But We Are Not Men: Female Warriors and Weaponized Femininity in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones

It is inarguable that Westeros is a patriarchal world, and one that creates difficulties for women who wish to rise above the stereotypical “womanly” pursuits of marriage, childbirth, or the life of a nun. Even highborn ladies are kept away from war and politics unless necessary. There are, however, many female characters in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones who attempt to subvert or work against this male-dominated system in two major ways. Some do so by embracing and attempting to become a part of the male-dominated fields of martial combat and warfare with varying results, while others are bereft of this opportunity to abandon ‘proper’ courtly behaviour and must make do by learning to use their feminine attributes to their advantage. Female warriors will be examined through a thorough study of Brienne of Tarth, Daenerys Targaryen, and Arya Stark, while weaponized femininity will examine Cersei Lannister, Margaery Tyrell, and Sansa Stark. These differing approaches to survival for women in Westeros will be examined and compared to medieval examples to show how George R. R. Martin has used medieval culture and a deep understanding of female struggles to deepen his female characters in A Song of Ice and Fire – because, in the words of G. R. R. M. himself, “I have always considered women to be people”.

There are innumerable things that make Game of Thrones so appealing to the masses. Some would and have argued that the “adult” nature of the series (sex and violence), both in its television and book forms, are what draws in the audience so deeply. Others say that it’s the intensity and grey morality of the characters and the complexity of the world-building, or the quasi-medieval setting. While there is truth in each of these, there is one thing that stands out among the rest as a cool-factor for Game of Thrones: George R. R. Martin’s Strong Female Characters ™. This is a trope that has been done to death in many genres, the most prominent being superhero films and comic books, action films, and of course, fantasy. In and of itself, this trope is not problematic. It does however start to raise issues when the idea of “strength” is associated with societally accepted masculine characteristics, dismissing the feminine as weak or lesser.

The most notable way that Martin makes use of this trope in ASOIAF is through his female warrior characters. It is also important to note that through these characters, Martin also subverts the trope. These characters are incredibly complex, and while they have the appearance of the stereotypical Strong Female Character, they have many more facets that make them strong outside of their knightly or warrior status. This trope is one of the many ways that Martin illustrates how the female characters within his created world navigate the treacherous waters of patriarchal medievalist society.

Here we see the Stark sisters in their natural habitat.

It is absolutely no surprise that Martin employs this type of character in his mythos, as the image of a lady knight, or woman warrior, is one that is extremely appealing to both men and women, while continuing to construct a medieval setting and narrative. This is evidenced by the popularity of the characters that fit into this trope, and the fairly misogynistic discourse within fandom on the characters that are in tensionwith this trope. This can be aptly illustrated by the tension between Arya and Sansa Stark, both within the narrative, and the fandom discourse surrounding both characters.

There are numerous characters within A Song Of Ice And Fire and the Game of Thrones TV series that fit the bill of the female warrior. For example, Arya Stark (a fan favourite), Brienne of Tarth (the girl who can kick any knight’s ass), The Sand Snakes (Oberyn Martell’s badass daughters), Asha/Yara Greyjoy (Theon’s way cooler younger sister), Ygritte of the Free Folk (Jon Snow’s lady love that never lets him forget that he knows nothing), the ladies of House Mormont (Ser Jorah’s lady relatives), and of course, Daenerys Targaryen (Khaleesi of our hearts), all stand out within the narrative as having military or warrior roles. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but speaks to George R. R. Martin’s (and our own) fascination with women warriors.

No one, The Maid, and Mother of Dragons.

No one, The Maid, and Mother of Dragons.

Amongst these characters, there are three that are at the forefront of the narrative in their woman warrior role: Arya Stark, Brienne of Tarth, and to a lesser degree, Daenerys Targaryen. George R. R. Martin draws his inspiration for these women warriors from both history and literature, with Joan of Arc contributing much of the imagery for both Arya and Brienne. Dany is a little bit harder to define, as she acts as a bridge between the Strong Female Character women warriors and women who weaponize their femininity, and finds her historical inspirations in medieval queens rather than warriors. Through exploring their motivations, character depictions in both the television series and the books, and possible historical parallels, it becomes clear how Martin both employs and subverts the Strong Female Character trope through his female warriors.

Perhaps the most popular Stark among fans, Arya is one of the most clear-cut women warriors in ASOIAF and Game of Thrones. From the very beginning of the narrative, Arya is painted as a foil to her older sister Sansa. There is a great deal of tension between them, which is deeply evident throughout the first novel (A Game of Thrones) and the first season of HBO’s television series.

Arya often finds herself in Sansa's shadow when it comes to feminine crafts.

