'Game Of Thrones' Evolves On Women In Explosive Sixth Season

Jun 27, 2016
Originally published on June 27, 2016 6:30 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Season six of the HBO show "Game Of Thrones" just wrapped up last night, and one of the things people are talking about is how the show portrays women. For a while it seemed like some female characters were dutiful mothers or sex objects or victims. But this latest season has shown some of the women taking charge and taking power.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GAME OF THRONES")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As Character) Your reign is over.

EMILIA CLARKE: (As Daenerys Targaryen) My reign has just begun.

MCEVERS: To talk about this, we've got Glen Weldon in the studio from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Hey there.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Hey there.

MCEVERS: And Greta Johnsen. She hosts the Nerdette podcast from WBEZ. Hi.

GRETA JOHNSEN, BYLINE: Hey.

MCEVERS: OK, so two things I need to say up front - for people who are not caught up with the show, this is a major spoiler alert right now. We're going to talk about stuff, so beware. And second, I don't actually watch "Game Of Thrones," so you two are going to have to help me out here and make sure I know what's going on.

But let's start with the show's reputation so far, especially in these early years and the way it portrayed women.

JOHNSEN: Well, yeah, I think especially initially in the first couple of seasons, women were essentially the heads of household. Kind of when you mentioned - as you mentioned in that intro - right? - they were dutiful wives. They were strong mothers, but that was essentially it, you know? They were as powerful as they could be in relation to the men who they were either married to or who they were mothers to.

And you know, I think that was not the most interesting thing to watch, right? Things have definitely developed, especially over the last season or two.

MCEVERS: So yeah. We're in season six now, and tell us what's different, Glen, in terms of women and how they're treated.

WELDON: Well, you know, Ian McShane was a guest star on a recent episode, and he got into some trouble for spoiling something to the press. And then he came out with another interview where he said, well, what do you care about this show? "Game Of Thrones" is nothing but - I'm going to paraphrase here - boobs and dragons.

And for most of this show's existence, he's not wrong, especially in the first few seasons. But what has happened is that some of those very same women, the owners of those very same boobs, have grown to power.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: And what's happening is they are all now becoming major characters in ways that they were peripheral in the beginning. Sometimes they have to go through very heinous trials to get to that, to achieve that. But I think - I say something changed in the show around the introduction of Olenna Tyrell.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GAME OF THRONES")

DIANA RIGG: (As Olenna Tyrell) Shut up, Dear - anything from you - no - good. Let the grown women speak.

WELDON: Olenna Tyrell is a character played by Diana Rigg, who is an older woman. There's not a lot of old people in this world because people get killed. And there's certainly not a lot of women - at least in the beginning, there weren't a lot of women in a position of power who were funny and who knew what was going on, who were playing the game the way the game of thrones is supposed to be played.

This is a scene between Dany Targaryen, who's a queen who's been dithering around in a faraway land for far too long, and Yara Greyjoy, who is the leader of what are essentially Vikings. And they're coming to an alliance.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GAME OF THRONES")

CLARKE: (Daenerys Targaryen) Our fathers were evil men, all of us here. They left the world worse than they found it. We're not going to do that. We're going to leave the world better than we found it.

MCEVERS: So Greta, what do you think about this? I mean, do you feel like there's been a real change here, that women are getting more powerful in this season?

JOHNSEN: Oh, absolutely. And I think, you know, you see it in two different ways, right? There are still women manipulating the men in their lives, but there are also women who are over the men entirely. I mean, Daenerys Targaryen, who was just speaking in that scene, is a great example of that, right? She used to be married to this guy, and she kind of used him to help bring her power out. He died, and then she was, like, all right, fine, I'm just going to take it over myself. I'm the mother of dragons. You know, forget the rest of you people.

And I think you're seeing more and more of that, and you're seeing alliances between these strong women, which that scene also so beautifully shows you. And you know, there's so little room at the top for these women in power, so to see them actually realizing, like, oh, maybe we should team up, is just so much fun to watch.

MCEVERS: OK, is "Game Of Thrones" now a feminist show? Is that where we're at?

WELDON: Greta?

MCEVERS: (Laughter)

JOHNSEN: I mean, I don't know, Man. That's such a tough question. It's really difficult to actually ask yourself if things are feminist. You know, you have to just kind of enjoy them. I think it's really important to put a feminist lens on things...

WELDON: Yeah.

JOHNSEN: ...And you know, to have these kinds of conversations. Is it feminist? I mean, I would definitely rather live in the United States of America in 2016 than I would in Westeros any day.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: Despite whatever your alliances may be in Westeros.

JOHNSEN: Exactly.

MCEVERS: Cool. That's Greta Johnsen of the Nerdette podcast at WBEZ and Glen Weldon of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Thanks, guys.

WELDON: Thank you.

JOHNSEN: Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.