Although the way women are depicted on mainstream television has changed over the years, “to accommodate the changing role of women in society” (Ingham 1995, para.1), the same basic roles, or variations of what they have always been, continue to be portrayed in popular genres such as fantasy; women primarily displayed as objects for the pleasure of the male gaze. These archetypal roles, so often promoting conformity, help keep patriarchal order and ensure the continuation of hegemonic ideals: “Television is widely known to represent and reinforce the mainstream ideology of contemporary western culture” (ibid. para.1); in this case, neo-liberalism. Through analysis of season one of the popular HBO series, Game of Thrones (GoT), based on the George R.R. Martin series of novels, A Song Of Ice and Fire, it will be demonstrated that the roles afforded women, rather than being empowering, maintain patriarchal hegemony by perpetuating traditional archetypes of women as subordinate and thus secondary.
Female actors have never had the range of roles that their male counterparts have had, and while television series have developed over the years, especially those aired by HBO, who take pride in their innovative programming, female roles have not had the same degree of development. In GoT, the roles range from mother, virgin and whore, with the female characters experiencing rape, beatings, and trafficking. While it could be argued that the depiction of the female characters in GoT is a fairly accurate portrayal adhering to historical veracity, this analysis will determine whether those characters are in fact “moving beyond traditional gender roles and norms, or are re-articulating and re-presenting gender” (Gilpatric 2010, p.734) in a new guise. In order to fully appreciate the archetypes at work in GoT, I will begin with background information on narrative, genre (fantasy), patriarchy and archetypes, followed by analysis of the five principal female characters in the first season: Catelyn, Sansa, Arya, Cersei and Daenerys. These characters are interesting in that although their circumstances change, quite drastically at times, the majority of them stay the same, with the exception of Daenerys and Arya.
GoT, like many programmes in the HBO stable, is a “long-form serial narrative for television in a genre hybrid” incorporating production values “at a quasi-cinematic level” (Nelson 2007, p.38). The episodes are designed to advance the serialized storylines, which revolve around three main families (Houses Stark, Lannister and Baratheon), and the lengths to which they will go to obtain power or to ensure the rightful people are in power. The narrative follows a chronological order, but alternates between story threads. The serial is set in the Middle Ages, in a “land that bears some resemblance in geography, technology and population to King Arthur’s Britain and JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth” (McNamara 2011, online), and is based on England’s War of the Roses (Craig 2012, para.6), evident from the intrigue revolving around the rightful heir to the throne.
As a medieval fantasy, GoT includes elements of medievalism including castles, knights, horses, and princesses: “Magic swords, dragons, and unicorns are readily accepted as being routine features of the ‘fantastic’ Middle Ages, along with beautiful princesses and knights-in-shining-armour” (Selling 2004, 212). Mendlesohn and James go on to describe the elements of fantasy as including “magical transformations, strange monsters, sorcerers and dragons, and the existence of a supernatural world” (2009, 7); GoT includes all of these – a supernatural depiction of climate where a season can last generations, White Walkers (the Westeros version of a zombie), dragons, and shape shifters (the Faceless Men, a guild of assassins from the Free City of Braavos). However, as the programme also incorporates elements more indicative of televisual drama, namely unrequited love, jealousy, and failed dreams, it can be classified as a hybrid: “There are no pure genres, and fantasy is no exception” (Matthews 2002, p.5). Popular genres, such as fantasy, are complicit in “preserving the status quo” (Newcomb 2004, 425) of 21st century Western culture, which equates to the mainstream values and ethos of late capitalistic democracies. This is ironic considering the content of fantasy calls for the audience to suspend disbelief and accept what transpires.
Fantasy has had a long history and can be traced back to the early poetic narratives of Gilgamesh and Homer’s Odyssey; originally serving not just to entertain, but also to educate (Mathews 2002, 6). The principal purpose of fantasy is to provide a juxtaposition between the imaginary world being depicted and the immediate world of everyday reality, thus enabling an opportunity to examine recent events: “Game of Thrones dramatizes a powerful sense of the plebiscite’s anger, disenfranchisement and suspicion on both sides of the Atlantic” (Craig 2012, para.9). While GoT allows escapism, it also provides a vehicle to compare the power struggles of Westeros with those currently happening, particularly those occurring in the Middle East.
Fantasy has two major classifications, high and low. According to Boyer and Zahorski (1978), the setting is what ultimately defines which category a fantasy belongs to: high fantasy is “set in a fully imagined Secondary World…as opposed to Low Fantasy which concerns supernatural intrusions in the ‘real’ world” (cited in Wolfe 1986, 52). In the first season of GoT, supernatural phenomena are more implied rather than viewed (apart from the White Walkers in episode one and dragons in the final episode). Although GoT has aspects of low fantasy, it is categorised as high fantasy, as it is set in a recognisable world, the medieval period – an era dominated by men and patriarchal/masculinist values. The code of chivalry, the underpinning moral code of Westeros, “propagates the vulnerability of women and further propagates oppressive frameworks of social relations and romantic love” (Goguen 2012, 208). As with fairy tales, fantasy continues to be recast and reinterpreted, promising escapism, while simultaneously working as a deeply conservative mode of narrative.