Arya often finds herself in Sansa’s shadow when it comes to feminine crafts.

The root of this tension appears to be in the way the sisters differ in how they present themselves. Sansa presents the more “traditional” feminine characteristics, and a proclivity for traditionally feminine crafts. She is very excited about the prospect of a marriage (4:49-5:48) to a prince and moving away from her snowy home in Winterfell to the sunny capital of King’s Landing.

Arya, on the other hand, is quite disenchanted with the idea of Prince Joffrey, to put it lightly.1 There is also notable resentment toward Sansa because of her talent with the feminine arts. This resentment toward Sansa is visually evident by Arya’s disdain for the praise Sansa receives for her sewing work, in the video clip above. The contrast between the two Stark sisters is striking, even from the very beginning of the narrative. They appear to be opposites on a spectrum.

Our very first view of Arya in the television series illustrates her role and character trajectory perfectly, especially because it features Arya’s distinct interest in martial activities, and introduces the special relationship that she has with her brothers. This scene displays Arya’s talent at a traditionally male activity, and tells the audience that she is better than her brother Bran, who is desperately trying to prove himself. There is also a nice contrast with the beginning of the scene, which shows the girls inside doing needlework. Arya hears her brothers outside and decides to join them; it is almost symbolic of her future departure from her home and the life planned for her, to the life of a warrior and assassin that she ends up pursuing.

Arya’s aptitude toward martial arts is furthered when her half-brother Jon gives her a sword, which continues on to be a large part of her identity as her arc progresses. Jon transgresses societal norms with this gift; an act not forgotten by Arya when her father asks her where she got it.2 Not only does this gift allow Arya to flourish into her warrior identity,but also symbolizes the special relationship that she has with her half-brother – a connection seemingly absent from her relationship with Sansa. He is willing to bend the rules for her, so that she can feel a part of the martial activities. This is echoed again by Ned when he organizes sword-fighting lessons for Arya when they are in the capital.

Arya ties much of her desire to live outside of the expected path for her life to her sword, Needle. The most fascinating part of this attachment to her weapon is that she clings to something traditionally masculine

Arya and Needle.

Arya and Needle.

because she feels as though she does not or cannot fit into the feminine role prescribed for her by Westerosi society, and being a highborn lady.3 However, it is also important to point out that Arya names her sword for an instrument used in sewing, a traditionally feminine activity that she does not have the aptitude for. While a sword is typically associated with male martial activities, Arya associates it with a feminine craft. She holds onto shreds of femininity even within the context of a masculine identity.

It is also imperative to note that in spite of the societal pressures on young Westerosi women (especially highborn women) to learn the ways of running a household, Ned Stark allows Arya to pursue her interest in sword fighting by hiring a Baavosi “water dancing” instructor named Syrio Forel, in order for her to learn sword fighting in the proper way. Syrio is sure to point out in this scene that Arya’s gender does not matter when it comes to sword fighting, a sentiment that Arya did not soon forget. It is through these lessons that Arya really comes into her own and has some of her most formative experiences. It is her relationship with Syrio, and later Jaqen H’ghar (another Braavosi warrior) that solidify Arya’s eventual journey to Braavos to seek a position as a member of the Faceless Men, a brotherhood of assassins, which is where we leave her at the end of season 4 of HBO’s TV series. It is in Braavos where we see Arya find an “official” position as a warrior.

This raises some interesting thoughts about the contrast between the north and the south in Westeros, in regards to women as warriors, especially when one considers characters like Asha Greyjoy and the ladies of House Mormont, and even Ygritte of the Free Folk, in addition to Arya. It appears that northern women have more agency when it comes to participating in combat, than those of the south, who participate more actively in the political arena than the martial one.

As Arya makes her journey further into her role as a warrior, she embraces more and more masculinity. The catalyst for this change is the death of her father Ned Stark. In order to return to her mother safely, Arya must disguise herself as a boy and travel with those on their way to the Wall to take the Black (9:37).

With her hair cut short and boy’s clothes, Arya takes on a new identity as the lowborn boy Arry, and begins to seek revenge on those who have wronged her or her family.

She finds agency and safety in her masculine appearance, and the arguable rejection of “feminine” things. Caroline Spector argues that Arya’s “willingness to throw off her gender demonstrates her understandings of the workings of power in her world”.4 Arya’s venture into the role of a warrior is an act of political defiance in the face of an indisputably patriarchal social system. It is a rejection of her prescribed destiny and a demonstration of the desire for agency.

Valar morghulis.

Valar morghulis.

