These Women of Westeros
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
I recently had a conversation with a friend about all the reasons why she would not enjoy watching Game of Thrones. Like much of adult America, I watched the season four debut last night. It’s one of the few shows I do watch live because I’m so keen not to have it spoiled for me by social media. But as I listed the baby killings and the incest and the beheadings and the rapes and the betrayals in an effort to spare my friend a show very much not for her, I found myself wondering—why the hell do I watch this show?
Well, it does have a fantastic, complicated layered story with twists I don’t see coming and it’s the rare show where I don’t see the turns broadcasted ahead of time. It’s helluva sexy too with a gorgeous cast and a nudity factor so infamous, it coined the phrase “sexposition” since so much exposition is shared during graphic sex scenes. The cast is also extremely talented and most of the great character actors from the British Isles have wanderer across the screen along with a host of European ones.
The world is rich and complicated with call backs to the Medieval era that are catnip to me. The characters are fully drawn so that overtly evil people can yet inspire sympathy while good characters often make me want to slap them upside the head for sheer stupidity that usually ends up getting them killed.
There’s much that is gruesome and brutal about Game of Thrones, no question. “When you play the game of thrones,” we’re told from the start, “you win or you die.” In depicting the reams and reams of characters and events that make up George R.R. Martin’s books, the show’s producers have spared no punches and gilded no lilies. There are great risks in these stories, great costs to claim and hold on to power, great prices for honor and mercy. The good people die too badly and the bad people remain past endurance…and then some.
But it bothers me how much overall the women are exploited…and how easily that’s accepted within and without the show. Most of the sexposition involves full frontal nude shots of nameless women extras playing maids or whores or tavern’s daughters. Women are especially victimized in Game of Thrones. Even allowing for the paternalistic parameters of the world, its levels of chauvinism are almost ridiculous. Just about every man on the show not named Stark is a rapist or a man whore. Even the awesome warrior woman Brienne of Tarth was nearly gang raped and wound up tossed into a bear pit for sport and ultimately rescued single-handedly by a weakened, malnourished man. And yet, some of the most powerful characters on the show are women. Cersei Lannister. Ayra Stark. Caitlin Stark. Brienne of Tarth. Khalessi, the Mother of Dragons. Actual dragons.
These women of Westeros are strong and powerful and above all, they endure. They are used, abused, manipulated, traded in marriage, murdered, deceived and deceive. One even gave birth to a mystical, murderous baby made of shadows. Oh yeah. You read that right.
About the time Daenerys Targaryen stepped from a bonfire with three baby dragons climbing her naked form, it became clear who really holds the power. I don’t know who wins the game, who survives to rule from the throne of swords, but I know who’ll be there to see it. Because it’s the women of Game of Thrones who change the world.
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