Women to the fore in Game of Thrones

As the fantasy epic returns, Paula Burns lauds the impact of the female characters

Women to the fore in Game of Thrones

GAME of Thrones — the mash of bloody brutal battles between the medieval dynasties of the North and South, occurring under the threat of the malevolent winter’s arrival — looks, on paper, like a typically male TV show.

So how is it so successfully filling the void left by the likes of Desperate Housewives and Sex and the City?

Are women’s lives today so filled with despair that we suddenly find solace in a grey world of blood and gore because the dark is all we can relate to?

It’s more likely that in between the beheading of a favourite character or two, and the brutal murder of innocent children, women also see a powerful thread: the women of Game of Thrones are as interesting, strong and well-drawn as those inhabiting the more obvious prime-time dramas.

The books may be called ‘Clash of the Kings’, but there are more queens than kings in this popular story, throwing down the gauntlet, swash-buckling to defend their honour, and their right to lead. The women of Game of Thrones are not to be messed with. We’ve already seen the feisty mother lionesses of Catelyn Stark and Cersei Lannister as they stand to protect their children.

Cersei is the true ‘queen bitch’, detested by all, including her own brother Tyrion, who has used her beauty and sexual prowess to conquer the highest position in the south. The striking blonde needed to regain the strength of the house of Lannister, and did so by using her good looks to marry the overweight, lazy, unattractive king, all the while she was having an incestuous affair with her twin brother, Jaime. Like many of the other women portrayed, she brazenly uses her sexuality to get ahead.

It may not wash with feminists, but using sex to gain power continues to be a recurring theme in popular TV. Back in the 1990s, it was the American sitcom Ally McBeal that raised the hackles of bra-burners with similar plotlines. The implication was that men are led by the ‘dumb stick’, so why not use the same stick to beat them with, in a manner of speaking.

In Game Of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen is the ultimate example of ‘girl power’. In season one, viewers are introduced to her as a wide-eyed Bambi-type figure, who is wickedly controlled by her brother and given to the beefy warlord of the Dothraki. By the end of season two she has outlived her brother and husband to become Khaleesi — the first woman to lead the Dothraki.

Not surprisingly, decapitated heads are sent to her to convey the men’s disgust at being ruled by a lowly woman. But as the Mother of Dragons, she remains resilient and overcomes the obstacles and betrayals she encounters along the way.

From early on, the women of the ‘Game’ learn that it is survival of the fittest. The romantic Sansa Stark soon wises up, after her father is beheaded, and realises she must dig deep to unearth her inner strength. As she is in line to marry the future king, she discovers she must shut up and put up. Oh, and look pretty while doing it. Her resolve is put to the test when she is held captive by her obnoxious and insolent future husband Prince Joffrey.

Sansa’s younger sister Arya is a bundle of strength. After seeing her father literally lose his head, the little hellraiser makes a run for it. Ned Stark brought up his girls in a court of equals. Ayra was a tomboy who wanted to follow in the footsteps of the Stark men, and become a great sword fighter. Out on her own, Ayra is quick to learn that it’s easier to disguise herself as a boy. This way, she can travel unheeded and gain employment.

Mad Men, although set in the 1950s and ’60s, echoes some of the Game of Thrones themes. In the cold boardrooms of 1950s New York ad firms, women were made to feel they should be seen and not heard. It was an environment which reeked of medievalism. Like Game of Thrones, these women had to fight their own personal battles against their societal constraints, eventually winning the fight — like fiery Peggy Olson.

So, Mad Men and Desperate Housewives fans, come with us and step across the bloodshed, rapes, tortures, castrations and terror, and you’ll find a Game of Thrones worthy of your full attention.

*Game of Thrones returns to Sky Atlantic on Monday

Cersei Lannister, Queen Regent

The blonde bombshell who murdered her husband King Robert in order to steer her psychopathic son Joffrey on the Iron Throne would be the Alexis Carrington character of the series. No morals, no scruples and enough ambition to set her entire kingdom on fire, Cersei (Lena Headey, left) is a queen not to be trifled with or dismissed as a mere woman. Her children are the result of incest with her twin brother Jaime, and it is a secret she is willing to protect, along with her claim to the throne, to the death.

Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragon

Don’t let this white-haired, wide-eyed girl with lilac eyes fool you. Anyone willing to burn on her husband’s funeral pyre in an attempt to hatch three dragons eggs or watch her brother crowned with molten gold is not going to give up her claim to the Iron Throne very easily.

Leading a troop of horse lords across waste lands in a bid to find supporters of her right to rule while raising her three dragons, Daenerys finds supporters in unlikely places.

Arya, Sansa and Catelyn Stark

The wife and daughters of Eddard Stark, the hand of King Robert who was unceremoniously beheaded by Joffrey’s henchman at the end of series one, have had a lot to endure. Sansa forced to watch her father killed by her betrothed Joffrey, Arya with a knack for survival, who disguises herself as a boy to become cupbearer to Cersei’s father Tywin in her bid for revenge and Catelyn (Michelle Fairley, left), who is trying to shore up support for her son Robb’s bid to become King of the North.

Colette Keane

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day.

great irish summer

From walking and hiking, to day trips and camping, your guide to holidays at home in 2021

Lifestyle
Newsletter

The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up