Over the course of the current television canon, we see Arya commit several acts of violence, which display her stark (pun intended) contrast to the traditional expectations of a highborn lady. They are the acts of a warrior, and not a lady. However, they are in tension with what we would consider to be the romantic image of the chivalric knight. She is ferocious and unapologetic in her acts; she is driven by a thirst for vengeance and she is satisfied by nothing but blood (8:15). Not the kind of knight likely to be found at Arthur’s Round Table, as we view it.

Much like Arya, Brienne of Tarth finds safety in her role as a warrior and knight. However, rather than rejecting femininity in favour of pursuing her martial interests, Brienne has no other choice but to attempt to find a place amongst knights. Brienne is not the typical image of beauty or femininity, towering above almost all she meets, “freakish big”5 she reminds readers. It is her physical appearance that bars her from

Brienne of Tarth.

Brienne of Tarth.

feminine things. She is too big, too ugly, to ever be a lady. She doesn’t fit the mould, and so she breaks it and forms her own path, employing the masculine role of knight as her outlet. Brienne operates within the liminal space between the prescribed gender roles of her society. George R. R. Martin illustrates this perfectly with Podrick being unsure as to how he should address Brienne, as either ‘Ser’ or ‘My lady’.6

Spector aptly points out how different Brienne is from both Arya and Sansa.7 While this is definitely true, Spector also draws attention to the similarity between the romantic ideals of Brienne and Sansa.8 It is Brienne’s romantic view of the role of knight (much like our own) that forms her identity. Brienne wants to be a hero – she wants to protect others and earn respect. She finds her worth in her abilities to fight.

She is honourable and loyal, almost to a fault, a hamartia that is fitting for a knight found in a 12th century romance. This is the kind of knight that Brienne chooses and strives to be. She pledges herself wholly to the people she loves. She swears oaths, and keeps them. She carries herself with dignity, in spite of the way her male peers and basically everyone else she comes into contact with (with the exception of Renly Baratheon, and of course Olenna Tyrell in the television series, and a couple others) treats her. She gives herself in service without thought for her own safety; she always puts others before herself. Brienne is driven by love. It is her love for Renly that encourages her to become a part of his Kingsguard.

This scene is the first glimpse that we have of Brienne in the television series. She is shown as having martial prowess, beating the handsome Loras Tyrell (whom we discover, is the beloved of Renly) in melee combat.

We see this prowess again and again throughout both the show and the books, Brienne besting nearly every opponent that stands in her way. “Men will always underestimate you,” Ser Goodwin tells her.9 And its true – but it becomes her greatest strength.

She herself gives us a glimpse of this talent, when she describes how the gods blessed her with speed and stamina, which had been deemed “noble” gifts.10 She recalls her past battle experience with each new opponent, and uses it to her advantage. In spite of her natural talent, Brienne is often written off by men that she encounters. An excellent example of this is her interaction with Ser Hyle,11 and again with Randyll Tarly, in A Feast for Crows.12

Brienne and The Hound engaged in a duel in the season 4 finale.

Brienne and The Hound engaged in a duel in the season 4 finale.

Brienne and her contrast with Arya are fascinating. She dwells within the liminal space between man and woman, as prescribed by Westerosi society. Arya does this as well by assuming a male identity for her safety. So what does this mean in relation to their medieval context? How does Martin employ medievalism through them? While men largely occupied the role of knight in the medieval period, women often performed martial duties as well. An excellent example is the tradition of the shield maidens in Norse tradition, which were far more common than previously believed.13 Brienne often finds herself on “side-quests” during her journey to find Arya and Sansa, which is reminiscent of the adventures of the lady knight Britomart in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.14

Of course, Martin does not use one-to-one allegory for historical events or figures in his books, but rather patches together several different ones to form his complex characters. There is however one clear

Joan of Arc by John Everett Millais

Joan of Arc by John Everett Millais

inspiration, whose characteristics can be found within both Brienne and Arya – Joan of Arc, teenaged girl, acclaimed military leader and hero of The Hundred Years’ War, and convicted heretic.

Joan of Arc is perhaps the most famous woman warrior figure of the medieval period. Countless films and novels have been created to retell her story, and George R. R. Martin is no different. One of the most striking similarities among the three heroines, is of course their youth. Joan describes during her trial that she was just 13 years old when she received her first revelation.15 Arya is the third youngest Stark child, still very young when our narrative begins, making her descent into violence all the more shocking. Joan also describes that she wore men’s clothes and carried a sword,16 which of course is one of the clearest connections that she bears to Arya and Brienne. While each of the heroines don male dress for different reasons, it allows them agency and safety, through blurring the lines between prescribed gender roles.

