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This Exists... Because of A Lady

Women Discussing The Women In Game Of Thrones [VIDEO]

There are a tremendous amount of strong, interesting women characters in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. And not all of them get to use sword. Apparently this has caused some strife within the fandom so a group of women got together to talk about three in particular that get a lot of flack: Sansa Stark, Catelyn Tully-Stark, and Cersei Lannister. 

The YouTube videos, uploaded by “elsabette” give this description of the series:

A three part series that looks at the (most hated) women in A Song of Ice and Fire: Catelyn, Cersei, and Sansa. Each video will discuss the featured character in depth and analyze the social location of that character and the way her status as a woman has effected her social mobility, health, and overall well-being. These videos are meant to address the issue within fandom of pitting one female character against another and deeming one better due to more masculine behavior. Trigger warning for discussion of abuse.

There’s lot of really interesting analysis in these. Here’s the one on Sansa Stark. Spoilers through A Clash of Kings.

And her mother, Catelyn. Spoilers through A Storm of Swords.

And finally, Cersei Lannister. Spoilers through A Feast for Crows.

P.S. I love all the women in A Song of Ice and Fire. Sue me.

(via io9)

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  • Anonymous

    Am I seriously the only person on earth who sees a Game of Thrones as absolute shit?  The sheer amount of rape, the lovingly described gruesome brutality, the roles of women that revolve around their vagina and that’s it or the ‘super bitch’ mode where they go around slaughtering and try to pander it off as a ‘strong female’. I’m really disappointed in this site.

  • Jill Pantozzi

    No, I’m sure you’re not the only one who doesn’t like the book series but your view of it differs from mine. This is ok.

  • Jinxy Blastwave

    There have been discussions about Martin’s over-reliance of sexual violence as a storytelling device, and you can make a case for that, sure.  I’m a fan of the realism that he’s brought to the fantasy genre, and unfortunately, violence against women is very much a part of the Medieval societies he’s writing about.  He shows the horrible costs of war, and the costs the citizens of a patriarchal society must pay.  This is just me, but I believe that there is a difference between portraying a misogynistic society and being a misogynist.   People should feel free to disagree, smarter people than I have come out on your side of the argument.  I’m a fan, and will continue to be.

  • Nathan

    yes! so happy to hear someone else defending Sansa Stark

  • DeflectorDish

    In the GoT series, there are strong women characters and weak women characters just as there are strong and weak male characters and strong and weak people. The whole premise of the term “Game of Thrones” is a play on the stakes people will make to “win” and keep the throne. What Sansa, Catelyn, and Cersei do in the books is what makes them ill-equipped to survive and is why people hate them. They do everything they do for themselves and who cares how many people die as long as MY family wins, as long as I win. You may like these character personally, (somehow), but I urge readers to not believe characters are protagonists just because we follow their point of view. That is what is so interesting about what Martin does. Sansa, of the three women defended above, is the only one that has the ability to earn our respect back as readers and it depends largely on the motivation for her future decisions. 

    Daenerys needs to be the character we look to as a strong female role because she cares about her people, not herself. 

  • Kath Halloran

    violence against women is very much a part of the Medieval societies he’s writing about”

    I absolutely hate the meme that say Martin’s treatment of women is acceptable because ‘it’s historical, dude.’

    GRR Martin, based on the society he presents in ASOIF is an absolute failure as a scholar of the Middle Ages. His ideas about patriarchy and violence against women may be barbaric but they’re about as authentically medieval as the meals at Medieval Times. 

    Martin has no sense of how women held, used or abused power in the medieval society or the difference between the societal and legal constraints that challenged the legitimacy of potential English Queen Regnant in the pre-Tudor era and Dynasty-esque catfighting. If Martin is even aware of the history of successful Queens Regnant in Continental Europe (culminating in Isabella of Castile who with her husband gained control of a larger chuck of the know world), there is no evidence of it in the text, let alone the difference in the roles, freedoms and power of women in the lower levels of society. To Martin it’s an undifferentiated mess of rape, violence and de-feminized tomboys, which makes for acceptable American TV viewing but is hardly a realistic portrayal of medieval society. 

  • Anonymous

     Martin’s world is very much like the real medieval Europe *if* new geography and magical elements were thrown into the mix. Violence against women was RAMPANT in the Middle Ages, but how often is that taught in our history classes? I majored in history at a school with one of the best programs in the country and it was mentioned maybe once (in 4 years of classes, and it was an off hand remark). Thomas Acquinas – a SAINT – actually sent out a letter to the knights that basically said:

    “Yes, it’s your right to rape the peasant women as much as you want, but it really pisses off their male kin. It would be best if you played to their sensibilities and raped their daughters, sisters, and wives BEHIND the buildings and not in the middle of the street.”

