An era of pop culture came to an end with the final episode of Game of Thrones. The episode that aired on the morning of 20th of May, received mixed reviews from fans. The fandom was once again split into the lines of Book Readers vs. Show Watchers. Yet again, one of the most controversial themes of this season was feminism. A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF), the series on which Game of Thrones is based, has given the world a ton of strong female characters. Each more intriguing than the next.
But the translation of these characters arcs on-screen has often met with a mixed reaction. While some cheered Daenerys Targaryen as the Queen we need. Others saw her like a mad Targaryen who was being kept on the show to increase its feministic appeal. So, what did the Game of Thrones mean for feminism? Did it do justice to the cause and its story? Or was it all for the nonce? Here’s an analysis of feminism in Westeros.
Game of Thrones Feminism: Women Characters and Roles
Game of Thrones has given to its audience some of the most iconic female characters of all time. Readers of ASOIAF have read even more of these strong women who never made it to the show. Going into their details would be impossible. If you haven’t seen the show or read the books, you’ll have a problem keeping up. But you don’t have to be a fan to understand what is the significance of these characters. In a world dominated by men, GoT beautifully captures what it means to be a woman.
With characters like Daenerys Targaryen, Margaery Tyrell, Cersei Lannister, all trying to become the Queen, the series brings to light the struggles of ambitious women in power or aspiring for it. There are characters like Sansa Stark, Yara Greyjoy (Asha Greyjoy in books), Arianna Martell (only in the books) who are ladies of great Houses fighting against patriarchy to prove their mettle. The beauty of this show is that women from all walks of life have been given their due. Characters like Ros and Shae were prostitutes that have been painted in a way to put a human face on these oft ostracised women. Time and again the show has given us some of the most powerful girl power scenes in the history of television.
It is amazing how the series is able to portray women and their struggles without making them out to be the victim in everything. It beautifully displays the strength that comes naturally through womanhood. Yet, the show has been mired with controversies about nudity and abuse shown on screen. The audience has always been divided on the relevance on the same. Whether it was the scene where Sansa Stark gets raped. Or when Dany walked out of Vaes Dothrak naked. The show is filled with nudity, sex, gore and abuse which can get overwhelming at times. But even through all of this, die-hard fans find empowerment for their favourite females. These Queen, and Ladies and Whores and so many others bring to life all that it means to have the deck stacked against you.
What is the Game of Thrones Feminist Perspective and Reading?
I’ll be honest. I am a book fanatic. And proud to be one. Readers of the books have never complained about the portrayal of female characters in them. And because I have read the books, I too have some issues with the show. But let’s first look into what makes Game of Thrones the most feminist show on television. The series is brutally honest. It doesn’t hold back to show how women are treated as third-class citizens. They have been objectified, underestimated, harassed, and abused. On the surface, it seems like the most horrific portrayal of women. But this is the truth of this world. It seems unbelievable because a series can have only so many characters. But none of what they show is something new. Or what you haven’t heard of before.
Where the strength comes into play is how these women fight back. How they don’t let these tragedies define them. Whether it is Daenerys Targaryen, who fights every step of the way to prove her worth. Or Sansa Stark who became the most dangerous player in the game, not letting rape define her life. The books also present a flip side to the discrimination against women. Years of being underestimated and ignored don’t have the same effect on all. Due to a lack of guidance as a result of indifference, some might even go astray. And end up on the wrong side of history. Like Cersei Lannister. The eldest child and only daughter of Tywin Lannister is a force to reckon with. Yet, having always been underestimated for being a woman makes her feel like a victim of gender discrimination all the time. This attitude closes her mind to her own shortcomings that result in her downfall. The lesson, however, in all of this is never to stop questioning one’s intentions.
The entire series is filled with lessons and inspiration for women across the globe to take the narrative in their own hands. To not let society define them or shackle them. It also shows how beauty is used as a tool to oppress. Brienne of Tarth is the perfect example of this. By all standards of beauty, she has been written as downright ugly. With a strong and broad built and no other features to make it better, since childhood, she is rejected and ostracised. But it only takes one worthy guide to put her on the right track. She uses her strength to learn sword fighting and all the other warfare skills. Brienne goes on to become one of the best warriors of Westeros. But that discrimination she faced as a child results in an adult who forever carries that insecurity with her.
What gets in the way of this message is HBO’s compulsory need for unnecessary nudity. The extent to which the books go with this is only to paint the world that has inspired Westeros. Having been inspired by medieval England the series mentions whorehouses, rape and pillaging by the powerful, and gives consensual sex the same amount of weight as is relevant to our day-to-day lives. The show for TRP or other ratings takes this on a whole other level. The brutality is another issue. But the truth is that women are subjected to the same every day. What the show failed to present, was the impact of this brutality on a woman’s life. It has rushed everything so much that it often fails to capture the complexity of George R. R. Martin’s writing.
Too Much Feminism in Game of Thrones?
Another complain that a lot of the critics have often had is that the show forces the feminist agenda in its writing. At the end of season 7 of Game of Thrones, this had become a major issue. I can see why people would think that way because we have never seen so many women in power before. No one ever complains about there being too many lead male characters. That’s because it is something we are used to seeing. Another aspect that we don’t usually see is abuse. The feminism in Game of Thrones is a message that there’s nothing a woman cannot do. Where men fall down by succumbing to their faults, they can pick up the mantel. They can lead, they can fight, and they can be evil. What this series has tried to do is to represent women as a complete human being and not through a single narrative.
There are women who are better than men at their craft like swordsmanship. Brienne of Tarth is the perfect example of that honourable and noble female knight. There are women who will use their feminity as strength against men’s weakness for their bodies. Like Cersei Lannister. It is a woman’s emotionality that makes her empathise with other people. A quality that makes them excellent rulers, like Daenerys Targaryen. (No, I don’t buy the Mad Queen Dany bullshit). Only a woman has the inner strength to rise from the ashes as was so beautifully and literally written in the first book itself when Daenerys walks out with her dragons.
After the series finale of Game of Thrones, I’m sure a lot of the fans have no complaints about the show being too feminist. But was it too feminist before that? I don’t think so. If anything, I feel like they failed to do justice to this series and its female characters in the end. All their struggles ended up being for the nonce. The message, in the end, was that you cannot escape the confines of society. Season 8 of Game of Thrones was the single most disappointing ending I have ever seen. But I hope that Martin will give us an ending we can all be proud of. And to the readers of this article I say, read the books! There’s just so much that awaits you in A Song of Ice and Fire.