Is "Game of Thrones" Feminist?

The following contains mild spoilers for the “Game of Thrones” TV series and books. Additionally, it contains mentions of rape and sexual assault, some of which refers to minors.  

Note: I know the book series is formally called “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Calling it “Game of Thrones” is easier, and it’s the name that most people are familiar with.  

I vividly remember my mom’s disappointment after reading the first “Game of Thrones” book. She sighed and said that it didn’t feel revolutionary to her and that she didn’t get why it was so popular. She said that it was just like previous fantasy books for adults, with men thinking with their penises and women as sexual objects.

I wasn’t sure I agreed with her, but I wasn’t sure how to formulate the words. I knew I loved a lot of the female characters, like Daenerys and Arya. And when I thought about it, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. The women in “Game of Thrones” have power, yes. Cersei is a stunning example. But does that mean that it’s a feminist series? I didn’t know what to think.   

Rape and senseless death of random women are common. Death of random men is common too, but they’re exempt from the rape that seems to show up nearly every episode. Women are talked about as sexual objects nearly constantly. In the show, the breasts are never-ending. It's for the male gaze, and it doesn’t make any effort to avoid that.

So many men in “Game of Throne”s are despicable. Euron Greyjoy, Khal Drogo, Ramsay Bolton, and Jaime Lannister all do terrible things to women that we care about. Jaime is slightly less problematic in the books, and Khal Drogo is just as problematic, although some fans would disagree with that. (Listen, it doesn’t matter how long he waited to have sex with Daenerys. She was still a thirteen-year-old girl.)

And I can’t deny that the series is full of powerful women. Brienne of Tarth, devoid of the usual sexualized armor that accompanies most warrior women in fantasy series, constantly puts herself in harm’s way to defend those she cares about. Daenerys rises from the flames of the patriarchy, quite literally, to liberate slaves and fight for those whose voices are unheard. Cersei Lannister, as cruel as she is, remains an incredibly powerful woman who I could watch sip wine in beautiful gowns all day. Even Sansa Stark grows into a woman that I love.

To some extent, I believe the problems lie more strongly with the TV series. Moments like Cersei’s rape, Sansa’s rape, and even Daenerys’ rape, were, to an extent, not present in the books. I can’t help but feel that the showrunners have turned to rape as for its shock value.  

I wish I had a clean way to wrap this article up, but I don’t think I do. I can’t deny that “Game of Thrones” has some incredible and detailed female characters who you can grow to love and hate in equal measure. I do applaud George R. R. Martin for his superb character crafting. And yet these women live in a world where the patriarchy and toxic masculinity are ever present. I’m not suggesting that “Game of Thrones” should have a different world, because the intricate world-building is a huge reason of why the series is so good. But it seems like every time a woman gains any kind of power, men need to step in and either rape or murder her.  

A series is under no obligation to portray moral ideals. Martin and the showrunners can do whatever they want with these characters. I don’t think we can call “Game of Thrones” feminist, but I don’t really think we can call it anti-feminist either. It’s an enigma, and one that I will continue to follow until it reaches its end. Regardless of its morality, it’s an amazing series that’s achieved incredible popularity through its detailed and gritty storytelling (and gratuitous breasts), and I think it deserves a large majority of the praise it gets. I just don’t know if it’s feminist.