Joan of Arc wrote a letter to the King of England, demanding that he relinquish his claim to France, or he would “always recall the damages which will attend [him]”.17 Her rhetoric in this letter is astounding. She speaks with authority, and her threats are chilling. While religiously motivated, with political goals, Joan does not shy away from exerting the justice of God, even through violence. Joan’s tenacity and ferocity is echoed through both Arya and Brienne, regardless of how different each of their motivations are. This letter also refers to Joan as “The Maid”, which is an interesting connection to Brienne’s epithet of “The Maid of Tarth”.

So where does Daenerys fall on this scale? How does she fit in with the woman warrior of the medieval period? She doesn’t – at least not the way that Brienne and Arya do. Dany does indeed make war, and wreck havoc upon those who oppose her or stand in her way, but she does not fall outside of the gender role prescribed to her. Daenerys is a queen, a khaleesi, and a force to be reckoned with.

Mother of Dragons.

Mother of Dragons.

She takes up her birthright as the “true” heir to the Iron Throne, and doles out justice the way she sees fit, most notably when she allows her dragon Dracarys to burn a particularly terrible slaver after a string of definitively vulgar comments.

Dany, however does not actively or directly participate in combat the way that Brienne and Arya do, outside of eradicating men who sell her short, like in the scene above. Men often underestimate her, and assume she can be bought or bargained with so that they can get what they want from her.

Dany does not back down, or shrink away. She finds a great deal of her inspiration from medieval queens like Eleanor of Aquitaine, who encouraged her own sons to revolt against their father to gain control of the kingdom.18 Daenerys does the same with her dragons; they are the key to her success as a ruler, and act as a means of giving authenticity to her claim to the Iron Throne, and connection to her family heritage.

She utilizes the talents of those with martial experience around her (Jorah Mormont, Ser Barristan Selmy, and Daario Naharis) to carry out her battle plans. They facilitate her rise to power, and teach her.

Daenerys and Daario Naharis.

Daenerys and Daario Naharis.

Because of this, she acts as a bridge between women warriors and women who weaponize their femininity as a means of exercising their power. She does not need to give up her femininity in order to enter into the masculine martial realm, but occupies a masculine role of military leader while maintaining her feminine identity.

While there are female warriors in Westeros who manage to successfully enter the martial world and represent feminine strength and prowess, these characters are the exception rather than the rule. Female warriors in Westeros – even successful ones such as Brienne of Tarth – are often considered odd or unnatural by men, and their identity is usually questioned or contested. How, then, do the women of Westeros with no opportunity or desire for martial prowess find power in a world determined to keep them powerless? The term “weaponized femininity” is apt here, but what exactly does it mean? By investigating Cersei, Margaery, Sansa, and Melisandre and comparing their actions to those of medieval women, we can see how George R. R. Martin uses medievalism both to highlight the struggles of his female characters and to develop the weapons at their disposal. As a writer who identifies as a feminist,19 his focus on female characters is coming from a place of respect, which leads to constructive examination of their strengths.

Our three favourite ladies.

Our three favourite ladies.

Cersei Lannister represents a catastrophic failure at gaining feminine power. She resents her lack of autonomy, but she lacks the means to truly take it for herself because of the high position of her family. Unlike Brienne or Arya, Cersei would lose all claims to her house if she attempted to subvert Westeros’ traditional gender roles. This makes her volatile and reckless, and she uses dangerous methods to weaponize her feminine attributes – she attempts to use the position of Queen Regent for her son to gain power, and she also uses her sexual allure to control the men (and sometimes even women) around her.Cersei-Lannister-cersei-lannister-33984979-1200-910In these ways, she bears a striking resemblance to the infamous medieval queen Eleanor of Aquitaine – a ruthless ambition to rule, a disregard for male authority, and a fierce love for her children – however, she unfortunately lacks much of Eleanor’s intelligence.20 She also has various similarities to Anne Boleyn, with her lack of popularity with the masses, occasional cruelty, and of course the accusation of incest,21 or even Isabella of France, a queen with an exceedingly bad reputation for cruelty and adultery who was used as a pawn in her father’s political machinations from the age of four.22 However, it can also be argued that she is none of these women, and instead a hybrid of many medieval queens, all combined into one angry individual.

Cersei is a fascinating figure in terms of weaponized femininity. She wishes fiercely that she could wield male power, to the point of obsession – she has what can be argued as power-induced gender dysphoria. She quite literally dreams about sitting the Iron Throne.23 She considers martial prowess to be the only thing that she lacks to gain complete authority, and

Cersei's dream, which clearly shows her political motivations.

