Game Of Thrones Has A Problem With Girls

Warning: Spoilers if you haven’t watched Dance Of Dragons yet

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Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I am hooked on Game Of Thrones, and for myriad reasons. The suspense! The dragons! That bit where Jon Snow found the Valyrian steel sword and it made that White Walker guy smash into pieces! But one thing in particular that has always made it stand out is its strong female characters. I mean, no one seriously expects this is going to end any other way than Khaleesi making good on her promise to break the wheel and make herself very comfortable on the iron throne, right?

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Which is why this week’s episode, The Dance Of Dragons, stands out as being particularly shocking. This was an episode in which women – or, to be precise, girls – were emphatically not in control.

I can’t help but feel that the writing has been on the wall for a while for poor Princess Shireen of House Baratheon (noting, of course, that we’re ahead of the books with this particular plot line). But her brutal burning at the stake at the hands of her father, the wannabe King Stannis, and his flame-addled paramour Melisandre as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light was surely as close to the knuckle as it gets on mainstream TV. Sarah Hughes, writing in The Guardian, argues that it felt gratuitous, even though ‘it made a terrible, inevitable sense’. Certainly the sound of Shireen’s screaming – that awful key change – stayed with me until bedtime.

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Meanwhile, across the sea, a girl (who didn’t do the most brilliant job of remaining unseen, did she?) witnessed the paedophile Ser Meryn Trant prey on a girl much younger than herself. The fright in that girl’s face as he led her to the brothel bedroom, I think, was as shocking to me as Shireen’s final cry. Kudos to both young actresses on a harrowing job very well done.

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Up until this point, there has always been an element of power play to the situation of GoT’s female characters. Even in desperate times, there is hope on the horizon. Cersei may currently be festering in a Sparrow-induced hell of her own making, but she’ll scheme her way out of it. Ditto the ever-resourceful Margaery. Sansa is married to mad rapist Ramsey but Brienne is standing on a nearby hill, watching and waiting. A knight in shining armour; literally. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Sansa won her way out of there anyway, just ‘cause.

In this world, when the wheel turns, the women’s lot shifts with it, good or bad. It’s a patriarchal society, sure, but gender doesn’t necessarily dictate power. Power is as fluid as sexual attraction – something Ellaria Sand summed up beautifully, unrelatedly, in last night’s episode.

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Being a woman in the Seven Kingdoms isn’t necessarily dangerous in and of itself. But being a young woman, whether rich or poor, has suddenly become so. The days of Arya learning to spar with Needle in King’s Landing are long gone. Our girls are vulnerable. This makes me feel seriously uneasy – uneasy in a way that Game Of Thrones, as brutal and confronting as it has always been – has never made me feel before. Far from gratuitous, showing those two girls utterly at the mercy of the adults around them seems far too real. Terrible things are happening to young girls in places of war. Unspeakable things are happening to girls in private rooms where they should feel safe at night. And, in the real world, there is no Daenerys soaring into the sky on her dragon, close – surely, so close! – to saving the day.

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