Why the Ladies of 'Game of Thrones' Matter

Like countless people around the world, I spent the evening of April 14th tuned in to HBO. It’s been eight years since the first season of Game of Thrones aired in April of 2011, back when the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were breaking news and Katy Perry’s ET was topping the Billboard Hot 100. So much has changed since then, but Game of Thrones has consistently remained a cultural landmark throughout the near-decade it’s been on air. Whether you’ve been following the series for the past few months or for the past few years, the premiere of the show’s final season was something to look forward to.

After all, there’s a reason why the show is so popular. Some people are drawn in by the complex portrayals of political intrigue, others by the grandiose battles, and still others by fantastical creatures such as dragons and White Walkers (rendered in truly magnificent CGI). Yet this all takes second place to the depth of the world that George RR Martin created, and more importantly, the depth of the characters within it.

In a setting inspired by the medieval era, one might expect women to play second fiddle to the men who surround them. Indeed, this is how many of the characters themselves view the ladies around them. Women are frequently offered up as potential spouses or unwitting pawns on a political minefield.

Yet this is far from the end of the story. In a world which seeks to define them in a certain way, these women refuse to let that be the way in which they define themselves. And that is the great strength of Game of Thrones. Horrible things happen every season, and in every episode, much as they do in real life. In the midst of this, however, there is always something (or someone) to draw hope from.

The women of Game of Thrones empower themselves in the midst of death and chaos. Perhaps the most prominent example is Daenerys Targaryen, who literally rises from the ashes to transform into a self-anointed queen. Over the course of the series, she moves from being an exiled girl to a mother of dragons and freer of slaves. And then there’s Sansa Stark, a young girl whose initial fairytale dreams are dashed by years of abuse and mistreatment at the hands of Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton. Despite all this, however, she comes out to be a savvy leader and strategic force to be reckoned with.

Even more than that, these ladies seek to improve life for people in a bleak and often cruel society. Arya Stark is a fierce warrior and a protector of the weak, seeking to avenge the death of a butcher’s son despite his lack of nobility and titles. Characters like Brienne of Tarth and Margaery Tyrell display intense loyalty to their families and those they love. That’s to say nothing of the character displayed by Missandei, Gilly, Ygritte, and the countless other courageous and intelligent women in Westeros.

No matter who ends up sitting on the Iron Throne, the women of Game of Thrones will forever have a special place in my heart. The night may be dark and full of terrors, but these powerful characters always seem to make it a little bit brighter.