The Female Evil in Game of Thrones, Between Fiction and Reality

Game of Thrones  - Beautifully crafted female characters versus evil female characters

Evil beginnings

Evil is defined as something profoundly immoral and wicked, ungodly, diabolical or malicious. However, female evil has been inferred throughout history as being associated with disobedience and curiosity. A female exhibiting traits of disobedience and a genuine curiosity was often considered vile and worthy of punishment.

One of the first references where female evil is introduced is the very legend of Adam and Eve. It is Eve who gets condemned for convincing Adam to take a bite from the forbidden apple plucked from the Tree of Knowledge and Life. The theory suggests that the original sin is the reason behind the whole suffering throughout a woman’s life, beginning with the monthly menstruation pains and rounding off with the birthing pain, as if women are bound to suffer in silence because of the afore-mentioned ancestral sin. In fact, the punishment is inflicted on women who are considered promiscuous, disloyal or uncontrollable.

Not far from the story of the original sin, we come across the story of Pandora, who is blamed for the emergence of all the evils in the world.

Pandora was the first woman in Greek mythology said to have been created out of clay with the help of the goddess Aphrodite and was later brought to life by having Four Winds breathe life into her.

From her creation, Pandora, whose name means all-gifted was meant to be dangerous. Aside from her unparalleled dazzling beauty, given to her by the Aphrodite, Hermes, the messenger god, gave her a cunning, deceitful mind and a crafty tongue.

Zeus gave Pandora a foolish, mischievous and idle nature and last but not least, Hera gave her the wiliest gift, curiosity. Her lover, Epimetheus needed only to look at Pandora to fall madly in love with her, in spite of Prometheus’ warning.

As expected, curiosity was stronger than fear, so Pandora ignored the warning not to open the box, releasing a plethora of evil: sickness, jealousy, death, turmoil, strife, hatred, famine, wickedness and malevolence, proving that the curiosity inflicted by Hera had worked its charm.

Many of the other myths both in ancient Greece and throughout other cultures were bits of folklore meant to maintain gender relationships in the patriarchal society.

Game of Thrones  – Beautifully Crafted Female Characters Versus Evil Female Characters

The portrayal of women is crafted with beautiful artistry in Game of Thrones. We are finally witnessing a complex creation of female characters rather than the traditional mono-feature stereotypes used by the movie industry one too many times.

One of the prevalent themes throughout the first seasons is that sexual violence seems to be omnipresent in the TV series, up to a degree that it seems far-fetched. However, the history of violence used against women is far too close for comfort. Dismissing that kind of violence as being in the past or fiction is naïve. It almost feels like only characters like Melisandre, who can defend herself through witchcraft or characters that know how to handle a sword, like Arya, are the only women that can escape rape and abuse.

The first seasons of the Game of Thrones seem to portray women as weaker, passive, emotional, prone to be manipulated, or overtly sexualized compared to their male counterparts, while men get to make the difficult decisions for entire kingdoms.

Men go to war, they are able to speak out and rise in the ranks, but the majority of the women are forced into loveless marriages, are abused in some way, or are only able to rise in power with the help of the men they have relationships with.

However, with the development of the following Game of Thrones seasons, some of the female characters develop complex arcs, building up from one season to the next.

Cersei Lannister – A Tyrant or Protective Mother?

One of the first examples that come to mind is that of Cersei Lannister who, throughout several seasons has generated feelings among Game of Thrones fans that range from hatred to understanding. In spite of being a Machiavellian political plotter, resonating with the human side of Cersei is uncomplicated, as she is also a mother ready to do anything in order to protect her children. It’s all too easy to hate Cersei, but it is unfair not to notice that many of her cruel decisions. The manipulations are based on unyielding loyalty towards her children, as well as the justified fears she harbors for their safety.

Aside from being a queen and a mother, she is also a lover and a sort of born feminist avant la lettre, who knows how to exploit the hand that she has been dealt, in spite of the limitations implied by her gender. Cersei is whip-smart, understands power and is unwavering when it comes to settling scores.

Daenerys Targaryen – Mhysa or a Power-Mad Despot?

In spite of the attempt to reduce Cersei and Daenerys from the nuanced characters they had throughout the show and turn them into reckless, ruthless, power-mad despots, Daenerys Targaryen is one of the most fascinating characters of Game of Thrones. She probably triggers the most extreme ranges of feelings, from admiration and love to disappointment and fear.

Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, unveils features usually considered masculine, managing to use an irresistible fusion of beauty, strength and sexual appeal to instate an undertaking meant to forge a world which would be better than she found it. Indeed, she frees whole enclaves of slaves, forbids rape and pillaging and builds a deed and reward system.

The last episodes of Season 8 have generated a lot of turmoil regarding the ending, with Game of Thrones fans claiming that the whole turn of events made no sense in the context of the show. However, there have been signs throughout the other seasons which were building up to the moment where Daenerys, riding her last dragon, unleashes fire upon King’s Landing notwithstanding their bells of surrender.

The act itself is not divorced from the general creed that Daenerys has displayed all through the earlier seasons. In fact, it is just a larger-scale behavior which we have seen in the previous episodes: a thirst for power and entitlement, combined with a perpetual lack of trust. Although the first seasons often depict Daenerys as a moral Messianic figure and a Mhysa, she is nonetheless a powerful feminine figure with a touch of narcissism, who demands and expects people to bow before her in awe and zealous loyalty from her subjects and who obliterates any rebellion against her.

