The women of Game of Thrones are coming of age.
“We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne.”
“Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.”
Finally, in “The House of Black and White” we get our first view of Dorne. The Dornish prince Doran Martell and his late brother Oberyn’s lover Ellaria Sand stand overlooking the water gardens discussing Oberyn’s death. Ellaria blames Cersei Lannister. As Cersei’s daughter Myrcella passes through the garden, Ellaria asks, “Let me have her. Let me send her to Cersei one finger at a time.” Doran replies, “We do not mutilate little girls for vengeance. Not here.”
This recalls a dialogue from season four between Cersei and the doomed prince Oberyn. Cersei asks after her daughter, fearing that she is not being well treated. Oberyn assures her, sincerely, “We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne.” Cersei replies, with a look that says she knows, “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls,” neatly summarizing two perspectives on how women are treated in their world and giving us a story to follow to see who’s right.
I wouldn’t call Game of Thrones a feminist show. I generally side with Lindy West when she says, “The level of sexual violence, in that context, comes off as more realistic than prurient—to me, it feels like a statement about rape culture rather than an example of it,” but I’m still reeling from the poorly adapted rape scene of last season. HBO’s enthusiasm at showing bare breasts and neatly trimmed bushes, but their reticence at showing some dongs also betrays a sexual double-standard.
Still, it’s refreshing to see female character’s stories taking a primary role this season and to see those female characters wielding nuanced personalities and interactions. They’re not just strong women, but strong characters. That has never been more apparent than in the latest episode.
Over the course of the series Daenerys quickly went from being a sold wife without personal agency to a righteous superhero queen who can do no wrong, but finally we are getting to see her in complex light. The bulk of the episode is devoted to her settling into a difficult reign over post-war Meereen where she stumbles attempting to balance justice with the love of her people.
Sansa, meanwhile, has grown from a simpering teenager with dreams of being a princess to a still-feminine well-composed woman with a sharp but subtle wit. Her relationship with Littlefinger has become more equal since she saved him1. When Brienne2 attempts to “rescue” her, Littlefinger’s guards fend her off, but it is Sansa who makes the ultimate decision.
In an episode positively packed with stories, other women also dominated the episode: Cersei continues to connive for power in King’s Landing, but her sincere concern for her shrinking family makes her more relatable. Gilly is learning to read from Shireen Baratheon and has stopped treating Sam like her infallible savior. Arya, the audience-favored increasingly bloodthirsty underdog, has travelled to Braavos alone and has been admitted entrance to the House of Black and White to become, it is suggested, one of the Faceless Men.
Our favorite boys still get a little play as well, though. Tyrion and Varys are on an interminable journey (by box?) that keeps acquiring new destinations (Where is Volantis?) but supposedly ultimately leads to Meereen. Back at the Wall, Stannis Baratheon offers Jon Snow the Stark name (the first thing he ever wanted!) in order to deliver the North which Jon Snow turns down out of his ongoing foolish sense of honor or something3. But it’s okay! It works out because Samwell Tarly, whose continued survival tops my list of improbable things in the series4, delivers a similarly improbable articulate speech that convinces the Night’s Watch to elect Jon Snow as commander.
- This moment in season four marked a turning point for Sansa, when it became crystal clear that she is capably of lying and manipulating and taking control of her own destiny. ↵
- Ah, poor Brienne! Another female superhero whose noble intentions are marred by stubbornness and desperation. ↵
- Seriously, the dude offered you an awesome seeming situation that you’ll turn them down to keep the oaths that you already broke? ↵
- Just above dragons. ↵