Game of Thrones, for doing more for feminism

Tits and dragons. That’s what the initial reaction of Game of Thrones was. Excessive nudity, gratuitous sex scenes and some dragons thrown in. After all, who doesn’t need a side order of fire-breathing fantasy reptiles with their degradation of women?

But to read Game of Thrones this way, is to gloriously miss the point. This is a show that holds nothing back; bloodshed, barbarity and, yes, boobs. It’s high on shock, awe, dragons and death but, along the way, it has proved itself astonishingly feminist.

Because, of course, it is far too reductive of Game of Throne’s impact and the depth of its storytelling, to dwell on its boob and body count. To condense a woman’s narrative to her on screen nudity is, ironically, to fail to see the woman at all.

Is Daenerys; Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Queen of the Andals, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms only worth the sum of her (naked) parts? Is Sansa Stark, fierce matriarch-in-the-making, plotter, schemer and ultimate victor of the Battle of the Bastards, defined only by her abusive marriages to Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton?

No, because Game of Thrones deals expertly with the notion of victimhood, especially when it comes to women. Female characters on the show are subjected to heinous, traumatic acts –many of them sexual- but they are defined by their survival. Daenerys becomes a conquering queen, commanding the armies of the man she was sold to. Sansa turns her tragedy into a steely-sense of purpose becoming a calm, calculated would-be-queen with a taste for revenge, more like Cersei Lannister than the wallflower we saw mooning over Joffrey in season one. They are celebrated for their strength, a strength made all the more powerful by the show’s visceral and unfettered exposure of the harrowing obstacles they had to overcome.

Then, of course, there are Game of Thrones’ warrior women; the armoured juggernaut of honour and heart that is Brienne of Tarth, the tough-as-nails Yara Greyjoy with her quick wit that commands fleets, the deadly Sand sisters of House Martell and the doomed wildling fighter Ygritte. All of them are forces to be reckoned with, whose gender is discussed but rarely dismissed, whose fierceness is never questioned, at least not twice…

The greatest character arc within this narrative is Arya Stark, who rejects the lady of the manor mould afforded her in season one, preferring instead to wield a sword than wear a dress. She spends most of Game of Thrones alone, sharpening her combat skills (and her sword) on an eight-season-long journey of vengeance. If this was an old school western, she’d be played by a hardened, grizzled bloke, but this is Game of Thrones, so the cold-as-ice avenger is played by a baby-faced teenaged girl. How’s that for feminism?

But Game of Thrones’ has done more for feminism than merely allow the girls to beat the boys at their own game. The diversity of female strength on offer here is not just who has the biggest sword. Political manipulation is the weapon of choice for Cersei- the Iron Throne’s current incumbent, a seat she nearly lost to the equally Machiavellian Margery Tyrell and her sharp-witted grandmother Olena Tyrell or the gutsy, fearless Stark matriarch, Catelyn. These characters show a perseverance beyond the battlefield, one that is no less captivating and one which has shown them to be, at times, far more exciting to watch than their male equivalents.

Game of Thrones presents a realistic spectrum of women in a nonetheless fantasy world. They are smart, loyal, vulnerable and naïve. They are leaders and warriors, politicians and wives, mothers and matriarchs, leaders of armies, students of warfare and architects of revenge.

The show has given us fierce, brave and brilliant female characters on screen for over eight years. Women who talk about more than male attention, women who are more than supporting characters to a male driven plot. The women in Game of Thrones drive the plot, theyarethe narrative and we can’t take our eyes off them, naked or not.

So thank you Game of Thrones, for eight years of some of the most exciting women we’ve seen on screen in a long time. We’ll miss you.

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