like Sansa, is a product of her upbringing and can never outgrow the decisions that her parents made when she was a child.

9. Brienne of Tarth – Gwendolyn Christie

What a fantastic character! Brienne the Beauty, tall and broad shouldered, she is often shamed with this name and called unwomanly. Nonetheless Brienne is both skilled and noble. She believes in honour more than anything else and will keep her word no matter what. During the trip to King’s Landing where Brienne is charged with delivering Jamie to the Lannisters in exchange for Arya and Sansa Stark, Brienne forms a close friendship with Jaime. This is one of the best relationships that the show and the book series has to offer.

10. Catelyn Stark – Michelle Fairley

Catelyn Stark is an honourable and loving mother who believes she has lost all of her children except for Robb, the King in the North. She is often grief stricken, having also lost her husband and recently her father. Her determination to support her family led to her going to King’s Landing to tell Ned of a Lannister plot and resulted in her taking Tyrion Lannister hostage. One could argue that her actions started the war, though there were puppeteers pulling the strings. In the most recent season, it’s sad to see Catelyn playing a much reduced role, probably owing to the huge cast that Game of Thrones is amassing. She tries her best to offer counsel to her son Robb in his war efforts despite her status in his mind as a traitor for letting Jamie Lannister go.

11. Osha the Wildling – Natalia Tena

Natalia Tena is so good as Osha the wildling woman from season one of the show that both the show runners and George R. R. Martin wanted to write more of her into the story. She acts as an advisor to Bran and is trying to take the Stark boys to the Wall and to Jon Snow. She most recently tells them a story of what is beyond the wall in the shape of the Others; dead men rising again with pale skin and ice cold blue eyes. It is the first that Bran and his companions have heard of these wraiths. Whether this will alter their journey remains to be seen as Jojen Reed believes that they need to go beyond the Wall to find Jon Snow.

12. Meera Reed – Ellie Kendrick

I think Ellie Kendrick is the perfect casting choice to play Meera Reed, a skilled hunter and older sister to green seer Jojen Reed. Unfortunately in season three we again see very little of her, even though she and her brother were introduced to the book readers in book two of the series. Meera is supportive, able and caring. She feeds her companions and scouts for the group to ensure their safety. I wish we had more of her this season but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

13. Talisa Maegyr/Stark – Oona Chaplin

As some of you might know, Robb Stark’s marriage in the book is for different motivations and to a different person which is part of a different plot. Having said that, in researching for this article, to give you the best possible information, I came up with a theory as to who she really is in the show and it’s blowing my MIND. If you want to read the theory please read it at the bottom after the spoiler warning.

We know very little about Talisa in the television show. She is a nurse who has escaped her noble family. In a recent episode she says her mother is in Volantis, and that she is writing her a letter in Valyrian. But she does not appear to be who she says she is and if she is who I think she is then she may be a fantastic character. We’ll have to wait and see!

14. Missandei – Nathalie Emmanuel

I was a little surprised when I read that not only had they cast Missandei but that she would play a fairly large role in the television show. I am very glad that the character is on board and providing a much needed female companion for Dany. Dany certainly seems to indicate that she holds Missandei in high regard and is grateful to have her skills in translation at her disposal.

15. Shae – Sibel Kekilli

Shae in the television show exudes an intelligence and mystery far beyond that of her character in the book. She also seems to deeply care for Sansa, which was not evident in the book and makes her more humane. Making Shae more likable has done wonders for the interpretation of her relationship with Tyrion as well and you very much feel terrible for her when Tyrion admits that he has to marry Sansa. Seeing where she goes from here will be interesting, not to mention whether they ever reveal where she has really come from.

16. Ros – Esme Bianco

Ros is not a character from the book series and yet she has been used to such great affect in the television show, allowing a line of continuity between Winterfell and King’s Landing, and illustration of a woman trying to turn her life around. She is a conduit for the audience to see what Littlefinger and Varys are up to. I really enjoyed her performance and her story and I will miss her, though even in death she created more dimensions to Littlefinger and Joffrey than might have been done otherwise.

17. Asha/Yara Greyjoy – Gemma Whelan

We haven’t seen a lot of here in the show but in the book, Theon’s sister Asha Greyjoy is magnificent. A bold leader and warrior with her own ships and men, she raids on behalf of her father and commands respect. I am not sure about her casting choice in Gemma Whelan and we have only seen her in season two, but I am willing to see where this one goes because she is a force to be reckoned with!

What a cast!

For those of you who want to know my theory about Talisa Maegyr please see below. One minor character spoiler for A Storm of Swords/A Feast for Crows below...

The Sandsnakes

The Sandsnakes are all of the children of Oberyn Martell Many are women by different mothers. The eldest four certainly are. The youngest four are all by his paramour Ellaria Sand. The second eldest is Nymeria Sand, called Lady Nym by some. This is who I believe Talisa Maegyr truly is, assuming that the show runners and George R. R. Martin don’t want to introduce new and needless characters to a show that already has far too many. My reasoning? Talisa has always been mysterious about her family and background aside from the fact that she came from a noble family and was born in Volantis. Nymeria Sand was born of a woman in Volantis and given that Oberyn is of house Martell of Dorne, this would still make Talisa/Nymeria noble. Furthermore, Nymeria is described as elegant, refined and beautiful with dark eyes and silky black hair, wearing it in a braid. Talisa is all of these things as played by Oona Chaplin. Talisa is also dusky skinned, as many others are described to be in Dorne.

Why would she come to the Westerlands and try to seduce Robb Stark? Well, Ned Stark did lead the rebellion for Robert Baratheon that led to the death of Elia Martell, the sister of Oberyn. Why not seek some measure of revenge? And if she is pregnant with Robb’s child, all the more reason as now the Dornish have a claim to the North. Dorne supports the Targaryens, with whom they made an alliance through marriage of Rhaegar and Elia, and what better way to support Daenerys than to deliver both Dorne and the heir to the North?

I don’t love plot deviations but I think this could be cool. Vastly different from the plot of the book but a clever way of giving us a character we already know when we come to introducing Dorne in the next season. I really hope this theory works out to be true; it would save that plot in the show from being a complete waste of time.

Who are your favourite women of Game of Thrones / A Song of Ice and Fire? Why do you love them?


  1. I like Shae in the series so much more than in the books. She read like she was a fickle teenager, and GoT Shae comes across as mature, proud and quite maternal. It makes her relationship with Tyrion a bit more justifiable for me - I never quite understood the attraction for Tyrion in the books.

    And Brienne is killing it. Damn, for a fashion model who's never acted, I really hope Gwendoline goes on to do more once the show's run its course.

    1. Amen. I couldn't stand Shae in the books and this version is so much more interesting and complex. She has a real tenderness to her and you can believe that she cares about people like Tyrion and Sansa.

      And yes, Brienne blows my mind. That this lady has never acted before is even more impressive.

  2. cool theory about Talisa...wouldn't at ALL surprise me!

  3. I love your theory! I can see it playing out a number of ways: If Talisa were to be killed in the Red Wedding, it makes a great opening for Oberyn Martell, the Sand Snakes and their quest for revenge. If Talisa does survive, then she'll be driven by revenge too, just like Lady Nym.

    I love the Sand Snakes, and I love Dorne, but I really hated Talisa. If you're theory turns out to be true, I'll take back all the bad things I said about her and the show writers!