    So, that’s the real world. I love Martin’s books because these ladies kick ass despite all the major social obstacles placed in their ways. Half the characters are women and none of them are weak (with the exception of Sansa -for the first few books – ). In some ways Cercsi reminds me a bit of Katherine Parr (I know they’re totally different but something just makes me associate the two). 

    The world Martin creates is misogynistic, but the story itself is not.

  • Anonymous

    Actually in the entire series I get the impression Danny is the ONLY character (male or female) who actually gives a shit about the ‘little people.’

  • Jinxy Blastwave

    I could not disagree more.  Violence as a tool to control a man’s wife was not outlawed in England until like 1820.  That is to say, a woman was considered a man’s property to “chastise” as he would see fit.  Meaning that prior to 1820, all forms of violence and intimidation were on the table.  How is that not period appropriate violence against women?  The information on rape seems even more troubling in that a first offense of rape during the time of Charlemagne was to pay a fine.  I’m no scholar, and would never claim to be.  I had to google Queens Regnant.  But thinking about the statistics regarding rape today, and extrapolate what it might have been like during a time of war, in a society like that without real law enforcement?  Come on.

    (I hope no one who’s unfamiliar with these books reads these comments, they’ll think it’s some weird rape fetishist book or something.  There’s other stuff that happens.)

  • Kaarel Jakobson

     Whether you like the series or not, indicating that the roles of the women in it revolve around their vaginas is an objectively false claim. Every single female POV in the books is about women (or girls) trying to find different ways to claim agency in a patriarchal world.

  • Kaarel Jakobson

    “I absolutely hate the meme that say Martin’s treatment of women is acceptable because ‘it’s historical, dude.’”

    So you think the only “acceptable” way to portray historical gender roles is through white-washing?

  • Adam Whitley

    Plenty of women didn’t go around slaughtering they liberated slaves, raised their sons and daughters, controled armies and kingdoms, and even tried to put an end to the sheer amount of rape that they saw happening in the world around them.

  • The Querier

    You’re not the only one.  I think it’s one of the worst books I’ve ever read for some of the reasons you listed above, as well as the whole white savior thing Daenerys’s got going on.  But I’m not disappointed in this site for posting stuff about it.  

    If I didn’t allow myself to get interested in different fandoms because the source material contained misogyny/racism/classism, there probably wouldn’t be a lot of books/DVDs on my shelf or games in my PS3.  For me, I don’t think there’s enough payoff in Game of Thrones to make up for the bad stuff.  But I’m not mad at the people who feel differently about it.

  • Adam Whitley

    Hey those undead armies and dragons are totally historically accurate.

  • Adam Whitley

    I don’t know if I would go that far characters like brieene and tyrion and arya too do care about what happens to people, john snow they just keep getting stuck in situations that leave them with little power or options to really help out the common folk. 

  • Bronwyn Mroz

     Not to mention that rape against your wife wasn’t even considered a crime until the early twentieth century.

    In response to Kath, just because there were women kings and queens without kings, etc. doesn’t mean that by not portraying them Martin isn’t being realistic.  Women had very few options.  Some were lucky and had power sure, but the vast, vast majority did not.  Martin’s women are the common noble women of the time.  It’s like current social, people’s histories.  Yes, other people rose up and did extraordinary things but for the vast majority there was no other way.  It’s not wrong to present it as such.  In a lot of ways I’d rather see that than have an over abundance of female leaders just because people are trying to be unique or PC for today.  That’s not how it was for the vast majority and presenting it otherwise is ridiculous.

  • Anonymous

    It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what was (believed to be) then, what matters is the society it’s introduced into NOW. If there is a time in history that is particularly awful, there’s no reason why the author must A) absolutely and totally must write in that time period, B) absolutely and totally must include the controversial aspects, or C) absolutely and totally must write those aspects often and in great detail. All of those are choices that the author made, and when someone criticizes that problematic themes exist in his stories, it’s not that they’re criticizing history itself, they’re challenging the fact that the author wanted to make those aspect a part of his story, in a day and age where they’re going to be very hurtful messages (not that they ever weren’t). It’s like someone taking your most embarrassing memory and using it as the backdrop for their story, and they use your most embarrassing moment rather cavalier like it wasn’t such a terrible thing to have experienced, and when you opt not to listen to the story, or explain that you don’t think your embarrassing moment should even be in the story, EVERYONE TELLS YOU TO STFU “IT’S HISTORY.”

