Tony Black on Game of Thrones’ ‘Age of Queens’ (spoilers for ‘The Winds of Winter’ follow)…
It began with Kings. Game of Thrones now looks set to end with Queens. The feminist revolution in Westeros truly blossomed this season and epic finale ‘The Winds of Winter’ cemented the concrete inside the stone, or perhaps more appropriately the sept. The world now belongs to Cersei Lannister, to Daenerys Targaryen, and in her own way to Sansa Stark. It’s a world where the men are knowing their place, with the one exception of a remaining King who has never cleaved to the abhorrent vices or whims of men. As we now sail into the final season of George R.R. Martin’s saga adapted for television, we are witnessing a true change in politics, those winter winds signalling far more than the coming of the undead. Rather, the coming of a world where women, after so long pressed under the games and travails of successive destructive King after King, may now decide the fate of the realm of men.
To examine what this means, and how all of these incumbent Queens weave themselves together, we must first start with the current Queen to rule them all: Cersei Lannister, now the first ever Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Hers is a destructive, vengeful story, one which hasfashioned her, effectively, into the Darth Vader of the GoT world.
The prophecy Cersei has lived with all her life has now come true. She has found and lost her power. She has raised and lost her own children. Like other tragic characters such as Hodor, Cersei has lived with the inevitability of her fate all her life, and it may have shaped her vicious nihilism under the heel of her father and how her existence as a Lannister was mapped out; make no mistake, Cersei *is* tragic, even given the fact she is now firmly the uber villain of the piece, her new (admittedly badass) black leather studded Queen’s outfit she wears in ‘The Winds of Winter’, as she watches on while her enemies burn, signifying her complete consumption by a darkness which has always clawed away at her. The love of her children was, truly, the only thing keeping her in the light. Her protective instinct over Myrcella. Her constant excuses even when she knew Joffrey was a monster of a human being. Finally, her failed attempts to balance being a mother and a displaced ruler to Tommen.
She knows the blame for his suicide rests in no small part at her door, and it’s the final point her soul is visibly eaten alive as she instructs her sinister new Hand, Qyburn, to burn him alongside the ashes of his family now cremated in Baelor’s Sept. Alongside the cruelty she displays to Septa Unella (who to be fair did have it coming), there’s a dispassion to how Cersei says goodbye to her son which suggests she has now said goodbye to the Lannister way completely. They may be many things, but the majority of Lannisters have never been cruel. Cersei is now very much on course to be the kind of despot Ramsey Bolton could only have wet dreams about, and she has the power and influence to do it, with complete and unfettered control. Her nights will now be dark and full of terrors, and not even her conflicted brother Jaime may be able to pull her into the light this time.
There are those who wish to see her drown in that darkness, of course, and even before the Mother of Dragons arrives to trouble her shores, the Queen of Thorns continues to prove she is no shrinking violet. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to see Margaery Tyrell among those blown up in the Sept (an explosive act many of us guessed a few weeks ago), even if it turns out Natalie Dormer was keen to let Marge go at the end of S5. She had fooled the High Sparrow but her mind games with Cersei did see her on the losing end, ultimately; smart enough to be aware she, her brother Loras & father Mace had walked into a big trap, but sadly unable to slip away before wildfire consumed the militant Faith who had seized Kings Landing in their religious peasants revolution. Olenna is acutely aware Cersei wasn’t just out to see the Sparrow burn for stripping away her titles & dignity, but removing Margaery removed her key rival for the crown.
Cersei of course underestimated the weakness of her son and how he would react to these events, but she would have been aware Olenna–who skipped town early enough to rally help for Margaery, knowing she was playing a long con–would subsequently be after her blood. Her alliance with the Dornish Queens in waiting, and through their link with Lord Varys ultimately the Targaryen storm to come, suggests she will be going down with a bloody fight. She may now be a Queen without a power base, the Tyrell name in ruins, but underestimate this woman in the coming war for all Westeros at your peril. It will be especially interesting to see how Olenna reacts to Daenerys, who perhaps ultimately epitomises the rise of the Westerosi Queens, the feminine rulers who have overcome the petty wars of men to face the Long Night to come. Even if she may be heartened by the shifting power dynamics on her continent, she will still need to win over hearts and minds.
