“Game of Thrones” broke barriers but also failed itself

The women of "Game of Thrones" have quite a story to tell.


Olivia Fredrickson, Investigative Journalist

From left to right: Daenerys, Sansa, Cersei



“Game of Thrones” is not like any other TV show. It is a global phenomenon in itself, and has become a juggernaut among other shows. One reason it is so popular is because of the complexity of its characters. They could start off as seemingly naive and innocent, but then later turn into brave and fiery people who have seen the evils of the world.

Over the seasons, each character was meticulously developed in order to make them very complex and interesting. You can’t describe them in just one word. They all have different motives and emotions that make them seem very human.

For instance, one of the main characters of the show, Daenerys Targaryen, was introduced to the audience as a scared, naive, girl who was abused by her oppressive brother, Viserys. She was then sold by that same brother into marriage with a foreign warlord.

With essentially no family, no money, no home, and no friends, Daenerys was essentially defenseless and powerless, with no allies. Throughout the seasons, the audience sees her grow as a person, and she becomes more fierce as she encounters more of the evils of life. Her father, Aerys II Targaryen (known as the “Mad King”), was hated by basically everyone. This ended up affecting Daenerys, who was now viewed as the Mad King’s daughter, and since people from the medieval ages seem to judge people by their families and fathers (or at least in a “Game of Thrones”), people thought that she would act like her father, which made it even more difficult for people to accept her as a leader.

Another character from a different background experiences the same thing while even younger. Sansa Stark as a girl had only one dream: to marry a handsome prince and become a queen. She falls in love with a boy named Joffrey Lannister, who she soon enough realizes is not a perfect prince charming as she was told about, but really a sadistic, evil boy who likes to see people suffer. After seeing her father’s head cut off at Joffrey’s command, she falls out of love with him, though is still forced to marry him by his dad’s orders. Later, after Joffrey is killed she is handed over to another sadistic man named Ramsey Bolton, who ended up raping her and killing her youngest brother. After escaping from him with one of her brother’s old friends, she meets up with her brother.

In an interview with Scott Fredrickson, he explains: “In Season 1, I remember watching and thinking about how youthful and naive Sansa was in those first scenes and then watching Season 7 and thinking about what a powerful person she’s become.” He also remarks about how ‘difficult’ her journey was, and she’s grown from that. She was surrounded by all these awful people at such a young age, and by doing that she learned how to play the game herself.

The characters on the show have evidently changed over time and all of the one dimensional characters have died as of the Season 8 finale. It is interesting that the show’s most complex characters are women. They are deep and layered and have interesting journeys that bring the audience into the rest of the storyline. They are not totally bad or totally good.

A great example of this is Cersei Lannister, who is widely regarded as one of the biggest villains in “Game of Thrones”. She may be a twisted, vengeful person, but her children mean more to her than anything else in the world. She has murdered, tortured, and done anything if it was in the best interest of her children. Her undying love for her children is one of her biggest motives in doing many of the things she does. And when she plans things out, she makes sure to make every little detail to ensure that everything goes to plan.

Another common theme among the female characters is their unparalleled determination and perseverance. When obstacles are thrown at them, they have to use all their might to dodge them and keep going to reach their end goal. In the middle ages, many people thought of women less of as people but more as delicate objects that could be tossed around whenever they wanted to. So it was important that women show that they are qualified enough to lead and that they can be just as good a ruler as a man. They know that they live in a man’s world and that in order to be taken seriously they must really work hard to get what they want.

“Game of Thrones” likes to break stereotypes too, such as how they made a woman (Brienne of Tarth) become a knight, and let her have a stereotypically male role in the story. Another breakthrough of stereotypes is the fact that one of the main villains, Cersei, is a woman. The beauty of “Game of Thrones” is that it really portrays all types of people, especially among women. There is everything from prostitutes and peasants, to queens and ladies, to killers.

Recently, the final season of GOT has been released, and some different ideas for characters. In the first 7 seasons, Daenerys experienced a journey that would portray her as a resilient woman, who wanted to make some changes in the world.  She became a pop culture symbol of feminism. Though in the latest couple episodes, this legacy has been corrupted.

All she has ever wanted her whole life was the Iron Throne, the most powerful position in the “Game of Thrones” world. She plans to invade Westeros, one of the kingdoms, and take over the throne. Though she has an issue: what if the people don’t want her as their ruler? What if there is someone “better”? For the first 7 seasons, it was believed by Daenerys that she was the heir to the Iron Throne, as her father, Aerys “Mad King” Targaryen  was killed, which would pass the position down to her, as she is the only surviving child of her father.

However, in the finale of Season 7, it was revealed that Daenerys’ lover Jon Snow was actually a Targaryen, making him both her nephew as well as the true heir to the Iron Throne. This would complicate things quite a bit, because if they were both going against each other in the pursuit for the IT, the people of Westeros would most likely favor a male ruler.

A professor named Lindsey Mantoan compares this situation to the presidential election of 2016 in a CNN article, saying this was similar to the 2016 election with Hillary Clinton because of how they were both treated in their respective elections: “[Game of Thrones] has started covering its frontrunner female candidate in much the same way that Hillary Clinton was treated during the 2016 election, relitigating her worst mistakes, overlooking her accomplishments, and suggesting that perhaps we’ve always been wrong to like her.” Of course, these are quite different political settings—one being a modern democratic election, the other a medieval monarchy—though nevertheless both Daenerys and Clinton were treated in a similar fashion.

