As I pointed out in the earlier piece about identity, there are a ton of themes we could explore in the lead-up to the final season of Game of Thrones: the role of family; chaos and violence; climate change; the “other” and racism; yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah. However, I only have so much time, so I’m going to focus this, one of three posts about overarching themes and a device that will point the way to how this whole story will end on the second of the themes: the way women seek and hold power in a world that would deny them it.
One of the things that most baffled me in the early seasons of the show were the complaints that the show was inherently sexist. I mean, yes, when we go back and rewatch certain episodes the heavy-handed use of sexposition can be cringe-inducing. The famous Littlefinger brothel scene in “You Win or You Die” where he explains his philosophy on power and enlightens us on his relationship with Catelyn literally made a TV critic coin the term “sexposition” (although he didn’t mean for the term to necessarily be derogatory, as it turns out). And there is A LOT of female nudity interwoven into nearly every episode, sometimes distractingly so and often with little actual narrative purpose. (At least for this particular straight female viewer. I know my straight male viewer friends might beg to differ, along with this hilariously bad, now classic New York Times review that argued the sex scenes were thrown in to attract female viewers who otherwise don’t care for fantasy. Great take!)
But that doesn’t mean the abundance of female nudity didn’t serve a thematic purpose, which is to establish that this is a world in which (much like our own) women’s bodies are objectified and commodified because women do not have equal standing with men.
Similarly, there have long been complaints of the depiction of sexual violence against the female characters on the show, with the suggestion that it is somehow anti-feminist to depict a horrific reality that women live with and struggle to fight against every day. It’s not. If anything, it’s fiercely feminist to show what women suffer when they are treated as property and less than human. It all adds up to a portrait of a world that abuses, disregards, underestimates and discards women …
… but does so at its own peril.
I mean, I’m not breaking any news here that the world that Westeros exists in is an inherently sexist one, but I do believe the patriarchal structures that shape this universe are what compel many of our characters’ arcs, have fueled the violence that we have been immersed in, and will ultimately play a role in how the story ends — either being destroyed in dragon fire, or, perhaps, being reaffirmed in what would be a depressing, but realistic finale.
Now, I should note that not every female character on this show is some sort of abused victim rising from the ashes. Game of Thrones is littered with women who bristle against the traditional roles Westeros would box them into. The most obvious, Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth, are two women who have forged decidedly non-feminine paths in this world.
And then there is Yara Greyjoy, Theon’s sister, who firmly refuses to accept that her father’s rule should be handed over to an undeserving man over her, just because of primogeniture. The Sand Snakes (who are so much more fun in the books than they were on the show, unfortunately) are as lethal as any man. Ygritte (and the Freefolk women in general, not that we see much of them) is regarded as an equal by her companions and is as fierce a warrior as Jon Snow himself. Jon’s mother (spoiler alert I guess), Lyanna Stark, is not seen much on the show, but in the books, she is described as being “wild and boyish” when she is young, who loved to ride horses “like a Northman,” and to whom Ned repeatedly compares to Arya. And her namesake, Little Lady Lyanna Mormont, is one of my favorite minor characters, as fierce and intelligent — if not more so — than the adult men who serve as her advisors.
And while these female characters are all feminist badass icons and easy to root for, I find the female characters who manage to find routes to power within the system that is designed to work against them to be the most fascinating. The Tyrell women, for instance, Margaery and her grandmother Olenna, are two very crafty women who use their femininity and the expectations of their roles within society to disguise the fact that they are, in fact, scheming to secure power for their own House. Margaery is willing to marry any man who might make her queen — even the loathsome Joffrey — while her grandmother, the hilarious and devious Queen of Thorns, is willing to commit murder to clear an easier path to the Throne for her granddaughter. And no one suspected them of a thing because, after all, they are proper ladies.
And then there’s Cersei Lannister, hands down one of my favorite characters.