There were some interesting moments for Daenerys in ‘The Winds of Winter’. Having conquered Meereen utterly, using her three grown dragons to crush the rebellious slavers who seek to keep the people under their cruel heel, Daenerys has cemented herself as a ruler of some contradiction. She has self-styled her foreign Targaryen rule as the Dragon Queen who takes actions for the people, to free them from their shackles. She sees herself as the ‘breaker of chains’, looking to destroy the Westerosi tradition of not just male rulers but traditional serfdom that has existed for millennia, but how can she truly hope to be a Queen under such circumstances? When incumbent Ironborn Queen, Yara Greyjoy, flirts with her in ‘Battle of the Bastards’ and seeks her help to gain back her lands, Tyrion Lannister questions whether they will set a precedent to those demanding ‘independence’ and Daenerys comments “they’re free to ask”, but what if a unified North seeks to be their own kingdom free of southern rule? Will she be willing to give up half of Westeros?
It may be a bit like a possible Scotland secession from the UK following Brexit – a lot more complicated than it looks, and equally political suicide for a ruler who will be looking to win over the people under a promise of a new kind of rule. If Cersei does become a cruel, autocratic ruler, Dany’s hopeful message may be a popular one amongst the common folk, but how will she back it up? She may be the ideal Queen, a Queen a man like Tyrion (in a touching scene cementing them as BFF’s for life), can believe in, but the geopolitics in the long term will be difficult for Daenerys to balance. Mind you, first she has a war to win, a war on two fronts she’ll need the North on side for.
The North stands now as the only aberration in the Age of Queens that has fallen upon Westeros. Following the destruction of the Bolton’s vicious Northern rule, the North has remembered and fully declared not just for the Starks but primarily under Jon Snow as King of the North. Jon, born a bastard, has now become his father Eddard – a respected, beloved leader of men. Much like Ned had rule fall into his lap after his father’s unexpected death during Robert’s Rebellion, Jon now finds himself the man in charge in a way he never expected, or even probably wanted. Despite the fact Jon may secretly be a Targaryen and rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, which we *almost* had confirmed via Bran’s visions in ‘The Winds of Winter’, he’s never a man who has craved power and he fully expected Sansa to become Queen of the North with him presumably as her major battle commander in the Long Night everyone tells him is coming.
Now Jon may not just be King, but he may be destined for a political union of marriage with Daenerys; one of the key factors she’s aware of is how in order to cement her rule, she will need to marry and outside of the unhinged Euron Greyjoy, Jon is now her only real prospect. Marry Jon, Dany gains the North and if she has the Dornish & Tyrells to the South, it will be what she needs to crush Cersei’s rule and depose the Lannisters once and for all. Hopefully Bran may pop up and let Jon know that Dany is in fact his ridiculously hot aunt who happens to be the same age before they hop on the good foot and do the bad thing, but this is Game of Thrones – it’ll probably be too late.
Quite where Sansa fits is a bigger question, and given Littlefinger has now set his stall out as wanting not just the Iron Throne but also Sansa as his bride (given his creepy as hell obsession over replacing Catelyn, his one true love), could Sansa be tempted into a darkness of her own? She has already displayed a cruelty not becoming of the Starks in how she watched Ramsey eaten by his hounds & while she may not trust Littlefinger, she doesn’t exactly revolt at his advances in ‘The Winds of Winter’. She could go either way, and may not end up a great woman of the North like little Lyanna Mormont.
The other wild card in this female revolution is of course Arya Stark, now back on Westerosi shores, and who makes her immediate mark by slitting the throat of repulsive Walder Frey (another moment to cheer in a season full of comeuppance). She may not be destined for titles or honour, having truly now become a Faceless Woman, an assassin focuses solely on revenge, but she may play a significant silent part in the war to come. Remember who remains on her list? The Hound. The Mountain. And most importantly, Cersei. She may never be a Queen, but she may alter the fate of Queens.
All that is certain going into the final season (or couple of truncated seasons) of Game of Thrones is this: Westeros is now a woman’s world, and come the final reckoning against the Night King and the dead, it’ll be the women who truly forge the dream of Spring out of the ashes of Winter.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.
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