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The story of Game of Thrones has been created with influences from fantasy, sci-fi, and medieval history. Although the world is completely made up, the gender roles closely mirror medieval times. Men in this world are always the first in line for inheritance and are considered strong, whereas women are seen as weak, and are often used by men for their gain, thus making those who do not follow this trope very interesting characters.
Although Game of Thrones is usually quite good for addressing the gender roles of female characters, allowing empowerment through many of the characters' storylines. Despite this, the writers often fail the characters due to bad choices of writing, overlooking the characters' actions in past episodes/seasons, or stereotyping women in general—whether intentional or not.
Brienne of Tarth
Brienne of Tarth is a character who joined the series in season two. Initially, she was a protector of Renly Baratheon, however, she became loyal to Catelyn Stark and swore to her to find and protect her daughters. As of season eight, she has fulfilled her vow to Catelyn, and we find her residing at Winterfell with both Sansa and Arya as her allies. She is a strong, tall woman who is not afraid to challenge men, and she has focused all her life into her swordsmanship and to being righteous. Season eight sees Brienne achieve her ultimate goal in life as she is knighted by Jaime Lannister.
However, in the course of a few episodes, Brienne goes from being newly knighted, to a survivor of the fierce Battle of Winterfell, to being teased due to her lack of sexual experience, to a woman stood out in the cold, crying and begging a man to love her and stay with her.
For me, Brienne's arc is about her amazing skills being formally recognised, and this was completed when she was knighted. Her story has never been about sex, or marriage—in fact, she turned on that in order to pursue her true interests, alike to Arya.
So why is this strong, highly-esteemed woman being ruined by the writers by making her weak at the knees for love?
Her relationship with Jaime over the seasons has definitely grown. But not from hate to love. It has grown from hate and duty, to understanding, compassion, and trust. Brienne vows that she would fight beside Jaime—but that doesn't mean she needs to sleep with him.
There are two possible reasons for Brienne and Jaime's relationship.
One is it was purely written to appease fans who were desperate for a love triangle between her, Tormund, and Jaime.
The second is it was used to further Jaime’s redemption arc from an incest twin who attempted to murder a child to a man who had become sympathetic and wise, turning on his sister in light of the threat of the Night King and was with Brienne for true, meaningful love. Now I might have bought this point, however, Jaime's whole character redemption arc was completely diminished when leaving Brienne to go back to Cersei.
Brienne's relationship with Jaime should never have been a part of the show. The show degraded her by making her seem weak and making her beg for love. When really she is a noble female warrior who doesn't need a man and doesn't need to have sex for any storyline.
Gilly is the daughter and wife of Craster, a man who lived North of the Wall and marries his daughters—and seemingly has no sons. She came onto our screens in season two where she begs Sam to help her escape because she is worried her baby might be a boy, but she does not tell Jon and Sam the consequences of that. Jon Snow follows Craster and discovers that he sacrifices his baby boys to White Walkers. The Night's Watch leaves Craster's Keep in season two, but returns in season three after the Battle of the Fist of the First Men. During this time, the Night Watch mutiny allows Sam to escape with Gilly, and her newly born son. Gilly then spends the rest of her time in Game of Thrones with Sam Tarly and her baby, also named Sam. She becomes educated, she is taught to read, and she essentially becomes one of the most important characters—who is completely overlooked!
Originally having lived beyond the Wall at Craster’s Keep, she knows the dangers of winter. However, unlike the Wildlings, they had an agreement with the Night King/White Walkers to provide sons for his army. She essentially knows about what lies beyond the Wall and the army of the Night King better than most other characters, but she is never asked, nor does she have a say in anything.
Moreover, it was actually Gilly who first discovers the marriage between Rhaegar and Lyanna, but Sam interrupts her. See below:
But then further to this, in season seven episode seven, Sam declares he was the one who read this when Bran claims Jon should be a bastard called Sand, not Snow. Together, they work out Jon's true parentage, despite Gilly discovering the most vital part ages before.