Simone de Beauvoir (1976, 267) described the concept of femininity and what it means to be female as being a social construct in The Second Sex, discussing the dichotomy that underpins patriarchy, male/Self, female/Other. This ‘us and them’ binary opposition is apparent in GoT and contributes towards maintaining patriarchal values. Allan G Johnson describes patriarchy as promoting “male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered…and involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women” (2005, 5); this oppression is shown in GoT with the majority of female characters being controlled by men, no matter to which echelon of society they belong or which archetype they embody. For example, Cersei Lannister has the ambition and cunning needed to rule, but as a woman cannot be her father’s heir. The two exceptions to this are Arya and Daenerys; although in saying this, Arya being a child, is under the radar of oppression at this stage and Daenerys only ends up in a commanding position in the final episode because she has managed to outlive the men who controlled her.
According to Jung, “all the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes” (1927, 342), and he listed “such different archetypes as the Wise Old Man, the Earth Mother, and the Divine Child” (Powell 2002, 40). For Jung, “The concept of the archetype is derived from the repeated…motifs which crop up everywhere” (1970, para.847). In Greek Theatre, stock characters were used to allow the audience to easily identify the character type being depicted. While Aristotle was perhaps the first person to write about characters in Nicomachean Ethics (1999), it was his student, Theophrastus, who identified thirty character types, such as The Show-Off, The Stingy Man, and The Fabricator (1902). The two fundamental female archetypes for Erich Neumann (1954) are the Good Mother, as embodied by Isis, Demeter and Mary, and the Terrible Mother, represented by Lilith, Circe (an interesting similarity to Cersei) and Hecate. Joseph Campbell (1972) describes the two major female archetypes as the Goddess and Temptress; Lt. Colonel Prisco R Hernandez describes them as Faerie, Wise One, Lover and Queen (2009, 51), while Jeffrey Brown (2011) discusses them in terms of dominatrix, rape-avenger, mother, daughter, Amazon, and ‘Final Girl’. While the range of female archetypes has been updated to include modern interpretations, in essence the character types remain the same and continue to be either secondary to or reliant upon male characters. For example, the dominatrix, while being in a position of power, holds that power by male permission, as opposed to the Amazon, who is seemingly superior or at least equal to men due to not being subjected to male dominance, but is so because she chooses to isolate herself. According to J Virdi, “the static two-dimensional portrayals of women as victims or vamps, madonnas or whores, suffering mothers or pleasing wives” (1999, 17) are included to entertain male fantasies.
Female roles in mainstream film have traditionally ranged from the love interest/damsel in distress to the ever-supportive mother/wife. Fairy tales have always had female protagonists, and while they have been shown in Disney adaptations as being strong and determined, they are also depicted as being young, pretty and white. Any woman who oversteps the socially acceptable boundaries, or ignores her rightful place, usually meets a tragic end. This can still be seen in horror and teen slasher films where the “easy” girl is invariably the first to be killed. Although there has been a considerable increase in female heroes in both fantasy film and television, characters such as Ripley and Lara Croft, who are endowed with characteristics more common to males (independence, ambition, courage and intelligence), are still displayed primarily for male consumption. Research conducted by Katy Gilpatric concerning such characters determined “the majority of female action characters shown in American cinema are not empowering images…instead, they operate inside socially constructed gender norms” (2010, 744).
Laura Mulvey equates the inclusion of women in mainstream film as being solely to be looked at: “In their traditional exhibitionist role women are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness” (1975, 750). HBO describes its audience as being “professional, college educated and discerning” (McCabe & Akass 2007, 73), and while GoT appeals to both male and female spectators, the gratuitous sex scenes and predominantly female nudity are aimed at the male members of the audience:
“The appeal of fantasy has been especially powerful among those who find themselves marginalized by the brutal social universe of American secondary education – geeks, losers, nerds…the guys who filled their notebooks with meticulous line drawings of broadsword-wielding berserkers and their large-breasted consorts” (Scott 2002, para.20).
While not all the actors can be described as traditionally attractive, the inclusion of pornographic and burlesque actors attests to the fact that titillation is a priority. Even though many female characters are more than passive, attempting to have some form of autonomy, the casting, costumes (or lack thereof) and camera angles are for “erotic impact” (Mulvey 1975, 750) by framing the woman as spectacle.
