In lieu of my usual Game of Thrones episode review, I’m going to take a moment to discuss the women in Game of Thrones, specifically related to “The Ghost of Harrenhal”. Westeros is a place where the tangible power is dominated by men; kings, lords and knights but it is also populated with women determined to change the status quo. Game of Thrones is a story about shifting power dynamics, not just regarding Kings and Lords, but the way the society is shaped.
In season one it quickly became evident that although options for women were limited, the majority of female characters we were introduced to were by no means passive in their fate. We saw this in Cercei as she used her children, particularly Joffrey as a surrogate for her power. We saw Daeneyrs rise from a girl being sold into marriage by her brother to a strong, independent Khaleesi leading a faithful group of people. We saw the spirited Arya reject the traditional role for ladies, unsatisfied with marrying into power she wished be a knight. For this, her understanding father rewarded with sword fighting lessons disguised as dancing.
This season Game of Thrones has explored further the many ways women have taken control over their power beyond the role of wife and idealistic child and it is incredibly exciting. Robb’s valiant victories on the battlefield, Theon’s daddy issues, Jon and the Night’s Watch are all interesting story pieces however, the women seem to be absolutely dominating this season.
In “The Ghost of Harrenhal” beautiful Renly’s arrogance catches up with him as Stannis gets him where he least expects it, with Melisanadre’s deadly smoke baby. His death is shocking and Loras’ grief, as well as Brienne’s is painful to watch. Although the reaction of Renly’s wife (and Loras’s sister) Margaery, while pained, is much more calculating. She makes it clear to Littlefinger that she not only wants to be Queen, she wishes to be The Queen. There are a few other women, most notably Daenerys with her eye on that prize. Margaery is sensible according to societal standards, she entered into the marriage with Renly for political purposes that would benefit her goals. Now that her husband has been murdered and she has fled with her brother It will be interesting to see what tact she takes next on her quest to rule.
Daenerys has been welcomed into the land of plenty in Quarth but hasn’t let her guard down around all the riches and praise. Each decision she makes down to the gifted dress she wears to a party in her honour is calculated according to how much power she will retain, and how she can continue to protect her people. When Dany looks at the dress that a rich man bought for her we can see her silently revisiting that moment when her brother was dressing her up to be suitable for Khal Drogo. Emilia Clarke is wonderful at conveying that layered emotion, the hurt of her deceased husband and brother, what it felt like to be property and how she overcame that all in a brief scene. It was this scene with Dany and her handmaidens that telegraphed the later conversation with Xaro when he asks her to make a deal, her hand in marriage for half of his riches and the power that comes along with it.
This decision was not an easy one to make by any means. The wealth that Xaro has to offer would certainly be a boon to the impoverished Khalassar who has nothing but baby dragons and a fierce spirit of will, but in selling herself Daenerys is undermining everything she has become. Dany has more to gain, but also more to lose in this potential union. By selling herself into marriage again she would not only lose her own independence but put her people at risk. Jorah makes a very valid point that the long road, though far more difficult will offer much greater returns.He also gives Dany a pep talk, she is strong and brazen but is also compassionate. She is a leader that would be loved and that’s what the fractured Kingdoms of Westeros needs.
It was an exciting moment when Dany turned the corner and decided to continue on her own, exhilarating and terrifying all at once, she truly believes she will rule the Kingdom and is turning a corner on her path to the top.
Once again Arya Stark has her back up against the wall. She is in the lion’s den and is fetching them water and wine. She is without a sword and her secrets are beginning to unravel. She uses the legend of her brother to her advantage, building him up and then smartly distancing herself from those who believe it, a move that will probably keep her safe at least a little longer. Arya takes Yoren’s advice, she takes her rage and channels those sleepless nights into more focused goals. First, staying alive and then revenge. In “”Ghost of Harrenhal” a selfless act where she saved three lives has come back to reward her with three free kills. Nothing comes free and I’m wary of this agreement, but it is the beginning of her plan come to life. Arya’s quick thinking, kindness and survival instincts have got her this far, now imagine where she’ll be once she gets needle.
Meanwhile, Arya’s mother Catelyn has abandoned her plans to forge an alliance with Renly on behalf of Robb taking Brienne with her to save her life. The pair share a wonderful moment when Catelyn and Brienne forge a bond. Catelyn taking Brienne in as part of the family, and Brienne finding another strong leader that she is willing to pledge her life to.
Of course there are other women in the story, Yara the women who commands fleets, Sansa whose quiet control just might give her a fighting chance, and Shae who stands as a strong partner to Tyrion just to name a few. I could go on about Game of Thrones until my word count is as high as the wall so I’m focusing on “The Ghosts of Harrenhal” as much as possible in this one.
Game of Thrones tells a story that include a wide variety of female characters, some of whom take real agency over their situations, and others who are biding their time. In a genre where men often dominate with Knighthood and swordplay Game of Thrones has thwarted that vision expanding the lens with which we view the world.
How do you feel about the way women come into play in Game of Thrones? What were your favourite moments in “Ghosts of Harrenhal”?