    In short, it completely disregards how the story can be perceived by those it takes advantage of.

  • John Wao

    I think the biggest problem people have with Cersei is that she’s a woman and she bested Ned. If she were written as a male character she would have been hailed as one of the great villains of sci-fi/fantasy/horror fiction like Darth Vader or Hannibal Lecter.

    ***************************spoiler alert****************

    elsabette correctly points out that Littlefinger isn’t as reviled as Cersei is even though he’s the cause of all the conflict and suffering currently happening in Westeros,, why is that?

  • Kaarel Jakobson

    It’s true, Martin didn’t HAVE to do anything. He made choices in how to depict his fictional universe, and he had every right to make the decisions he did. He chose to include the controversial aspects for a number of reasons: a) to contrast with typical, much less gritter fantasy stories, b) to demolish idealized conceptions of chivalry and knighthood, c) to create narrative conflict by confronting the characters and the reader with these aspects.

    Including sexual violence in a story is not a “message” unto itself. You can’t remove it from its overall context – and in that context, the only message I can see is that rape is a horrible, dehumanizing crime. And I don’t think something should be forever precluded from being used as a plot device because it is horrible.

    Just as the author made a choice, the reader can choose not to read a book if the issues raised in it make him or her uncomfortable. Demanding self-censorship on part of the author though – or even demonizing the author – are a different matter entirely.

    Speaking from a personal viewpoint… while this is very trivial in the grand scheme of things, I would give A Song of Ice and Fire some credit for essentially increasing my awareness of sexual violence. It incited me to do a little bit to educate myself and to gain a better understanding of women’s issues in the world today.

  • Anonymous

    Brienne thinks of mostly of her Honor, Arya cares about revenge, and Jon Snow cares about his Brothers, keeping his oath, and holding the Wall. Though Jon does care about the Wildlings so you might be right on that count.

    None of the Great Families really care about the peasants or the little people. Arya discovers that when she realizes Stark soldiers are killing as many peasants as the Lannisters and the peasants really don’t care who wins so long as someone does it soon. Arya’s perceptions are changed, but her priorities aren’t (of course, she’s like 9 so I’ll cut her some slack). For Danny, her People are her #1 concern.

  • Anonymous

     that is an interesting point you brought up. I personally feel Littlefinger is the most dangerous and repulsive character due to his covert backstabbing nature (as you said, he orchestrated the the fiasco) – at this point I’m just really interested to see how his character progresses.

    Cersei to me is at the same time a really nasty character but a most impressive one as well. She’s obviously resentful of her circumstances, of things that she is powerless to change (being forced to marry for political reasons etc) so some of her nastiness I think are coping mechanism, as well something to ensure her and her children’s survival. That in itself took a lot of strength and willpower – I would that a lot of us would just yield and crack under such circumstance – while Cersei just took it to mind to BE in control, no matter what it takes. I don’t think a woman necessarily need to wield swords and show physical prowess to be considered ‘strong’ – what Cersei and even Catelyn had done and gone through, the great mental duress they had to endure and endured they did – THAT to me is strength in itself.

  • Carey Cauthen

    I don’t care one bit that Cersei beat Ned. What I care about is that all the cunning and intelligence she displayed in taking down Ned completely disappeared once she’s gotten her son on the throne. The woman who played a masterful game of deadly politics somehow completely forgot all of the rules of the game and became a shrill, whiny regent with no concept of how her actions or her son’s actions effected those around her. Cersei started as a strong female character who Martin then eviscerated and turned into a pathetic cartoon of a shrill bitch whose intelligence inexplicably melted away into pure incompetence.

  • Anonymous

    By the time we get to see Cersei’s point of view it’s too late for us to feel simpathy for her, She’s too cruel to begin with so she’s easy to hate, and you hate her not because she is a womean and has power, but becasue of what she chooses to do with that power. Geroge just didn’t get around to writing her as a human until 4 books in and at that point it’s just to late, we hate her. The show has done a good job making her a bit more human which allows the viewer to have conflicted feelings about her which is much more complelling.

  • Kaarel Jakobson


    Cersei’s descent into paranoia, delusion and incompetence just happens to coincide with her becoming increasingly unhinged due to a series of crushing spoilerific events. This is a turn of events that makes sense to me.