No fan of Game of Thrones would ever consider that Sam did this to be able to take the credit. So it suggests his complete lack of mention that this was, in fact, Gilly's discovery is probably an error in writing.
Sam probably didn't read what Gilly told him about because if he had, this scene is then rendered a little pointless and they run away shortly after Gilly's discovery. Sam is very educated in history, so knowing that Rhaegal had an annulment and then married Lyanna would have had a significant impact on him, and he would have mentioned it prior to seeing Bran, because not only does it prove the parentage of Jon, it also proves that Robert's Rebellion was based on the false assumption that Rhaegar abducted Lyanna.
Thus the writers are failing her character, as they are allowing male characters to take her discovery and use it later in the series to build tension and create a bigger reveal.
Sansa has come a long way since her debut in season one. No longer a little girl who wants nothing more than to marry a prince and be his queen, she has grown into an intelligent and cunning woman, whose leadership skills in the last two and a bit seasons have been second to none.
A scene in season eight episode four got fans talking, wherein Sansa's character claims she would not be able to be who she is without Littlefinger and Ramsey Bolton. See the scene below:
In this clip, she says "without Littlefinger and Ramsey and the rest, I would have stayed a little bird all my life." Some fans believed that this gave justification for the abuse she had suffered in prior seasons, and even gave the men who abused her the credit for her amazing journey and arc as a character.
This was a poor choice of wording on part of the writing, as it did diminish Sansa's own power to push through the trauma and fight for what she wanted. Moreover, this quote doesn't consider that Sansa had always been quite powerful from the beginning. In season two episode one, before Joffrey's torment of her got really bad, Joffrey takes Sansa to see Ned's head and claims he will give her Robb's head, to which she says: "Or maybe he will give me yours." And then all through Joffrey's torment, she tells everyone that she is loyal to him, but she just knows how to keep her head and knows better than to challenge him. This to me doesn't seem like the kind of person who would have continued to live in a sheltered life, especially with the words of her house slowly becoming true:
"Winter is coming."
Sansa vs. Daenerys
Although the disagreements between Sansa and Daenerys have really added to the tension in season eight, it may have been better for them to have some level of female solidarity between them, even if this is not the route Game of Thrones would usually take. Daenerys and Sansa have so much in common: Both had dreams of ruling, and both lost their power and faced hardships which were more similar to each other than any other character. Both ended up in strange places such as Daenerys in various places in Essos, and Sansa in King’s Landing and the Vale. Both were abused by the men around them, and forced into marriage. Daenerys was forced to marry Khal Drogo by her brother, while Sansa was forced to marry Tyrion by Joffrey and Ramsey by Littlefinger. Both have been raped, and have been in great danger such as when Daenerys was almost killed by the Sons of the Harpy, and when Sansa was attacked by the people of King’s Landing when they rioted. Both had to put so much at risk to get "home" and both are determined to do everything they can to be safe and comfortable now that they have gained that.
In a way, it should be easier for Sansa and Daenerys to understand each other’s struggle than for Sansa to understand what her own siblings went through. It would have been pleasant to see these two powerful women understand each other and understand each other's pain in a way which showed some female solidarity, rather than the catfight we have.
Daenerys has had her eyes set on the throne since season one, and over the seasons she has gained followers, an army, and a fleet to help her realise her dream. She essentially has the best claim to the throne (providing Jon doesn't change his mind), but she has faced some hardships and sometimes, she isn't given the justice she deserves in her storyline.
Daenerys is a woman with focus and drive, and she had the best intentions initially (pre-season eight) to free slaves, end tyranny, and stop the never-ending cycle of noble feuds and fights for the throne.
However, she is constantly second-guessed and challenged by her advisors, in a way that we do not see Jon Snow being challenged, who also gives her massively different opinions (i.e. Tyrion and Varys try to quell her and make her choose negotiation, whereas before her death Olenna Tyrell told her to be a dragon). Therefore, Dany can constantly be put down by fans and characters alike because she didn't follow someone's advice, as there is always someone who is her opposition.