Cersei is the eldest born child to an extremely wealthy and powerful family who grew up being fed tales of courtly love, the same sort of Disney princess bullshit we feed our kids. As such, as a child, she expected to marry the prince, the son of her father’s boss, Mad King Aerys. Her father, Tywin, served as Hand of the King to King Aerys with whom he had a complicated relationship. It’s only passingly mentioned in the series, but Tywin intended to marry Cersei off to Aerys’ son Rhaegar (and Jon’s secret father). However, the Mad King Aerys informed Tywin that “he was a good and valuable servant, yet a servant nevertheless” and rejected Cersei as a suitable wife for his son, marrying him off, instead, to Elia Martell.
Cersei ends up developing an incestuous relationship with her twin brother, Jaime, which continued not just while she was married to Robert, but throughout the course of our story. Speaking of her marriage, following Robert becoming King, her father arranges for Cersei to be married to him — SO TAKE THAT, MAD KING ASSHOLE. At first, she’s all, “COOL! I’M A QUEEN! AND MY HUSBAND IS A HANDSOME BADASS! I AM IN LOVE!” But it’s not long — in fact, it’s on their wedding night — when she discovers that he is still in love with dead Lyanna Stark and this whole thing, it’s just not going to work out between them. They do have a child together, a black-haired son, but he dies soon after birth.
This loss combined with the fact that her husband wasn’t actually in love with her, sends Cersei back to Jaime’s bed and they proceed to make three blond babies whom she passes off as Robert’s. When our story begins, Robert’s Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, has been murdered shortly after poking around and asking some 23 and Me questions about the Baratheon heirs, a death that sets everything else that happens in our story (with maybe the exception of the threat of the Night King) into motion.
Cersei’s marriage to Robert is cold and loveless, and she suffers abuse at his hand, at least once and with Ned Stark bearing witness (a humiliation for Cersei that I’m sure she added to the list of the reasons she wanted Ned dead). She gets her revenge, however, when she orchestrates a “hunting accident” that eventually takes Robert’s life. Her son, the Horrid Joffrey, becomes king, and perhaps for the first time in her life, Cersei has access to the power she always resented being denied as the voice whispering in her son’s ear. It’s the closest she can come to real power as a woman in this particular world. For the moment.
But even as an adult — even as a widow and the Queen Mother — Cersei is still used by her father as a pawn to in his efforts to consolidate power. Over her objections, Tywin announces that she will be marrying Loras Tyrell so their family can “secure the Reach,” i.e., take over the Tyrells’ wealth and absorb their power. Problem is, Cersei is not in love with Loras and also, too, there’s the whole thing where Loras is gay. But also, SHE IS AN ADULT WOMAN WHO CAN MAKE HER OWN DECISIONS. DAD.
Additionally, her daughter, Myrcella, is taken from her against her wishes and sent to Dorne, again in an attempt to marry her off and control the rather uncontrollable Martells. Myrcella is eventually murdered by the Sand Snakes in retaliation for The Viper’s murder which they ultimately blame on Cersei.
Speaking of her dead daughter! One of the things that haunts Cersei through the entirety of the series (and which I hope to discuss in deeper depth in the next post) is a fortune she received as a child from a woods witch: she will never marry the prince, she will marry the king; he will have 20 children but she will have 3; gold will be their crowns and gold will be their shrouds; and while she’ll be queen, it will only be “For a time. Then comes another, younger, more beautiful, to cast you down and take all you hold dear.”
As such, Cersei spends most of the story jealous and threatened by the women who come into her sons’ lives, Sansa and Margaery. Though she does try to serve as a sort of mentor to Sansa in teaching her how to survive the intrigues of court (only love your children, a woman’s weapon lies between her legs, drink all the wine), it’s ultimately Cersei who determines that Joffrey shouldn’t have to marry the Stark girl thanks to her whole family being a bunch of traitory traitors.