It is interesting to note that although the female characters in GoT are archetypes, they often display characteristics that are not traditionally typical of the particular archetype they embody, ergo modernising the archetypes, making the characters more believable as opposed to the black and white stock characters typical to genres such as melodrama. This is also occurring in the retelling of fairy tales; for example in Red Riding Hood (2011), where Red’s father is the wolf causing mayhem. However, in saying this, there are continuities:
“The damsel in distress has been a stock character in melodrama for as long as melodrama has been around. So has the long-suffering wife who pines for her husband while he’s off grimly doing what needs to be done in the public sphere. There are elements of these stock characters in Daenerys Targaryen and Catelyn Stark” (Stokes 2011, para.8).
Nevertheless, upon closer inspection, these anomalies are in fact within the archetypal framing. For example, Catelyn’s hatred of Jon Snow seems to be contrary to her good mother/wife character, however, as her hatred stems from a fierce loyalty to the honour of the family name, it can be read as devotion to Ned, and therefore can be argued as conforming to the role of good mother/wife. The inclusion of such anomalies create modern, three-dimensional renditions of archetypes, but they still frame women in traditional roles: “Women are continually depicted in domestic or family situations playing nurturing roles, or in seductive scenes, as alluring objects of the male gaze” (Thwaites et al 2002, 153).
Catelyn is the archetypal good wife/mother. She is a loving and supportive wife with “impeccable blood lines” (S01E07), whose “devotion to her husband and children is profound and constitutes a core virtue of integrity that is recognized and honoured by the other characters” (Rasmussen 2012, para.10). The first time we see Catelyn she is standing beside her husband watching their sons’ archery practice. Although she does not agree with Ned taking Bran to view the beheading of the Night’s Watch deserter, she complies. While Catelyn feels like an outsider at Winterfell, she is well aware that she owes her place in society firstly to her father and then her husband. Although marriage generally means forfeiting ones own family, Catelyn has been permitted to keep her own family words and religion, which is testament to the love Ned has for her. She was originally betrothed to Brandon Stark, but upon his death was passed to Ned: “It was all meant for Brandon – you, Winterfell, everything” (S01E01). This indicates the lack of power women have – they are married off to forge relationships between houses and are therefore assets, dependent on men. Upon hearing that the King is travelling to Winterfell to persuade Ned to return to the capital with him, something she does not want, she does her wifely duty of readying the castle. When she finds Brandon climbing the walls she makes him promise not to climb anymore, and knows her son well enough to know that when he looks at the ground while speaking, he is lying. This shows that although she is gentry, she is a hands-on mother, raising her own children. Her dedication to her children is best shown when she fights off the man sent to kill Bran. She is prepared to fight to the death in order to protect her son, and is severely wounded in the process, grabbing the blade intended to kill Bran.
The marital bond between Catelyn and Ned is shown when they are in bed in episode 1 discussing his departure for Kingslanding. Although Catelyn is “a woman of great political insight” (Rasmussen 2012, para.10), her political awareness is used to serve her family as opposed to any self-serving ambition, cementing her position as good wife/mother. An example of this occurs when she tells Ned that he needs to go to Kingslanding and take the position of Hand of the King even though it is not what she wants: “she’s not blind to the opportunities this would create for her husband, herself, and their family…Part of her job, part of being Lady Stark, is increasing the status of house Stark whenever possible” (Stokes 2011, para.7). Another example of their love occurs in episode three when they say goodbye, unknowingly for the last time, in Kingslanding; the kiss they share is actually the first such kiss in the programme. This shows that their love is real and that there is respect within the relationship. Their mutual affection is apparent, and parting is obviously hard for them both. Producer, D B Weiss describes Catelyn as “a woman willing to do anything and everything to defend her family, to the point of recklessness and beyond” (cited in Cogman 2012, 51). This is shown when Littlefinger has her taken to his brothel when she first arrives at Kingslanding. At first she is mortified at being in such an establishment, but when Littlefinger points out that nobody would ever dream of looking for her there, she sees the value in hiding out in such a place – she willingly stays in a place that makes her uncomfortable, to aid her family. When she makes it known to those in the inn that Tyrion tried to kill her son while a guest under her roof, she asks for help returning Tyrion to Winterfell to answer for his crimes. Later when Tyrion realises that they are in fact headed towards the Eyrie, she tells him that she repeated Winterfell often and loudly in order to hide their real destination. This shows her shrewdness; she realised the Lannister’s would send out a search party and by dispatching them in the wrong direction she was buying valuable time. Her steely resolve is shown when she tells Robb that once they retrieve the girls from the Lannister’s, “we will kill them all” (S01E10).
