Spoilers ahead for the series finale of Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones is a show that often prided itself on subverting tropes and throwing fan expectations for a loop, with shocking character turns and sudden deaths. When it comes to how the women were treated, though, Game of Thrones unfortunately stayed pretty predictable, all the way until the end.
In "The Iron Throne," after Jon kills Daenerys and is captured by her Unsullied forces, a council is convened to decide his and Tyrion’s fates, as well as the fate of Westeros. This is a major, defining moment for all these characters. With the Iron Throne melted down by Drogon, the council is in charge of deciding how the entire continent moves forward. We always knew the throne was a corrupting influence, shown most clearly and intimately with Cersei and Dany’s falls into extremism. With Sansa and Yara finally sitting in seats of power and flanked by Brienne and Arya, it seems like a conversation about this fact would be appropriate — those two women may have broken the world, but these women, who have suffered through so much, can help fix it. At the very least, it would make sense to openly acknowledge the impact of two of the longest-lasting, charismatic yet vengeful women on the show, while also leaving audiences with some hope that the newer generation will be wiser.
But that’s not what happened. Instead we get a long-winded speech from Tyrion about the importance of telling stories and the election of Bran as King of the Six Kingdoms. Despite Cersei having a hand in nearly all of their suffering, she is not once mentioned. Dany’s legacy and death is not really reckoned with either, outside of being used to close out Grey Worm, Tyrion, and Jon’s story arcs in what unfortunately just ends up feeling like a fridging of her character. Arya and Yara snipe at each other. Sansa, in a moment that is very much framed as being jealous of Bran, asks for the North to be kept separate, and that passes without any discussion.
In many ways, Game of Thrones is a show about the cyclical nature of life, and that scene, full of pettiness and in-fighting, feels like a return to established norms. Poor Sam being laughed down from proposing democracy proves that this isn’t a world ready for major change. But at the same time, it seems like the narrative was more concerned in the end with re-establishing how catty women can be rather than letting them stand as reasonable leaders in their own right. Why is Yara’s entire plot reduced to her just being threatened by Arya? Why isn’t Sansa’s statement of Northern independence given more weight? It makes little sense that Sansa’s declaration doesn’t spurn a council-wide discussion, especially when the Iron Islands have desired independence for years and Dorne is already pretty removed from Westerosi rule.
The entire scene hinges on Tyrion being the one to drive the conversation forward, with him crucially suggesting they create a sort of electoral college. But shouldn’t that have come from Sansa, the woman who suffered acutely under the Iron Throne and knows best the benefits of living independently? Grey Worm told Tyrion to stay silent, so why didn’t the writers have Sansa, who Tyrion acknowledged as his equal, be the one to voice that idea? She already asked for independence anyway, and considering her connection to both Theon and Cersei, she could have addressed Yara and the Prince of Dorne directly about what they’ve been through. Sansa, who was mocked, underestimated, and silenced for the entirety of the show, was in a unique position to bring everyone into the fold and open up a discussion on the future of Westeros. The final image of her sitting on her throne as Queen in the North could have felt even more triumphant because she had a direct hand in orchestrating a new world order. Instead, its framed like she simply got away with her selfish request, the last Stark left alone in Winterfell.
And what about Arya, one of the only characters on the council to travel to far off lands and see how other cities are run? With audiences being robbed of most of the scenes of cooperation between the two Stark sisters last season, wouldn’t now have been the time for both to speak up and collaborate onscreen? Or Brienne, who has suffered through all sorts of indignities at the hands of nobles? You would think they would have something to contribute to the conversation, but instead the men took center stage and Brienne utters just a single word.
There’s also the fact that we’re left without knowing of the fates of two women who could’ve stood to make an appearance at that council: Meera Reed and Ellaria Sand. We weren’t actually shown that either died, with Meera returning to Greywater Watch and Cersei promising to keep Ellaria alive in the dungeons in Season 7. Meera was integral to keeping Bran safe during his journey, and with the Prince of Dorne there, it seems Ellaria’s fate at least deserves a mention. Considering Meera and Ellaria were both rightfully angry the last time we saw them, you’d think they’d both have plenty to say about Bran leading a united kingdom. But neither are brought up, even though apparently Howland Reed is sitting right there.
Not only does Tyrion’s election of Bran end up silencing the rest of the women at that council, it also opens up an entirely new set of concerns: is King’s Landing even a functional head of government anymore? Who lives there? Here is where it’s difficult to tell how much blame can be laid at the feet of show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss versus author George R. R. Martin, who gave them a rough outline for the end of the books early on. It’s clear that somewhere in between Points A and B, certain plots and characters got lost in translation. And in the end, in a world not ready for democracy, Bran, who has no worldly desires and an infinite knowledge of humans’ failings, is not the worst option to lead Westeros. It’s just unfortunate that his rise comes at the expense of the women being able to fully discuss and close out their own character arcs.
In the end, we get some final scenes of Brienne writing Jaime’s story in the Book of Brothers and then going down to a council meeting, where she has to gently remind Bronn that ships are probably more of a priority than brothels. These scenes are both humorous and sad, the final notes on a show that never quite figured out how to fully center its women.
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