From Samwell Tarly to Daenerys ‘Mother of Dragons’ Targaryen, we count down the best and worst feminists in Westeros…
There are many ways to determine the best and worst characters in HBO’s Game of Thrones. You could, for example, look at the strength and sweep of their story arcs, or rank them in terms of their zingiest one liners. Some idiots might even be so base as to rate them in terms of their appearance.
But we here at Stylist aren’t like the others, because we know that there is more to life than good looks, good comebacks, and good character development. And so, to celebrate the fact that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ smash-hit fantasy saga is returning to HBO for its eighth and final season this weekend, we’ve sat down and ranked the show’s surviving characters in terms of their feminist credentials.
Does Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) deserve the title of feminist queen? Is Jon Snow (Kit Harington) really and truly an ally worth mentioning? And just how far has Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) plummeted down the list after that now infamous mansplaining incident?
It’s time to find out, once and for all. Forthwith, our Game of Thrones character rankings from least feminist to most.
Please note: we will only be speaking about the GOT characters we already know and love and are willing to survive until the bitter end. As such, we’re not going to be talking about the Golden Company’s Harry Strickland, Edmure Tully, Qhono, Robin Arryn, or Yohn Royce. Also, Beric Dondarrion, because a) he’s died so many times already by this point, b) last we saw, he was about to be buried under a shit-ton of ice and snow as the White Walkers burst through the Wall, and c) he’s clearly a slimeball and in no way a feminist ally, so what’s the point, eh?
Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane
Let’s not play games, here: this guy is an asshole through and through – and a deeply misogynist one at that. To paraphrase the late Oberyn (may he rest in peace), Gregor raped Elia Martell, he murdered her, and he killed her children. He most likely did the same to Septa Unella. And the less said about his treatment of Sansa, the better.
Qyburn has fast become the most important man in King’s Landing, and has achieved his status solely because of his unwavering loyalty and devotion to Cersei Lannister: this is a guy who recognises an empowered woman, and thoroughly respects her, too.
And yet… well, he is unrepentant when he says an imprisoned Brienne, forced out of her armour and into a dress, will serve as (presumably sexual) entertainment for his men before being murdered. He performs twisted experiments on prostitutes, too. But, then again, he most likely sees all characters as body parts to be tested on, male or female.
So, sexist prick, then. Go figure.
Jaime Lannister started out as the original Game of Thrones fuckboy, with his arrogant attitude, floppy golden hair and reliance on outsized weaponry. Over time, though, we’ve come to admire the Kingslayer – and even love him. This is primarily due to his and Brienne’s beautiful friendship: he views the warrior woman as his equal – as his superior, even – and has worked to win her approval ever since. And he’s actually always been willing to listen to and support the women in his life (see his misguided loyalty to Cersei, as a case in point).
But then again… he did rape his sister, even if actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau seems to think there’s an innocent explanation for it. (Top tip, Nikolaj: NEVER EVER say “yes and no” when asked if a rape scene depicts rape). And no man who rapes a woman can be considered feminist – it is an automatic disqualification.
We all know Euron Greyjoy is an awful human being. We all know that. But he’s also not a feminist in any way shape or form – primarily because his main goal in life is to “marry the most beautiful woman in the world”. That’s it. That’s literally all this little shit wants to do. Said woman is interchangeable, so long as she’s got a pretty face, and he’s thoroughly convinced of his ability to seduce her. And, as if that weren’t enough, after deciding to marry Cersei over Daenerys (because that’s how it works, apparently), he then sought out his future bride’s brother/lover Jaime to ask him: “Does she like it gentle or rough? A finger in the bum?”
Right. Euron, you’re gross AF and we just aren’t here for it. If we were Cersei, it’d be a ‘thank you, next’ from us. Or, you know, some execution-by-wildfire. Whichever seemed most appropriate at the time.
Now, we’re the first to admit that we love Bronn. We bloody love him. But there’s no denying that he sees women as sex objects and status symbols rather than as equals, which is why he’s landed himself such a low spot on our GOT feminist rankings list.
Bran Stark literally used Meera as a donkey when they were running around Beyond the Wall, having her risk her own life to tow him and his makeshift wheelchair away from the White Walkers. Did he thank her for it? Not really, no.
If that’s no enough to warrant him a spot at the bottom of the list, he also mocked Osha for being afraid of the Catacombs. Oh, and he told Sansa she looked pretty the night she got raped, which is just… it’s just not cool, in any way, shape or form.
