The success of HBO’s hit blood-soaked, swords-and-swearing fantasy epic Game of Thrones is rooted in the show’s broad appeal; it appeals to the generation that grew up on Harry Potter by combining dragons and magic with vicious character-driven drama, whilst drawing in more refined older viewers with its political intrigue, sumptuous production values and excessive nakedness.
However, one of the most compelling reasons for the shows cross-generational appeal is its genre-defying representation of women. Despite the world of Westeros being the standard aggressively patriarchal medieval world of much fantasy fiction, George R.R. Martin’s novels have provided the HBO adaptation with female characters that not only survive the whims of a procession of idiotic men, but often wield and manipulate the power themselves.
Alongside the likes of popular returning characters, such as the supreme (now Queen Regent) Cersei, honourable Brienne and badass Arya, the third season has introduced a number of new, beguiling and intelligent women, apparently one step ahead of their clouded male counterparts.
The arrival of House Tyrell in Kings Landing, following their assistance of the Lannisters during the Battle of Blackwater Bay at the end of season two, has bought Lady Margery Tyrell, King Joffrey’s new muse, and her fabulous grandmother Lady Olenna Tyrell, into the endless web of plots and schemes that make the fictional capitol the magnetic core of the drama.
The pair’s touching questioning of Sansa Stark in episode two is hugely emblematic of how Game of Thrones goes about its drama; every swordfight, beheading and revenge is justified tenfold beforehand, wrought from intelligent, sensitive character writing that considers depth of feeling before factors such as gender.
That is not to say that gender is unimportant – the show is often dominated by an overbearingly visceral male sexuality, which many of the female characters understand and set about proactively manipulating. The likes of Cersei and Margery deploy their womanly wiles in a controlled, political manner for their own ends; as Cersei herself drunkenly hypothesises, “Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon. The best one’s between your legs.”
Whilst by modern standards this would be a lamentable philosophy to venerate, the strength of these characters in such a backward, male-dominated world is to be admired. Moreover, beyond Kings Landing, angry flame-haired wildling Ygritte continues to light up the cold North with her sass, and dragon mum Daenerys is having a great time floating around the desert burning people. These are diverse, engaging representations; not simply defined by sex, but power, morality and loyalty to others.
Of course, HBO may continue to muddy the water slightly with regular concessions to the gratuitous, tangential nakedness they’re famed for, but the strength of the performances and clarity of the character writing continue to render the women of Game of Thrones uniquely watchable.