This opens the door for Margaery Tyrell — Loras’ sister — who is much more clever and dangerous than Sansa, and as equally adept at manipulating people as Cersei. She marries Cersei’s son Joffrey, murders Cersei’s son Joffrey, and then marries Cersei’s second son, Tommen, making Margaery queen and, as Margaery taunts Cersei with, makes Cersei what, exactly? “Queen mother? Or dowager queen? … In any event, judging from the king’s enthusiasm, the Queen Mother will be a Queen Grandmother soon.”
To punish Margaery, and to get out of having to marry her brother, Cersei tells the High Septon about Loras’ proclivities which get him and Margaery arrested. But jokes on Cersei, as her other incestuous lover, cousin Lancel, also had some things to tell the High Septon about his “unnatural” relationship with Cersei, and Cersei gets her ass thrown in jail, too. This leads to a threat of being tried by the High Septon and to our famous SHAME! walk …
… which in turn leads to Cersei, enraged and humiliated, to blow up the whole damn sept with the High Sparrow, Margaery, Loras and countless others inside …
… Which in turn leads to Tommen taking the name “King’s Landing” a little too literally …
… which, in turn, leads to Cersei deciding that King’s Lading ain’t gonna rule itself, so why shouldn’t she be Queen?
In contrast, we have little Sansa Stark.
Sansa is not unlike Cersei. When our story begins, Sansa, the eldest daughter of a highborn family, also has her head filled with nonsense about courtly love. She accompanies her father to King’s Landing excited about the prospect of marrying Prince Joffrey and one day becoming Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. But even before they can arrive in the capital city, reality begins to clash with Sansa’s fantasies and things very quickly start going to shit for our young lady.
First, Prince Joffrey reveals himself to be a spoiled, lying coward (whom she lies for to protect their not-yet-engagement). Then her mother-in-law-to-be orders her direwolf to be executed for something her sister’s direwolf did. NOT COOL.
Her time in King’s Landing itself is happy for only the briefest of moments, and soon, King Robert is dead, her father has been arrested, and she’s being ordered by Cersei to write a letter to her brother Robb to not get any ideas about raising an army against King Joffrey. Sansa does so to prove her own loyalty to King Joffrey, and pleads for mercy for her father. And that ratfucker, King Joffrey, he agrees to consider not murdering her dad! Only to murder her dad. Oh, and then he forces her to go look at his head on a spike. This prompts Sansa’s first demonstration of Stark fierceness when she threatens that her brother Robb will have Joffrey’s head on a spike soon, which, in turn, makes Joffrey order his Kingsguard to slap her around.
But the engagement is still on, even if Sansa did briefly consider throwing her betrothed off a bridge. Soon, Sansa has her period and tries to hide it from Cersei, lest she be forced to marry Lil’ King Inbred, but Cersei finds out and gives Sansa some advice: “The more people you love, the weaker you are. You’ll do things for them that you know you shouldn’t do. You’ll act the fool to make them happy, to keep them safe. Love no one but your children. On that front, a mother has no choice.” (Cersei also basically adds, “good luck trying to love my fucking ogre of a son” because even Cersei knows.)
So then Stannis begins attacking the city from the sea, and all the women of court are forced into a tower to wait out the siege. There, Cersei begins handing out yet more advice to her young hostage, mostly about what she will be expected to do as Queen — like host a bunch of hysterical hens while the city is being attacked by your brother-in-law; have a plan for what to if Brother-in-Law is successful (try seducing him); and have a back-up plan for the hysterical hens when Brother-in-Law is No Fun Stannis (have your Kingsguard murder errrrrrybody rather than be raped and murdered by Brother-in-Law’s soldiers). You know, regular future-mother-in-law stuff. Sansa, instead, sings and prays with the women, which, frankly, they prefer to Cersei’s drunken ravings about how they’re all going to get raped.
