Power and Gender Dynamics in Game of Thrones


The fourth season of Game of Thrones ended with a thwang, of a crossbow that is. But already, withdrawal has set into my heart knowing that it will be weeks and weeks until I see my precious show again. Thinking about it with pain and longing, I can also speculate on what the show will bring in the coming season.

It’s no shock that the medieval setting of Game of Thrones has some specific gender drawbacks. Cersei Lannister is capable of running the throne, but has to instead serve in the stead of her sons (now only son, too bad…not). The “Queen of Thorns”, Olenna Redwyne, is the mother of Lord Mace Tyrell; he may be the lord but the bumbling idiot would be lost without his mother’s help. Sansa Lannister (née Stark) has claim to her family’s land in the North by believing all her brothers to be dead, but would only have the authority to take the land with the actuality of all her brothers being dead and with the help of her husband. Brienne of Tarth is mocked for her battle prowess and plain looks. Arya Stark finds it easier to hide as a boy than as a girl. No one seems to take Daenerys Targaryen seriously because of her age, even though she’s got freaking dragons! Countless rapes and pillages. It goes on and on.

So while George R.R. Martin has no problem creating fiercely independent and strong female characters, he puts them into a world unwilling to accept their strengths. But the entire Game of Thrones realm is not as male-dominated and female-hating as one might think.

Enter: Dorne.

Ellaria-Sand-house-martell-36908768-2832-4256__1403876183_109.76.123.6The warm, southern realm regards birth and gender a bit differently than the colder, northern realms in Westeros. Dorne operates under equal primogeniture (I know, it sounds so fancy). What this means is that regardless of gender, the eldest child rules. So, if the line of children goes boy, girl, boy, and the oldest son dies, the daughter takes the throne/lordship/what-have-you.

The ruling Martell family of Dorne is awesome for a few reasons. First, we got the see the amazing Oberyn take on the man that raped and killed his sister. I’m just leaving it at that because I’m still too traumatized to discuss that episode *sniffsniff.*

Secondly, Dorne accepts bastard children, as Oberyn points out in conversation with Tywin and Cersei Lannister at Joffrey’s (may he rest in fire and brimstone) wedding to Margery Tyrell. In Westeros, you can’t hear Jon Snow meet someone without hearing them say, “Ned Stark’s bastard?”, which eventually gets really annoying. However, in Dorne, children are accepted no matter what their lineage is; Oberyn has eight “bastard” or “natural” daughters. His daughters, collectively called the Sand Snakes in reference to his nickname the Red Viper, feature briefly in the last two books and play an important role in challenging the patriarchal beliefs held in Westeros. Also, they are called the Sand Snakes, how freaking cool is that?!

Thirdly, Arianne Martell is the heiress of the rule in Dorne. She’s very close with her Sand Snake cousins and with the power of Dorne behind her she has ideas about Princess Myrcella and the fate of Westeros. I don’t want to give away too much plot for those who haven’t read the books (seriously, why? Go read them.), but expect some political plans to emerge from Dorne in the coming seasons. I can only speculate as to how HBO will cut the book material for the next season, but that’s for another post entirely.

Lastly, the Martell family words are “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” which I think is fiercely elegant.  That’s kind of off topic, oh well.

The gender and power dynamic is a fascinating part of the world Martin has created for us. With Daenerys dealing with dragons, and White Walkers walloping the Wall, and Snakes slithering in the sands of Dorne, the next season will be packed with a punch that will rock men and women on their heels, both in the show and in the audience.


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