If you don’t watch Game of Thrones, it’s probably a good idea to stop reading this column, locate your nearest TV and start watching it. If you do watch it and you haven’t yet had chance to catch up on last week’s Long Night episode yet, it’s also a good idea to stop reading this column. It contains spoilers.
Still here? Ace. Is anyone else still recovering after last week’s 82-minute collective breath-holding event? When Arya masterfully flipped her dagger from one hand to another, plunging it into the Night King’s stomach and shattering him and his army into a million pieces, my reaction was audible. “Yaaaas queen!” was the only appropriate response.
As a female viewer it was exhilarating. How refreshing it was not to see Jon Snow having another hero moment. It would have been too predictable for Snow to pummel through the crowds of dead men with his Valyrian steel sword before saving the world from the common enemy.
Not today. Today it was Arya, arguably the most skilled fighter in the whole of Westeros, a character who was born to fight and has dedicated her whole life to her craft, telling her father from an early age that she had no intentions of becoming a lady in a castle, who would be handed the privilege of taking down the Night King.
Arya’s victory was the summation of a subtle masterclass in how to write women. When I first started watching Game of Thrones, the selling of Daenerys Targaryen to Khal Drogo in season one didn’t sit right with me. The scenes from Daenerys’s wedding night left a horrible taste in my mouth. The sex was non-consensual. It made for disturbing viewing. But it wasn’t the end of Daenerys’s story. She enlists her handmaiden to show her how to please her husband. She takes control. It is her way of telling Drogo he can never rape her again. Daenerys then goes on to command Drogo’s armies, becoming the breaker of chains and the mother of dragons.
It’s a similar story for most of the female characters. They all suffer trauma, but they use their experiences to become smarter and stronger. Women are leaders and warriors. They are respected and feared. Their achievements are honoured, their strengths are celebrated.
When Jaime Lannister knights Brienne of Tarth ahead of the Battle of Winterfell it is a scene that shows us all how men can lift women up. “Women can’t be knights,” Brienne explains to Tormund Giantsbane. “Why not?” he asks. “Tradition,” she replies. “Fuck tradition,” he says, indignant. When Jaime tells Brienne to kneel so he can knight her, the men in the scene stand. It is an empowering display of men getting behind women, an example of how men can challenge convention in a system that’s had it all wrong for too long.
Nobody could have predicted how Game of Thrones would capture audiences. HBO estimates the first episode of season eight has now surpassed 38 million viewers. It is a huge show that has given its viewers a whole new appreciation for dragons, honour, battle and impressive CGI.
But perhaps the most important lesson Game of Thrones will leave behind after its final show this year is that the days of the damsel in distress are well and truly over.