  • Suzanne Cabral

    ********** Spoilerfest ***********
    She was always a little bit impetuous and volatile, I think Joffrey’s death just unhinged her.  And after that, what happened to Tywin only made it worse, and Jaime pulling away from her.  To me that was her major redeeming quality, how much she loved and defended her children, even if she was blind to what a monster her son had become.  Her family means everything to her, and once that starts falling apart, we see her starting to fall apart too.  I understand how it could be seen as arbitrary, but I think it does make sense, it wasn’t just out of the blue.

  • Lauren George

    I think it’s particularly fascinating that no one has mentioned Daenerys’ ‘white savior’ narrative. I would say that this is the most troubling theme in ASoIF. I still love her story as one of a woman successfully subverting her male-dominated situation in order to gain agency, but I take issue with the ‘Noble Savage’ image that is her husband and that these dark-skinned people are characterized as almost exclusively brutish, ruthless, and crude. Sure she becomes ‘one of them’ and does genuinely care for her adoptive tribe (at least the women and children), but they are also a means to regaining her more desirable throne of an all-white kingdom. 
    This was completely off-topic, but I do wish the GRRM had applied the same brush of nuance to his race relations in ASoIF that he did to gender politics. 

  • Life Lessons

    These are wonderful videos. Thanks for creating them. :)

  • Anonymous

    “The Winds of Winter” will either bear this out or not, but I think Dany’s white savior fixation has been her undoing up until this point (I refer to events up to the end of “A Dance With Dragons”).  She’s been advised *not* to take this course of action by nearly everyone close to her–it’s supposed to be a flaw, not a source of admiration.

  • Taelor S.

    I think Martin balances it out by using Dornishmen as p-o-v characters. In some ways they come across as more civilized to our modern sensibilities (women can inherit in their own right, the prince’s bastard nieces and nephews are well-treated and can attain high rank versus the abandonment or assassination of Robert’s). They are even racially diverse but cohesive, but the ruling family is not what we would probably call white. Furthermore, not all the dark-skinned characters are portrayed as savages. See Missandei.

    This author also makes the valid point that Dany has not grown up in Westoros, so she cannot be viewed in the same light as a European colonist
    “rescuing” other cultures. As an itinerant, the most constant influence on her was likely Viserys. We cannot fault Dany for initially seeing the Dothraki as barbaric. The point is that, unlike her brother, she assimilated in many regards.

  • Michail Velichansky

    I think that’s a useful take on Dany. Somewhere I read a take that went something like… Dany basically lacks any cultural identity. At the start of the book, she’s naive, and has only the culture her abusive, controlling brother has given her. She considers herself Westerosi without knowing much of anything about that land or its people.

    Her initial view of the Dothraki is that they’re savage, but she ends up adopting their culture — but I think again, in a naive, desperate way. It’s a place she finally fits in. She’s shocked at the brutality she sees in their raiding and slaving, but you kind of feel like she wasn’t letting herself see that. Just as she wants to retake the Iron Throne, but hasn’t really thought much of what that actually means in lives and violence (though I think that’s changing now in Dance).

    I also agree with the above poster that the “white savior” motif is probably meant to be twisted, since she fails at almost every step. And even when it looks like there will be an epic battle of slavors versus non-slavors, instead you get a nasty plague that just kills everyone.

    I’d agree that this is still a weaker aspect of the books, and Mareen and Eastos is drawn in much larger, arguably stereotypical strokes in many ways… but it’s still attempting to be subversive, even if you could argue that it’s not always successful.

    As for the rest, I think the discussions of sexual violence and its place in ASoIaF and in fiction is interesting and important. I just wish it could be done without immediately claiming Martin is writing rape because he just loves rape so much >.<

  • Michail Velichansky

    (Spoilers!) I don’t think it’s because she’s a woman. Cersei is pitted against characters we’re meant to like from the very beginning, and Littlefinger seems to just be a traitorous toady — right up until the end of book 3, thousands of pages in. So we’ve had plenty of time to resent Cersei, and very little to really see Littlefinger more clearly.

    Further, even as we learn what Littlefinger has done, he’s the closest thing Sansa (who I like) has to a protector. So… emotionally I don’t hate him as much as I should, even if intellectually I know he’s done so much to cause all this.

    Then again, I also feel pretty bad for Cersei at this point. She’s become unhinged. And I’ve come to dislike Ned and his damn honor.

    Also, all the cause of suffering? Just one of many. There’s too many players to blame any one of them, I think.

  • Menelaos Kyparissis

    These videos are certainly interesting and insightful but the chick reading the “hater” fanwanks is insufferable. Just stick to the analysis and skip the girl who can’t read.

  • Anonymous

    THIS! and there’s also a little blurb from a character in the book about her that said something along the line of how she’s good in scheming to gain power, but once she actually has it she;s not very good at keeping it.

