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Is Game of Thrones a feminist show?

An analysis of the women’s All-Star team, who is likely to remain standing at the end, and how they rate as female role models.

Considering how much the Ringer.com loves basketball and Game of Thrones, let’s do an analysis of the careers of the five most important female players from GOT, see who has earned GOAT status, and make predictions for the end of the show.

Who’s the GOAT in GOT?

I. Player Stats

Obviously, there are some people who want to use advanced analytics (e.g., breaking down kills into self defense, revenge, and cold blooded murder), but we need to unpack eight seasons, so I’ll keep things simple.

Here are traditional stats GOT tracks for its players:

AH (act of heroism, or self-sacrifice)

TB (total betrayals)

TFB (total family betrayals)

M (manipulates others through bribery, lies, or sexual acts)

C (major acts of cruelty including psychological torture, or ordering others to kill or torture other people— does not include catty remarks or abusing servants)

K (direct personal kills, regardless of motivation — does not include battles, explosions or ordering others to kill)

SA (number of people who have sexually abused the character)

V (number of people who have betrayed, manipulated or victimized the character)

D (character dies)

Player A: 1 AH, 1 TB, 4 TFB, 2 M, 1 C, 0 K, 1 SA, 4 V, 0 D

Player B: 6 AH, 0 TB, 0 TFB, 1 M, 1 C, 63 K¹, 0 SA, 2 V, 0 D

Player C: 1 AH, 0 TB, 2 TFB, 0 M, 2 C, 1 K, 0 SA, 3 V, 1 D

Player D: 0 AH, 0 TB, 1 TFB, 7 M, 9 C, 0 K, 1 SA, 5 V, 0 D

Player E: 3 AH, 1 TB, 0 TFB, 1 M, 7 C, 4 K, 2 SA, 10 V, 0 D

If you haven’t guessed who the characters are yet, here are their strengths and weaknesses:

Player A is a master of betrayal² and manipulation, but has also suffered greatly from the words and actions of others. She doesn’t get her hands dirty with overt acts.

Player B has mad skills in killing, but isn’t cruel. She has been hurt by others, but is the league leader in heroic acts by a degree of magnitude³.

Player C is strong at betrayal and cruelty, but has been so badly hurt by others she is now dead.

Player D is a master at manipulation and cruelty,⁴ but has also suffered greatly at the hands of others.

Player E has suffered at the hands of more people than any other character.⁵ Is it any wonder she matches Player D in cruelty? However, she is very strong in acts of heroism, and willing to get her hands dirty.

II. Ranking the heroes and the villains

If it isn’t obvious already, here are my final rankings:

TIER 1: Bad ass hero who saves the world: Player B

TIER 2: Flawed hero who sometimes goes to the dark side: Player E

TIER 3: Flawed character who suffers a lot, and causes her share of suffering: Players A

TIER 4: Flawed character who suffers some, causes her share of suffering, and acts as a plot device that sets so much destruction in motion you almost wonder if she’s a villain: Player C⁶

TIER 5: Major villain who causes far more pain than she ever suffered: Player D

III. The big reveal

If you haven’t already figured out who’s who, by now, here’s the answer key.

A = Sansa, B = Arya, C = Catelyn, D = Cersei, E = Daenerys

Without a doubt, the GOAT is Arya. She did everything by herself. No money. No men. And no dragons.

What is the final fate of these characters over the last two episodes?

I’ve already written about how the show runners have thrown out almost every idea the show built up over the first five seasons.

In listening to recent podcasts about the show, and reading articles speculating on the end of the show, I’m beginning to think more and more that we will get the stupidest possible ending to what was one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Here are my predictions about the fate of each character still alive:

Arya

She may be the greatest female hero in the history of modern fantasy. Her story arc has taken her from being a deeply wounded innocent child to becoming a sociopathic assassin and highly skilled warrior to reclaiming her humanity as a member of the Stark family to claiming her sexuality (she’s 22 years old — grow up already!) to rejecting a marriage proposal, so she can be true to herself.

Arya is basically Frodo with one of those ninja staff thingies, and a Michael Jordan hand-switching finish move that ended with her sticking a knife in the Night King’s heart. In one of the most amazing surprise attacks in history, she saved the world as we know it. She deserves a happy ending, right?

Wrong. Arya has the unknown powers of the Faceless Men, and it was made clear by the massive purge of the Night King, his army, and two dragons over the last two episodes that all magic will be completely eliminated from this tale of fantasy.

Arya immediately goes off with the Hound on a suicide mission, and there’s no way we’re getting the satisfaction of her completing “the list” by killing Cersei. D&D will have to subvert expectations by killing her off senselessly and tragically. In GRRM’s original outline of A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF), Arya is one of the five main characters who make it to the end of the story, but nothing says she’ll get a hero’s send off and ride off into the sunset. (I don’t know about you, but I would watch a GOT spinoff called “On the Road with Arya and the Hound” in a tear-out-your-heartbeat.)