There are two contradictions within Catelyn’s archetypal character; firstly, she is an outsider, and admits to Ned she has never felt completely at home in the North; and secondly, “she dislikes and distrusts Jon Snow” (Rasmussen 2012, para.10). Being from a noble family, she would have been aware of the propensity of aristocratic males to have mistresses. The fact that Ned fathered a bastard is not so much the issue for Catelyn as is the fact that he brought the child to Winterfell to be raised with his trueborn children. Catelyn’s treatment of Jon is surprising and seems completely out of character. At the feast for the king at Winterfell, Jon is not permitted to attend with the excuse being Catelyn thinks it might insult the royals to have a bastard present. As the king himself has fathered many bastards, and Cersei’s children are in fact bastards, this excuse does not have much credence. The more obvious reason is that Catelyn just does not want any visible connection between Jon and her children. Another instance is when Jon goes to say goodbye to Bran when he is leaving for the Wall. Catelyn tells him, “I want you to leave!” (S01E02) and then says to Ned, who has overheard, “Seventeen years ago, you rode off with Robert Baratheon – you came back a year later with another woman’s son” (ibid.). This shows her hurt and her inability to both forget and forgive Ned. Jon is a “walking reminder of her husband’s infidelity” (Weiss cited in Cogman 2012, 51) and becomes a cross for her to bear. Both of these anomalies, while not congruent with good wife/mother, do not deviate enough from the archetype to cause concern.
Catelyn’s eldest daughter, Sansa is “the perfect, proper young lady” (Cogman 2012, 55) and is the archetypal virgin of the programme. When we first see Sansa she is receiving praise from Septa Mordane for her fine embroidery. This scene is set with the girls in a circle of confinement – entrusted to the Septa to learn the etiquette of being a lady – passing the time of day learning skills that may or may not be needed, depending on the marriage brokered for them. Sansa’s reaction to the praise immediately frames her as one who enjoys her highborn position and is eager to please. Upon the king’s arrival at Winterfell, she gazes starry-eyed at Joffrey, to the dismay of her eldest brother, Robb. Being status-conscious, she fantasises about being a princess, the heroine in one of the songs sung by the bards, and realises Joffrey is key to achieving this. Her royal ambitions are shown when she asks her mother when her and Joffrey will be married. She does not understand why her father would not grant them permission to marry and asks her mother to help persuade Ned: “I’ll be queen someday… It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted” (S01E01). While she might have ambitions, they are more concerned with wearing pretty dresses and being viewed by all and sundry rather than being politically motivated. It is also interesting to consider whether the idea of being Joffrey’s queen is her idea, or one placed in her mind by others at Winterfell. Apart from petty vanities, she gives no indication of being concerned with anything other than being a wife and mother; however, it stands to reason that as the eldest daughter of Lord Stark, she would always have known that a good marriage awaits. Upon her first meeting with the Queen, Cersei asks her if she has bled yet, confirming her main value is her virginity and childbearing ability. Her major goal is to be a woman worthy of standing beside a king.
Sansa’s royal ambitions show her inability to differentiate between her fantasies and reality, and her daydreaming causes her to be “punished for her vapid and romantic delusions” (Rasmussen 2012, para.7). She believes her marriage to Joffrey will be idyllic. The only concern she voices is when she asks Septa Mordane about the possibility of only having girls, worrying that the result of such an occurrence would be that everyone would hate her. This shows her compliance with the social order of Westeros; however, she does learn “the hard truth about such fantasies with the death of her father and the constant abuse from her fiancé” (Cogman 2012, 55). An example of her fragile grasp of reality is the name she chooses for her direwolf. Although a direwolf is a dangerous, wild animal, she names her Lady, and describes her as being gentle and trusting (S01E02). Sansa ends the season having found some courage. When Joffrey torments her with Ned’s head displayed on a spike, she asks him how long he wants her to look. This surprises Joffrey; he did not expect her to show such strength. When he says he will add Robb’s head to those being displayed, her answer, “Or maybe he’ll give me yours” (S01E10), annoys him to the point of being punitive.
Arya Stark is perhaps the truest example of an archetype in GoT, the tomboy, who would “rather be riding, sparring, and playing at swords with her brothers” (Cogman 2012, 55). The tomboy is an interesting phenomenon. While it can be viewed as an escape from traditional female roles, it is often associated with childhood and therefore can be considered merely a phase the child is going through: “Although childhood tomboy behavior appears to have benefits through-out life, tomboyism appears to abate around puberty when girls experience increasing social pressure to act in gender appropriate ways” (Morgan 1998, 790). So while it may be tolerated in the young, girls are expected to grow out of it. According to Abate, “From the earliest days of commercial motion pictures in the United States, for instance, the tomboy appeared as a distinct screen persona” (2008, x) and therefore, as a reoccurring character, is an archetype. Although tomboys do not conform to socially acceptable ideals, particularly in the chivalric society of Westeros, due to the emulation of masculinity, their androgyny can be read as a type of respect for manhood.
