WARNING: This article contains *Spoilers* for the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Continue at your own peril, you have been warned.
The latest episode of HBO's Game of Thrones is undeniably brilliant. Beautifully shot, expertly written, and brilliantly executed, it might just be the best episode yet. It's not hard to love a show like Game of Thrones, and looking at the growth of its characters over six seasons only aids in fueling that love. Despite the growth of all characters on the show, it's the female characters I'm interested in here.
A show as successful as this is bound to have come across its fair share of "haters" and over its six-season run, Game of Thrones has been heavily criticized for its treatment of female characters. Looking closely though, it's obvious that while the show has some issues with its treatment of women, it also has a significant number of success stories for its leading ladies. Sure, they've hit some snags and bumps along the road, but these women are nothing if not persistent, and it's that persistence that has led to such amazing growth and development.
Lady Lyanna Mormont (a.k.a. Tiny Little Firecracker)
This tiny little powerhouse garnered the support of the entire Game of Thrones fanbase in just one scene. With her young head held high, Lady Lyanna Mormont entrusted a small amount of men to Sansa Stark and Jon Snow for their battle to reclaim Winterfell from Ramsay Bolton. Though they seemed displeased with the amount of men she offered them, she ensured them her soldiers were fierce and brave — her words defensive yet strong. She may be small, and one of the youngest characters on the show, but her intelligence and bravery make her a force to be reckoned with. She's burdened with a responsibility no young child should have and as a result appears tough, sarcastic, and somewhat cold.
When you compare her to some of the other younger characters on the show, she's certainly significantly more refined and experienced than they are. Lady Lyanna knows a lot more about strategy and bravery than the ever-protected and somewhat soppy King Tommen, and she's infinitely braver than new Three-Eyed Raven, Bran Stark. She's an incredibly strong character with a hell of a lot of potential, so it'll be interesting to see where her character goes next and how she grows and improves as she gets older.
To have a character be as strong-minded and strong-willed as Lady Lyanna from the get-go is quite a setup; and although she's young, she is more than mighty and is a prime example of how well this show writes its characters.
Yara Greyjoy (Future Queen Of The Iron Islands)
Yara Greyjoy — future queen and leader, a native of the Iron Islands, and sister of Theon Greyjoy — is a rising force on the show. We've seen her disrespected, disregarded and dismissed in her own home because she's a woman. The people around her are in favor of literally any male character over her, but that hasn't stopped her. Her intelligence is far superior to that of many of the Iron Born, which is something that — although we didn't get to see it a lot in past seasons — we're starting to see more of now. Her idea to make a pact with the Dragon Queen might just have been the smartest decision made by a Greyjoy yet. Though Dany doesn't yet rule the Seven Kingdoms, with three dragons, entire cities to her name, and a growing army, she's their best bet. Seeking an alliance with her was a risky move, but Yara never doubted it, and it looks to have paid off. From one Queen overcoming patriarchy to another, Dany and Yara have made quite the bond in their short time knowing one another.
One thing that's important to note about Yara is that, unlike some of the other women on the show, Yara is queer. She's seen in Episode 6 kissing and canoodling — for lack of a better word — with a woman shortly before knocking some sense into Theon via a feisty pep talk. Yara is openly queer, engaging in these acts in front of her brother and her people, something we've not seen a prominent female character on the show do before, and something that's quite honestly refreshing. Game of Thrones isn't shy about sex scenes; over its six-season run we've seen a ton of them, and having a woman at the forefront is turning the tables for the better.
She's determined to make her mark on the Iron Born and rule, and her new pact with Daenerys should definitely ensure that. Here's to the Yara Greyjoys of the world; the fearsome warriors with the determination and drive to triumph over patriarchy.
Cersei Lannister (a.k.a. Big Firecracker)
Unlike the other ladies on this list, Cersei began this series in power. She was feared, she was powerful and she was confident. She had almost everything she wanted, and if she didn't, she could get it at the drop of a dime. Unfortunately, her story took a downturn when she was made to atone for her sins in her naked walk of shame. In addition, the fearsome queen and loving mother has had two of her children murdered, losing two out of the possible four people she loves the most (her children and her brother Jaime). Despite being beaten down and brought to her lowest point, Cersei's story is one of perseverance and strength. The Lannisters aren't a well-liked family, and Cersei is probably the most hated of them all. Through her hardship, Cersei — an expert at "playing the game of thrones" — has learned quite a bit.
The privileged life she had before gave her power, but with all that stripped away, Cersei is learning how to take that power back. It's not an inheritance, it's not a birthright or a hand-me-down; it's something she wants, and when Cersei wants something she gets it.
