For a show that wasn’t supposed to attract female viewers, Game of Throne’s strongest characters are its women. In the fourth episode of HBO’s new series, we see Princess Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) finally take control of her life.
When we were first introduced to Daenerys in the premiere, her brother the ousted Prince Viserys demanded that she strip naked so he could see what kind of body he was offering to the brutish chief of the Dothrakis in marriage in exchange for an army to take back his throne in Westeros. She was handed over to a man whose language she didn’t know and whose customs were strange and frightening. But when Viserys slaps her face, she quickly lets him know that the next time he strikes her will be the last time he has a hand. She’s the wife of a chief and she will not cower.
The chief feminist in the Game of Thrones world, though, is the youngest Stark daughter, nine-year-old Arya. Her knack for sword fighting has already gotten her in trouble with her future brother-in-law, the crown prince. But the combat training her father has allowed isn’t enough to satisfy her desire to be treated as an equal to her brothers. She tells him she doesn’t want to be the wife of a noble; she wants to lead. Played by Maisie Williams, Arya is one of the most compelling characters on the show.
But it’s her mother Catelyn—the Lady of Winterfell, given grace and determination by actress Michelle Fairley—with this episode’s most powerful scene. When Tyrion Lannister, whom she suspects of plotting the assassination of her son, finds her in a roadside inn, she takes advantage of her standing with the soldiers there to arrest him. It’s wonderful to watch her recount her knowledge of each man’s family and crest while the usually perceptive Tyrion can only guess what’s she leading up to.
Women in fantasy and science fiction are often made in the image of teen-boy dreams: scantily clad, big-chested warriors and damsels in distress. So credit George R.R. Martin, along with screenwriters and casting directors for giving us women with the strength to challenge the misogyny of their fictional time and place. Emelia Clarke is certainly beautiful in her Dothraki rags, but her journey so far has been the toughest and most intriguing. It’s HBO, so there’s still a few more objectifying scenes than necessary, but the writing of these characters has only gotten sharper, supported by top-notch actresses. This fantasy world isn’t just for fanboys.