If you’ve seen the teasers and trailers for Game of Thrones, Season 7, you know that the show seems to be setting up three characters as the new season’s central figures, who will be contending for power: Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Cersei Lannister. And with Daenerys finally reaching Westeros and Cersei crowning herself queen, fans can bet there will be a match-up between those two. The show has a weird track record when it comes to its female characters, but I think a war between powerful women on Game of Thrones could be the show's greatest triumph.
Maybe you’re just here for Jon Snow — and that’s fine, I suppose. Many people are. But personally, I’ve always had a couple of issues with him. Of the many storylines on Game of Thrones, it’s the most black-and-white (I daresay cliché) part of the show. I’m more drawn to Daenerys and Cersei as main characters, because both occupy that moral gray area Game of Thrones thrives in. Dany isn’t a perfect hero, and Cersei isn’t a perfect villain. They’ve both developed over the years while Jon has never really changed. Jon’s world is the one that most emphasizes traditional macho heroism. Long story short, I’m much more excited to see what’s going on in the rest of the world. More specifically: with the women who will play a key part in the upcoming war.
One of the highest praises Game of Thrones has received over the years is its ability to produce complex female characters that are just as richly characterized as their male counterparts. Some shows even now have a tendency to portray their few female characters as love interests, victims, and bystanders without giving them much depth — or even the chance to stick around for very long. Think about Sherlock, for example, which just recently killed off its first prominent female character. But Game of Thrones makes a real effort to expand the roles of women on the show, which is commendable. The women of Game of Thrones feel real: they're smart, calculating, loving, hateful, honorable, traitorous, and flawed.
No, it’s not perfect— far from it. Consider how many of the show’s female characters (main and supporting) have been sexually assaulted. Some assaulters, like Jaime Lannister, are main characters who are treated as legitimate love interests to the women they assaulted. And just think about the ratio of female nudity to male nudity on the show. It’s ridiculously uneven.
Defenders of the show will argue that that’s just the world these characters live in. In a medieval patriarchy, violence against women would be commonplace, so the show is just conveying that fact. George R.R. Martin has always been adamant about keeping his world realistic in terms of human beings, if not in terms of dragons and magic. "I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and to show what medieval society was like," he explained in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "If you’re going to write about war, and you just want to include all the cool battles ... and you don’t portray [sexual violence], then there’s something fundamentally dishonest about that. Rape, unfortunately, is still a part of war today."
His point is valid: sexual violence against women is and always has been a very real problem, and to pretend it's not would perhaps degrade that gritty realism that makes Game of Thrones such a great fantasy show. But it's also important to give women more story arcs than those based around that single concept. Female characters deserve more diverse struggles and conflicts than being raped, and they risk becoming limited when their stories are focused so heavily on sexual violence. There are other ways to showcase the horrors that come with war. Furthermore, formulating female storylines this way — centering them on romance, sexual violence, or both — reinforces the idea that women are made or broken by men. Fortunately, that's where characters like Brienne, Arya, and Yara provide much-needed balance: characters whose storylines and motivations are largely unencumbered by male domination or violence.
This, in large part, is what makes the possibilities Season 7 has laid out all the more exciting. In this world of hardline chauvinism and misogyny, the male characters are starting to get pushed to the side to make room for the powerful women who have just been biding their time. Jaime, who was the center of his storyline for quite a while, spent Season 6 basically standing around being Cersei’s Yes Man. Tyrion has likewise spent the last season and a half on the sidelines, his main role now being to support Dany. Jon, of course, is still the center of his world, but now for the first time he has to share it with another lead character: his sister, Sansa Stark.
Women have for so long been on the sidelines in Game of Thrones. But from Season 6 onward, it looks like things might be changing. Sansa, who spent years being shoved from location to location, is finally starting to grow up and take control of things. Arya and Dany have both always been the center of their plots, but now we’re going to get to watch them both take a more direct role in the world of Westeros. Yara, who’s been popping in and out since Season 2, has reentered the fray as a central player. Cersei has the entirety of the South under her power, especially now that she’s done away with her greatest rivals, the Tyrells.
A war led by women isn't something you see on television. Ever. I want to see it. I want to see Cersei and Daenerys direct troops, make mistakes, lead their soldiers to victory. I want to see men respect and follow them as they would for any male monarch. I want to see women who hold power as well as (or better) than any man would.
Game of Thrones has made some flubs before when it comes to its female characters, as I mentioned. But I’m hopeful that they can turn it around. If the show plays its cards right, they could do something really amazing with these last two seasons. Not just in telling a great story with sky-high production values and gorgeous cinematography, but in setting a new standard for female characters on television.
Game of Thrones, Season 7 premieres July 16 on HBO.