Since “Game of Thrones” first aired, it has faced a steady stream of criticism for depicting women as sexual objects and displaying violence against the show’s female characters.
Last year, the controversy reached a fever pitch when a scene portraying Sansa Stark’s brutal rape inspired heated debate over the popular HBO series’ purported sexism, even prompting reclusive author George RR Martin to weigh in.
The latest episode, however, depicted its leading female characters seizing power — arguably the highest order of power demonstrated on the show to date.
The final sequences of “Blood of My Blood,” which aired last Sunday, couldn’t overstate it, positioning Sansa (Sophie Turner), Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), and of course Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) as the brains behind what looks to be a brewing battle in the seven kingdoms that will be led by — ahem — women!
One clear example of a woman usurping a man’s power involves Sansa — whose anger fuels her vengeful plot against tormenter and estranged husband Ramsay in a bid to win back her ancestral home. Reunited with Jon Snow — and on his turf at Castle Black — she clearly calls the shots in battle strategy sessions, even using her status as a full-blooded Stark to undermine his position and lead the charge. Snow is, after all, only her half brother, and therefore half Stark.
We’ve gotten used to Daenerys being in charge, and now she’s more dominant than ever, bent on conquering all of Westeros as she announced atop one of her full-grown dragons.
But Sansa’s rise to power is new, and shares similarities to that of Cersei, who is also guided by rage. She seizes her power through back channels, guiding her brother (and lover) Jamie to wage war against the High Sparrow who is in control of King’s Landing and their son, King Tommen.
The episode also portrayed power plays by Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), fleeing the House of Black and White on an apparent revenge quest. Even the normally docile Gilly (Hannah Murray) revealed her strength when attacking Sam’s wildling-hating father.
Still, Westeros’ most powerful women had to face shame and humiliation before their rise to dominance. There was Sansa’s aforementioned rape (and, as she has indicated on the show, there was much more than just one sexual assault committed against her); Cersei’s nude walk of atonement; and Daenerys’ forced confinement by the Dothrakis, who taunted her and threatened rape.
As Martin said last year, “Game of Thrones” depicts a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages. That era — along with all of human history, really — wasn’t known for its fairness toward women.
Seeing the women of “Thrones” emerge is, at the very least, an example of how get a wide audience on board with a story of female empowerment. With the episode foreshadowing their preeminent power to come, “Game of Thrones” may finally win over its feminist detractors.