Women of Westeros- Understanding the Female Characters of #GameOfThrones
These are strictly the views of the author based on his experiences and conversations. The view and opinion of many may vary from what is presented and that is absolutely fine. To each his own!
As soon as you talk about Game of Thrones, one would hear “stark” emotions resounding from most – it is sexual, gory, excruciatingly violent (to the point of you would not be able to look at your screen), and political (strangely this might be the last thing people will talk about). Some may argue differently about the priority order I mentioned but among all the viewers, these are the recurring themes. There are powerful dialogues, strong sequences, engaging storyline, unexpected twist and turns, superlative acting skills on display but in your definition of the show to a stranger, you’d definitely talk about sex and violence. That’s what I heard when I was asked to watch the show by many! Even in talk shows where certain members of the cast have appeared for interviews, they seem to discussing the same thing – sex, nudity and violence.
And I began to wonder if there are any feminists who have written about the show specifically pertaining to this aspect, and obviously they have. But to my surprise, it was much different to how I imagined it would be covered. Some of the articles opine that the show is actually feminist, apart from showing the heavily patriarchical culture of the time. This is because of a few women who have actually gained significance, and have become pivotal for the story to move forward. Some examples would include – Cersie Lannister, Daenerys Stormborne, Margaery Tyrell and her grandmother and the ever-growing roles of Arya and Sansa Stark. Well now that I think of it retrospectively, YES, it might well be feminist if you look at it from one side of the coin! They have been able to manipulate their way to real political significance.
Season 6 has just ended with Cersie literally wiping out her entire list of enemies (while in the process causing her son to commit suicide and showing almost no remorse at his funeral) , and taking the reign of Westeros from the umpteen list of men who preceded her. Daenerys commands loyalty of thousands of men despite being a self-proclaimed queen and no palpable fighting prowess (except that she is the mother of dragons). Arya Stark has acquired skills and has shown sheer will to survive through difficult situations and has become an assassin, executing people who have betrayed and killed her family members. These, on some level, portray admirable even inspiring qualities for a leader regardless of their gender for the mythical era portrayed on the show (not necessarily inspiring in today’s context though).
But the same series offer a lot of counter argument through the same characters. All of the above have been violated sexually at some part of their lifetime on the show and subjected to patriarchical insults. Cersie was married to a man (Robert Baratheon) she loathed forcefully just because marriage is the most efficient way of creating allies on the show. The same man who kept engaging in sexual activities with prostitutes and procreated many “bastards” (A term very casually used in the show’s context). Cersie, during her walk of atonement, was made to walk through the entire kingdom naked by the “Faith” and was leched at by several men, a scene which was termed “intense” by many viewers. She was also raped by her own twin brother, Jaime. Daenerys was sold to Khal Drogo so that his brother can have his army to reclaim the Iron throne. In one scene, he undressed Daenerys like an object to ensure that she looks good to be presented to Khal for marriage which was, to be mildly put in the context of the show, demeaning. The same brother confesses that he would let the entire army have sex with her, if it ensures him the throne. Adding to the list futher, Khal forces himself sexually on Daenerys on their first night (though later she falls in love with him, surprisingly at that). Sansa was raped on her first night by Ramsey Bolton, and Theon Greyjoy (her pseudo brother) was made to watch it, another “intense” scene. In another scene from the show, one prostitute from Little Finger’s brothel was forced to hurt another sexually by the now deceased King Joffrey.
Undeniably, there will be a mix of emotions that a feminist eye would experience while watching the show. The show’s women have been able to stamp their leadership in tough situations without breaking down but not before they were sexually abused, threatened and violated. This leads us to the question – whether many of these misogynist sequences on display were necessary. I would say while some scenes and story arcs were definitely significant to the storyline, others seemed to be present only for their shock value. Recently, the audiences had enough of it when Sansa’s rape scene was shown with many viewers displayed their ire over the unnecessary obscenity of it. Thus, creators were prompted to tone down sexual violence in season 6, which was palpable as well.
To sum it all, such shows impact psyche of many deeply, and a balanced restraint on the creator’s part is indeed necessary. Though women should also take heart in seeing how some characters come out of tyranny to become strong and commanding and believably so. One doesn’t follow the other in all cases but I guess there is a silver-lining to it after all, as does in life.
PS: Season 7 promises to be even more exciting with the upcoming battle of queens. Stay tuned and rave over Game of Thrones, if it is worthy!
About the Author
Akshay Narasimhan has experience in leading advisory and consulting firms focused on product development, sales and marketing initiatives for client firms. In his free time he enjoys travelling, watching TV shows and trying out new food outlets .
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