The first time we see Arya, she is embroidering alongside her sister, but is distracted by the sounds of the archery outside. This provides an immediate contrast between the two sisters – Arya is “whip-smart, athletic, and defiant of authority” (Cogman 2012, 55) as opposed to Sansa’s drippy subservience. Eventually she manages to escape Septa Mordane’s lesson, and joins her brothers, shooting a bullseye and embarrassing Bran by being a better shot than him. Throughout season one Arya does not deviate from her tomboyish ways and exhibits characteristics normally associated with masculine roles: intelligence, adventurousness and courage. She is clearly smarter than her sister, which is shown when she smiles at the irony when Sansa tells her father she does not want a kind and gentle husband, but wants Joffrey. Arya does not share the dream of marrying a knight, preferring instead to become one: “Arya Stark may be a very young girl, but unlike her older sister Sansa, who dreams of being a princess, Arya has no time for such foolishness. She’d much rather be a knight” (Jacoby 2012, 239).
When her father finds her with a sword, he tells her she will marry a high lord and rule his castle, and that her “sons shall be knights, and princes, and lords”, to which she replies, “No, that’s not me!” (S01E04). Her aversion to marriage is well known by the family and when part of the toll for crossing the Trident is Arya’s betrothal to Lord Frey’s son, Rob comments, “She won’t be happy about that” (S01E09). As with Sansa, the choice of name for her direwolf says a lot about her: she calls her Nymeria after the historical Dornish warrior queen from Westeros. However, the most significant moment in Arya’s journey occurs after Ned has been taken prisoner for treason, when she kills the stable boy who has been sent by Cersei to collect her. This signals many changes for Arya; her innocence is lost as she leaves the safety of her family to having to rely on her own skills for survival.
The Stark’s tolerate her tomboyish mannerisms to varying degrees. Jon and Robb look on at her antics with amusement – the bullseye when Bran is practicing archery, wearing the soldier’s helmet when she joins the family awaiting the arrival of the king, and flicking food at Sansa at the feast – and cannot help but smile, even when others in the family admonish her for those very same antics. However, Sansa in particular, not only finds her sister annoying but also embarrassing: “Arya stop it, you’re spoiling everything” (S01E02). As the trueborn daughter of a lord, while her antics might be deemed cute at this stage of her life, she is only a child and the family assume it is merely a phase she is going through. Interestingly, although Arya asserts on many occasions that she does not want to be a lady, when both Syrio and Yoren call her a boy, she corrects them. For Arya the problem does not necessarily lie with her gender per se, in as much as the restrictions placed upon her gender. In the medieval setting of Westeros, chivalry “creates rigid social roles” (Goguen 2012, 208) that must be upheld to ensure the status quo is maintained, therefore Arya’s tomboy ways will have to give way to more appropriate behaviour befitting a young lady of social standing.
Cersei encompasses two archetypal characters, namely the seductress and evil queen: she is “beautiful, cunning, and ambitious” (Cogman 2012, 76). The first time we see Cersei, she is voicing her concern to Jaime as to whether John Arryn has told their secret – their affair. They are positioned very close as they talk, and through the close-up we are able to see the intimacy of their relationship. When she arrives at Winterfell, she performs her royal duties but with obvious disdain, coming across as what Lena Headey, the actor playing Cersei, describes as an “icy, controlled, no-nonsense woman” (cited in Cogman 2012, 79). Although she is fiercely loyal to her family, she bears no love for Tyrion, whom she refers to as a “little beast” (S01E01). This indicates her arrogance as to what she thinks it means to be a Lannister, a characteristic solidified when she tells Joffrey, “Everyone who isn’t us is an enemy” (S01E03). At the feast, one almost feels sorry for Cersei as she watches her husband carousing with a serving wench. She looks on, but remains composed, which shows her inner strength and self-control. After telling Sansa what a lovely dress she has made, she tells Catelyn, “Your daughter will do well in the capital – such a beauty shouldn’t stay hidden up here forever” (S01E01). This shows that Cersei is quite incapable of showing kindness without having an agenda. Flattering Sansa was a manipulative strategy to get the girl on side – Cersei recognises Sansa’s infatuation with the royal proceedings. But it was also a gibe at Catelyn – a reminder that she is the powerful one, not relegated to the end of the country in a state of disregard. When Bran witnesses Cersei and Jaime having sex in the tower, their intimacy is shown when Jaime gently touches her face even though he is taking her from behind. Later, when Catelyn is sitting with Bran, Cersei visits and reveals her true nature; she speaks of the child she lost and how, no matter how much she prayed, the gods ignored her. While on the surface this might appear kind, the fact is that Bran is in a coma because Cersei wanted him dead for seeing her and Jaime having sex. In addition, telling Catelyn the gods do not hear pleas for sick children is malicious and serves no other purpose than to make Catelyn lose hope.