Daenerys

Daenerys was one of the strongest female characters in the show, but she has been set up to fail by the idiots (Tyrion, Varys and Jon) around her, lost the counsel of her wisest advisors (Olenna and Missandei), and now her frustrations are coming to a boil. Her heroism and lofty ideals (“I will break the wheel”) have been replaced by more and more acts of short sighted vengeance, incompetent tactics, and the feeling that she is transforming into another Mad Queen.

While every king who ever stormed a castle and conquered a kingdom has killed thousands of people, somehow it’s not okay for a woman to do it (unless it’s a false queen already on the throne who blows up the Sept of Baelor).

It’s a ridiculous turn of events to turn Dany into a power hungry tyrant in the span of a few episodes, but magic has to die in this world, so kiss Daenerys’ ass, the honeycomb and her dragons goodbye. If she doesn’t reduce the Red Keep to ashes (fulfilling a prophesy we saw as early as season 2) at least let her vaporize a cartoonish villain.

If the show runners are going to eliminate magic from a fantasy show, don’t they also have to eliminate Euron and his amazing technicolor dream boat?

Cersei

Cersei thinks she’s smart like her dear departed father, Tywin, but her arrogance and short sightedness have consistently created unintended negative consequences for her and her children. Every thing she has done throughout her story arc has been to escape and prevent Maggy the Frog’s prophesy, (along with the last line about the Valonqar strangling the life out of her, not included in the show), and her actions ended up fulfilling those prophesies.

The only sensible ending for Cersei would be for her schemes to backfire on her one deadly last time… don’t count on it.

Look for Cersei to win the battle against Daenerys, and then get double crossed and killed by Euron. Or maybe she’ll trip going down the stairs of the Red Keep and die instantly, like a bad joke in an Elmore Leonard novel.

Sansa

That leaves us with Sansa, who has now become a fan favorite for many people. But if there is one character who has done almost nothing to earn final victory in the GOT, it is Sansa, and here’s why:

#1: BREAKING THE RULES

One of GRRM’s central themes in GOT is the importance of loyalty to family, lord and crown. A thousand years of history determines the actions of every man and woman. One of the worst crimes in this universe is betraying one’s family, and most of the characters who have done it have been killed off: Viserys Targaryen, Catelyn Stark, Lysa Arryn, Tywin Lannister, Ramsey Bolton, Ellaria Sand, Randyll Tarly, and Theon Greyjoy (who was raised as a Stark).

Only Cersei (blamed and wanted to kill Tyrion for the death of her son), Jamie (strangled a cousin so he could escape the Stark POW camp) and Euron (killed his older brother, the king) have gotten away with this crime and still live.

Guess who has betrayed her family four times more than any other character? Sansa.

Another one of GRRM’s big rules is that people who covet power end up get killed off. Examples of this are Renly, Stannis, Pyat Prat, the rulers of the slave kingdoms in Essos, Royce Bolton, Ramsey Bolton, Littlefinger, and Ellaria Sand (life imprisonment, watching her daughter’s corpse rot away).

Only Daenerys, Cersei, Euron, and Sansa are still living, but Sansa is the only character still viewed favorably.

#2: SKILLS/POWER ACQUIRED

It’s obvious that Arya suffered greatly, and worked tirelessly to acquire her amazing fighting skills and the secret powers of the Faceless Men.

Daenerys went from being a completely powerless girl “sold like a brood mare… shamed and betrayed, raped and defiled” to giving birth to dragons, acquiring an army and a fleet, freeing millions of slaves, and then risking everything to save Jon Snow beyond the Wall, and then fight for Seven Kingdoms at the Battle of Winterfell.

Even Cersei has made a series of ruthless actions and strategic decisions that have helped her consolidate and increase her hold on the Iron Throne.

What exactly has Sansa accomplished? She has learned how to trust no one. She has learned to lie to, manipulate and betray others. To her credit, she has learned to asked some relevant questions (“Shouldn’t the armor have a leather lining?” “How are we going to feed all of the North, the Dothraki, the Unsullied and two dragons?”) And she has learned to throw some really creative shade at Tyrion (“I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.”)

But what has she done to win the support of the North? (Aside from the King of the North leaving her in charge of Winterfell while he went to Dragonstone to enlist Daenerys’ aid.)

What acts of leadership has she shown? (Aside from leveraging Littlefinger’s love for her to get the forces of the Vale to show up at the Battle of the Bastards)

What acts of bravery has she shown? (Aside from saving Ser Dontos all the way back in Season 2.)

What winning tactics did she employ? (Aside from telling Jon, “don’t do what Ramsey wants you to do” and telling Jon and Daenerys they can’t trust Cersei.)

Look at her career stats again:

1 AH, 1 TB, 4 TFB, 2 M, 1 C, 0 K, 1 SA, 4 V, 0 D

One act of heroism, no ability to fight, a desire for power, and an inability to show affection to her sister (“Well, don’t get used to it.”).

But she is now considered a master manipulator.

The showrunners now consider Sansa a master manipulator, having uncovered (with Bran’s help) all of Petyr Baelish’s plots and crimes. It sure looks like Littlefinger’s successor will be the only one left at the end of the story to rule the North, or even, the entire Seven Kingdoms. I wish she had really earned it.

