Type keyword(s) to search

Quick Hits

GoT: A Rough Night for the Women of Westeros

Poor strategic planning wasn't the only casualty as Daenerys took the fight to Cersei.
  • Nathalie Emmanuel in Game of Thrones (HBO)
    Nathalie Emmanuel in Game of Thrones (HBO)

    After last week's mega-battle at Winterfell, which culminated in Arya Stark striking the single most crowd-pleasing blow in the history of Game of Thrones, the show returned for its antepenultimate episode and delivered a drunken night of revelry, a hangover-laden morning of what-comes-next anxiety, and then just a cavalcade of political rifts and strategic blunders as the Dragon Queen's loyalists (such as they are) prepared to take the fight to Cersei.

    And while fans can (and will!) quibble for days about dragons deployed poorly, allies marshalled haphazardly, or why in the seven hells if the Dornish have pledged loyalty to Daenerys they won't send soldiers to back her up, what felt screamingly prevalent this week was the treatment of pretty much every female character. Mostly for the worse! On a show which has more than occasionally caught flack for gender stuff (brothel-set "sexposition" in the early seasons; the plot development where Sansa was married off to and then raped by Ramsey), it's easy to raise an eyebrow whenever the plotting or characterization of the women feels wonky. And this week's episode was as wonky as it's been in a while.

    Ranking from best to worst, here's how the women of Westeros fared this week. It's not great.


    It was actually a really nice episode for Gilly! We learned she was pregnant with her second baby (having survived the end of the word with her first baby — and her baby-esque husband improbably intact) and presumably headed back to the Citadel where they will spend the rest of their days among the books and their babies, provided Cersei doesn't win and burn down the whole continent.

    Arya Stark

    After last week's heroics, Arya definitely experiences a cool-down episode. Sure, she gets proposed to by Gendry and then (offscreen) learns that her brother Jon is really her cousin Jon (and rightful heir to the Iron Throne), but mostly she's just an even keel. Even when she tells the Hound that she doesn't expect to ever return to Winterfell from battle, she seems very chill about it.

    Sansa Stark

    Complicated week for Sansa. On the one hand, she so completely has Daenerys's number, clocking her attempts to curry favor like when she named Gendry lord of Storm's End for no reason but to curry favor. She doesn't trust Dany, and now that she knows Jon's parentage secret, she has some leverage to do something about it. In fact, she does do something about it, telling Tyrion, who in turn tells Varys, and suddenly two of the Dragon Queen's top advisers are holding secret meetings about whether they should pull their support.

    That said, this week sees the return of Problematic Sansa, not on the screen but in the realm of public opinion. When she and the Hound have their long-awaited conversation and he expresses shame at having left her in King's Landing and ultimately to the cruel twists of fate that Littlefinger and Ramsey put her through. By way of absolving the Hound of his guilt, Sansa tells him that without being subjected to Littlefinger and Ramsey, she wouldn't have become the forged-in-fire woman of will she is today. Which, affirming statement though it is, can't help but come across like self-justification on the part of showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff that the controversial story turns with Ramsey were not only acceptable but necessary to get us the Sansa we know (and love) today. Which may well be true! This was just an odd and self-congratulatory way of pointing it out.

    Brienne of Tarth

    The definition of a mixed bag this week, as Brienne seemingly gets everything she's ever wanted — romantically speaking, anyway. After a night of revels and drinking games with the Lannister boys, Brienne retires to her room, wounded by having to admit she's a virgin. Jaime follows up after her and bingo-bango, she ain't a virgin no more. Which is nice! But then the rest of the episode keeps Brienne locked in the relationship box, pretty much forgetting that she's a fierce warrior and newly appointed knight of the seven kingdoms. For Pete's sake, the last we see of her she is openly weeping over Jaime's decision to ride back to King's Landing to deal with Cersei. Weeping! Brienne! Sure, her feelings were never all that far from the surface, but standing out in the Winterfell square, in her robe (she might as well have had her hair in curlers), crying after her departing paramour … our Lady of Tarth needs some justice.

    Cersei Lannister

    While it is not necessarily Bad for Women that Cersei Lannister is now the most evil presence in the seven kingdoms, this week did make us long for the bygone days when Cersei's villainy was tempered by knowing more intimately what's going through her mind. Cersei's been a closed-off tyrant since she blew up the Sept of Balor, and while that's probably an intentional commentary on the way that power tends to corrupt in this universe, it has definitely flattened out Cersei's particular brand of villainy. To watch her at the end of this episode, sneering down at Tyrion, Cersei looks like she knows she's destined to lose. But she'll be damned if she doesn't take down as many as possible — Tyrion especially — before she does.


    This feels self-explanatory, but honestly, what a rotten end for a character who may not have ever been strategically important, but was always a crucial tether to keeping Daenerys tied to her humanity. Which of course makes her an obvious candidate to be the death that sets Dany off. Of course, the optics of taking the only woman of color on the show off the board in such a brutal way is going to get noticed. (Ironically, if Missandei had bit it at any point during last week's Battle of Winterfell, there would have been much less hue and cry.)

    Daenerys Targaryen

    If Daenerys Targaryen ends up losing the Game of Thrones, this will be looked back on as the episode she lost it. Even the stuff she did right — like securing Gendry's loyalty with a lordship — she did so obviously that it got her into more trouble with Sansa. In the greater context of the women of Game of Thrones, however, the gradual heel turn Dany's been taking this season has reached a point of critical mass. While once it seemed a given that Dany taking the Iron Throne would be a good and right outcome, we've now seen more than enough evidence that her quest for power in Westeros might just be an end in itself. The breaker of chains has had less and less interest in winning over the people she seeks to rule, and this week she domineered over Jon Snow to keep his Targaryen secret just that: a secret.

    Most damning for Daenerys was that conversation Tyrion and Varys had in secret where the idea that Dany was well on her way to becoming a tyrant queen was treated as a foregone conclusion. It may be little more than optics, but hyping Jon up as the kinder, gentler king while Dany would be "too strong" to rule even as co-monarch can't help but strike a nerve. If the last two episodes of Game of Thrones shake out with Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister destroying each other in the fires of their own ambition only for meek, back-slappy Jon Snow to ascend to the crown simply because he was born that way, well … reaction won't be pretty.

    For more Game of Thrones, join the conversation in our forums.

    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Game of Thrones, HBO, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Nathalie Emmanuel