Cersei encompasses the more masculine traits of ambition and ruthlessness; however, everything she does, she does for her children: “fiercely protective of her children and her own family, she is not afraid to play dirty to advance their interests” (Cogman 2012, 76). While this does not conform with the traditional seductress/evil queen role, it does adhere to the representation of women in the media by framing her in a domestic domain. Traditionally, the evil queen is a powerful character politically motivated by her own ambition. Cersei on the other hand realises the limitations of her gender, accepting that “chivalry requires an unequal balance of power” (Goguen 2012, 208), and therefore bestows all of her ambition on the male members of her family, namely Joffrey and Jaime. Cersei uses manipulation throughout season one; she constantly plays people off against one another to get her own way. Although Robert slaps her when she tells him that she ”should wear the armour and you the gown”, she cleverly twists this and says that she will wear the bruise on her face “as a badge of honour” (S01E06). When Tyrion is told that Joffrey now rules over the seven kingdoms, he replies “My sister rules you mean” (S01E08). This demonstrates knowledge of the power that Cersei exerts over others. Cersei’s political prowess is commonly acknowledged: “Cersei is no fool, she knows a tame wolf is more use to her than a dead one” (Varys, S01E09).
The only time we see Cersei and Robert speak without their usual war of words is when they discuss the possibility of the Dothraki crossing the sea. For the first time, there is equality in their conversation – she shows her political knowledge, indicating she has been well schooled in matters concerning the state. Robert comments that they are not war-ready and asks what holds it altogether. Cersei’s answer, their marriage, makes them both laugh and for the first time they actually appear as husband and wife. Cersei asks about Lyanna, and admits to Robert that she had hoped his love for her would fade away but when it did not, she refused to acknowledge it out of spite. This is a poignant moment as it explains her aversion to Robert. It also illustrates what marriage is like for highborn women, reinforcing marriage as a political arrangement rather than a romantic one. Their marriage is explained later in the season when she tells Ned that she originally worshipped Robert, and marrying him was the happiest moment in her life, until she realised he was still in love with Lyanna: “Your sister was a corpse and I was a living girl, and he loved her more than me” (S01E07).
Daenerys is the Self-Made Woman, “the smart woman who makes her way toward independence in a hostile, male-dominated world” (Rasmussen 2012, para.8). The first time we see Daenerys she is on a balcony gazing over the city forlornly. When her brother, Viserys arrives, he reminds her that she has a woman’s body now, and disrobes her, telling her, “I need you to be perfect today” (S01E01) as he caresses her breast. While the Targaryen’s have a history of incestuous relationships, Viserys’s actions are more about power than sexual desire as it frames her as a pawn in his quest for the throne. She has a close relationship with her brother as they are the sole survivors of their family, but it is a relationship based on fear and abuse. When she first meets Karl Drogo she looks terrified and tells Viserys that she does not want to marry him, to which he replies, “I would let his whole tribe fuck you, all 40,000 men and their horses too, if that’s what it took” (S01E01). A medium close-up shows Daenerys’ reaction as it dawns on her that “even if you’re a princess, your main value is as a brood mare and a bargaining chip” (Stokes 2011, para.4). The wedding ceremony highlights the difference between Daenerys and Drogo, framing him as the other – a “Mongol-inspired Dothraki” (Ahmed 2012, para.6) but also suggestive of the Middle East linking it to present issues of Othering – in the us-and-them dichotomy; dark and bestial as opposed to European. Before they ride away to consummate their marriage, Drogo lifts her up onto the horse, picking her up like a doll – this indicates her vulnerability; she cannot even mount a horse by herself. As they leave Viserys says, “Make him happy” (S01E01), demonstrating that he is more concerned with a satisfied Khal providing him with an army, than the welfare of his sister. This shows how expendable women are – bargaining chips for men to realise their ambitions.
The scene that follows can only be described as a rape scene – her inability to communicate with her new husband is highlighted while he disrobes her and takes her from behind. While she is still the property of a man, through learning to please Drogo, she is able to attain a modicum of equality: “She’s still part of a system under which women are largely chattel, but her current position is better than her previous position, and that matters to her” (Stokes 2011, para.6). As his queen, she is able to demand respect and give orders, even to her brother, her former oppressor. The fact she asks one of her handmaidens to teach her how to please Drogo is problematic, and is reminiscent of Stockholm Syndrome – he buys her and rapes her, but she wants to learn how to please him, and as a result of the improved love-making and ensuing pregnancy, falls in love with him. When her handmaid, Doreah asks her, “Are you a slave Khalessi? Then don’t make love like a slave… Out there he is the mighty Khal, but in this tent, he belongs to you” (S01E02), it reinforces the fact that although Drogo holds the power, Daenerys is able to manipulate that power if she is able to keep him sexually satisfied. The fact that a prostitute is giving such advice to a queen illustrates the lack of real power women hold in society.
