Welcome (or welcome back) to a feature that used to be a staple here at NGN: our weekly discussion of my favorite moment in each episode of Game of Thrones! I took some time off from this feature because the show itself had become too violent for me to handle on a week-to-week basis, but I have returned from that hiatus feeling more excited than ever before to talk about the world (and especially the women) of Westeros with all of you!
The Moment: A call for equality in the North
Setting the Scene: As Jon settles into his role as King in the North, he makes a proclamation that all Northerners—including girls and women—should be trained to defend themselves and their lands. When his judgment in this matter is called into question, Lyanna Mormont makes the case for the women of the North to be trained to fight for what’s theirs.
Why It’s Awesome: “Dragonstone” was a reminder that Game of Thrones is at its best when its female characters are allowed to be women of action—exactly the kind of women Jon calls them to be in this moment. This scene was the perfect example of the fact that this world may have its rigid gender norms, but it is also populated by women who defy those norms outright or use those norms to change the game from the inside.
The three main women in this scene—Lyanna, Brienne, and Sansa—all represent women who are willing to fight for what matters to them. As Lyanna made her case, I was once again struck by the thought that I’d follow that girl into battle today if she asked me. The confidence and strength she possesses are so clear that no man—no matter how old or how powerful—would dare challenge her. And I loved the way the camera cut to Brienne during her speech. The slight smile on Gwendoline Christie’s face said it all; in this girl, Brienne sees a kindred spirit, and in this place, she has finally found somewhere to belong. She’s no longer a freak; she’s exactly who Jon wants the women of Winterfell to aspire to be as they train. The affectionate pride Christie showed in her reaction to Lyanna’s speech was such a small but powerful nod to the fact that Brienne may be a warrior, but she has a gentle and kind heart—a heart that is devoted to protecting and serving other strong women.
I also liked that the camera cut to Sansa when Lyanna talked about not letting other people fight for her. Just because Sansa isn’t skilled with a sword, that doesn’t mean she’s not a fighter. She uses a different skill set—words and appearances, courtesy and strategy—but she is every bit as fierce as Lyanna and Brienne. And as she proved by bringing the Knights of the Vale to the Battle of the Bastards, she’s not one to sit around and let other people fight her battles, either. She may not hold a sword or a bow, but she is still a force to be reckoned with.
It makes sense for Winterfell—under the watchful eye of Jon—to be a place where women are treated as equals in combat. Jon has always been a champion of strong women—even as far back as his close relationship with Arya before everything went to hell. And once he fell in love with Ygritte, he became even more convinced that women could fight just as fiercely in battle—and die just as bravely—as men. Jon’s time with Ygritte changed him forever, and it changed him for the better. Her spirit was in that room with Jon when he promised to put a sword or a spear into the hands of every person in the North, and she would have been proud of him in that moment.
“Dragonstone” allowed the women of Westeros to shine in all their complex, fierce, and frightening glory. Just as Lyanna, Brienne, and Sansa are all strong women but none show their strength in exactly the same way, the other prominent female characters in this world are also uniquely strong and powerful, and this episode focused on each of them as women with an incredible amount of agency who now face the question of what to do with it. Jon gave all the Northern women a kind of agency by proclaiming that they will learn to fight for themselves, but the main female players in this episode didn’t need any kind of proclamation to do so. From Cersei and Sansa to Arya and Daenerys, these women play the game on their own terms and won’t back down when challenged—whether it’s by an enemy (Arya slaying all the Freys in the episode’s most badass moment) or by someone who they believe means well but doesn’t know the world the way they do (both Cersei and Sansa dealing with brothers who disagree with their methods of trying to protect their worlds). These women are fighters in every way a person can be—using their swords, their wits, their sexuality, and any other weapon at their disposal to get the job done and done their way. And when one achieves a victory (like Daenerys finally coming home in one of the single most emotionally satisfying and cinematically beautiful scenes in the series), it’s her victory—not anyone else’s.
As the final battlefields are set and the final chess pieces are moved into play, one thing has become crystal clear: The women of Westeros will fight for what’s theirs, and they’re not to be underestimated.
Honorable Mentions: Arya takes out all the male Freys, Sansa shuts down Littlefinger, Euron pledges his two good hands to Cersei, Sandor deals with his guilt, Daenerys finally comes home