SYDNEY MORNING HERALD – The top ten surviving characters in Game of Thrones: 1 Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) supervillain; 2 Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) jester/hero; 3 Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) potential hero; 4 Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) rogue/ hero; 5 Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) damsel in distress; 6 Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) guardian; 7 Daenerys Targeryan (Emilia Clarke) hero; 8 Petyr Baelish Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) mentor/manipulator; 9 Margery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) seductress; 10 Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) witch/ seductress.
Most fans of Game of Thrones expect the series to end with Daenerys Targaryen ruling the seven kingdoms, cunningly advised by the Hand of the Queen, Tyrion Lannister, who’ll be happily married to Sansa Stark. But Sophie Turner, 20, who plays the long-suffering Sansa, has a different hope. “I don’t want to survive,” she told The Wall Street Journal last month. “I want Littlefinger [Machiavellian Lord Peter Baelish] to end up on the throne … If you’re on Game of Thrones and you don’t have a cool death scene, then what’s the point? I think it would be really disappointing if I got to the end and I was just okay.”
You are either a normal person or a sexist – Maisie Williams
For the first few seasons, Turner’s wish for Sansa to meet her doom was shared by many viewers, who found her whiney and annoying. But in the season starting next week, Sansa joins the regiment of warrior women who have come to dominate the story.
The writers are sailing viewers through uncharted waters this year, because they have run out of source material from the novels of George R. R. Martin (currently suffering a painful case of writer’s constipation). In recent interviews, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams (who plays her sister Arya) and Gwendoline Christie (who plays Sansa’s protector Brienne of Tarth) have suggested that this season will display it as a “feminist” series.
Turner told The Wall Street Journal: “This isn’t a popular opinion, but it’s definitely a feminist show I believe. Because as I say, back then women didn’t have the power to control kingdoms. They weren’t becoming the strongest characters in life and in this show the strongest characters are the female characters. But obviously we have to cater to the times that they’re in, and so there are those social boundaries put upon them. But they break out of them in this show, and that’s why I think it’s quite feminist.”
Earlier seasons were criticised for the emphasis on female nudity and for having men do most of the talking and fighting – with the exception, of course, of evil queen Cersei and noble queen Daenerys. In season 6, Sansa, Arya and Brienne grow as plot-drivers. Turner told Entertainment Weekly: “I’ve had more people saying, ‘You’re my favorite character’ than ever before, which is amazing, because I used to get ‘You’re my least favorite character’. Finally people see Sansa how I see her. This is the season I’m most excited for. Sansa’s coming into her own and standing up for herself.”
Maisie Williams, 18, said she was first asked about the show’s apparent sexism during the first season, when she was 12 years old. “I got asked in one of my first interviews: ‘Is Arya a feminist?’ I didn’t even know what a feminist was. And then someone explained it to me. And I remember thinking, ‘Isn’t that just like everyone?’ And then I realised everyone is not a feminist, unfortunately. But I also feel like we should stop calling feminists ‘feminists’ and just start calling people who aren’t feminist ‘sexist’ – and then everyone else is just a human. You are either a normal person or a sexist.
“It’s always been a constant debate because women are treated badly on the show, and they’re treated well on the show. But it’s the same as the boys and the girls and the men and the animals. The themes are very dark. I get it that people don’t want to watch scenes like that [the rape of Sansa in season 5]. I understand, and you shouldn’t have to. But that’s the show that we’ve made, and I have no control over what’s written.”
Gwendoline Christie, 38, who plays Sansa’s protector Brienne of Tarth, is delighted she’ll have more action this season. “After season 5, people would come up on the street moaning about why wasn’t Brienne doing more,” Christie told EW. “I’d say, ‘I’m terribly sorry, I’m not really in charge of that.’ I got the scripts for season 6 and I thought the story was so fantastic. It’s really exciting to see Brienne burst forth again.”
Christie (masked by a helmet) played Captain Phasma in the most recent Star Wars revival, and is currently in Australia filming a second season of the crime thriller Top of the Lake, but she wants to keep playing Brienne “forever”: “Women talk to me about how Brienne is important to them and they’re really happy it illustrates an unconventional side of femininity and womanhood compared to what we’re used to seeing. There’s a shift in the kind of things people want to see in entertainment, and I hope this breeds in people’s minds and we see more different incarnations of women.”
All this is not to suggest that the previous flagbearers for feminism will take a step back this season. Daenerys’s dragon has dropped her amongst the horse people who launched her trajectory to world domination (and will apparently find a love interest who is even more manly than her first husband Khal Drogo). Cersei is going to challenge the religious fundamentalists who forced her body-double to do a naked walk of shame last year.
Those who hope to see Daenerys on the throne by close of play will first need to see her defeat the most evil Lannister of all. In that endeavor, she can rely on staunch support from Sansa, Arya, and Brienne. Plus Tyrion, of course.