After the battle, House Tyrell asks King Joffrey to marry Margaery instead of Sansa, and Cersei’s like, “You know what? Sure. Hey Sansa? ENGAGEMENT’S OFF, TRAITOR.” Sansa couldn’t be happier. However, her joy doesn’t last long as Tywin soon announces that she’ll be marrying a different Lannister: Tyrion. No one is thrilled about this new arrangement, but they do get married. However, because Tyrion is a good man, he promises they will never consummate the marriage until she’s ready.
She’s never ready.
Later, King Joffrey is murdered TO DEATH at his wedding by our delightful Queen of Thorns and Cersei immediately suspects it was Tyrion and Sansa. Fortunately for Sansa, she is spirited out of King’s Landing before Cersei can eke out her revenge. Unfortunately for Sansa, she is spirited out of King’s Landing by Littlefinger who has his own designs on her.
Littlefinger takes Sansa to his new wife Crazy Aunt Lysa in the Eyrie, where Crazy Aunt Lysa is immediately jealous and starts talking about marrying Sansa off to her idiot son Robin. It’s not long before Crazy Aunt Lysa is trying to shove Sansa out of the moon door, but, fortunately for Sansa, Littlefinger isn’t actually in love with Crazy Aunt Lysa and he pushes Crazy Aunt Lysa out of the moon door instead. Sansa is like, “cool, cool, cool,” and when called to testify about what happened, she claims Crazy Aunt Lysa jumped out of her living room trap door after she saw Sansa give Littlefinger an innocent kiss on the cheek.
Littlefinger then returns Sansa to Winterfell to marry Ramsay Bolton, explaining his plan: Stannis will take the North, make her the Wardeness of Winterfell, and she, having learned how to lie and manipulate from Westeros’ very best, will be able to control this Bolton guy.
Except! Fun fact: Ramsay Bolton is a fucking psychopath who viciously rapes Sansa on their wedding night (while making Theon watch) and locks her in her room, turning her into a prisoner in her own home.
Eventually, Theon helps her escape and with help from Brienne, she heads to Castle Black to ask her brother Lord Commander Jon Snow for his help in taking back their home from her lunatic husband. Jon agrees, but they don’t have nearly enough troops, so Sansa helps him try to enlist Northerners and her mom’s family down in Riverrun.
But Sansa has also learned a thing or two about psychopaths and warns Jon not to fall into Ramsay’s trap. Before confronting Ramsay, Jon needs to let go of any ideas he might have of rescuing their younger brother Rickon whom Ramsay has taken hostage. At the Battle of the Bastards, Jon immediately falls into Ramsay’s trap by trying to save Rickon, and his troops are very nearly defeated. But then! The day is saved when troops from the Vale arrive, troops that Sansa had the good sense to ask Littlefinger for even though she was SUPER PISSED at him for handing her over to a rapist monster.
As for that rapist monster, Sansa feeds him to his own dogs. And as for Littlefinger, when Arya returns to Winterfell, Sansa has her sister slit his throat. So, you know, don’t fuck with Sansa Stark.
However, despite the fact that she was more strategic than her brother and despite the fact that she basically won the battle for him through her alliances and planning and despite the fact that she is a legitimate Stark, once Winterfell is taken back by its proper owners, the Northmen go and make Jon King in the North because entrenched patriarchy is a bitch.
And then there is Daenerys.
Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.
And Daenerys is not here to be your little lady.
Some brief background that is not really discussed much in the show: Daenerys is the youngest of the Mad King’s three children. During Robert’s Rebellion, her pregnant mother, Rhaella, fled with Daenerys’ brother, Viserys to Dragonstone. There, Rhaella died giving birth to Daenerys (as did Tyrion’s, as did Jon’s … as did many women in this world because childbirth is bloody business, but it’s still an interesting coincidence that these three characters are all motherless children), and like Cersei with Tyrion, Viserys never forgave her for taking mommy away. Soon after her birth, Viserys and Daenerys were spirited away to Essos by men loyal to the Targaryens and eventually taken in by Illyrio Mopatis in the Free City of Pentos.