At the moment, Cersei's stuck between a rock and a hard place. She isn't able to swan around and flash her authority like she used to, but this isn't a woman who will surrender completely. Choosing violence, the Cersei we knew from before is slowly returning, and that Cersei won't go down without a fight.
Although some think Cersei won't make it past her upcoming trail, best believe she's still got some fight left.
Arya Stark Of Winterfell (NOT To Be Confused With 'A Girl')
If anyone ever doubted Arya Stark, they were fools. The rebellious, strong-willed Stark child from Season 1 has had an intense journey over the show's six seasons. She's been on the run, she's been the captive of the Hound, and has been training with the Faceless Assassins for quite some time. The culmination of her journey came with episode 8 of Game of Thrones. After a two-season long attempt to renounce her name and become "no one," Arya finally admitted that she isn't no one; that she can't be no one; that is she is Arya Stark of Winterfell and that finally, finally, she's going home. (Stark reunion?)
She's been on her own since she was a child, fending for herself, and doing what she could to survive. With her trusted sword Needle by her side for a lot of her journey, Arya is a character who's had to grow from a child into an adult ridiculously quickly. She was thrust into the world alone, and through her own strength, perseverance and determination, has managed to survive. We may well see her reunite with Jon and Sansa at Winterfell. She's a character that's gone from strength to strength and, with her latest admonition, has taken the final steps in realizing her true purpose. No longer a child, Arya Stark is finally getting to make her own decisions, and going back to Winterfell is the best one yet.
Daenerys Targaryen (The Rising Dragon Queen)
Rising Dragon Queen Dany is a fan favorite on the show for a number of reasons, the most prominent probably being that she has dragons; three of them, to be specific. Dragons aside, Daenerys is an incredibly strong character with the conviction and drive to actually make a difference and attain her goals. When we first met her, she was but a child. A young girl about to be married to a hulking Dothraki Khal. She was weak and powerless and largely controlled by her brother Viserys.
She has, however, had the comeback of a lifetime since Drogo's unfortunate death in Season 1. It's taken her a while, but she's been slowly working her way up, gaining power, and most importantly gaining support. Her insistence on abolishing slavery in every city she conquers, for the most part, gets her the vote of (most of) the people, which is something she'll need if she hopes to rule. You can't rule people who don't like you, and with Dany, in addition to building her army and her forces, is gaining trust and support. She's making allies (Tyrion, Varys, Yara, Theon to name a few), all of whom can only aid her in her quest to "break the wheel" and take the Seven Kingdoms.
She's been underestimated for so long, that tales of an emerging queen reaching the ears of those in King's Landing were often cast aside as fiction. But with each passing day, Dany rises in strength, followers and allies, and with the knowledge and insight of so many trusted advisers around her, she's sure to be on the path to success. She's buried a husband and a child, and a history of oppression and persecution behind her, but — a true queen at heart — she has triumphed over all her oppressors, coming out on top.
Make no mistake, Daenerys is a force to be reckoned with. With or without her dragons.
Sansa Stark (NOT To Be Mislabelled As Lady Bolton!)
While Dany has had the comeback of a lifetime, Lady Sansa is the ultimate comeback story of six seasons of Game of Thrones. After a culmination of countless episodes in which people control her, decide her fate, abuse, rape, and torture her, Sansa Stark has made quite the turnaround. Unlike Arya, Sansa was never rebellious or "strong." She was idealistic and naive and learned the hard way just how painful the game of thrones can be. She knows what it feels like to be a pawn.
She did what she needed to do to survive, and through all her trauma she learned a hell of a lot. Sansa never wanted to play the game, but circumstances dictated that she had to, and as she's grown we've seen her improve. She's gone from weak to strong over her six-season run, with her marriage to the insufferable Ramsay Bolton being the tipping point of her story arc and development. Suffering at the hands of Ramsay — although traumatic and likely unforgettable — shaped Sansa into a character who can overcome adversity. She's pushed through those adverse circumstances, using her knowledge and everything she's learned so far to make the biggest and most important move in her life to date.
Check out Sansa telling Ramsey what's what in the clip below:
I think we can safely agree that without Sansa, it's likely Jon would've died (again), along with what's left of the wildings and any remaining men. She's become an incredibly brave character who's learned to play the game the hard way. Now back in her home, Winterfell, she has an incredible opportunity to rule and fulfill her true potential. Here's hoping she continues to go from strength to strength.
Of course, this is just a look at the women featured prominently in the latest episode, but across the board the show makes wonderful use of characters like Margaery, Olenna, Brienne, Melisandre, Missandei and Ellaria. All of whom continue to rise in the ranks as the show shifts from a largely male dominated Seven Kingdoms to a Queendom.
Check out the promo for Episode 10, "The Winds of Winter," the Season 6 finale, below:
The season finale of Game of Thrones airs on Sunday.