Gals in 'Game of Thrones': Why Fans Love the Warrior Girls and Diss the Power Moms
It’s been almost two weeks since we were forced to say goodbye to Game of Thrones for a whole year, and now my Sundays suck again. Part of my GOT withdrawal has involved obsessively talking over every aspect of last season with my family, my gynecologist, my dog—anyone with ears, really, whether they’ve watched the show or not. That thing they say about memory being better than the real thing? Not true.
But one of the ear possessors I blathered to also watches the show and blathered back. My friend Janet and I started talking about feminist characters in GOT, the disparate ways they wield power, and their corresponding popularity with fans. Turns out, some types of strong women are better than others, at least as far as GOT viewers are concerned. If you’re missing the show as much as I am, follow along.
You can pretty much group GOT women into two categories (well, three, if “literally a prostitute” is a category). First, there are the “warrior princesses,” most notably Brienne of Tarth and Arya Stark. Their power is rooted in their combat skill and physical strength. If you mess with them, they will chop your head off, but they will do it with their own hands, looking you in the face, in a “fair fight.” Neither Brienne nor Arya have children, in fact, they are both virgins. Fans love them.
The same cannot be said of Cersei and Catelyn, characters that belong in the second category of women who flex and navigate power while retaining traditionally “feminine” roles. Unlike Brienne and Arya, Cersei and Catelyn are mothers. Both have used a dagger or two in their time, but they aren’t warriors. Viewers often call Cersei evil because of her cunning and the Machiavellian manner in which she disposes of rivals. Catelyn is seen as weak, stupid, and “thinking with her uterus” for prioritizing the safety of her daughters over winning a battle (people were oddly more forgiving of Rob when he threw tactics to the wind for his lady love, er, except Waldo Frey).
Warrior princesses Arya and Brienne are more one-dimensional than power mommies Cersei and Catelyn, yet fans prefer them, and not because the two groups represent a choice between good and evil. Arya has done some questionable things with her pent up rage. Cersei has sold some people down the river, but she’s become more vulnerable and sympathetic as the show continues. Catelyn is the wife of Ned (Jesus) Stark—there’s barely a malicious bone in her body.
The difference in reception more likely has to do with Western society’s (false) dichotomy of “masculine” equals superior and “feminine” equals inferior. We value power seekers who exhibit typically male strength, i.e. “honorable” fighting and freedom from family. We really don’t know what to do with women who wield power while having babies and running a household, because we’re told that’s a contradiction, and traditional womanhood is lesser.
What about Daenerys, everyone’s favorite neo-con maverick, the wild card of Westeros and quite possibly this theory, you ask? She initially appears to strike a balance, but I'd venture she’s just a warrior princess with cooler threads and longer hair. Unlike Brienne and Arya, she’s enjoyed the sexytimes, but she’s not a wife or mother, and her power, derived from victories on the battlefield, is still stereotypically masculine.
But guess what, everyone? Most of us, both men and women, are Catelyn and/or Cersei. Normal people doing what we can just to stay above water. Oh, I'm sorry, could you fight a bear in an enclosed rink with a sword? Are you in charge of vast armies and a hoard of pubescent dragons? That’s what I thought. Embrace it.