#3: FEMINIST HEROES

If I had a daughter, what role model would I hope inspires her? Here are a few good ideas: Serena Williams (world class athlete); Senator Elizabeth Warren (protector of the middle class and the poor); even Indra Nooyi (board of directors of Amazon).

Here’s a bad idea: hoping my daughter is inspired to become a pathological liar and manipulator like…

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While I’m not saying she’s going to turn into Kellyanne Conway or Imelda Marcos, if the only skills on her resume read “manipulation” and “betrayal,” I would try to steer my daughter away from Sansa Stark as a role model.

And I think that is a problem for a show that people claim is feminist. Killing off the only strong women who performs heroic acts doesn’t seem to be the right message for the show.

#4: CHARACTER ARCS

So, maybe you want to argue that Sansa has survived such terrible abuse that she is one of the strongest and most resilient women in all of Westeros.

I agree.

The big question is: “what will make for a great ruler?”

The answer is: someone who has been wounded deeply and carries those scars as both a badge of courage, but also as a reminder to be compassionate and humble.

That’s why Jon Snow is constantly chosen to be the leader of the men, regardless of how many bad decisions he makes and the thousands who have died following his stupid actions.

It’s also why Jamie is an outside longshot to sit on the Iron Throne — he is wounded and vulnerable, has successfully commanded armies and won (except against Dragons), AND he has already sacrificed everything that means anything to him in order to serve the realm (stopping the Mad King from destroying King’s Landing, fighting to defend Winterfell from the armies of the dead, and now on his way South to kill Cersei?).

Which women have what it takes to be a just and good ruler?

While Cersei and Daenerys have lost much of their humanity, Arya might have the wisdom — at the very least, she would be a vigilant defender of the weak and vulnerable. So would Brienne, for that matter.

Arya and Brienne, the toughest women in Westeros, have lived their entire lives without defining themselves in terms of a relationship with a man. And yet they were able to love and be loved by a man. I would say that a good ruler would need to have at least one positive relationship with the other sex.

But neither one wants to rule.

The only one left is Sansa, but she leaves so much to be desired. If she can’t show affection to her sister, how much compassion will she be able to show other women? And the closest thing she has to a positive feeling about a man is her lack of total disdain for Tyrion.

After it’s all said and done, I can’t find a single reason Sansa should rule Westeros. But maybe Benioff & Weiss found one…

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George RR Martin may have written ASOIAF with non-traditional heroes in mind, including “cripples, bastards, and broken things,” along with a group of strong, complex female characters, but the world of Game of Thrones seems far from a meritocracy, feminist or otherwise.

I shudder at the thought of how low the show will sink, offering even more implausible examples of deux ex martina in order to “subvert” our expectations, while killing off everything that was magical about the show.

And I’m not talking about the dragons.

I’ve been wrong before.

I hope I’m wrong again.

FOOTNOTES

¹This is a fairly good approximation.

²A veritable grand slam in family betrayal: she lied about not remembering the Butcher Boy incident, and it cost her direwolf Lady; she informed Cersei of Ned’s plan to save his daughters by sending them back to Winterfell; she agrees to write a letter back home saying that her father was a traitor; and she immediately breaks her vow to Jon and reveals his true identity to Tyrion. In every case, she acts primarily in her own self interest.

³Even before she learned to become a great warrior, she risked her personal safety by saving Micah the butcher boy, releases Jaqen Hagar and the other criminals from a burning prison wagon; lies to Lannister forces to save Gendry; saves the Hound in the tavern fight; and decides to save Lady Crane and stops her from drinking the poisoned rum. After returning as a trained warrior, she saves the world by killing the Night King.

⁴Feel free to add to my list, because I stopped at these acts of manipulation (sexual favors to control Lancel, Jamie and Euron, lying to Sansa, and the High Sparrow, bribing Shae and Bronn) and cruelty (demands the death of Lady, plots Robert’s death, teaches Littlefinger the meaning of real poser, frames Tyrion for Joffrey’s death, orders the Mountain to murder a drunken tavern singer, chooses violence when the Faith Militant command her to go back to the Sept; blows up the Sept of Baelor; orders the Mountain to rape and torture the surviving Septa; and, orders the decapitation of Missandei.)

⁵While some fans would argue that Sansa suffered the worst abuse at the hands of Ramsey, consider how many total people have either sexually abused, betrayed, or victimized Daenerys: Viserys, Khal Drogo, Mirri Maz Dur, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, her servant Doreah, warlock Pyat Pree, Jorah, Hizdahr zo Loraq, and Jon Snow (reveals his secret to his sisters).

⁶Catelyn Stark is a character that a lot of people hate. She’s supposed to be one of the heroes, but her choices to put her anger and desire for revenge above everything, even if it means betraying her husband and children almost put her on the villain side of the GOT universe. For people who haven’t read the books, she was turned into Lady Stoneheart, whose only real emotion and motivation is revenge. It’s interesting that of all the characters who are resurrected, she is much closer to the White Walkers than Jon or Beric Dondarrion.

Written by

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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