This Season, ‘Game of Thrones’ Cut Deep

This Season, ‘Game of Thrones’ Cut Deep

This Season, ‘Game of Thrones’ Cut Deep

In a fantastically misogynist imaginary world, a highly qualified woman gets close to winning power.


As Season 7 of Game of Thrones comes to a close, beware of spoilers and undead dragons and consider Daenerys Targaryen. (If you haven’t followed the show, you can go read something else now.) Here is a woman of high moral purpose and great gifts, who has had to overcome many obstacles in her quest to rule the war-torn and poverty-stricken land of Westeros as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. For years, she has been preparing. She had to free herself from psychological submission to her worthless brother. She had to transform her forced marriage to the savage Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo into a loving, respectful partnership, learning his language and adopting his culture, and after his death and that of her baby she had to win the loyalty of his incredibly sexist and violent followers, who wanted to follow the usual custom and stick her in a hut for the rest of her life with the other widows of big men. She had to outwit the seers and pirates of the magical city of Qarth, amass several armies, besiege three cities, free thousands of slaves, and then deal with the economic fallout and guerilla warfare from enraged slaveholders. Raised in a feudal world where the point of having power was mostly to get more of it, she actually thought a lot about how to rule wisely, how to make the world a better place for everyone. She made some mistakes—it was one thing to raise the only dragons in the world from eggs, quite another to keep them from burning children and livestock to a crisp. It was hard for her sometimes to find the right balance between her natural kindness and the need to look tough—especially since she was constantly underestimated in a fantastically misogynist society that is, of course, nothing like our own. So yes, she executed some people she probably should have pardoned—but everyone in her world did that. Basically, Daenerys was a far better ruler than Westeros had ever had, and, assuming she, her allies and her dragons could get rid of that ice-zombie army that threatens to exterminate the human race, it looked like everything was finally coming together for her.

Not so fast. Sunday night came the revelation fans have been expecting for years. Jon Snow, the supposed bastard child of Ned Stark and an unknown mother, is really the child of Ned’s sister Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen, Daenerys’s oldest brother, the long dead crown prince. R+L=J indeed. Moreover, Lyanna and Rhaegar were secretly married, so Jon is a legitimate Targaryen. Assuming that the rules of succession are the same in Westeros as in the medieval England it sometimes resembles, Jon’s claim to the throne supersedes Dany’s, because the direct descendants of the crown prince take precedence over his siblings. (That is why, incidentally, Richard III murdered the little princes in the tower. As the sons of his dead brother King Edward IV they blocked his path to the throne. If he did murder them, that is. Not everyone thinks he did.) Besides, he’s a man. Jonny-come-lately is a great guy with a sword and a tanker of ale, goodhearted, fair-minded, and honest to a fault. He’s also devastatingly handsome, looks good in a man-bun, and I love his Yorkshire accent. But admit it, he isn’t all that smart. He’s way too trusting, he can’t see more than one step ahead, and his rectitude keeps him from telling the necessary lies that Machiavelli rightly argues statecraft requires. Moreover, he’s never actively run anything bigger than the Night’s Watch, where he made so many enemies his men actually murdered him. In the great Battle of the Bastards he had to be rescued by the Knights of the Vale, secretly summoned by his sister Sansa. In other words, Sansa, who’s never lifted a sword in her life, is a better military strategist than he is.

Let’s see. Can you think of another woman who prepared all her life and had all the qualifications and lost to a man with far fewer who just happened along? Daenerys is Hillary Clinton, with dragons.

Now, Jon is not remotely like Donald Trump. He lacks intense personal ambition, for one thing (at this point in the series he’s just bent the knee to Dany, and seems to realize she has what it takes and he doesn’t. But then again, he doesn’t yet know his parentage). Also unlike our President, he’s modest, aware of his limitations and willing to learn. He’d probably do all right on the Iron Throne until someone cleverer assassinated him.

Still, this plot twist is bound to resonate with all those women who’ve had to be twice as good as a man to get half as far as a man. Women writers whose big, extravagant novels get reviewed and marketed as chick-lit. Women scientists, who, according to myriad studies, find their work and careers ranked lower than comparable achievements by men, and moreover have to put up with stupid “debates” over whether women are genetically hampered when it comes to anything involving STEM. Women in Hollywood, consigned to lesser roles, and not many of them. (Did you know that even in Frozen, the story of two sisters, the majority of words were spoken by men?) Women period, who are constantly told from birth on and who knows maybe even before that, that independence and equality are not for them, much less a great high destiny. Who would take care of the children? Who would bake those goddamn cookies? Remember all the garbage Hillary took because of cookies?

Well, I see I’m getting carried away, perhaps because I just saw on Twitter that in the UK gift shops are selling a pink child’s hat embroidered with the slogan “Future footballers wife.” We actually don’t know how the story will turn out—and we may have to wait for two years to find out, which is a great crime. Right now, the main threat to Dany besides ice-zombies is another woman, the villainous Cersei, current occupant of the Iron Throne. Cersei is the ruthless Hillary of the Clinton-haters’ imagination, the woman who killed Vince Foster, threw a lot of hissy fits, stayed in a loveless marriage with Bill out of sheer personal ambition, and, unlike any other politician, loved the taste of power. Cersei is actually a lot like Trump: She’s prickly, sadistic and cares nothing for the public good, only about promoting her family. She even shares Trump’s love of gold, although in her case it’s the base of her power, not interior décor. She hasn’t prepared for the many-years-long winter just beginning (not that anyone else really has—they’re too busy fighting each other), and doesn’t believe or care about those winter-enabled ice-zombies anymore than Trump cares about global warming. I cannot imagine things turning out well for her.

Things may not turn out well for Jon either. He has “protracted noble death scene” written all over his adorable face. Then too, he and Dany have just commenced a passionate romance. (Royal incest was a Targaryen practice, so the fact that they are aunt and nephew wouldn’t matter.) They could end up ruling together, like William and Mary or Maria Theresa and her husband Whatshisname. Maybe he could run her army or, since Game of Thrones is a fantasy, raise their babies.

Maybe in Westeros the woman can win.

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