Skip to main content

Game of Thrones: Not the Women They Were Before

Sansa_and_Cersei

One of the strengths of A Song of Ice and Fire is its willingness to play with and subvert fantasy narrative tropes, especially with its female characters. The warrior woman is also a naive romantic who has never killed a soul. The scrappy young girl becomes an emotionally damaged child hell-bent on revenge. Cersei and Catelyn are both mothers who want to protect their children, but they go about it in rather different ways. And who even knows what Margaery is like, considering that we only see her from the perspectives of a girl who idolizes her and a queen who wants her dead. Characters resist simple categorization.

Game of Thrones‘ inability to understand this is one of its biggest flaws. Although the show has created some wonderful moments and built on some of the book’s less developed characters (like Shae) in compelling and interesting ways, it often falls back on the desire to fit female characters neatly into the categories that the book defies. Most particularly, the show seems determined to fit some of its more complicated female characters into one of two boxes: masculine or feminine.

Masculine characters are all about overt strength and fighting the system directly. They are outspoken and bold, can fight, do not flinch at the sight of blood, and are capable of killing.

Feminine characters, on the other hand, are softer. They fight using smiles and kind words and manipulations. They are often concerned with marriage and motherhood, and tend to keep their true opinions to themselves. They are often, although not always, somewhat naive and romantic.

Few to none of the ASOIAF characters fit neatly into one of those two categories, which means, of course, that it’s difficult for the show to fit them nearly into one of those categories either. But they are trying their best.

(more…)

Read More

The Silencing of Catelyn Stark

catelyn-stark-1280-1-_FULL

Catelyn Stark is one of the major point of view characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. She’s the character with the second most chapters in A Game of Thrones. She has more chapters in the first three books than Daenerys. And she certainly has more focus than Robb Stark, who never has a POV chapter — we see his story entirely through Catelyn’s eyes.

Not that you’d know that from watching the show. If you exclude one out-of-character speech about Jon Snow, Catelyn has probably had less than ten lines this season, and none of them have had any real bearing on the plot. What happened? Why has Catelyn Stark been silenced?

The answer to me seems simple but depressing: Catelyn Stark, as the mother figure, simply doesn’t matter.

Please note: this post contains MAJOR book spoilers through A Feast for Crows.

(more…)

Read More

Daenerys as the White Savior

Game_of_Thrones_Season_3_14_a_h

Last week, I came across this Tumblr post: Why Daenerys Should Not Be Glorified. In it, the author argues that Daenerys is a deeply problematic character in the series, because she acts as a White Savior in Essor, echoing themes of imperialism by storming into places like Astapor, inflicting her own moral beliefs on the people, and destroying the cities without any understanding of their culture.

It’s an interesting read, and it makes some valid points. But I think it goes too far in condemning Daenerys and her savior complex.

Dany’s story is neither an imperial narrative nor an anti-imperial narrative, but a story that (like many elements of A Song of Ice and Fire) falls uncomfortably in between.

(This post has vague book spoilers beyond what’s been shown in the TV series)

(more…)

Read More

Game of Thrones S3 Wishlist

Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-game-of-thrones-32925171-1600-1200

I had a lot of problems with the second season of Game of Thrones. In fact, this blog practically became dedicated to talking about the series and its disappointments.

But I am an eternal optimist, and so I’ve been having lots of fun counting down to Season 3. Hopefully, it’ll be as awesome as the book that it’s based on! Hopefully. And my expectations aren’t that demanding. Let it change the story around if it needs to. Condense some storylines, expand on others. As long as a few things are addressed…

WARNING! Spoilers for A Storm of Swords follow.

(more…)

Read More

In Defense of Catelyn Stark

Catelyn Stark is one of the few voices of reason in A Song of Ice and Fire, but she is repeatedly ignored, because she is a mother, and because she is a woman. Although, like every other character in the series, she is fallible (trusting Littlefinger, for example), her advice is generally sound. She has lived through one bloody war and lost people she cared about as a result. She does not want to live through another one and lose all her family. And so she alone, out of all the main characters, speaks out against war and vengeance. She understands that further death and destruction will not bring back the people they have lost. More than anything, she wants peace. She warns Renly that his men are the “knights of summer,” playing at war with no understanding of its reality. She combines experience with wisdom, and many of the terrible situations in the books could have been avoided if people listened to warnings.

But they don’t. Because she is a woman, and because she is a mother. Because, as a mother, she is dismissed as too soft-hearted, too concerned with protecting her children to understand the true nature of war. Because, as Robb‘s mother, heeding her words would be seen as weakness.

