The times, they are a-changin' in Westeros. And on Sunday night, this sentiment never rang truer. To say the Game of Thrones Season 6 finale was explosive might be a bit of an understatement. The longest episode to date packed in some major moments and reveals. The finale confirmed a key theory, witnessed the deaths of some prominent characters, and, most intriguingly, presented a shift in power dynamics from the men of the Seven Kingdoms to the women. This, put simply, is huge. I repeat: Huge. Back in April, I discussed why we needed to watch Cersei and Sansa closely. These women appeared to be concerned with gaining a stronger foothold. Propelled by painful pasts, Cersei and Sansa, along with Daenerys, have had triumphant and swift ascents to living at the top of the Westeros food chain in Season 6. The finale on Sunday night only solidified this.
The finale made it very clear that Westeros is no longer a place for a male ruler to casually step up to the plate. Moreover, it was repeatedly hammered home that while men are important in this story, they are no longer as invaluable as we once thought they were. The actions of the women spoke volumes on this matter. Whether it was Lyanna Mormont taking every Northern leader to task when they expressed hesitance in supporting Jon, or Arya exacting her perfectly-plotted revenge on Walder Frey, we saw that women are forces to be reckoned with. Regardless of age or experience, the women of Game of Thrones have made it damn near impossible for a man to rule Westeros. Their collective struggles over the past five seasons finally elicited positive results in Season 6. In the finale, we watched as women took no mercy against those who sought to oppress them. These are women who are ready to turn their vengeance into power and glory.
Think about it. The only man who is currently in any major position of power is Jon Snow. Yet, his current status as King of the North is still threatened. With his true parentage heavily implied, if not totally confirmed, in the Tower of Joy flashback, Jon is in position to keep climbing higher. He could do so, if Sansa wasn't giving ominous looks and appearing to make plans of her own. What good is being the King of the North when your sister still has an alliance with Littlefinger and may still be vying to be Queen? The repeated references to Sansa's status throughout this season, as well as her proving that she could arguably be a more capable ruler than Jon (as seen in "Battle of the Bastards"), has left her feeling empowered. Sansa's journey to reclaim Winterfell has been an emotional one, built on psychological and physical brutalization, but fulfilled by victorious alliances. Her full-circle reclamation of self, home, and family means she is just as capable as her brother to rule.
Cersei's ascent to the Iron Throne has been less positive, although it resulted in her finally getting the one thing she has wanted the most. Rob Bricken notes over at io9, "We may not approve that Cersei literally murdered hundreds of people to get her revenge on the queen who usurped her, the uncle who dismissed her, and the holy man who shamed her in front of the entire city, but it’s understandable that she would go that far for revenge and (even more importantly) her self-respect."
Cersei's journey this season has been anything but easy. It became evident very quickly that those she thought she could love and trust — Kevan, Tommen, and even Jamie to a certain extent — did not care to support her as she supported them. The men in her life, the men brought up in the patriarchal society of Westeros, turned their backs on her. Left to her own devices, she emerged this season as a woman bent on vengeance with a eye toward getting what she wanted. Thus, her most infamous line this season, "I choose violence," became a reality. Her actions in the finale have shown her to be a woman of singular vision and resolve. As the queen of the Seven Kingdoms, viewers now know that Cersei will not go down without a seriously brutal fight, because she has metaphorically clawed her way to the top. Men are simply no longer a threat or obstacle to Cersei.
Daenerys may have the most satisfying arc of all in this finale. With Meereen sorted out, it was time for her to pack up her Dothraki horde, Unsullied soldiers, and Greyjoy army and finally sail to Westeros. Along the way, she picked up Varys and the fleets of Tyrell and Martell ships. Sailing west, at the helm, it was thoroughly exciting to see Daenerys come full circle in her story. She walked through literal fire this season, maneuvering her way to be able to confidently sail forth and stake her claim to the Iron Throne.
What I'm most interested in are the ways in which Daenerys has rejected and accepted the help and counsel of her male peers. While she rejected the promise of romance from Daario, she named Tyrion the Hand of the Queen, a move based in friendship and trust. She is no longer a woman who consults or regards men out of timidity or fear; she is assured in her power, feeling herself more than equal to them. In this finale, she was making the tough choices — the right ones, and the ones worthy of pursuing. Tyrion confirmed that these were the choices of a queen. But what became evident in the finale is that men do not define Daenerys as a woman or a ruler, in spite of the ways the men she has encountered in the past have sought to define or compartmentalize her.
And so, as we assess the Season 6 endpoints for each of these women, it's safe to say that men are under the biggest threat, no longer the imposing, uber-masculine monoliths we saw them to be in earlier seasons. The patriarchal foundation is breaking down. The finale solidified that it was time for the women of Game of Thrones to rise up and unite. Further reinforced in this near-perfect episode is the contemporary notion of women leaning in, where women are stronger in their support of one another than they are apart. What is abundantly clear, amidst all the theories, prophecies, and clues, is that the women of Westeros are no longer pawns or pretty things. They have their fangs bared and are ready for action.
Image: Courtesy of HBO; Giphy (3)