A Feast For Crows, p. 64.

cersei quote 2

A Dance With Dragons, p. 789.

she longs to be seen as the heir to Casterly Rock before her brother Jaime, who has no interest in the title. Her father Tywin has no intent of making her the heir to anything, and instead he uses her for various political marriages to further his own connections, none of which Cersei truly consents to. Historically, medieval women were given a place in the social hierarchy that kept them far from politics and war.24 They were often used by their male relatives to create political alliances through marriage, and even those who were married to powerful men were usually not given a share of that power.25 There were of course exceptions, but they were few and often gained bad reputations; women who held political power alone were often disliked or even feared, and usually they did not hold power for long. George R. R. Martin uses this system in A Song of Ice and Fire, and Cersei is a perfect example of a woman who resents it passionately.

As many medieval queens did, Cersei was forced to endure harsh treatment from her husband Robert Baratheon. This did not break her spirit, but instead it fueled her rage and desire for power. Seeing the result of male incompetence as deep as Robert’s only seems to strengthen her resolve, and she is firmly convinced that she would make a better ruler.

Cersei must use secretive means to undermine Robert’s power, culminating in her arranging his death. This puts Joffrey on the throne – and in both the medieval and Westerosi mindsets, even a child ruler or a mad king is better than a queen with sole power, and Joffrey is both.26 The idea of a mother killing her husband to put her son on the throne is also borrowed from historical precedent by Martin. Eleanor of Aquitaine planned a revolt against her husband to get her sons on the throne,9 and even in the Classical period Agrippina the Younger was thought to have poisoned her husband so that her son Nero would be emperor of Rome.27

Unsurprisingly, Cersei’s attempt to rule the Seven Kingdoms through Joffrey ends in failure, as his willful nature leads to him rejecting her assistance; this is often the case with medieval regents when their sons come of age and marry. In the end, she loses control of him, and she even admits it to herself and to Tyrion . This loss of control largely coincides with the entrance of Joffrey’snew bride-to-be, Margaery Tyrell, who directly threatens Cersei’s power. Cersei is forced to use whatshe considers a woman’s most powerful weapon – seduction. She is prepared to use it on anyone, and use it she does – she uses it to control Jaime, Lancel, the Kettleblacks, and even Taena Merryweather. She also attempts to use it to bring down Margaery, her biggest rival, by persuading Osney Kettleblack to seduce her. Instead, under torture by the High Septon, he admits to having an affair with Cersei. This shows the danger of sexual allure as a female weapon – a woman’s reputation often hinges on her sexual purity in the medieval world, and while she succeeds in tarnishing Margaery’s reputation, she brings herself down in the process. Margaery and Cersei largely serve as foils to each other, different sides of the same coin who represent various aspects of the same medieval women.

Margaery Tyrell is more of a mystery due to her lack of point-of-view chapters, but the HBO series has shed much more light on her character in this regard due to its third-person storytelling. Margaery, like Cersei, shares qualities with powerful medieval queens like Eleanor of Aquitaine. Like Eleanor, she does not necessarily use sex as a weapon to the extent that Cersei does, but nonetheless she gains a reputation as a seductress.28 Also, rather than resenting her political marriages like Cersei does, she successfully uses them to further her position in society. Likely this is because unlike Cersei, Margaery has the powerful Tyrell matriarch Olenna to make her matches while attending to her wellbeing. Aside from strategic political marriages, Margaery gains power through her intelligence and her ability to appear benevolent (whether she is truly as kind as she seems remains to be seen). The seminal moment to describe Margaery, in easy terms, is this one:

Margaery’s marriage to Renly was one of her most dangerous political moves. She attached herself to who she thinks is the most likely victor of the civil war, while knowing full well that his sexuality will hinder any chance of a truly loving marriage. She says “my husband is my king, and my king is my husband”, showing her calculated knowledge of the situation and a clear hunger for power. She is willing to use any means to secure an heir .

If it had not been for Melisandre’s magical intervention , it is possible that Margaery’s plan would have worked. Of course, Melisandre represents an interesting idea of female power as well – the figure of the mysterious sorceress, able to enchant powerful men to do her will. Medieval Romantic literature often considered sorcery the only way for a woman to gain autonomous power, and with precedents like Morgan Le Fay,29 it is interesting that it is Melisandre’s independent power that is able to undercut Margaery’s attempts at political ascendance. Whatever the significance of this, Renly’s death means that Margaery is forced to make a pragmatic decision – side with the Lannisters (1:46) , now the most powerful family in Westeros. In a true show of both cunning and incredible persuasion, Margaery manages to claim that her marriage with Renly was never consummated, and through her betrothal to Joffrey she overshadows even Cersei’s sway on the king. She even cleverly investigates Joffrey’s true temperament to prepare herself for her marriage.

