HBO’s much-hyped swordsy fantasy epic Game of Thrones packed loads of stuff into its premiere episode Sunday: severed bodies, decapitations, bastards, sex, dwarves, sex, dire wolves, incest, and more sex. But it’s a matter of some debate whether strong female characters are part of the Game plan. There’s no doubt that among the seemingly infinite cast there are women — and memorable ones, at that. The question is whether they’re an endless parade of misery and victimhood or inspiring figures who triumph in a very masculinized fictional world where no one even thinks of giving the titular headwear to a chick.
I come down on the latter side, though I found myself in the curious position of arguing that this geekboy fantasy fest was, in fact, quite feminist with EW’s own Doc Jensen, who thought the pilot was misogynistic. Granted, I have the context of having read the entire book on which the first season is based, and having watched the first six episodes. But I certainly see where he was coming from when he asked in an email, “Do the women get to do anything more than be miserable or sex objects (willing, paid, or raped) for the men?” Aside from the omnipresent prostitutes (and frequent mentions of past conquests by the king himself), exiled former royal Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is a particularly problematic character in the pilot: The young, beautiful virgin is first seen fully naked, fresh out of a bath, being creepily ogled and fondled by her power-hungry brother, Viserys (Harry Lloyd). He proceeds to marry her off to hulking warlord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), who consummates their union, businesslike, having barely exchanged a word with her. (In his defense, they do speak different languages.) Lena Headey’s Queen Cersei is delightfully evil, but even the actress herself felt constrained by the limits placed on her character: “It’s a similar story to this [entertainment] industry, where you’re sort of a second class citizen,” she says. “I think [Cersei] feels that, but she would never admit it to herself.” The former Sarah Connor Chronicles star adds, “I find it very hard to sit still, and she does a lot of sitting.”
All of that said, such an anti-woman world makes for great stories of female triumph over great odds — if you stick with the story past the pilot. Westeros strikes me as a world (not unlike ours during the time when people were wearing roughly the same clothes they wear in this — that is, medieval-ish) where the women are definitely second-class citizens, but several of the female characters (eventually) rise to the challenge. It takes a few hours of the series for the ladies to fight the power: Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), grieving for her gravely injured son, eventually handles her own revenge, thank you; and Daenerys, without spoiling any plot points, gets to stick it to some men quite nicely. “It’s the story of a girl growing into being a woman,” Clarke says of her character. “It’s a beautiful arc. I kind of fell in love with her strength, which you don’t see for the first couple of episodes, but I believe she has.” And Catelyn’s youngest daughter, Arya (Maisie Williams), a tomboy more interested in swordplay than the courtly behavior forced upon her, grows into nothing short of a feminist hero.
What did you think, Thrones fans and neophytes alike? Were you worried for the women of Westeros after watching Sunday’s premiere? Do you have hope for them?
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