When our story begins, Viserys has A Big Plan to take back the Iron Throne, which he considers rightfully his: trade Daenerys to a Dothraki warlord named Khal Drogo in exchange for the promise of 40,000 Dothraki warriors which he will transport to Westeros … somehow. The details aren’t important.
So Daenerys is taken out to the desert where she marries this giant horserider dude who rapes her on their wedding night because the Dothraki don’t have a strong grasp on the concept of consent. She also receives a wedding gift from Illyrio: a trio of preserved dragon eggs, which will certainly come in handy later. Eventually, Daenerys convinces Khal Drogo to try having sex while looking her in the eyes, and the two fall in love.
And let’s pause here for a moment so that I can say that while for the most part I trust Martin’s feminist intentions and believe that he is telling a story about how difficult it is for a woman to make her way in a patriarchal system, I have some REAL ISSUES with the ‘falling in love with your rapist’ trope. If I were in the mood to defend Martin, I would say that he was trying to write a young woman who is learning to own her sexuality, and that it makes her “powerful” to have her tame her rapist, to teach him that he does not have to be violent and that in the bedroom they can be equals. If I were defending Martin, I would also add that having Daenerys fall in love with her husband makes her later loss and symbolic rebirth that much more poignant.
However, I am not here to defend Martin because despite whatever his intentions might have been, the ‘falling in love with your rapist’ trope is lazy, tired, encourages misogynistic and dangerous ideas about women, sex and love, and that he is imaginative and thoughtful enough to have done better.
Moving on: Daenerys becomes pregnant, eats an entire horse heart, and wins the love of the Dothraki. Viserys becomes jealous and dangerous so Khal Drogo pours molten gold all over his damn head.
Now with Viserys dead, Khal Drogo loses interest in sending his riders to Westeros, but then some asshole sent by King Robert tries to assassinate Daenerys, and Drogo is suddenly, “OH FUCK NO YOU DO NOT TRY TO KILL MY PREGNANT WIFE, WE ARE GOING TO WESTEROS. ~just as soon as we raise enough money to get ourselves some boats to go to Westeros~” To that end, the Dothraki raid a village to collect some folks to sell into slavery, which freaks Dany out. She demands that they not rape the slave women which starts a whole thing between Drogo and one of his dudes, and Drogo gets cut in a fight. But Drogo tears out the guy’s tongue with his bare hands so there’s that.
However, Drogo’s wound becomes infected, which happens when your only form of hygiene is “MOAR EYELINER.” Daenerys employs one of the witches she saved from being raped to treat him. Except! The witch is understandably tired of the Dothrakis’ bullshit and using blood magic she technically saves Drogo by leaving him in a coma. Daenerys, realizing he’s never going to recover, suffocates him to death and then throws herself and her dragon eggs onto his funeral pyre.
BUT GUESS WHAT. SHE DOESN’T DIE AND THOSE EGGS HATCH. SO, LOOK OUT, MOTHERFUCKERS, HERE COMES THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS.
For the next few seasons, Daenerys is just riding around Essos, taking over cities and winning the adoration of their citizens and accumulating castrated troops and freeing slaves and trying to buy ships to take her back to Westeros and learning that leading be hard and dealing with straight-up assholes who want to take her dragons …
… and dealing with men who WAY underestimate her ferocity and willingness to kill them if they get in her way.
During her adventures through Essos, Daenerys considers marriage twice. The first proposal comes from Xaro, a wealthy Qartheen dignitary who promises to fund her voyage back to Westeros but then goes and steals her dragons. For his trouble, Daenerys herself locks him in his own vault to die.
