This is that time of the year we would have been watching the final season of Game of Thrones. Much to our collective dismay, the producers decided to postpone our anticipation and misery of that “bittersweet ending” by another year.
Westeros is the ideal, permanent parking spot for your average male chauvinist. This is the land where women are regularly bartered – as willing and unwilling sex objects; or as brides to cement socio-political alliances if the family is rich. This is also the land of walk-of-shames, excessive nudity and one where rape is a normal, shrug-worthy occurrence. Heck, blooming love stories emerged from husbands raping their newlywed teenage brides.
When the season began, the idea of women in prominent positions of power was impossible to conceive (besides Lysa Arryn by default). The trajectory of the 7 seasons of Game of Thrones has set out an intense, multifaceted path for the women characters. They have overcome horrific forms of torture, abuse, sexual violence, assassination attempts, forced subjection to political bartering, etc.
Lest we fall into the trap of inspiration porn and stereotypes, they have also learnt the moral necessities of revenge, razor-sharp wit, battle strategy, court conspiracies, lethal assassination skills, brute force and an intimidating physical prowess that threatens to decimate the hypermasculine culture that breathes oxygen into Westeros. Now at the (delayed) brink of the 8th season, we find ourselves with 3 women upholding the dominant political pillars of Westeros – Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister locking horns in their battle for the iron throne; and Sansa Stark as the current caretaker of the now declared-autonomous North.
In the land of blood and iron (throne)
Daenerys Targaryen learnt the hard way that dragons can only get one so far, when up against a formidable enemy(s). Cersei, like the good Lannister she is, has amassed (stolen) immense wealth and paid off her debts, has a massive army, the wily Qyburn, her brother-lover (interchangeable when convenient) and the invincible Gregor Clegane at her side. Cersei herself is a political mastermind and few can level with her when it comes to court conspiracies and revenge. While Daenerys’ other significant enemy – The Night King – has a magical spear. Which he used to steal one of her dragons and turn into a fire-breathing, giant popsicle.
Olenna Tyrell would have made a magnificent advisor to Daenerys, but when has George R. R. Martin ever cared about our feelings?
The Targaryen queen has become a formidable ruler in her own right but falters in the beginning by spending too much time in haughty, symbolic gestures of power. The time spent in the recitation of her never-ending titles and persuading Jon to bend the knee might have been utilised in better planning of battle strategy. Nevertheless, following the loss of the Sands, Greyjoys, Olenna and the Unsullied being stranded at Casterly Rock, she finally takes matters into her own hands. She sets Tyrion aside, and with Jon’s counsel, rides off to battle and does what she does best – engulfs the Lannister and Tarly forces with dragon fire. After such a crucial victory, some diplomatic ability could have aided her. However, her megalomania reared its ugly head when she set the Tarlys on fire.
She was, however, a few minutes too late. The gold reaches Cersei, which in turn makes her almost invincible. Multiple battle victories, blowing up her enemies, paying off her debt and in a position to buy new armies – as much as we want to root for good over evil, Cersei is just too pragmatic and cunning to be defeated by good hearts and good intentions. Not to condemn her as evil in entirety though. She has bounced back from horrific incidents – losing all her children, imprisonment and public humiliation at the hands of the High Sparrow – to name a few. She strikes back with an ironclad will and refuses to reconcile herself to her wretched circumstances. She refuses to retreat to a corner with knitting needles.
Cersei may be a harsh queen, but she completely capitalises on Daenerys’ ‘outsider’ status to maintain popular opinion and loyalty, and rally her allies. If she does not have a change of heart and join the fight against the Night Walkers, Daenerys’ (now down to two dragons) designs for the Iron Throne are officially done for. The Targaryen could be a better and more popular queen, as she encourages women around her to be in a position of power and is more accommodating of diversity, but she is not half the political animal that Cersei is.
Missandei could have been afforded some more character development, and she could have had more access in the manifestation of plot points. We did get to know her a little better in Season 7, outside of her immediate ties to Dany. She represents a social background that is free of many patriarchal social constraints such as the institution of marriage. Consequently, the alienating process of bastardisation does not exist in her native island of Naath. Unfortunately, this much of progressive, subversive potential is reduced to a worried woman anxiously awaiting the return of her significant other and chanting Dany’s many titles.
