There are many battles to keep track of on Game of Thrones, but the series began with what became known as the War of Five Kings: Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Renly Baratheon, Robb Stark, and Balon Greyjoy. All of those men are now dead, and a new conflict is on the horizon. At the start of the season, I almost thought Game of Thrones was gearing up for a War of Five Queens. The dragonglass ceiling was breaking, and women seemed to be running the show, but the show is losing its contenders fast. What started strong is beginning to look like a major missed opportunity for the show and its female fans.
Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister are still on their respective thrones. However, Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, is dead. Yara Greyjoy, who much like Stannis and Renly Baratheon was leading a rogue faction of her House, has been captured by Euron. Meanwhile, Ellaria Sand has been imprisoned by Cersei and won't return to the HBO series the actor has confirmed. Who else could be a Queen? Possibly Sansa Stark. The number doesn't have to be exactly the same. If Ocean's Eight can mix it up, so can Game of Thrones.
The Season 7 premiere set up the idea that the women of Westeros are past patiently waiting. Lyanna won't sit by the fire while men fight for her. Sansa's done being sheltered and protected from the real world. Daenerys is ready to begin her conquer. Arya is seeking revenge free from diplomatic red tape. "Do you think I listened to father for 40 years and learned nothing?" said Cersei to her brother Jaime. If that is the theme of Game of Thrones at this point, a war between queens or won by queens would be fitting — but if GoT keeps killing strong women they lose that amazing opportunity.
In a 2011 interview with The Advocate, writer Jane Espenson, who contributed one script to Game of Thrones in Season 1 that featured a pivotal moment for Daenerys, talked about the importance diversity in genre television. "You don't create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones," she said.
If this isn't happening now, when? Westeros and Essos may have dragons and magic, but their society is just as patriarchal as ours. Modeling a fantasy world on oppressive Medieval societies does not make for escapist or progressive fiction. So it's almost essential that the War of Queens happen and achieve balance. Otherwise, what are we watching this for?
This war could have been characterized by its alliances. Women working together and warring against a common enemy. Game of Thrones may have archaic expectations for women, and it has a problematic face at times, but the female characters themselves have always been diverse in opinion and strategy, which I appreciate.
Unfortunately, the show seems to be insisting that we can't forget about the dudes. Jon Snow has been pronounced the new "King in the North" and Euron Greyjoy usurped a position as King of the Iron Islands. There are still quite a few men in charge. Even Gendry Waters, Robert Baratheon's last living bastard, could make a decent claim for the Iron Throne. With their storylines sidling back into focus, this feminist dream might be dead.
Still, I'd like to believe that, if you'll forgive an overused phrase, the future is female in Westeros. It is gratifying to see the female characters rising up and owning leadership positions as we always knew they could and should. I just wish we could have had the full blown War of Five Queens that we deserved.