The second proposal actually comes from Daenerys while negotiating a tense situation in Meereen. Having taken over the slave city and freed the slaves, Daenerys and her Unsullied are terrorized by a group of pissed off former slave owners called the Sons of the Harpy. Daenerys tries to tamp down the rebellion by 1. killing one of the former slave owners via dragon and 2. offering to marry the son of one of the former slave owners, Hizdahr zo Loraq. Sadly for Hizdahr, their engagement comes to an end when he and Daenerys are attacked by more Sons of the Harpy during a trip to the fighting pits. Hizdahr is murdered, Daenerys is rescued by Drogon and flown away to safety … back to the Dothraki.
But before we move on to that whole chapter, it’s worth emphasizing that throughout her campaigns through Essos, Daenerys is fixated on saving women and children in particular, and freeing the enslaved in general. She also abhors the violence of the fighting pits and only reluctantly allows them to take place to placate the population of the already agitated Meereen. What I’m getting at is Daenerys is a one-woman campaign against toxic masculinity.
Speaking of: when Drogon drops her off in the Dothraki Sea, she’s captured by Khal Moro, who is a real piece of work. When he learns that she is Khal Drogo’s widow, he backs off from his initial impulse to rape her, and instead, sends her to the Dosh Khaleen, the home for widowed khaleesi.
There, Daenerys fails to make many friends, and one night slips out to go make trouble. She is found by Jorah and Daario who have come to rescue her, but she’s all, “thanks but no thanks, I don’t need saving.” She then marches into the gathering of khals to announce that none of them are fit to lead the Dothraki, and she’ll be taking over now, thanks. They laugh and threaten to rape her, so she knocks over the braziers setting the whole place on fire. But guess what, bitches, DRAGONS DON’T BURN, and Daenerys emerges from the temple to a supplicant Dothraki hoard that is all hers now.
So, with some ships courtesy of Yara and Theon, Daenerys and her Unsullied and her Dothraki Screamers and her THREE FIRE-BREATHING DRAGONS, sail across the Narrow Sea to her birthplace, Dragonstone. There, she meets with her allies — all of which are strong ass bitches: the Queen of Thorns, Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand.
And though they initially disagree with her plan to starve King’s Landing instead of attacking it with MOTHERFUCKING DRAGONFIRE, they do agree to support her.
But before she leaves, when Daenerys promises she will bring peace to Westeros, our Queen of Thorns offers Daenerys a bit of advice: “Peace? Do you think that’s what we had under your father? Or his father? Or his? Peace never lasts, my dear. Will you take a bit of advice from an old woman? He’s a clever man, your Hand. I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
And later Daenerys is a goddamned dragon when she and Drogon lay to waste a Lannister supply chain, and then sets Sam’s asshole of a father and brother aflame when they refuse to bend the knee to her. SHE IS NOT PLAYING AROUND, Y’ALL.
Daenerys also meets with Melisandre, our red witch, who announces that she thinks Daenerys could be “The Prince Who Was Promised,” to which Daenerys is like, “I’m sorry, do I look like a prince to you?”
BUT GUESS WHAT?! LANGUAGE IS FUN:
More on this in the next post.
Melisandre also mentions that Daenerys should hook up with this Jon Snow character, she thinks they both have a role to play in whatever is about to happen next. (Them boning.) So Jon goes to Dragonstone to convince Daenerys to help him with the White Walker issue, and she’s like “bend the knee,” and he’s like, “no” and she’s like, “bend the knee,” and he’s like, “no,” and she’s like, “bend the knee,” and he’s like, “oh, alright.”
Anyway, this begins a bunch of Jon and Daenerys adventures where they go beyond The Wall to kidnap a wight (and Daneyers loses her dragon Viserion to the Night King in the process — sad emoji here), bring the wight to Cersei who is all, “UNIMPRESSED,” and then sail back to Westeros on a sexboat where they make the sex.
Oh, and she probably got pregnant. Which, considering she is Jon’s paternal aunt, might make things a little complicated.