Ah, Melisandre. On the surface, she’s so empowered: she uses her sex as a weapon, forces us to confront our sexist views on ageing, and used a uniquely feminine strain of magic to become more powerful. And yet… well, she has an unfortunate habit of assuming all non-gendered prophecies refer to men, especially when it comes to people of power (see her inability to process the fact that Daenerys, just like Jon, could be Azor Ahai). This preference for a male interpretation, though, did not extend to her quest to locate “king’s blood” for the late Stannis Baratheon. In fact, she wasted no time in murdering his sweet, sweet daughter Shireen as part of her ritualistic sacrifice.
Yup, the sound of Shireen’s screams as she burned at the stake won’t just haunt you in your sleep: they’ll also banish any thought of Melisandre being feminist, too. Sorry.
Tyrion is one of the best GOT characters out there… but not necessarily in terms of his feminist ideals. Sure, he’s very lovely to Sansa and doesn’t force her to have sex with him after their wedding but isn’t that kind of the basic level of human decency we’d expect from anyone? We shouldn’t really be congratulating folks on their ability to avoid marital rape, now, should we?
During the first few seasons of GOT, Tyrion paid a woman to be his girlfriend and literally gave his murderous nephew a prostitute AS A PRESENT. Nowadays, he’s much better: he’s respectful of women, and seems far less likely to think with his dick. Then again, he does still play the ‘Cersei is a feeble mother’ card on a near episodic basis.
Tormund may be almost frighteningly relentless in his pursuit of Brienne, but he’s got a very healthy approach to consensual sex.
“You need to be patient,” he told Jon Snow of Ygritte. “Give her time. Your cock shouldn’t go near her till she’s slick as a baby seal.”
When Gendry learns that Arya is a girl, he treats her with the utmost respect, although he does start calling her “M’lady”. And he does lose his mind a little over Melisandre’s boobs, so much so that she’s able to overpower him and sap his blood with leeches. And yet… well, while he never outright states he’s a feminist, but it is every day implied. In his deeds and words, which are almost as perfect as his blacksmith’s body.
Hmm. Jorah is a middle-aged man, who is the first to admit that he has inappropriate feelings for a teenage dragon queen. He put her life in danger. He sabotaged her plans. He got “friend zoned”. And yet…
Well, even after being told, in no uncertain terms, that he has ZERO chance with Daenerys, he has still served her loyally and faithfully. And most guys who get friend zoned wouldn’t do that: they’d be too busy moaning about the fact that Khaleesi always goes for the bad guy and owes them sexual favours in some shape or form.
Jorah is better than that. And so he has clawed his way up the list, against this writer’s better judgement. Well done, J.
Sam is great. We’re big fans of Sam, and we have him pegged as the unlikely hero of Game of Thrones (check out the theory here). But, back in season seven, he committed the cardinal sin of entitled males everywhere: mansplaining.
It all kicked off when Gilly – who proudly taught herself to read – stumbled across the news that Rhaegar had his marriage to Elia Martell annulled, before marrying someone else in Dorne. Considering Jon’s hypnotic powers over Drogon (remember, dragons tend to sense a Targaryen’s blood as it courses through their veins) – and Bran’s flashback to Jon’s birth – and you basically have confirmation that a) Rhaegar is his dad, b) Jon isn’t a bastard because his parents were married, and c) that Jon really does know nothing.
As Gilly haltingly read out the news, though, she fell afoul of a fate that has befallen basically every women at some point in her life: a man spoke right over her.
Oh yes: Sam was far too busy waxing lyrical about his own problems to take in the fact that his BFF is basically the most legitimate heir to the Iron Throne, and instead decided to steamroll right over the show’s biggest bombshell to date. What a prince (who was promised, probably), eh?
I know what you’re thinking, but Cersei is something of a feminist icon to many. During her GOT reign, this queen has called out the sexist rules of primogeniture (“Did it ever occur to you that I might be the one who deserves your confidence and your trust… and not your sons?”), refused her father’s command to marry Loras Tyrell, gave Sansa a very frank lesson on menstruation, had sex with whomever she damn pleases, refused to play nice with anyone, and always done and said exactly what she wants.
If it weren’t for a) her handing Septa Unella over to the Mountain, and b) the fact she instantly hates all younger, beautiful women on sight (she’s convinced one of them might usurp her), she’d be perfect.
Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane
This guy fights dirty but treats all warriors, regardless of their gender, as his equal in battle. Arya may have been his hostage, but he treated her with a begrudging respect: something like a student, something like a friend. And he rescued Sansa from would-be-rapists, too.
But… well, he sees period blood as news worth reporting on. And, in telling Cersei that Sansa had flowered, he knowingly married the eldest Stark daughter off to the twisted Joffrey Lannister (it’s no thanks to Sandor that the marriage didn’t go ahead).
