Warning: Spoilers ahead for Episode 9, Season 6 of Game of Thrones
Sunday’s penultimate episode of Game of Thrones was easily one of the best of the series. Dragons set invading ships aflame in Meereen, Dothraki hordes stormed a city on horseback and the ‘Battle of the Bastards’ at Winterfell featured some incredibly powerful—and realistic—battle scenes.
But three women truly stole the show: Daenerys Targaryan, Sansa Stark and Yara Greyjoy. Daenerys finally returned to Meereen and scolded Tyrion for his foolishness in dealing with the other slave cities and ended the conflict in typical Dany style: Fire. Yara arrived in Meereen with her limp brother to pledge support to Daenerys in exchange for supporting her own claim to the Iron Islands. A queenly alliance was formed, without much help from the other men in the room. Sansa Stark watches her rapist’s dogs rip him apart in a moment of poetic justice. If Westeros had microphones, she would have dropped one.
Fans are celebrating this woman-centric episode after what seems like several seasons of gratuitous rape and nude scenes. The oft-victimized Sansa, who has been married against her will twice, tortured and beaten, finally got to make decisions on her own and exert her own agency. Daenerys and Yara bonded over their desire to leave a legacy separate from that of their corrupt fathers. Most of the women in this episode got to be the chess players, not the pawns. But why are we so happy about this?
Consider the ‘other’ women of the Game of Thrones universe. It seems like female empowerment in Westeros comes with a bloody price. Arya is now a trained assassin with a body count. Margaery is rotting away in prison facing some serious punishment for being a woman with familial ambition. Sansa’s own mother was slaughtered for supporting her son’s claims to King of the North. And Cersei, the meanest of Mean Girls, is guilty of murder, incest and treason. Not to mention her reanimated corpse of a body guard. There seems to always be a catch for women who are in control.
In a culture where women are perennial losers, we should get excited when women achieve on the same level as men. It feels good to see women dominate in traditionally male settings, from the board room to the throne rooms. And on a show—directed mostly by men—where women are perennial victims, we do get happy when we seen them rise up above their circumstances and literally slay.
So the most serious girl-power realism from last night’s episode might be that it was an anomaly, an aberrant. Sure, enjoy Game of Thrones—I know I do, for the most part—but let’s think twice before we herald last night as a total coup. Women’s successes should be the rule, not the exception.