Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Game of Thrones: Strong female characters.

Last year I read something by Laurie Penny that really vexed me. I know that a lot of her columns do but this was one of the two that really got to me. It was about Game of thrones and the role of women and how it promoted negative stereotypes of women which stimulated a response from me that... Any way - it is here.

I'd thought nothing of it in a long while until I was browsing YouTube and found the following video with definite role model Brienne of Tarth.

I should really state *Spoilers ahoy* for anyone who has not read or watched the Songs of fire and ice but wants too.

There are several key female characters who are the antithesis of the naive maiden (Sansa Stark) or object to be bartered with (Sansa again and maybe Margaery Tyrell?) and i'll address them but I'm going to start with my favourite Brienne "The maiden" of Tarth.

Brienne of Tarth
Brienne is the complete opposite of Sansa. She is a warrior, always has been and has trained at martial skills from a young age spurning her father's attempts to make her a lady or to marry her off. As the books progress she shows herself to be more noble and chivalric than many of her Knightly counterparts.

She is often ridiculed for her unappealing looks and for the fact that she is a woman doing a man's job but the point is she does it exceptionally well, so well in fact that she is promoted to Renly's elite rainbow guard and is alone given the task of returning the Kingslayer to King's landing and returning the Stark girls.

A similar character is Arya Stark who goes against the accepted norm for women in Westeros and likewise learns to fight and actively despises courtly etiquette that Sansa so truly took to. Arya is the opposite of the quintessential Noble's daughter and that is probably why she has survived so long out in the wilds facing down opposing armies, mercenaries, murder and far worse, things that might have destroyed Sansa completely!

Daenerys Targaryen is another such character. No more than a girl of thirteen in the first book she is married of as a token by her brother for an army as so many women were throughout the middle ages. She soon discovers her voice after her brother and husband die and she leads what is left of her people through ruin to safety before carving out a kingdom of her own by the age of 15 or 16!

Though there are men in her life (like Mormont and Barristan) she knows her own mind and rules her lands as she sees fit often going against the grain. She is an inspirational character and one of my favourites.

Finally, it is often overlooked by people but the strong matriarch characters like Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark are likewise, very important roles. It is easy to want to see women hefting around halberds and getting elbow deep in someone else's entrails alongside their male counterparts but the point is the relentless scheming and ambition of Cersei's drives the first books. The strong maternal bond that turns to bloody vengeance of a mother left childless is a new occurrence that I'm looking forward to seeing develop.

I admit that the majority of A song of fire and ice are men but in a medieval society it was the men who did the fighting, the dying and the majority of the courtly duties. Seriously pick up a history book on the War of the roses and count how many influential women there were in comparison to the number of knights, lords, Dukes, Princes etc.

I know it isn't history, I know that compared to men, the number of strong female characters is low (especially when you throw in the amount of peasants and prostitutes.) but it is a period piece and I don't see many people kicking up a stink about Lord of the Rings or Pride and Prejudice so why attack Game of Thrones - other than it is topical? If you just watch the trailers and read the reviews you will miss out on characters like Brienne who in many ways is a role model and someone that can definitely be admired in their outlook and way they are bucking the trend.

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