Davos tells Tyrion and Varys that the people of the North will not trust Daenerys because she hasn’t earned their trust (S8E1). But in episode four, after the Battle of Winterfell—in the now infamous Starbucks cup scene—none of the North seem to have any gratitude or trust for for Daenerys, and she is completely dismissed. First of all, they should have had some respect that she came to help in the first place. Second of all, if they trust Jon Snow so much and he trusted her, then why was there so much apprehension to trust Daenerys even a little bit? Also, she put everything she had into the Battle of Winterfell—her whole army of Unsullied and her whole army of Dothraki—and she lost a lot. And the reason why those armies stayed by her side was because they trusted and supported her in the same way the North trust Jon. Lastly, she was the first person to take a shot at the Night King. Unfortunately, he was protected against dragon fire. Jon Snow didn’t even really have a stand down with the Night King, or do anything impressive in battle—but he was still hailed for getting on a dragon by Tormund, something he had already seen Dany do before when she saved them from beyond the Wall... when they escaped on a dragon.
Daenerys saving Jon and his company here should also have gained her some respect in the North, but clearly not.
Daenerys and other women are presented with dealing with grief in a very different way to men in the show. Having lost Missandei, Jorah, and Rhaegal this season, she has become more and more unhinged, in a way we have not seen any man on the show. If we consider Jaime and Cersei's reactions to losing their children, Cersei is always the more emotional. Although there is no comparison between Daenerys and another parent of her dragons, she reacted similarly to Cersei when Rhaegal was killed, choosing to fly without regard to the safety of herself and her last remaining dragon.
Women are shown to experience loss in a very different way to men. If we directly compare Jon and Dany, Ygritte's death was the end of her character's story and she has not been mentioned again. However, with Dany and Drogo, she named her dragon after him and saw him in the House of the Undying; some fans speculate that this is because she wishes they were reunited.
Here the writers are failing both the male and female characters. By only making the women show extreme emotion, it makes them seem less composed than the male characters. However, by not allowing the male characters their true grief, they are conforming to our current society's views on men showing emotion.
Cersei's character has been on the show since the very first episode, where she definitely made a big impression. Her character is not a popular one, with her making many seemingly evil choices as the seasons have progressed.
However, the reason why the show is always seemingly sexist to Cersei is all of her actions are solely explained as being due to her love for her children; thus, she is essentially undercut for all the other reasons she has to act the way she does.
Cersei has been doubted by her father Tywin and son Joffery. She was wed for an alliance. She was publicly shamed by the religious High Sparrow.
Cersei often does things because she has power, and she likes power and control; she did once say "power is power." For example, she gave the High Sparrow power when Margaery started to turn Tommen against her—and not unjustly so, due to Cersei's extreme actions and schemes. But then she blew up the the Great Sept of Baelor because she gave them too much power. She needed to get herself out of trouble and regain her family's power—with little regard to how Tommen would feel knowing his wife, who he loved and was murdered by his mother; thus, he killed himself.
If this is regarded solely as a mother's love, then isn't this love a little bit toxic? And doesn't it do an injustice to Cersei to only see her as a mother and not for everything else she is? You have to consider as well, that blaming her actions on being a mother is also not fair to female characters, because it suggests only mothers have to capability to act out in such a terrible way. Cersei is out and out a villain, and yes, she cares about her children, but she craves control and power.
Although some of this is due to the sexism which would have taken place in a medieval setting, it is quite evident that a lot of it is an overlook by the writers, either in terms of what has happened in past seasons/episodes or just stereotyping the characters to medieval women, or women in general. I think it is important that the writers try to write what is best for the characters, and not get caught up in female stereotypes or fan-based wishes for the show. Characters should also be written to have realistic flaws, which should not be backtracked to their gender. No one ever says Jon Snow knows nothing, and it's probably because he's a man.