During the many Dothraki scenes, Daenerys gradually grows in confidence. For Viserys, Daenerys’ position as Khalessi was never meant to surpass his own status and his steady loss of power manifests itself in violent outbursts towards her. However, due to her newfound station and growing self-assurance, his bullying tactics no longer have the effect they once did. For example, when she orders the Khalasar to stop and enters the forest, he attacks her, telling her she does not give him orders. Rakharo comes to her rescue and asks her if she wants him killed. Viserys demands that Ser Jorah kill Rakharo, but Jorah turns to Daenerys and asks her if they should return to the Khalasar. Rakharo then takes Viserys’ horse and tells him he can walk with the slaves. This is the first time that Viserys is shown as powerless. However, the pivotal moment in their relationship occurs when Viserys enters Daenerys’ tent reminding her that she does not command him, and starts to slap her. To defend herself she hits him with a belt and tells him, “The next time you raise a hand to me will be the last time you have a hand” (S01E04). One almost feels sorry for Viserys when the Khalasar celebrate Daenerys’ consumption of the horse-heart to invoke the gods’ blessings for her pregnancy; he tells Ser Jorah, “no one has ever given me what they gave to her in that tent” (S01E06). This shows that the balance of power between them has totally shifted with her now in the position of authority. She acknowledges to Ser Jorah that Viserys does not have the ability to take back the throne. This is a moment of enlightenment for Daenerys; she knows if the Targaryen’s are ever to rule again, it will be up to her. This knowledge is reiterated when she is explaining to Drogo that a throne is, “A chair for a king to sit on… or queen” (S01E07); this shows her acceptance of her destiny as the rightful ruler of the seven kingdoms. Her allegiance passes from brother to husband, going so far as being complicit in Viserys’ death, watching on as Drogo crowns him with molten gold. Her change in circumstance creates the impetus for her to become politically ambitious herself.
Daenerys changes more than any other character throughout the first season; ”She might have started the series timid and innocent…[but] she grows into a steely and strong leader” (Cogman 2012, 155). Part of her growth lies with Mirri Maz Duur who serves to teach her not to be so trusting. Daenerys, in trying to save Mirri from rape, went against the protocol of the Dothraki, which dictates if they shed blood for their Khal, they get to claim the spoils of victory. While defending her actions in front of Drogo, Daenerys tells him, “If your riders would mount them, let them take them for wives” (S01E08). This indicates the growing confidence Daenerys feels, not only within her marriage and pregnancy, but also as a leader herself. After Drogo is fatally injured and Qotho tells her, “A woman does not give us orders” (S01E09), she realises that her power in the Khalasar is tied to Drogo. He furthers the insult by telling her that when Drogo dies, she is nothing, to which she replies, “I have never been nothing – I am the blood of the dragon” (S01E09). This shows that the confidence she now has, is about whom she has always been and is not connected to her marriage. While it is Mirri’s revenge that provides the opportunity for Daenerys to enter the funeral pyre, reappearing triumphant as the Mother of Dragons, it was always her destiny. The director of season one, Daniel Minahan describes her journey as being archetypal: “she’s sold into slavery and turns it around and becomes a queen, determined to take back the throne for her family” (cited in Cogman 2012, 155). As with Catelyn and Cersei, for Daenerys it is loyalty to the family that is the driving force behind her actions.
While programmes like GoT push the boundaries of storytelling on mainstream television, the female roles are still perpetuating traditional archetypes. There may be a modernising factor to the archetypes, but analysis shows that the women, who seemingly defy archetypal roles, are in fact in their position due to their relationships with men. Each principal female character in GoT exemplifies an archetype: Catelyn as the good wife/mother is fiercely loyal to her husband and would do anything to protect her family; Sansa as the virgin, is betrothed to a prince, and dreams of being a princess; Arya, the tomboy, is more concerned with sword fighting than embroidery; Cersei, embodying the two archetypes of seductress and evil queen, would do anything, no matter how callous, to further her family; and Daenerys, as the self-made woman, progresses from bullied sister to leader. While these archetypes have been modified, they are merely “re-articulating and re-presenting gender” (Gilpatric 2010, 734) in a new guise to appeal to the present audience. Although postmodernism, especially that of the 21st century, has initiated many changes in the way we perceive things, strangely, attitudes concerning women continue to be out-dated. These outmoded views ensure the perpetuation of traditional archetypes.
- Abate, M.A. 2008. Tomboys: A Literary and Cultural History. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
- Ahmed, Saladin. 2012. “Is ‘Game of Thrones’ too white?” Salon. Accessed October 23, 2012. http://www.salon.com/2012/04/01/is_game_of_thrones_too_white/.
- Artistotle. 1999. Nicomachean Ethics, translated by W.D. Ross. Kitchener: Batoche Books. Accessed November 8, 2012. socserv2.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/aristotle/Ethics.pdf.