It is unclear whether Margaery was a part of Joffrey’s assassination despite her grandmother’s obvious involvement, but resizeeither way, Margaery is determined to be queen. She is given a third politically-driven betrothal to Tommen, over whom she gains a great deal of influence, this time not through power or allure but through kindness. She is affectionate with Tommen, even giving him his infamous kitten named ‘Ser Pounce’, but despite her kindness it is very clear that she is using him to keep herself in power. All of these marriages show Margaery’s shrewd intelligence – she is able to pinpoint areas of influence over each man, and through them gain a great deal of sway over their actions. Renly needs the support of her family, Joffrey abandons the counsel of his mother for her, and Tommen adores both her and her brother Loras for their benevolence.

This kindness is the other most prominent weapon that Margaery keeps in her arsenal. She gains the support of the commoners by portraying herself as kind and generous, bringing food from Highgarden to supply King’s Landing and integrating herself with the smallfolk of the city .

tumblr_mbpvi9DCle1qhkkp7o1_500__1381853678_80.111.44.50

We see what you did there.

This is a strategy taken often by medieval queens, and justly so, since these women are often remembered the most kindly by chroniclers. A prominent example would be Phillipa of Hainault, known to be one of the kindest queens in English history,30 or even the popular imagination of Queen Guinevere. However, in her cunning and political nature, she bears a resemblance to the same medieval precedents that Cersei does – such famous queens as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Anne Boleyn and Queen Emma, who were not known for their kindness. In order to gain a modicum of the power and respect commanded by their male counterparts, queens like Margaery must be twice as intelligent and five times as socially conscious, balancing allure, fidelity, and intelligence without overshadowing their husbands.

sansa quote

A Game of Thrones, p. 479.

Sansa Stark is arguably the most interesting example of weaponized femininity in ASOIAF, because she represents the transition from childish innocence to the female fight for survival. Sansa is introduced as a naive young girl, who

Sansa, looking sad as she sees into her future.

Sansa, looking sad as she sees into her future.

yearns for the excitement of the capital – the food, the clothes, and the courtly culture. She is idealistic in her view of Joffrey and Cersei, and her idealistic nature fails to see the dark underside of courtly life as well as in her betrothed. She chooses to try to achieve the life she has dreamed of her whole life, obviously not seeing the future consequences. Through this, Cersei and Joffrey manage to take advantage of her and use her as leverage against her brother’s war campaign . She is pious during her times of trouble, leading the prayers during the Battle of the Blackwater and praying often in the godswood, a trait which often defines the ideal medieval woman.31

Early in the series, Sansa is forced to see the uncomfortable reality of the patriarchal system in Westeros when she loses her male protective figure, .
her father Ned Stark. Unable to defend herself or her family, she is forced to learn how to survive as a young woman in a misogynistic society, and so far as Martin’s work has told us, she has done so very well. While enduring incredible trauma, Sansa survives and finds her own strength without losing herself, becoming a very prominent character in the series.

She learns to hide her true emotions, to project whichever facade will get her through any particular moment, and to never fully trust anyone. She becomes extremely calculating, and as time goes on she even attempts small manipulations and resistances . She endures the murder of her entire family , a forced marriage into the family responsible for this murder , an attempted rape , sexual and physical abuse from Joffrey and his Kingsguard , emotional abuse from Cersei , incarceration in the Red Keep, and betrayal on many counts. She is used for the political advantage of her blood claim to the North, and she has very few people who care about her for more than her political value – for much of the series, she is quite alone in the world. She represents essentially every bad thing that could possibly happen to a young woman in the medieval period, but despite this she has the potential to become one of the most powerful players in Westeros.

It can be argued that Sansa is quickly becoming a middle ground between the personalities of Cersei and Margaery. Despite her trauma she still keeps her intrinsic kindness and idealism, which shows especially in her interactions with Robert Arryn. When provoked, however, she has the ability to stand up for herself . Her inner monologue shows a developing ability to assess situations and people, and she has the power of the north, a powerful man in Littlefinger that she can eventually use to her advantage, and a strong need for political survival. However, in terms of historical parallels, there is almost no chance of finding any sort of direct comparison.


Sansa is an amalgamation of many different tropes about young women – the starry-eyed idealist, the boy-crazy teenager, the ‘girly’ counterpart to her tomboy sister Arya, the helpless victim, and the underdog female hero. Sources that discuss the lives of very young women are incredibly rare – women are often (but of course not always) not considered important until they marry an important man in the medieval world,32 and likewise this can even be seen in much of the fandom’s reaction to Sansa as a character. While fans embrace the unconventional heroism and tomboy nature of Arya Stark, Sansa is often written off as vapid and whiny by fans who fail to see the intricacies and growth of her character.