Varys may be a manipulative mermaid in disguise (probably), but he treats all the little chess pieces in his game as equals. But it’s worth noting that he didn’t offer Daenerys his blind allegiance in season seven. Rather, he judged her by the same standards he has done any heir, of any gender, to the Iron Throne. He analysed her deeds (not her looks or dragons). And, in doing so, he determined that she is the best queen “for the people” of Westeros. Go Varys!
Gilly is very sweet, and kind, and eager to learn. And, while some may accuse her of hero worshipping Samwell Tarly, it’s worth remembering that she defended him from his father back in season six. And it’s not as if she’s only swooning over Sam: she was every bit as respectful and awestruck by Shireen, too.
“You’re a wonderful teacher,” she told the younger girl during one of their reading lessons. “Very patient.”
Gilly taught herself to read, orchestrated her own escape from her incestuous rapist of a father, and stumbled across the true lineage of Jon Snow. She’s also a capable single mother, who’s determined to make a future for herself and her child.
So why so low on the list? Well, it’s purely down to screen-time: we see a lot less of her than the other characters. We would put you higher if we could, Gills, we promise. Maybe you can make your mark in season eight, yeah?
Davos has always, always been our favourite, ever since he became Shireen’s star pupil: he treated that little girl with the same respect her would any great ruler or Maester. But he does have a wife back somewhere that he conveniently keeps forgetting about, which is… well, it’s not great, is it?
The Night King
Has he ever done anything evil? Yes. Has he done anything sexist? Well… no, actually. Go figure. As my colleague Hannah-Rose puts it: “he takes men and women for his army of the dead! We stan a patriarchy-smashing zombie legend!”
Grey Worm gave GOT fans everywhere the feminist sex scene they’d all been waiting for when he went down on Missandei, intent entirely on bringing her to orgasm. He’s also loyal, steadfast, and responds well to female authority figures. So, yeah, he’s also an inadvertent Peeping Tom. But, and I stress again, this was inadvertent. It really was.
And can I refer your attention back to that oral sex scene? Exactly.
Loyal squire to Brienne. Pleasurer of women everywhere. ‘Nuff said, right?
Jon Snow started out as a bit of a bellend, if we’re quite honest, believing that girls were more likely to swoon over blood than boys (a fact Ygritte disputes, informing him that girls see more blood than boys due to, y’know, their periods). But he’s actually done a lot to further the feminist cause in Westeros.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
- He bought Arya her first sword, Needle, and encouraged her to learn to use it.
- He always saw Ygritte as his equal. Nay, his superior.
- He agreed with Lyanna Mormont when she suggested that he allow the women of the North to try their hand at weapons training.
Most importantly, though, Jon decided to bend the knee to Daenerys after learning she can’t have children of her own – and, in doing so, has been one of the first GoT rulers to recognise that women are so much more than the sum of their body parts. That a queen’s role does not have to be reduced to anything as base as “lie back and bring forth children for your king”. That they can rise to be so much more than the head of home and hearth. That they can be brave, and smart, and calculating.
And, above all else, that they can be rulers in their own rights, making valid and vital decisions about the future of their own people.
Yara has flirted with Daenerys. She is a fearsome ship captain. She has led throngs of hard men to free her brother Theon. And she powerfully staked her claim to the Salt Throne, too.
“We’ve never had a queen before – not once,” one shocked man responded.
“There are many things we’ve never done,” Yara replied, before giving a speech about how the Iron Islands must make their mark on the world.
To give her credit where it’s due, she very nearly convinced the people gathered at the Kingsmoot to crown their very first queen, too… until uncle Euron stomped in and ruined everything. Rude.
Arya may not always respect the choices made by other women (remember how rude she used to be to Sansa?), but she has always been consistent in her own dreams, thoughts and ideas about herself. Take, for instance, the fact that she wanted to be a warrior. She didn’t sit on her hands: instead, she confidently informed her father of her plans, dedicated herself to her daily fencing lessons, and then took herself to Braavos, where she trained as a faceless assassin.
And all of that hard work paid off, too: nowadays, she’s a fully-trained ninja squirrel with all the skills required to take down an army. Pretty tight story arc, eh?
Sansa Stark started off as the character everyone loved to hate. She was prim, and proper, and impossibly whiny. She heckled her sister for not behaving like a proper girl. She fancied Joffrey.
But Sansa has certainly grown since the heady days of season one, enduring horrible cruelties and putting up with an array of awful, awful men. Is it any wonder that, after all of that, she thoroughly refuses to take any shit from anyone? She’s refused to let anyone diminish her suffering, or skirt around the truth of what’s been done to her. She’s called Jon out for thinking with his dick. She’s teamed up with her sister to bring down Littlefinger, the human embodiment of the patriarchy. She’s been walking around Winterfell, pointing out everyone’s mistakes and doling out advice on how to prepare for winter.And she’s proven herself a fair and wise ruler, too… one who is well aware of her own worth.
