Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday #26: The Femme Fatales of A Song of Ice and Fire

Fantasy Friday

Fantasy Friday is my own feature, posted every other Friday. It’s pretty self-explanatory: I do a feature on something to do with the genre. Sometimes it will be a book recommendation, sometimes showcasing a book or series I’ve loved and other times it might be a discussion post. You’re more than welcome to join in with this feature, let me know if you make your own Fantasy Friday post!

Today I want to talk about: the awesome female characters from the series A Song of Ice and Fire.

This post contains spoilers for the series A Song of Ice and Fire, as well as its television adaptation, Game of Thrones.

The series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin is known for its stand-out female characters. Although it is loosely based on medieval history, a time when women were seen as second class citizens – and many are treated that way in the series – there are some that defy all expectations of society ‘at the time’ (or rather, considering the time period that the series is based on). Each one is, in her own way, a wonderful and unique individual.

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Arya Stark

At the start of A Song of Ice and Fire, Arya is only nine years old. She is mischievous and a bit of a tomboy, all in all quite a typical nine year old. But accompanying other losses comes the loss of her innocence and childhood. She is thrown into a world so different from her life at Winterfell. She disguises herself as a boy in order to travel north from King’s Landing after her father’s execution. She witnesses murder, brutality and so many horrors, yet all it does is harden her, prepare her for a new life at the House of Black and White. All in all, Arya is focused, ruthless and willing to do whatever it takes to put things right – even if for her that currently involves murdering those responsible for the deaths of much of her family.

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Brienne of Tarth

I really love Brienne and her absolute sense of loyalty. From noble blood, but never ‘traditionally’ attractive or ladylike, she has carved a place for herself in this world that expects women to be meek and fragile things. She is a skilled fighter and becomes part of Renly’s bodyguard, albeit in a short-lived role. Her loyalty and determination are some of her strongest qualities. Brienne has put up with a lot of teasing and cruelty in her life due to her appearance, but she has never once let it stop her trying to achieve her aims.

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Cersei Lannister

In the first few books, Cersei seems like one of the series’ main villains – but then you realise that A Song of Ice and Fire has no main villains – just a cast of characters doing whatever they need to survive. This very much applies to Cersei, who is just trying to protect her children. She may have some rather odd taste in men (!!) but she knows how to get by in this brutal world. Her behaviour isn’t always ideal though – at one point she accuses her father of not giving her any power because of the fact that she is a woman, and he responds by saying it is nothing to do with that, and everything to do with the choices she makes. She is cunning and highly intelligent, and holds herself with such poise as to give herself more power. You don’t want to mess with Cersei or her babies – she is just like a lioness in that regard.

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Daenerys Targaryen

Like many other women of A Song of Ice and Fire, Daenerys changes drastically throughout the series. At the beginning, she is in her early teens, forced into marriage with a man who is much older and with whom she cannot communicate. She is threatened and possibly even abused by her older brother. However, Daenerys soon learns to adapt to her new setting and play things to her advantage. And when she later invades and becomes Queen/Khaleesi of various cities throughout Essos, it goes as well as you would expect it to with a teenager in charge. But Daenerys learns from her mistakes and finds out who her true friends are. She doesn’t give up even in the fact of assassinations attempts, mutiny and losing control of her dragons. Every time someone thinks they have pinned down the Mother of Dragons, they are proved wrong. Fire cannot kill a dragon, and the men of Westeros/Essos cannot stop Daenerys.

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Margaery Tyrell

Margaery has certainly had to put up with a lot. Firstly, an arranged marriage to a man more interested in her brother than her, then a marriage to a monsterous tyrant, swiftly followed by one to an adolescent boy-king, with Cersei for her mother-in-law. And then, once everything finally seems to be going right, she is accused of having incestuous relations with her brother, and is thrown into prison. And whilst Margaery does not seem to have been quite as unlucky as some, her constant bright moods and sly manipulation of others really make her one to watch.

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Sansa Stark

Oh Sansa, I am so, so sorry. You’ve had it rough in the books, but the TV show has made it so much worse for you. Forced to watch the execution of her father, abused and tormented by Joffrey, almost killed by a mob then on the run with Littlefinger, who clearly has ulterior motives towards her, then forced into a abusive marriage with Ramsay Bolton, Sansa is possibly the most maltreated character of the series (ESPECIALLY the TV series). Yet Sansa, sweet innocent Sansa who dreamt of a life in King’s Landing full of lemon cakes and new gowns, rises from the ashes like a phoenix; she is reborn. Hardened by her experiences, she knows the best way to progress is to continue playing the naive, wide-eyed girl – and most importantly, not to trust anyone.

These women of Westeros, these femme fatales, are severly underestimated by those around them. That may be the last mistake they ever make.

What do you make of the women of Westeros? Who are your favourite characters?

Thoughts

Thoughts #36: Do We Really Need ‘Strong Women’?

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As you probably know, I am a big reader of science fiction and fantasy. Typically, in the past, these genres were dominated by men, and even in the 21st century women are often under-represented, both as authors and characters. Therefore, as any self-respecting woman would do, I have always supported and been proud of works where female characters are shown to be ‘strong’. I cheered for Arya Stark as she made her own way in life through the A Song of Ice and Fire series, despite her young age. I love the fact that Harry and Ron would never have gotten far without Hermione. Vin’s development from a timid young girl to confident young woman in the Mistborn series was fantastic.

But then I thought to myself – why do we need to be told this, or in many cases tell ourselves, that these women are strong?

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That is not to say that I look down on any of the works mentioned for their portrayals of women – in fact I’ve named some of my favourites here. But why can we not just assume from the beginning that these female characters are strong, or that their strength is something every woman has, that just presents itself in different ways? Some are physically strong, like Brienne of Tarth, others are emotionally strong, like Katniss Everdeen. Just because we don’t see it all the time doesn’t mean it’s not there. Do we really need to label female characters as ‘strong’ for showing great physical, mental or emotional prowess, when if a male character were to do the same we would never say that? It almost feels like saying it’s a surprise for a female character to present herself that way.

But at the same time, people should be recognised for their attributes and actions. Some characters go through absolutely horrific events, so of course we want to refer to them as ‘strong’ to show that they are survivors, they are more than capable – it’s like an umbrella term to cover all the different ways in which they have dealt with things. After considering all this, I’m now really torn between the two viewpoints. On one hand, calling one woman over others ‘strong’ demeans the remainder and indicates that we don’t expect them to show strength, but on the other hand they should be recognised for what they have done.

What do you think – should we still refer to female characters as ‘strong’ or do you think the word is patronising?

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