Based on George R. R. Martin’s new sample chapter from the Winds of Winter,33 Sansa’s growth is continuing – the chapter shows her using her beauty and her intelligence to manipulate with the best of them. Sansa Stark, despite her name change to ‘Alayne’ and current position in the books as under the control of Littlefinger, has the potential to become one of the most powerful players in the series with an arsenal of female weapons at her disposal.

Overall, Martin uses varying types of femininity to characterize his female protagonists, from the martial-focused female warriors like Brienne and Arya to the courtly weapons used by Cersei, Margaery, and Sansa. However, the most refreshing aspect of Martin’s depiction of femininity is the fact that his characters do not have to fit a single mould. Daenerys, for example, can be argued to fit in both the female warrior category and the weaponized femininity grouping. A lack of martial prowess does not make female characters any less strong and capable, and a lack of a courtly attitude does not make a female warrior less feminine. Martin is an obvious purveyor of this philosophy, and it is obvious that in his mind, women are in fact people – complex and powerful.

Footnotes

1George R. R Martin. A Game of Thrones. 2011 ed. New York: Bantam Books, 1997,221.

2George R. R Martin. A Game of Thrones. 2011 ed. New York: Bantam Books, 1997,220.

3George R. R Martin. A Game of Thrones. 2011 ed. New York: Bantam Books, 1997,221.

4Caroline Spector, “Power and Feminism in Westeros.” In Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, edited by James Lowder. Dallas, TX: Smart Pop/BenBella Books, 2012, 177.

5George R. R. Martin. A Feast for Crows. 2011 ed. New York: Bantam Books, 2005, 205.

6George R. R. Martin. A Feast for Crows. 2011 ed. New York: Bantam Books, 2005, 283.

7Caroline Spector, “Power and Feminism in Westeros.” In Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, edited by James Lowder. Dallas, TX: Smart Pop/BenBella Books, 2012, 178.

8Caroline Spector, “Power and Feminism in Westeros.” In Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, edited by James Lowder. Dallas, TX: Smart Pop/BenBella Books, 2012, 178-179.

9George R. R. Martin. A Feast for Crows. 2011 ed. New York: Bantam Books, 2005, 203.

10George R. R. Martin. A Feast for Crows. 2011 ed. New York: Bantam Books, 2005, 203.

11George R. R. Martin. A Feast for Crows. 2011 ed. New York: Bantam Books, 2005, 290-293.

12George R. R. Martin. A Feast for Crows. 2011 ed. New York: Bantam Books, 2005, 294-297.

13Shane McLeod. “Warriors and Women: The Sex Ratio of Norse Migrants to Eastern England up to 900 Ad.” Early Medieval Europe: 19:3, 2011, 332-53.

14Spenser, Edmund. “The Faerie Queene: Book III.” The Faerie Queene. http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/queene3.html.

15“The Trial of Joan of Arc, 1431.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project:Medieval Sourcebook. http://legacy.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/1431joantrial.asp.

16“The Trial of Joan of Arc, 1431.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project:Medieval Sourcebook. http://legacy.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/1431joantrial.asp.

17“Joan of Arc: Letter to the King of England, 1429.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project: Medieval Sourcebook. http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/joanofarc.asp.

18“Peter of Blois: Letter 154 to Queen Eleanor, 1173.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project: Medieval Sourcebook. http://legacy.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/eleanor.asp.

19Jessica Salter, “Game of Thrones’s George RR Martin: ‘I’m a feminist at heart’”, The Telegraph, Last modified 01 April 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9959063/Game-of-Throness-George-RR-Martin-Im-a-feminist.html

20Mark Hichens, Wives of the Kings of England: From Normans to Stuarts, Sussex: Book Guild Publishing, 2008, 14-16.

21Mark Hichens, Wives of the Kings of England: From Normans to Stuarts, Sussex: Book Guild Publishing, 2008, 136-138.

22Mark Hichens, Wives of the Kings of England: From Normans to Stuarts, Sussex: Book Guild Publishing, 2008, 56-57.

23George R. R. Martin, A Feast For Crows, New York:Bantam Books 2005, 65.

24Charles Beem, The Lioness Roared: The Problems of Female Rule in English History, New York: Palgrave MacMillan 2006, 1.

25Joseph Black et. al, The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Medieval Period, Broadview Press, 2009, 361.

26Charles Beem, The Lioness Roared: The Problems of Female Rule in English History, New York: Palgrave MacMillan 2006, 12.

27Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens, London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 2008, 155.

28Miriam T Griffin, Nero: The End of a Dynasty, New York: Routledge, 1984, 39.

29Lisa Hilton, Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens, London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 2008, 146.

30Geraldine Heng, “Enchanted Ground: The Feminine Subtext in Malory”., Arthurian Women, Ed. Thelma S. Fenster, New York: Routledge, 2000, 99.