To be honest, Sansa is looking like a viable contender for the Iron Throne at this point. Will she get her butt on that seat before season eight is out?
Brienne of Tarth
How do I love thee, Brienne of Tarth? Let me count the ways…
Any GOT fan worth their salt will tell you that Gwendoline Christie’s badass warrior is the truest of knights: she’s brave, loyal, honourable, tanacious, and utterly fierce in battle. She’s also unwavering in her kindness, too, and always poised and ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. In a male dominated world, she blurs gender binaries and refuses to bow to sexist stereotypes.
Instead, she blazes her own path for other women to follow – and is a source of inspiration for male and female viewers everywhere. Can we… can we just make sure she gets a lot more screen-time for the final season? Please? She’s been criminally underused up until now.
She’s the Mother of Dragons, guys: how could she not have swooped into one of the top spots?
Daenerys began her GOT story arc as an incredibly vulnerable young girl. Oppressed and essentially sold into a violent marriage by her brother, she has endured great hardships, but always come out stronger than ever. She’s taken the time to understand new cultures and societies. She respects the ways of those different to herself (unless it involves slavery, of course: then she sets them on fire). She refuses to be pushed around by any man… or woman, for that matter.
Best of all? The Khaleesi may not have the wealth of the Lannisters, or the vast fleets of the Greyjoys, or the roughness of the Starks, but she has something far better: she has the confidence and self-belief to see through her cause to the bitter end.
As she says to her legions of loyal followers: “I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the blood of Old Valyria. I am the dragon’s daughter, and I swear to you that those who would harm you will die screaming.”
Words we can all get behind, I reckon. Too bad she abandoned her best friend to hop aboard Drogon and save her own skin when they were attacked by the Sons of the Harpy, eh?
Missandei isn’t just a sex positive hero, oh no. She’s also a genius, speaks a zillion languages, is loyal to a fault, and always able to keep a calm head despite the high stress of the circumstances she faces. And, in Daenerys’ new world order, Missandei has been able to rise high above the ranks of slave and become one of the most powerful voices in the Khaleesi’s council. She sits in on all the big meetings, offers up her opinion, and respects the opinions of others. And she has forged a beautiful friendship with Daenerys, too, which is something we rarely see on our screens, let alone in GOT. Two women, working together and supporting one another. Two women, laughing together and discussing their sexual exploits without fear of judgement. Two women, smashing the Bechdel test and discussing war, politics, and history.
Also, did we mention she’s a sex positive hero? We did? Damn it.
Lyanna Mormont may be tiny, but she is every inch a legend. And, unlike pretty much everyone else on this list, has proven herself capable of one very important thing: seeing the bigger picture.
When she learned that White Walkers were threatening to cross over the Wall, Lyanna didn’t hesitate to pledge all 62 of her men (who fight with the strength of 10 mainlanders, natch) to the cause. And remember when Jon Snow informed his fellow Northerners that they needed to begin training “everyone aged 10-to-16” to “drill daily with spears, pikes, bow and arrow” – of all genders?
“You expect me to put a spear in my granddaughter’s hand?” asked an aggravated Lord Glover.
Before Jon could even open his mouth to respond, Lyanna cut in with a seriously kickass speech.
“I don’t plan on knitting by the fire while men fight for me,” snapped the 10-year-old ruler. “I might be smaller, and I might be a girl, but I am every bit a Northerner. And I don’t need your permission to defend the North. We’ll begin training every man, woman, boy, and girl on Bear Island.”
She’s wise beyond her years, she’s fair, and she’s thoroughly tenacious. She’s not had huge amounts of screen-time, but she’s always been front-and-centre of every battle and council meeting. And she’s called out every single Northerner who dared “refuse the call” in another rousing speech, too.
“Your son was butchered at the Red Wedding, Lord Manderly, but you refused the call. You swore allegiance to House Stark, Lord Glover, but in their hour of greatest need, you refused the call. And you, Lord Cerwyn, your father was skinned alive by Ramsay Bolton. Still you refused the call. But House Mormont remembers. The North remembers. We know no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark. I don’t care if he’s a bastard. Ned Stark’s blood runs through his veins. He’s my king from this day until his last day.”
Like we said, she’s a legend. We stand in the presence of a feminist icon, folks – and we can’t wait to see what she has planned for the big finale.
Game of Thrones season eight premieres on HBO in the US on 14 April and on Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the UK on 15 April.