Her delusion of rightful inheritance of Westeros is built on the regions she has triumphed over, regions that were forced to give up their sovereignty in service of her moral superiority.

Sansa Stark – An Innocent Dove or an Innate Leader?

Another character with an interesting arc is Lady Sansa Stark, a complex character that develops from a gullible girl, a “little dove” whose only aspiration is to become queen by marrying a prince into an empowered, respected queen.

Sansa becomes empowered by merit instead of by marriage, having suffered abuse, rape and deep shame. Instead of just becoming a rape survivor stereotype, Sansa emerges as one of the smartest players in the game, who retains her sovereignty over the North despite Daenerys’s expansive aspirations.

Olenna Tyrell  – Grandmother and Cunning Scheme Plotter

Olenna Tyrell is also a compelling character who combines an unscrupulous scheme to marry off her young grand-daughter Margaery to Joffrey, whom she considers a monster if it means enriching the family with a doting side, able to go to extreme measures such as poisoning Joffrey, in order to protect Margaery.

However, Olenna does not waste time in conscience-stricken feelings when Tyrion takes the blame for a murder he didn’t commit. Her mean streak is also divulged by her dying words when she wickedly tells Jamie to tell Cersei who Joffrey’s true murderer was.

Arya Stark – The Brave Fighter

Arya Stark has been an important touchstone for the reader and viewer. Ned Stark’s tomboy daughter began the story coveting to be a self-reliant fighter. And for a long time Arya didn’t just dress like a boy, but actually feigns to be one.

Arya’s code of honour is nonetheless tainted by a desire of revenge and death, thus explaining her choice to join the Faceless Men, who abide by the motto “Valar morghulis, valar dohaeris”. All men must die.

Brienne of Tarth – The Female Knight

Brienne of Tarth is one of the most empowered female figures in Game of Thrones. She is a remarkable Westeros warrior, with a sole soft spot revealed at the end, for Jaime Lannister, her vulnerability only adding to her character.

Brienne provides a splendid contrast to Ser Jaime Lannister when insisting on keeping her oath to Lady Catelyn to find a Stark daughter to protect. Jaime Lannister, at that point in the show, only has the appearance of a knight but not the nobility and honour betoken by his title.

Brienne isn’t just the only female to be knighted in the show, she is also an noteworthy person who has chosen, despite the onerous circumstances, to become a knight. She is not only physically skilled and powerful, but also exhibits a fierce faith in abiding by the code of honour, in spite of being confronted by the real world.

Sorceress Melisandre – Wicked Witch or Visionary?

Another fascinating female character in Game of Thrones is sorceress Melisandre. While counseling Stannis Baratheon in the expansion of war, claiming that all the things she demands are actually pleas of the Lord of Light, she shows no vacillation about conceiving killer shadow demons and, most tragically, urging Stannis Baratheon to burn his own daughter at the stake. However, she also resurrects Jon Snow, showing that her messianic mission is more than just a tale, contradicting the typical stereotype of female witches upon the use of their influence and sexuality.

Less complex Female Characters

There are some characters with diminished diversity, like Lysa, Sansa’s aunt, who poisons her own husband and tries to kill Sansa out of jealousy, Selyse Baratheon, who is so weak that she lets her own child be burnt as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light and ultimately succumbs to guilt and hangs herself, prostitutes, servants, freewomen of the north, slaves and princesses. There have even been perpetrators of sexualized violence, such as Ramsay Bolton’s lover, Myranda, a nefarious character who delights in torture out a twisted form of loyalty.

A mid-character, not complex as Cersei and Danaerys, but distinct enough to mention is Lady Olenna’s granddaughter. Queen Margaery has yet to become a “Machiavellian female prince”, manipulative in her duplicitous tactics to become Queen and canny enough to know that she should at least appear to be a just and charitable ruler – unlike Cersei, who rules through fear.

Female Evil as the Ultimate Outcome

The finale of Game of Thrones’ last season culminates in a clash between two female despots who are thereafter portrayed as power-thirsty and vengeful, erasing all other qualities displayed by the characters, as if they were overpowered by their evil side.

This is another display of the female evil myth throughout literature, where women were portrayed as manipulative and deceitful. Legends and myths were imagined as a set of instructions on how to deal with females.

This struck different social categories alike, as elite women were kept in the domestic environment without a shred of independence, bearing children and taking care of the household. Independent women were considered dangerous, as they could fragment society. Women’s limitative education was done at early ages, their upbringing was meant to tame them and break them in to become docile, while men were meant to keep their patriarchal dominion for reasons of status and power.

One reason for this oppression is that they needed to control the inheritance from the male line, because paternity could not be determined, unlike maternity.

The attempt to describe women as devious and manipulative is not new, legends abound in stories of female so-called rebellion. Aside from the aforementioned legends of Pandora and Eve, stories account for the legend of Lilith from the Midrashic tradition, thought to have been Adam’s original wife.

A defiant woman, she refused to submit to Adam’s authority and to lay beneath him during intercourse. Lilith, unhappy with her position, fled from male authority and embraced her inner-evil, morphing into a child-stealing demon, generating myths probably meant to explain mysterious infant mortalities.

Another example is Jezebel, the Phoenician princess and wife of King Ahab, who manipulated and seduced men through sexual desire, converting Ahab from the Jewish religion to worship the Phoenician god, Baal and had many Jewish prophets killed.

It is refreshing to see how female characters in Game of Thrones are complexly written while reckoning a new era, distant from the patriarchal models which both shelter women as frail things in need of coverage and abusively use their bodies as human shields.