Northern autonomy and the impending White Walker attack
The Stark family and the North, in general, have had it up to their heads with Westerosi politics. After years of chaos and bloodshed, the North has collectively decided to distance themselves from the rest of Westeros and become a sovereign kingdom in their own right. Besides, they literally have things that are more important on their plate – an impending attack by an army of the ice-cold walking dead, i.e. the White Walkers. The North no longer cares about tussles in Kings Landing, when trying to prevent themselves from collectively becoming crystallized zombies. In the midst of such turmoil, the women in the North have risen magnificently to the occasion.
With Jon in Dragonstone, Sansa is in charge. We now meet a wiser Sansa who has escaped abduction, sexual violence, won the war against the Boltons and was cast aside when it came to nominating leadership for the North. Gone is the little girl with the silly crush on Joffrey and an obsession with becoming queen. The Sansa who walked away gloating while Ramsay Bolton’s dogs tore him apart is now a much better role model for young girls all over the world. There is an obvious amount of resentment as everything that she has done for the North has been swept under the carpet, and a reluctant Jon thrust into the spotlight. Which, in turn, puts a strain on her relationship with Jon and Arya. Although, she has grown up to be a very mature person who can set aside this resentment for the collective betterment, protection and functioning of the North.
Arya has spent a chunk of her time as a lone wolf. But as the series keeps reminding us – “the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives”, Arya embodies this as she returns to Winterfell and reunites with her family. Her return meant that Baelish’s manipulation of Sansa would be threatened; though we underestimate Sansa here. Arya is now an almost invincible assassin who can take on Brienne (someone who defeated the Hound in combat) and inducing actual fear in Baelish. While things seemed to be going sour between the sisters for a while, with that weasly Baelish stirring trouble wherever he went, they reunite as the judge, jury and executioner of Baelish and put an end to the man who tore their family apart. If Eddard Stark’s spirit is watching from somewhere, he is glowing in adoration for his two daughters.
While Baelish constantly whispering into Sansa’s ears may have been a source of concern, Brienne watched him like a hawk and dodging Brienne’s radar is no easy task for your average mortal man. Brienne finds herself in a better place as her devotion to duty and promise to Catelyn Tully has come full circle, with the two Stark girls safely 9for now) residing in Winterfell. Her relationship with Podrick has vastly improved and much to her disgust, she finds herself to be the subject of Tormund Giantsbane’s affections. Following that adrenaline-pumping fight scene with Arya, the two find themselves in a relationship comprising mutual admiration. In hindsight, Winterfell seems like a place where Brienne can belong, as women with agency and leadership is not an alien concept in the North.
“Good things come in small packages” – Lyanna Mormont may be only 11 or 12 years in age, but she is a pint-sized angel of common sense. The baby feminist of the North proved her mettle as a political leader and the battlefield. Her commanding presence got one of the oldest patriarchs of the North to backtrack and apologize quickly after he objected to the idea of girls and women going to battle. Simply put, Lyanna Mormont refuses to sit by the fire and knit while the men are off fighting, with Brienne, Sansa and Ser Davos barely concealing their admiration for the little leader. Though it was disappointing when she didn’t stick up for Sansa as the rightful ruler of the North.
Also, let’s quickly take a moment to appreciate this scene:
If the North is to be saved, it can be done by the efforts and courage of the exceptional women above. They are or have the potential to all be banded together for a common goal. In a very touching scene after Baelish’s death, the two sisters acknowledge each other’s struggles and solidify their bond. Brienne is always watching out for them (not that Arya needs it) and who on earth would disapprove of Lyanna? Sansa is wise beyond her years now and a very capable leader, Arya is her enabler, Brienne protects Sansa while pushing Arya to be a better fighter and Lyanna is an inspiring and fierce source of support. To their credit, they have divorced themselves from the political machinations of King’s Landing and the rest of Westeros, to focus on the protection and betterment of their smaller social unit.
The political leadership of other parts of Westeros and their ability to take on the White Walkers seems doubtful – the women have willpowers of steel, but also too much to lose. The entire Game of Thrones Universe suffered a blow with the loss of Olenna Tyrell and true to spirit – she went out like a boss. It is highly unlikely that Ellaria Sand should get a happy ending now and Yara Greyjoy is nowhere to be seen. Cersei is consumed by greed and Daenerys is still struggling to dissociate from her megalomania, though she is making a conscious effort to look beyond her machinations for the Iron Throne.
With that in mind (and with a certain amount of glee), we find that Westeros is now a territory with only women as the primary political pillars, with the exception of Jon Snow. In the midst of that heavy cesspool called patriarchy, through various brilliant as well as underhanded means, they catapulted or climbed to the highest positions of power. Where their personal and political hurdles are concerned: Patriarchy –check! Next up is the White Walkers.
Featured image source: A Woman’s World.