31Mark Hichens, Wives of the Kings of England: From Normans to Stuarts, Sussex: Book Guild Publishing, 2008, 67.

32Connell, Charles W. “In A Different Voice: Helouise and the Self-Image of Women of the Twelfth Century”. In The World of Medieval Women: Creativity, Influence, and Imagination, edited by Constance H. Berman, Charles W. Connell, and Judith Rice Rothschild, 24-40. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1985.

33Noel James Menuge, Medieval Women and the Law, Rochester: Boydell Press, 2000, 79.

34George R. R. Martin, “Excerpt Form the Winds of Winter: Alayne”, George R. R. Martin Officia Site, Last modified April 2, 2015, http://www.georgerrmartin.com/excerpt-from-the-winds-of-winter/

Bibliography

Beem, Charles. The Lioness Roared: The Problems of Female Rule in English History. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.

Black, Joseph et. al. The Broadview Anthology of British Literature: The Medieval Period. Broadview Press, 2009.

Connell, Charles W. “In A Different Voice: Helouise and the Self-Image of Women of the Twelfth Century”. In The World of Medieval Women: Creativity, Influence, and Imagination, edited by Constance H. Berman, Charles W. Connell, and Judith Rice Rothschild, 24-40. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1985.

Griffin, Miriam T. Nero: The End of a Dynasty. New York: Routledge, 1984.

Heng, Geraldine. “Enchanted Ground: The Feminine Subtext in Malory”. Arthurian Women. Ed. Thelma S. Fenster. New York: Routledge, 2000. 97-113.

Hichens, Mark. Wives of the Kings of England: From Normans to Stuarts. Sussex: Book Guild Publishing, 2008.

Hilton, Lisa. Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens. London: Weidenfield & Nicolson, 2008.

Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 1996.

Martin, George R. R.A Feast For Crows. New York: Bantam Books, 2005.

Martin, George R. R. A Dance With Dragons. New York: Bantam Books, 2013.

McLeod, Shane. “Warriors and Women: The Sex Ratio of Norse Migrants to Eastern England up to 900 Ad.” Early Medieval Europe: 19:3, 2011, 332-53.

Menuge, Noel James. Medieval Women and the Law. Rochester: Boydell Press, 2000.

Schaus, Margaret. Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Spector, Caroline, “Power and Feminism in Westeros.” Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, edited by James Lowder. Dallas, TX: Smart Pop/BenBella Books, 2012.

Web Sources

“Joan of Arc: Letter to the King of England, 1429.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project: Medieval Sourcebook. http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/source/joanofarc.asp.

Martin, George R. R. “Excerpt From the Winds of Winter: Alayne”. George R. R. Martin Official Site. Last modified April 2, 2015, http://www.georgerrmartin.com/excerpt- from- the-winds-of-winter/

“Peter of Blois: Letter 154 to Queen Eleanor, 1173.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project: Medieval Sourcebook. http://legacy.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/eleanor.as

Salter, Jessica. “Game of Thrones’s George RR Martin: ‘I’m a feminist at heart’”. The Telegraph. Last modified 01 April 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9959063/Game-of-Throness-George-RR-Martin-Im-a-feminist.html

Spenser, Edmund. “The Faerie Queene: Book III.” The Faerie Queene. http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/queene3.html.

” The Trial of Joan of Arc, 1431.” Internet History Sourcebooks Project: Medieval Sourcebook. http://legacy.fordham.edu/Halsall/source/1431joantrial.asp.

Images

Stark sisters at Winterfell

Arya, Brienne, and Daenerys

Arya and her needlework

Arya and Jon gif

Arya and Needle

Valar morghulis

Brienne in armour

Brienne and Jamie gifset

Brienne and The Hound

Joan of Arc

Daenerys on the Iron Throne

Daenerys and Daario

Daenerys and dragon gif

Cersei, Sansa and Margaery fanart

Cersei with a Knife

Cersei quote – Martin, George R. R. A Feast For Crows. New York: Bantam Books, 2005, 64.

Cersei quote – Martin, George R. R. A Dance With Dragons. New York: Bantam Books, 2013, 788.

“Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon”

Olenna Tyrell

Ser Pounce For Life

Margaery/Anne Boleyn

Sansa quote – Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 1996, 479.

Sad Sansa

Sansa Stark Has Entered The Game

The Evolution of Sansa

Is That Meant To Insult Me?

Media

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Youtube. “Game of Thrones 3×08 – Tyrion Lannister marries Sansa Stark”. Accessed April 05, 2015.

Youtube. “Game of Thrones 2×06-Sandor/Sansa Scene”. Accessed April 05, 2015.

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