Nerd.Vomit: Feminism & Game of Thrones
This post is a part of my Nerd.Vomit series, which will analyze popular television shows from a feminist perspective and analyze the portrayal of female characters in terms of character development and plot device.
**SPOILER ALERT**((seriously, don’t read this and then leave angry comments like you didn’t know. I put asterisks so my warning’s legit.))
Game of Thrones
Guys, I am a HUGE fan of Game of Thrones … the show.
I tried reading the books after the first season but I got bored after the puppy scene in A Game of Thrones.
But BFR, wasn’t that the first page of the first novel in the series?
Yes. Yes it was.
I love GOT because it’s just such an awesome show with amazing character development and lots of scenes that I’m sure will be nominated for an Academy Award or Emmy or whatever fancy awards actors receive when they act well.
However, even from the very beginning I’ve been a bit torn when it comes to watching GOT. Although the show has these amazingly morally ambiguous characters that are all trying to rule, it’s depiction of women can be a little uneasy sometimes.
The show has received a lot of criticism from viewers, bloggers and critics regarding it’s use of “sexposition”–the use of sex or sexually suggestive material to further the plot. Although I think sexposition is prevalent in many television shows, before and after GOT began, I think the amount of it Season 2 was a bit jarring.
Recent reports have surfaced that one actress has refused to no longer do topless scenes–wanting to be known solely for her acting ability. This comes in light of Esmé Bianco’s character, Ros, being killed off the show 2 episodes ago. Bianco had the most nude scenes out of all of the female actors.
According to the Huffington Post, in the 20 hours of GOT footage, approximately 15 minutes of that has been sex scenes or suggestive content. Most of that content has undoubtedly involved women in prostitution, rape or being subjected to sadistic acts–for the benefit of men. In in terms of viewership, the majority of viewers watching the show and benefiting from the sex scenes are male.
The world of GOT and HBO’s GOT Producers David Benioff and W. B. Weiss’ interpretation of the books is undoubtedly done so in the context of our culture–which is patriarchal and a culture in which women are regularly objectified. We live in a culture that labels feminism a four letter word. Feminism is fighting to stay alive with good connotations. So it is no surprise that in the GOT world, the presence of feminism in female characters and even in the show’s themes, is just as fleeting.
So, to call GOT feminist is a bit far-fetched. However, the show does feature a range of female characters who embody traits of feminism. In a show that is very male-dominated world (and clearly geared toward that audience), you can still find the women who have power–it’s subtle, direct and ambitious.
Feminism is all about strong, empowering, independent and ambitious women (and men who love women that are). Most importantly, it’s about context. The following women exemplify elements of feminism given the contextual factors they are facing.
So, here’s my take: (and if you’re like, bro, this is a really long list, how will I ever read all of this before I die? Well, um, hello, it’s GOT so it’s automatically awesome). Also, this list is in no particular order, because there are more important things on my mind–like what kind of latte I’m going to buy when I head to work.
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)
image by HBO
The Mother of Dragons is a forced to be reckoned with. Seriously. Although Danny isn’t one of my favorite characters, she is an example of someone who took all of the odds against her and used them as a ladder to get revenge.
Once her sadistic and psychotic brother marries off to Khal Drogo, she learns the Dothraki language and after Khal Drogo’s death, takes the her loyal (and freed slaves) with her in her quest to take back Westeros.
Despite the fact that her upbringing has made her ruthless and ambitious at all costs–she has a kind heart. In the two cities she’s conquered so far, she has freed all of the slaves–and has then given them the choice to fight for her.
It’s awesome to see a character who has had no choice all her life be willing to embrace the power to give people less fortunate a choice she never had. Her grievances have transformed her into a smart, strategic and fearless leader–hopefully it won’t get the best of her.
Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie)
image by HBO
Brienne of Tarth is one of my favorite characters because I feel she is very much the anti-traditionalist. Although all of the women in this post aspire to be something much more than they were born to (like literally everyone on the show), there is something special about Brienne.
She doesn’t want to be a princess, or a ruler over anything or anyone. She is one of the few characters who believe in and uphold a moral code.
She chooses to see the good in people and even when she hates them–i.e. bathtub scene with Nikolaj Coster-Waldaeu’s Jaime Lannister.
Seriously guys, Brienne literally fights a bear with a wooden stick.