  • Anonymous

    I love the series and the books. They are some of my all time favorites. But let’s get this straight – this is an entertainment read, not some astounding piece of literature worthy of deconstructive critique. The problem the girl on this video has is that she is projecting her own enlightened feminist ideals onto characters written by a guy who falls short in that category. If you read the books, there are definite pieces of prose that show that he is a horny man who has obviously been spurned by women in the past and holds onto that jadedness with pride. I am fairly extreme feminist, so I am appalled by some of the things the characters do, but there is enough in the books to keep me entertained. I don’t think Martin is a devil, but I also don’t think he understands completely how to write astounding, well-rounded, strong women characters. 

  • Bronwyn Mroz

     There’s also no reason to go against what was happening.  We can’t ignore what happened in the past, and to suggest writing about it in other ways is ridiculous.  GoT is good in that it shows women subverting the male dominated system in the ways they could.  And while it is fantasy, it’s realistic fantasy and it’s just not realistic to have it otherwise.

  • Anonymous

     Those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.
      You have to be kidding me if you think that the womens’ roles in this series are anything less than realistic, and their portrayal…inevitable. 
      It’s OK to be offended, outraged.  That’s the point.
      Women in TODAY’S societies are abused, raped, marginalized, downtrodden, dehumanized, and killed in the name of religion and honour by the hundreds of thousands every year.  Since the beginning of time, we are the “lesser” sex.  To dilute and idealize the facts and roles of women in history and to say to the author/screenwriter about the female characters :
    “Couldn’t you make them more empowered? Self-sufficient?  Independent?  We’re trying to gain some ground here in modern times.”
    …is just puerile.
      The graphic inclusion of scenes of almost all of the men who hold positions of power and influence divulging their motives and alleviating their consciences with prostitutes is a very important statement on human society, IMO.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, three comments telling me to STFU it’s history. Wow. You all totally showed me.

  • Bronwyn Mroz

    Um, I’m hardly telling you to “STFU”.  You’re entitled to your opinion and to voice it.  More to my point is that in showing this sort of society and portraying things in a certain way brings that much more attention to how things have changed and need to still change.  It also makes the women who are powerful and significant that much moreso because they have so much working against them.  If every woman was powerful, the message wouldn’t be there.  But when only a few women can gain any sort of power, it’s that much better.

  • Anonymous

    Bronwyn Mroz: You did say ”
    We can’t ignore what happened in the past, and to suggest writing about it in other ways is ridiculous.” That’s where I got, “it’s history” and “STFU.” You really didn’t have any “you’re entitled to your opinions” vibe to your reply at all.

    I won’t argue with this “it’s history” line of reasoning anymore, because people will want their fiction to stay the same, even if it’s remarkably uncomfortable to people that aren’t them. I’ve been down this road with the L.A.Noire video game, where me and my sister couldn’t stomach seeing another butchered, naked woman, let alone handle the child porn/rape case. I get told that me and my sister didn’t have any reason to feel uncomfortable and quit the game, because “STFU, it’s history”? There was no “I can see how that’d turn you off,” acknowledgement of our feelings. No, we were in the wrong for feeling bad. That’s why I hate that argument. This isn’t history. It’s fiction. Someone designed it to be this way, and it was designed to make me feel uncomfortable. Just another thing that entertains men at the expense of women, eh?

  • Bronwyn Mroz

     I’m sorry it came off that way.  I do think that ignoring history is ridiculous, even in (maybe especially in) history since that’s the only way so many people get their history and so it’s important that it’s included.  In the case of the game, you have a fair point and I agree that you were right to be offended/appalled.

    I read that tiger beatdown post previously and again I think it’s shortsighted to only focus on those points.  I completely understand that for you and others the mere inclusion of rape is appalling, but within the context of the story it does fit.  I do think it’s shortsighted to ignore all the other aspects of the women’s personalities though and how powerful some of them are just because there is some inclusion of rape or incest or what have you.

  • Anonymous

    But if the show, which is first and foremost fiction and entertainment, didn’t have all of this sexualization and misogyny, would it still draw the audiences that it does? If you look at some of the top shows right now (Mad Men and Breaking Bad would be two that come to mind), they are successful because they are a good balance of accurate of the setting and inappropriately interesting. GoT has that, plus all of the women are babes see: and at least in my opinion, that’s part of the draw. It’s like a celebrity roast. You know the comedians will be wildly inappropriate, but you’re still going to laugh. This is the same thing, well sort of.

  • Timothy

    Well Struck!