One of the aspects of Game of Thrones that I find fascinating is that, while the women in it may dress in medieval garb, all of them seem to be exploring a modern take on gender roles. Rob Stark’s wife is a surgeon. Brianne is a knight. There are plenty of women on Game of Thrones who don’t seem to have been held back by the fact that they were born female.
If there is a glass ceiling in Westeros it seems one that can be ruptured by dragons.
The only character who may have a completely traditional (by our standards) concept of gender roles is Sansa Stark. She, like many, many girls, believes that if she is pretty and well behaved, a prince will ride up and marry her and she will live happily ever after.
And she is pretty. And she is well behaved. And a prince does come and take her away.
And wow, that does not work out.
The prince turns out to be a sociopath. A really horrible person. And Sansa is in a position where she cannot do anything about her situation. Whenever Joffrey does something terrible – forcing Sansa to look at her father’s severed head on a wall, beating her in front of the court – and someone asks her about it, she repeats as if by rote, “Joffrey is my one true love.” In a heartbreaking scene Margaery Tyrell invites her over for lemon cakes (lemon cakes are Sansa’s favorite) and asks Sansa to tell her the true nature of Joffrey’s character; at which point she weeps that he is a monster.
If seeing Sansa Stark’s condition doesn’t make women rethink their Disney notions of happiness then nothing will.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with accepting traditional roles. There’s nothing wrong with being pretty and well behaved. But, if nothing else, Sansa Stark is a reminder that it is important to have the freedom to walk away if the Prince who rides up turns out to be King Joffrey.
In a very fantastical show, Sansa may be the character who most grounds it in reality. She represents the ideas with which many of us grew up. And that’s terrific. Otherwise, Game of Thrones would just be a show about women with dragons and sexy, superhuman willpower (or, at least, pluck). And it’s her, certainly more than any of the other characters, that make me fully believe that, yes, George R.R. Martin is a feminist.