It is known that there is a lot of nudity and sexualizing in “Game of Thrones.” The show is even credited in creating the term “sexposition,” which acorrding to Wikipedia is a portmanteu of “sex” and “exposition” describing “the technique of providing exposition against a backdrop of sex or nudity. There’s an element of “Game of Thrones” that can make nudity degrading in one scene, and empowering in the next. In Season 5, a religious regime takes over King’s Landing, and they force Cersei and a few others into a cell unless she confesses her sins. After she agrees to submit to their demands, she is forced to do a “walk of atonement,” which means that she must walk naked in the streets through a crowd of people in order to receive forgiveness for her sins.

Prior to this, Cersei (as well as most of her family) was very hated among the people, so when she is powerless and vulnerable, people took that opportunity to yell names at her and throw things at her, to make her feel bad for all the pain she’s ever caused them. In contrast, when Daenerys is captured by a Dothraki horde in Season 6 and held as a hostage for them to decide what to do to her, she decides she has a different plan for them. As she is immune to fire, she decides to burn down the Dothraki temple where she was being held and steps out of the flames unharmed and completely naked, to the surprise of the people watching. This shows a level of confidence and power that we have not seen from many women in the show. It is generally viewed as shameful to appear completely bare and vulnerable like that, especially when in a position of power. Yet Daenerys appearing out of the flames unscathed commanded the people’s respect, as shortly thereafter they all knelt and promised to serve her.

In the finale episode, after Daenerys is killed and Jon is exiled, the remaining most powerful figures in Westeros meet up to decide the next ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Tyrion suggests that Bran Stark should be King, since he has the best story, to which everyone agrees. This outraged fans for many reasons.

Regarding Bran becoming king, Joy Jamir, a “Game of Thrones” superfan, says: “It just doesn’t make sense. You know Tyrion says that Bran has the best story, but literally every character has a better story than him. He was just pushed out of a window, then dragged through the snow in a wheelchair for 6 seasons.”

Tons of angry fans called out the writers for bad writing, and many sexist undertones in the final season. For instance, in Episode 4, a beloved character named Missandei was killed essentially as a plot device to move the story forward, which angered people because (1) she was one of the only colored people on the show, and (2) there was really no reason for her to die, it was only a plot device for the other characters.

Daenerys and Sansa also fell victim to the sexist undertones of the writing. When they first met up in Episode 1 of Season 8, they seemed to instantly dislike each other. They disagreed about who was in charge of Winterfell. This kind of plays into a sexist narrative of competition between women, and how women have to stand their ground when another woman is threatening their position.

“Game of Thrones” is also quite reminiscent of real-life feminism, that is, achieving the impossible and bypassing standards and

There are also lots of celebrities who like “Game of Thrones”, such as Kristen Bell, Beyonce, and even Barack Obama. Senator Elizabeth Warren even wrote a piece about the show, specifically about Daenerys Targaryen and the other women on the show. She admires their strength, which contrasts “brutal medieval patriarch” that many times appears in the rest of the show. She wrote this piece in 2018, for the New York Times, but has recently changed her opinions on the show.

After the controversial fourth episode of the final season, titled “The Last of the Starks,” many of the characters’ story arcs seemed to topple over on its head. Characters who seemed to be leaning towards endagames of redemption from their not-so-nice pasts appeared to be going back to their old ways. Jaime Lannister, for example, started off the first episode of Season 1 by pushing a boy out of a window, crippling him for life, but as every Season went on, the audience saw him growing morally. Though in episode 4 he ended up returning to Cersei his lover, and sister — and dying with her, only after leaving her a couple of episodes prior.

However one of the biggest characters who suffered from the Season 8 fallout was Daenerys Targaryen. Her one goal in the entire show was sitting on the Iron Throne, and throughout the show we see her develop from a vulnerable young girl abused by her brother into a (literally) fiery woman.  expectations. Daenerys Targaryen hatched dragons when no one had seen them in centuries.

Upon further research about the show, the main female characters  very closely resemble real life woman in history. Daenerys, for example, resembles Marie Curie, in the way that they both conquered the “impossible.” Daenerys, namely, hatches dragons for the first time in hundreds of years.

Similarly, Marie Curie did what no one could ever expect and became not only the first woman to win a Nobel prize, but the first person to win 2 Nobel Prizes. She broke barriers for women in her era, just like Daenerys did in hers. Women like Margaret Thatcher set new standards for women by earning positions of power and leading their countries. This is like when Sansa started ruling the North. Previously there has not been many female rulers of anywhere in Westeros and Essos, but people saw what she was capable of, and they chose her as their “Queen of the North.” It is difficult for a female to succeed in the 7 Kingdoms, but the “Game of Thrones” prove them wrong.

The women know how to get what they want. Melisandre for instance uses her sexuality to control men, and get what she wants. Cersei, in Season 2 tells a young Sansa: “Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon… her best weapon is between her legs.” To succeed in settings like these, you have to know how to play the game. You have to play with the cards you’re dealt with, and play them in your favor. And it is that that makes tough, and intelligent.