Portrayal of Women in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones - Rose LeslieI’ve never read any of George R R Martin’s novels. I only know him from the television series, Game of Thrones. And now, I am half way through the third season — far further than I ever thought I would make it. But once you get involved in these things, it is kind of hard to break away. There’s always just one more episode to watch. I can well see how people get addicted to soap operas. But there is one thing that really stands out to me in my recent viewing: its portrayal of women.

There are many aspects of this, of course. But I’m primarily interested in two. The first is the use of naked women. In one way, I really like this. I’m as keen to see beautiful naked women as anyone. But it bothers me that we don’t see more naked men. It makes me feel guilty, as though the filmmakers are pandering to men. And it leaves me with the impression, which I harbor anyway, that women really are better than men. This isn’t to say there isn’t any eye candy for women and others who appreciate male beauty. But the men are always facing away from the camera. Is this because no one actually wants to look at the penis? That’s probably true. But the fact remains that there are at least five times as many naked women as men — and that includes a lot of the female leads.

The other aspect of this is not specific to the television series. I think it relates to Martin himself, who, very much like myself, has a preference for women. It is kind of a naive preference — one that in me dates back to grammar school when all the girls seemed (because they were) so much more mature and worldly than us boys. The men in Game of Thrones fit broadly into two categories: decent and evil. A lot of those decent men are still total jerks. Tywin Lannister is a good example of a decent guy who is still awful. But then there are men who are simply evil such as King Joffrey and Ramsay Snow. There is also a fair amount of cowardice among the evil.

The situation is rather different for the women. I can’t think of any character who isn’t sympathetic to one extent or another. Again, as with the men, that doesn’t mean that they are exactly good. Cersei Lannister, for example, is not easy to love. In fact, at the beginning of the series, I hated her. But over time, I’ve become very sympathetic toward her. There are other characters, like Osha, who are difficult but ultimately of pure heart. And who does one not love Arya Stark — the live action version of that girl in Brave.

But I’m especially taken with Ygritte — currently Jon Snow’s girlfriend, I guess. She provides a kind of positive take on Lady Macbeth. The original has always bothered me in its misogyny. But here, Ygritte isn’t looking for status or power. She’s just really smart — and in love. And she’s trying to keep the two of them alive. Jon Snow has never shown himself to be particularly smart — from the very first episode. So I think Ygritte is a good example of Martin’s generally positive take on womankind.

Now if you will forgive me, I’m going to watch another episode. As I said, it’s very addictive.

6 thoughts on “Portrayal of Women in Game of Thrones

  1. I love binge-watching TV shows when I’m sick, which happens about once a year. (I get exposed to everything going around.) I actually have TV shows I’m not all that in a hurry to see more of that I’m saving for next time I get sick.

    The Martin books are addicting because each chapter is told from one character’s point of view. As you become interested in particular characters, you keep reading through all the ones you aren’t interested in. At this point I’m only reading to find out what happens to Tyrion. (No, he’s not dead yet.) I could do without a lot of it; I suppose others have their own favorite characters, though. But if I met Martin stoned out of his mind in a Greyhound station and he told me how it all ended I’d be relieved I didn’t have to read any more.

    I have a brother who reads fantasy constantly and he calls it the “world inflation syndrome”; fantasy writers create huge imaginary worlds in their minds and eventually get around to showing you far too much of them. There’s one, Diana Wynne Jones, who wrote a fake-travel-guide to fantasy fiction cliches, and one of her maxims is every fantasy book has a map at the front, and you will be forced to visit every damn town on that map. But, again, some people like this, so good for them.

    YouTube clip on binge watching, short and funny: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfkyUNbusA4

    • Yeah, that was funny.

      At first, I only cared about Tyrion. Now I find a whole lot of characters interesting. The character who most fascinates me is Varys. I’m not keen on the macro-plot, which is just this lead up to a super big war. It’s very Lord of the Rings. And I’ve maintained from the beginning that the girl across the sea will ultimately prevail because her story is consistently the least interesting and I suspect Martin is just dragging it along for that purpose. Also, she’s the only character who seems like she deserves to lead, even if she does have her bad moments.

      I do wish the one constant emotional theme in the series was not vindictiveness. It isn’t how people are. And the series also has far too many psychopaths.

  2. I love Tyrion and not for the obvious reasons of salacity and dry wit. I love Tyrion because he is an observer of, a critic of, an outsider from and an insider within the power elite. I feel so much like him. At times, I feel like I am comfortably within the elite. The next moment, I feel scorned and forsaken. I am a critic of the great webs of unearned privilege and yet I cannot pretend that I am not somewhat a part of them.

    Tyrion on the show (and much more so in the books) is critical of classicism in the general and Lannister privilege in particular. Yet he is, at times, one of the Lannisters’ lieutenant Generals and even their theater commander. While King’s Landing starves, he is well fed and yet he does as much as he can to try to ameliorate the situation for the common people. I just love his dual role as critic and participate in a rotten system.

    • I think it is the essence of a liberal mind: discomfort with your group. He is ultimately a protector of the weak because of the injustice he’s suffered. He sees that both the good and bad in his life are simply the whims of fate. Like most people, I loved him from the moment in the first episode when he slapped the future king.

    • Colin — that’s a great observation. Tyrion is to me the most interesting character exactly for those reasons. (In the books, I’m interested by Jamie, too, now.)

      Even people like me who are poor in America are privileged compared to many in this world; and some of my privilege comes from their suffering. It’s horrible. What can you do? What you can do, I suppose. It’s a damn sight better than nothing.

      • I don’t think the economics of that is correct. It is true that our high standard of living does depend upon the oppression of people all over the world. But that’s just because the power elite prefer to set things up like that. Just as more equality in the nation would make everyone more wealthy, so would more international equality. So it really isn’t the fault of us relatively poor people — except in that we continue to allow the power elite to rule us.

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