I mean, it was by her choosing–she was thrown in a pit for the entertainment of her male captor and his army.
This woman is badass,
Arya Stark (Masie Williams)
image by HBO
Arya Stark is amazing! Despite being the youngest main female character in the show, she is one of the best characters. Arya is out of revenge–and rightfully so, as her father was beheaded for being the good guy, and her family has been torn a part forever. (cue in Taylor Swift’s hit song–and that’s the story of her life)
However, Arya doesn’t just sit around and wait for justice. She is learning to be a skilled swordsman. She impersonates a boy and joins a group headed for The Wall in order to find her brother, Jon Snow.
In Season 1, Arya pretends to be a poor servant girl while she works for Lord Tywin Lannister (the granfarther of the kid who had her father killed!). Just like Brienne of Tarth and her father, Arya has a high moral code and believes in keeping one’s word. She has no time for politics–as seen when the Brotherhood of Banners betrays Gendry by giving him to Mesilandre for gold.
Unlike her sister, who only wanted to be queen of Westeros, Arya is an ambitious and semi-skilled swordsman–preferring sword practice over knitting.
Just like a lot of the characters, Arya is intensely ambitious–reciting the names of the people she wants to kill for revenge repeatedly every night before she goes to sleep. I mean, imagine if they had times tables back then, this girl would be a boss mathematician. She is a strong female character because she intelligent, ambitious and honest. That’s a hard thing to find in Westeros.
Osha (Natalie Tena)
Despite her not knowing a lot about seemingly obvious, this Wildlings a keeper. Osha is incredibly supsticious and cautious about heading to The Wall but also fiercely loyal. When Theon Greyjoy captured Wintefell, Osha escaped with Hodor–and the Stark’s youngest boys Bran and Rickon so they could meet Jon Snow in hope of refuge. Although she doesn’t have fame and fortune going for her, she has sacrificed a lot to keep these two boys alive.
Ros (Esmé Bianco)
image by HBO
Ros is a character that does not exist in George R. R. Martin’s book series. In the show, Ros is one of Lord Baelish Littlefinger’s employers in his brothel. She is simply used as a place holder to show what main character developments behind-the-scenes. Many of the sex scenes in GOT involved Ros.
Although Ros doesn’t seem to get much love from fans of the book series, her character allows viewers to see the cut throat ambition and desperation of her employer, Littlefinger–including his disregard for women, as they are only chess pieces in his plan to one day rule the seven kingdoms. We also see more of the cruel and sadistic Joffrey when he kills Ros.
Ros is an example of a character who came from nothing and began to socially climb–working for Littlefinger and then as a spy for Varys. Despite the fact that the latter ultimately led to her demise, she is an example of one of the many ambitious women in the seven kingdoms.
Cersei Lannister (Lena Headley)
image by HBO
As you saw from the quote above, Cersei is a bit angry about a lot of things. She’s not the type of woman to take things like epic high fives or calling her “sister,” lightly. Seriously, she will threaten to kill your entire family.
However, despite the fact that she is hella crazy as balls, Cersie is extremely smart, cunning and ruthless.
The fact that she let’s her alcoholism get the best of her like, 90 percent of the time is quite a downer.
At one point she says to Lannister captive, Sansa Stark, “tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon. The best one’s between her legs. Learn how to use it.”
Despite the quote featured earlier in this post, Cersei is interesting because she represents the illusion of a free /feminist woman. She is really just a puppet for the two most powerful men in her life–her son Joffrey and her farther Lord Tywin–both vicious and misogynistic men.
Talisa Maegyr (Oona Chaplin)
image by HBO
Although Spanish actress Oona Chaplin’s character Talisa, doesn’t do much besides totally be in love with Robb Stark, I still like her for one simple reason–she adds color to the show. I haven’t done any intensive research on the ethnic ratio of the show but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say there isn’t a lot of ethnic diversity in GOT.
I mean sure, the Dothraki made an appearance in Season 1 but after the whole horrific death of Khal Drogo, they left. Besides Nathalie Emmanuel’s Missandei (current linguistic ninja/servant of Danny), Talisa is the only ethnically diverse female character on GOT. So hey, shout out!
Other awesome characters I did not include in this post:
Empowering Female Characters: A-
Worth Watching: A++