 And I think many readers have a similar reaction to her. Catelyn Stark, like everyone else in the series, is imperfect. Unlike any other “good” character, however, she is an imperfect mother, and it is this flaw that inspires so much vitriol against her. Catelyn is too much of a stereotypical mother, putting the welfare of her children above other concerns. Yet she is also not enough of a stereotypical mother figure, as she has her own prejudices and weakness. She is not always nurturing and accepting of others, and she chooses to involve herself in the war instead of waiting at home with her youngest children. And that, it seems, is unacceptable.

(more…)

Read More

The Misogyny of Tyrion Lannister


Pretty much everyone loves Tyrion Lannister, at least at first.

In a series full of ruthless trope subversions, Tyrion-as-hero (or at least as sympathetic underdog) is a plot that’s easy to get behind. He’s highly intelligent and well-read, he speaks bluntly about how things “really are,” he’s constantly making sarcastic comments, and, unlike most powerful people we see in the series, he wants to do right by the people of Westeros. Throw in the fact that his efforts and intelligence go unrecognized, due to the fact that he’s ugly and a dwarf, and he makes the perfect reader stand-in as the unappreciated (but highly deserving) hero.

But Tyrion’s plotline is not only a subversion of “the handsome man is the hero, the ugly man is the villain.” It’s also a subversion of the entire concept that the underdog is the true hero. Although Tyrion is an interesting character, he is not always an admirable one, whatever he might believe. He deals with his own feelings of powerlessness by asserting his power and his superiority over others who are even more powerless, aka women. He is, despite his own feelings of benevolence, deeply misogynistic.

And, as compelling as Tyrion’s storyline may be, readers’ eagerness to defend him is more than a little uncomfortable.

This post contains spoilers through A Dance with Dragons.

(more…)

Read More

Power is Power: Cersei Lannister

This post contains spoilers through A Dance with Dragons.

There’s no getting around it: Cersei Lannister is a horrible person. Although, thanks to the extreme cruelty of some of the series’ villains, she isn’t the worst character in A Song of Ice and Fire, she is ruthless and petty and cruel, and she appears willing to sacrifice anything (except her children) to bolster her own power.

Cersei is also the only “villain” character in A Song of Ice and Fire who  gets chapters from her point of view but isn’t redeemed or made likeable in any way. Although readers may have different reactions to Jaime in A Storm of Swords and Theon in A Dance with Dragons, the books certainly attempt to make them into compelling, sympathetic characters, but Cersei’s chapters in A Feast for Crows only confirm the idea that she is an unhinged, vindictive, selfish, and spiteful woman.

Yet Cersei is also one of the most intricate and interesting (if also detestable) characters in the series. We just have to dig deeper into her motivations to find the compelling details underneath.

Cersei is far from a feminist character. However, she is a fascinating character to examine from a feminist perspective, because her entire life (and much of her personality) is a reflection of the misogynistic nature of Westerosi society. She’s an ambitious woman who has had to fight against limitations her whole life, and who has been made hard, cruel and bitter as a result.

(more…)

Read More

Arya Stark: To Bend or to Break?

Arya Stark is one of the most popular characters in A Song of Ice and Fire. She’s certainly one of my favorites. Brave, quick-witted, fierce and determined, Arya survives in a world that kills many older and more experienced players using courage, adaptability, intelligence, and, of course, a whole lot of luck.

But she’s also, in a way, naive. She’s naive about how she can treat Prince Joffrey without receiving severe punishment in return. She’s naive about the future she can expect for herself, and naive about the cost of her rebelliousness. Although she rejects every romantic fiction that Sansa adores, Arya loves stories of women warriors, and she invents her own tales of individualism that place her into a similarly perilous position. Readers love her for this naivety, because it pushes against expectations and allows her to treat Joffrey exactly as everyone would like him to be treated. However, escaping the  oppressive nature of Westerosi expectations is not as easy as simply deciding not to listen, as the struggles of other “untraditional” women and Arya’s own unfolding plot demonstrate. The women of Westeros must either bend to expectations, at least superficially, or find themselves broken.

This post contains spoilers through A Dance with Dragons.

Read More

There are No True Knights: Brienne of Tarth

There are true knights, Sansa Stark thinks, as she flees from the Hound. All the stories can’t be lies.

And Sansa might be right. She has one true knight searching for her, on the old story quest to rescue the fair maid and return her to her family. Brienne of Tarth is the only living character who values honor above all else, who is determined to keep all her vows, who respects life and wants to protect the weak.

She is also, of course, an unattractive woman, despised and mocked by almost everyone she encounters. She is not technically a knight. She has all the inner qualities of the storybook hero and none of the external qualities, in a world where appearances and superficialities are all that seem to count. She is a woman who does not seem to fit anywhere in her world.

(more…)

Read More