Feminism in Game of Thrones - Cersei vs. Daenerys

Warning: spoilers ahead for 'Game of Thrones' and the novel 'Gone Girl'!

‘Game of Thrones’ has taken the world by storm since its release, and I have only recently joined the excitement over it. I have surprised myself by loving this show so much, since, as a feminist, I find much of it hard to watch. After all, it is set during a time where it was very difficult for women to be anything more than men’s property, either for prostitution or baby-making. The series tackles with controversial themes all the time, one of which being sexual violence, where women are usually the target. Initially I was too uncomfortable with these themes, as I’m always looking for writers that step away from the ‘Male Gaze’ and show women not having to subject to sexist ideals.

However, ‘Game of Thrones’ has drawn me further and further into its world, not only due to its storytelling, but also, unexpectedly, the women that take center-stage. It is true the misogynistic themes make me angry, but as George.R.R.Martin has stated in an interview, it would be "fundamentally dishonest" to pretend that rape and injustice for women didn’t exist in medieval periods. Furthermore, it provides more conflict for the characters. If women are constantly ostracized, it gives them something to strive for.

The reason I write this is because I want to talk about two female characters in the show. There are a lot of women I could discuss, because ‘Game of Thrones’ embraces not only strong women, but a variety of strong women. But right now, I’d like to bring your attention to the queens that are arguably the stand-out characters, and might even be seen as the faces of the show: Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen.

Essentially, these characters have qualities that any strong woman could admire; they are in control, a desire to do what they please in a restricting world, and a disregard for the negative opinions of others, especially the men trying to keep them in their places. Daenerys is my favourite character, since her development from start to finish is so well-written. She becomes someone who is not only powerful, but has a good heart, unlike so many in the world she is part of. She frees slaves, liberates women, and tries to do the best for the people she rules over. Oh, and she happens to be the mother of three dragons, just as a side-note.

It is no surprise that Daenerys is someone that audiences root for. She started off from nothing: an exiled princess sold as a trophy wife for her brother’s personal gain, and to see her develop into a powerful woman that has authority in a man’s world is gratifying, especially for female viewers. Seeing a woman progress in a misogynistic time gives me hope that we can achieve anything even when it seems hopeless.

When I think of feminism in ‘Game of Thrones’, the first person I think of is Dany. But you could look at the other side of the spectrum, where Cersei Lannister, an equally respectable woman, fights for power, and usually succeeds. From the beginning, she is conniving and ruthless, craving the Iron Throne. She undoubtedly has an evil streak: she helped in sending Ned Stark to his death, kept his daughter Sansa a prisoner, and assisted her tyrannical son Joffrey in claiming the throne. Let’s not forget when she blew up an entire sept and killed hundreds of people while wearing a smile.

Unlike Daenerys, I have despised Cersei for her vile actions, but I look back on it now and think: isn’t she as much of a feminist icon as the young Targaryen? After all, in a time that objectifies and abuses women, Cersei is feared by all, overpowering her enemies and using drastic means to do so. She has achieved greatness, whether or not you would call her a villain, so does it matter whether a female character is good or evil, as long as their image represents feminist ideals?

In other words, when we are talking about characters instead of real people, it may be agreed that they can be ‘admired’ even if they are evil. We see them as constructs created by writers, so we can find the villains more fascinating to watch. Hence, it can be argued that women have as much right as the men to embrace evil roles, because it makes them stand out and shows that they can be true to who they are. One example of a literary woman like this is Amy Dunne from Gillian Flynn’s ‘Gone Girl’. In the novel, Amy fakes her own kidnapping and frames her husband for it, in order to illustrate her anger at misogyny and marriage. When asked about the character, Flynn explained that she didn’t want women to be seen as "innately good", and that "even good characters have their dark sides." This is an important aspect of fiction writing, as well as feminism. To be believable, characters should be well-rounded and imperfect, so while making women psychopathic and murderous may be extreme, their struggles make them more relatable and human. 

Cersei and Daenerys are both further examples. Cersei is bitter towards those around her, not only due to her power obsession, but also because she’s been treated differently based on her gender, by her late husband and father alike. So, while she carries out murderous actions to further her cause, she is mildly justified because of how trapped a woman would feel in those times. It links, again, to Amy Dunne. Even though they are completely different time periods, Amy feels equally trapped by her marriage, and by misogynistic ways of thinking that still exist today.

My way of looking at Cersei and Daenerys as feminists is saying that they represent not only different personalities, but different situations that spur them to be powerful women. Both have suffered injustice at the hands of others, and since it would be difficult for them in this time, there is plot justification for their actions, because it would otherwise be impossible to make themselves heard. As literary and TV characters, they are memorable for modern audiences, and show how women can be strong and powerful, despite what society perceives them to be.

References

[1] James Hibberd, George.R.R.Martin explains why there's violence against women in 'Game of Thrones' (2015) <http://ew.com/article/2015/06/03/george-rr-martin-thrones-violence-women/> [accessed 5 February 2018].

[2] Louise Carpenter, Gillian Flynn on Gone Girl: 'People don't understand it's just fiction' (2014) <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/starsandstories/11122159/Gillian... [accessed 6 February 2018].