Game of Thrones has received both praise and criticism for its portrayal of female characters over the years. Though Game of Thrones has always had some strong female characters, such as Daenerys Targaryen, in Season 5 many other women have emerged as both formidable and compelling. Though these female characters have many strengths, each also has her own weaknesses. In “The House of Black and White,” we begin to see some of their character defects mediated. The women of Game of Thrones are giving us some outstanding storylines so far in Season 5.
Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) is a natural politician. She is aware of power dynamics and is able to leverage her relationships in order to accomplish her goals. Margaery has wed two kings (Renley Baratheon and Joffrey Baratheon) and is currently betrothed to Tommen Baratheon. Marrying three kings is quite a feat, particularly in the world of ice and fire where marriage provides an opportunity for advancement in society. Despite her ability to charm almost everyone, she has not been able to win over her mother-in-law Cersei. In “The Wars to Come” we learn that she’s devising a plan to deal with Cersei. Though the audience is not always aware of what exactly Margaery’s goals are, it’s clear that she, like her grandmother Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), knows how to maneuver in King’s Landing. Margaery and Olenna are strong players in the Game of Thrones.
Arya Stark’s strength is her fight. She is stubborn and doesn’t give up easily. Even in Season 1 it was clear that Arya was a person with her own sense of moral justice who wanted to choose her own path. Her anger has kept her alive. Arya (Maisie Williams) is certainly a purposeful young woman, with a “death list” of those she wants to kill keeping her going. She has been wearing her vengeance like a suit or armor, but she may have to learn to give this fortification up as she joins the House of Black and White.
Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) is extremely clever and adaptable, but she has been alone, with no one she can trust since the death of her father. She has survived through her wits and a little bit of luck. Brienne’s loyalty may be the most important gift her mother could’ve left her. Sansa is smart enough to realize that she cannot say yes to Brienne when she offers her sword in “The House of Black and White.”
Sansa has had little, if any, opportunity to make choices for herself in her short life—going from her father’s care, to being terrorized by Joffrey Bartheon, to being forced to marry Tyrion, and then manipulated by Petyr. Brienne, on the other hand, has been making her own choices—sometimes controversial ones—for a long time now.
Brienne of Tarth
Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) is loyal and stouthearted, but she is looking for the meaning provided by having a purpose in life. Whereas many women of her standing would seek purpose in the genteel life of being a wife, mother, and woman of society, such a life is not one that would provide meaning for Brienne. Lady Stark gave her a raison d’etre when she directed Brienne to protect her daughters. Yet after being rebuffed by both Arya and Sansa, she has not yet been able to fulfill this duty. Brienne may yet have the chance to do so as she and Podrick secretly follow Sansa.
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) exhibited few flaws the first few seasons of Game of Thrones, as an inexperienced girl became a Mother of Dragons. It is only now that we are beginning to see how her pride and impulsiveness may be her undoing. Ruling is different than conquering, and her narrative of Seasons 4 and 5 is about negotiating the journey from vanquisher to governor. Her responses fluctuate between compassion and retribution. She took a page from the Stannis Baratheon book of fear-based leadership in “The House of Black and White” by executing Mossador, and quickly learned that love and gratitude of the people can quickly turn to anger and dissent. Despite being surrounded by advisors, loyal servants, and even a lover, as a leader she stands alone, making Drogon’s departure in “The House of Black and White” that much more heartbreaking. Until she can learn to govern people, it’s unlikely she’ll be able to control her dragons.
Cersei (Lena Headey) is certainly the most flawed in this group of strong women, and the character who remains the most firmly entrenched within her own failings. She has sought power for her whole life. All her actions are driven by fear, yet she lacks any insight into this aspect of her character. In “The Wars to Come” we learn that she was told by a fortuneteller that she would lose all three of her children, which naturally motivates many of her actions. Raised by a father who skillfully used fear and manipulation to consolidate power, Cersei mistakenly believes she can do the same. Despite the challenges she’s experienced in most of her attempts to control others, she’s been successful in manipulating her brother Jaime. He travels to Dorne to rescue their daughter Myrcella. Jaime may genuinely want to check on his daughter’s safety or he may simply want to make peace with Cersei. When Cersei’s Uncle Kevan outright challenges her authority and refuses to play the part of her puppet, Cersei has the opportunity to reevaluate her strategy, but we aren’t hopeful that she will.
The Women of Game of Thrones
As well as the women who are currently central in Game of Thrones, there are other female characters whose paths we enjoy following. “The Wars to Come” reintroduced us to The Red Woman, Melisandre (Carice van Houten). Melisandre is a political and religious figure with mystical abilities, making her a very unique and powerful character. In “The House of Black and White” we had some intriguing glimpses of Shireen Baratheon, Gilly, and Ellaria Sand. Gilly has always been fascinating and we love the interactions between her and the newly confident Sam. Gilly is a survivor and is not easily cowed. Shireen is a kind soul, and we wonder what a future might hold for someone like her had she not been held back by a judgmental and shaming mother. Ellaria Sand didn’t seem so striking when she was in Westeros, but now that she is out for blood with the death of her beloved Prince Oberyn, she seems much more compelling. She and her Sand Snakes have the potential to bring some interesting drama to Game of Thrones, particularly because Dorne does not limit the role of women in the same way the rest of Westoros does.
Life for women in the world of ice and fire is not easy. We have watched characters such as Arya, Sansa, and Brienne evolve through the Game of Throne series. If the first two episodes of Game of Thrones are any indicator, Season 5 looks to continue to have exciting storylines featuring women who are strong and complex.