- Beauvoir, S. de. 1976. The Second Sex, edited and translated by H.M. Parshley. New York: Alfred A Knopf.
- Brown, J. 2011. Dangerous Curves: Action Heroes, Gender, Fetishism, and Popular Culture. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.
- Campbell, J. 1972. A Hero with a Thousand Faces. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
- Craig, A. 2012. “Game of Thrones: a dark fantasy sheds light on political reality.” Telegraph, April 14, 2012. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/game-of-thrones/9204230/Game-of-Thrones-a-dark-fantasy-sheds-light-on-political-reality.html.
- Cogman, B. 2012. Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones. Great Britain: Gollancz.
- Game of Thrones. 2011. Created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. United States: HBO, television series.
- Gilpatric, K. 2010. “Violent Female Action Characters in Comtemporary American Cinema.” Sex Roles, Volume 62, Issue 11-12, 734-746.
- Goguen, S. 2012. “There Are No True Knights: The Injustice of Chivalry.” In Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper Than Swords, edited by H. Jacoby. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 205-219.
- Hernández, P.R. 2009. “Jung’s Archetypes as Sources for Female Leadership.” Leadership Review, Kravis Leadership Institute, Vol. 9, Spring 2009, 49-59.
- Ingham, H. 1995. “The Portrayal of Women on Television.” The Media and Communications Studies Site. Ceredigion: Prifysgol Aberystwyth University. Accessed October 21, 2012. http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Students/hzi9401.html.
- Jacoby, H. 2012. “No One Dances the Water Dance.” In Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper Than Swords, edited by H. Jacoby. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 236-249.
- Johnson, A.G. 2005. The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
- Jung, C.G. 1927. “The Structure of the Psyche.” In Collected Works Vol. 8, The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche.
- Jung, C.G. 1970. “Civilization in Transition.” In The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 10, edited and translated by G. Adler and R.F.C. Hull. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
- McNamara, M. 2011. “Swords, sex and struggles.” Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2012. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/apr/15/entertainment/la-et-game-of-thrones-review-20110415.
- McCabe, J. and K. Akass. 2007. “Sex, Swearing and Respectability.” In Quality TV: Contemporary American Television and Beyond, edited by J. McCabe and K. Akass. London and New York: I B Tauris &Co Ltd, 62-76.
- Mathews, R. 2002. Fantasy - The Liberation of Imagination. London: Routledge.
- Mendlesohn, F. and E. James. 2009. A Short History of Fantasy. London: Middlesex University Press.
- Morgan, B.L. 1998. “A Three Generational Study of Tomboy Behaviour.” Sex Roles, Vol. 39, Nos. 9/10, 787-800.
- Mulvey, L. 1975. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975).” In Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 4th edition, edited by G. Mast, M. Cohen & L. Braudy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, 746-757.
- Nelson, R. 2007. “HBO PREMIUM: Channelling distinction through TVIII.” New Review of Film and Television Studies, Volume 5, Issue 1, April 2007, 25-40.
- Neumann, E. 1954. The Great Mother. New York: Pantheon Books.
- Newcomb, H. 2004. “Narrative and genre.” In The SAGE Handbook of Media Studies, edited by J. Downing, D. McQuail, P. Schlesinger, and E. Wartella. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 414-29.
- Powell, B.B. 2002. A Short Introduction to Classical Myth. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
- Rasmussen, A.M. 2012. “Female Archetypes in Game of Thrones.” Huffpost Women, September 12, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-marie-rasmussen/
- Scott, A.O. 2002. “A Hunger for Fantasy, an Empire to Feed it.” The New York Times, June 16, 2002, http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/16/movies/film-a-hunger-for-fantasy-an-empire-to-feed-it.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
- Selling, K. 2004. “Fantastic Neomedievalism: The Image of the Middle Ages in Popular Fantasy.” In Flashes of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the War of the Worlds Centennial, Nineteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, edited by D. Ketterer. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 211-218.
- Stokes. 2011. “The Flattening of Westeros.” Overthinking It. Accessed November 6, 2012. http://www.overthinkingit.com/2011/05/10/game-of-thrones-feminism/
- Theophrastus. 1902. The Characters of Theophrastus, translated by C.E. Bennett and W.A. Hammond. New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.
- Thwaites, T, L. Davis, and W. Mules. 2002. Introducing Cultural and Media Studies: A Semiotic Approach. Houndmills: Palgrave.
- Virdi, J. 1999. “Reverence, Rape and then Revenge: Popular Hindi Cinema’s Woman’s Film.” Screen (1999) 40(1), 17-39.
- Wolf, G.K. 1986. Critical Terms for Science Fiction and Fantasy: a glossary and guide to scholarship. New York: Greenwood Press.