I’ve been struggling with this post for days, trying to figure out what my big “OH I GET IT NOW” conclusion was, as there was no obvious comparison of these three characters the way there was with Theon, Arya and Jon. They don’t follow particularly similar paths, even symbolically, and they don’t arrive at the same places. Cersei’s story almost entirely takes place in her home of King’s Landing, at first surrounded by her family, only to lose them one by one until she is utterly alone, but, hey! at least she’s in control now! Sansa begins her story leaving her home and losing her family, until she is able to return home and find her family again — but in exchange, she has to relinquish power. And Daenerys never had a home nor much of a family to speak of — only this promise of this Westeros place, a home where she’s never been, and these
three two giant lizards with whom she intends to make trouble.
But then I noticed this one thing they all have in common: aside from the fact that they are all still alive and are in their own ways seeking and sometimes grasping power in a world that would otherwise deny them their very agency, the one thing these three women have in common is that they were each sold into marriage, used as property by men as a means to consolidate their own power and — and this is key — all three women killed those men they were forced to marry — particularly, and most gleefully, those who were violent towards them. Cersei has Robert murdered and, though he never hurt her, she does orchestrate the spectacular end to Loras; Sansa has Ramsay kept alive so that she can personally feed him to his dogs and has the man who forced the marriage in the first place, Littlefinger, killed for good measure (as for her other husband Tyrion, I’m sure he’s safe, but he should continue watching his back just in case); and Danaerys, though she loves Khal Drogo, she is forced to kill him, she murders Xaro and poor Hizdahr is a victim of getting too close to her. (And I’m just going to put a little asterisk right here to note that Jon needs to be careful with Dany, but I will have to elaborate in the last post that I’m still drafting. IT’S COMING, I PROMISE.)
Though these women all appear to be relatively powerless, vulnerable and controlled by men when their stories begin, they each shed the constraints men and marriage would place upon them, and they do so violently. And perhaps that is the point. This is a violent world, and it would do terrible things to defenseless women and children. To survive, women and children are forced to sometimes be violent, too. While it would be nice to believe that with women in charge things would be more peaceful than it is under the rule of men, the fact is that in a violent world, power is taken with brute force and violence, not politeness and solicitude.
So the question remains: where will each of these three powerful and occasionally violent women be at the end of our story? The writers are clearly comparing and contrasting each of the women’s leadership styles. Clearly, Cersei is our villain, but why? (I mean aside from being a cold ass murdering bitch with a mean streak.) But she just took the Iron Throne when it was there for the taking — something that Robert did and something that Daenerys plans on doing herself.
The differences don’t lie in necessarily lie in how they take power but rather their motivations for wanting power in the first place. Cersei wants the Iron Throne simply because she wants it. Her entire life, Cersei has been filled with seething resentment for being overlooked simply because she is a woman; now with the men who would otherwise stand in her way — her father, her husband, her sons — all gone, she will take the Iron Throne for herself because she likes the way she looks in that crown. Not because she cares about the people of Westeros, not because she cares about doing anything different than the men who came before her, mostly Cersei wants to rule simply because she’s always been told she wasn’t allowed to.
In contrast, Daenerys has spent her entire life hearing that her family rightfully owns the throne and that it should be her brother’s. Once he’s out of the way, she decides to go after it herself, but she has an actual cause: to make the world a better place. She says as much to Yara in “Battle of the Bastards”: “Our fathers were evil men, all of us here. They left the world worse than they found it. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to leave the world better than we found it.” This is also the reason why Tyrion and Varys align with her cause: because they believe she can improve conditions for the common people. And through her campaigns throughout Essos, she has proven to be a conquering force for good … as long as you’re a slave.
But here’s the thing about Daenerys: she’s not so great at actually leading once she’s blown through town conquering. Politics are boring. Figuring out how much to tax Dorne or how much wheat to demand from Highgarden for the coming winter is a lot less exciting than riding around on your dragon, setting slaver assholes on fire.
Also — and I’m not kidding when I say that I think this is a major consideration, and maybe the biggest in terms of what happens with Daenerys — where is Dany going to keep her dragons? If she takes the Iron Throne, where do the dragons sleep at night? You can’t very well have them flying around Westeros eating kids in the Riverlands, which is the very reason why back in the day the Targaryens kept them in the Dragonpit.
