“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
The Prince of Winterfell is the eighth episode of the second series of Game of Thrones (which means there are only two episodes left in my box set), and it has to be said that the show is increasingly beginning to grate on me. While the episode’s examination of what might make a “good” ruler is skilled enough, it doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table; creators have been asking these questions in a high fantasy setting for years, and the show’s admittedly intricate power politics feel more and more as if they’re trying to distract from the fact that it no longer knows what to do with its women.
Take Catelyn Stark. For one and a half seasons she’s been a seasoned diplomat, a skilled negotiator with a heightened sense of honour and a woman who knows exactly what is due to her as Ned Stark’s wife/widow, as well as being one of the few female characters not seen as a sex object. The Prince of Winterfell overturns all of that by having her release Jaime Lannister, secretly, in order to bargain her daughters’ freedom. Robb is furious, and the audience is supposed to agree with him, in part because we know that Arya at least is not in King’s Landing, and that therefore Catelyn’s move has been partly useless. The message seems to be that Catelyn’s motherly feelings have overwhelmed her sense of diplomacy; that her specifically womanly love has made her weak.
On its own, that might be fine: there are weak characters in the show as well as strong, and that’s one of the things that makes it compelling. But now we have to think about Danaerys Targaryen, another woman with an initially awesome, empowered character arc whose relevance as a political power is being increasingly undone by her shrill pronouncements of – wait for it – motherhood. She is convinced that her dragons are her children, and it’s this that gives her her single-minded and unnuanced focus on the Iron Throne, to the exclusion of any kind of diplomacy or tact. This feels, frankly, odd, given that her rise to khaleesi-hood was based on her ability to adjust, to take advantage of an extremely disadvantageous situation. Again, the message is clear: Danaerys’ motherhood makes her weak, and we should now be listening to the more rational, more politically aware suggestions of her male companion Ser Jorah.
There are other examples. I’m particularly annoyed that the episode saw Talisa rolling into bed with Robb Stark, effectively cancelling out her arc of “competent healer speaking truth to power” in favour of one which will undoubtedly focus on the impossibility of their relationship given the fact that Robb is already engaged – that is, her individuality has been ditched in favour of a narrative tying her incontrovertibly to a male character, one which makes her yet another sex object in a series already full of them.
The first series of Game of Thrones was addictive because it was full of clever, varied women all striving to make the best of a society that strove to limit what they could do: Westeros always felt like a world in which women and men had equal-but-different opportunities, at least in the upper classes. Now it just feels like a world which sidelines women, objectifies them, casts them as useless irritants in a deadly political game. I’m not sure any more that I’ll even bother watching the third series, let alone the fourth or the fifth.