However, as Daenerys herself explains to Jon in “The Dragon and the Wolf,” the Dragonpit itself “… was the beginning of the end for my family. A dragon is not a slave. They were terrifying. Extraordinary. They filled people with wonder and awe, and we locked them in here. They wasted away. They grew small. And we grew small as well. We weren’t extraordinary without them. We were just like everyone else.”
Being in Westeros, being confined by civilization is what destroyed the Targaryens and their dragons, and while I believe in the end she will win back the Iron Throne, I’m not sure that Daenerys will choose to stay on it.
Instead, knowing that her skills lie in freeing the oppressed rather than ruling them, I suspect in the end, Dany will hand over the Iron Throne to someone who is better skilled at taking care of people over the long haul and go back to what she’s good at: conquering and freeing. And I believe there are two strong candidates for whom she leaves on the Throne in her stead once everything is said and done.
Candidate number one: Tyrion. Tyrion is clever, Tyrion is political, Tyrion has been overlooked and underestimated his entire life and it would be satisfying to see him on the Throne after everything he has been through. But more intriguingly, if you believe the theory that he is the Mad King’s secret bastard son, he would have an actual claim to the Throne. Dany could take it back for the Targaryens, legitimize Tyrion and then he would actually have more claim than she would, as both Aerys’ son and her older brother.
However, the cold water on this idea is that we only have a handful of episodes left and the writers have not laid enough foundation to spring another secret Targaryen on us for the average viewer to feel like it hadn’t been pulled out of thin air. Think about how long the Jon is a secret Targaryen thread has been running. Since the first season, the first episode when Ned promised he would tell Jon about his mother the next time he saw him, we’ve been wondering who Jon’s parents really are. While there are plenty clues of clues as to the possibility of Tyrion being a secret Targaryen bastard in the books and the ancillary materials, very little of that has been included in the actual series, and the writers, they don’t seem to be in any real hurry to add it.
So that leaves us with candidate number two, someone who has had actual executive experience, can maneuver in this difficult world with diplomacy without being taken for a fool, understands and cares about the minutia of the day-to-day business of leading (like worrying about taxes and wheat rations), and genuinely has the people’s best interest, not her own, at heart: Sansa.
From spoiled naive princess-to-be to tortured prisoner trapped among the scheming Lannisters, Littlefingers, and Boltons of the world and learning their ways into, finally, a competent and mature leader who is smart, tactical, judicious and caring, Sansa’s journey has been leading to her taking on an important role within this world. The easy money is on Sansa becoming the Queen in the North and ruling Winterfell once everything shakes out … but what if there is no Winterfell anymore? What if there is no North? Where would all those skills Sansa has accumulated over the years best be used if not in ruling whatever remains of Westeros once the Great War is won?
While Sansa doesn’t have a familial claim to the Throne like Tyrion might through Cersei or possibly through the Mad King, what do “proper claims” even mean when there are no great families even left? What do proper claims mean to a goddamn conquerer? Daenerys herself said she is interested in breaking the wheel — what if the wheel isn’t the families themselves but is men’s rule over the Iron Throne? If Robert can claim the Throne through brute force, why can’t Daenerys do the same — and place whomever she wants there? Sansa may not be the sexiest answer as to who will rule Westeros, but it’s difficult to come up with anyone who is actually better prepared and suited to fulfill Daenerys’ goal of making Westeros a better place than how she found it.
Unless I’m completely wrong. I should pause to note here that I’m probably going to be wrong about all of this, Cersei will reign on the Iron Throne forever, Daenerys will become the Queen in the North and be happily married to Jon, and Sansa will become a baker of lemon cakes — if she lives.
Game of Thrones airs on HBO on Sundays at 8/9 p.m. CST/EST, thank the old gods and the new.