“Dark Wings, Dark Words” – Season 3, Episode 2
As all of the characters continue to traipse through their various wildernesses in what can only be said to be a second instalment of a lengthy set-up to the third season, there seems to be an emerging pattern of increasingly empowered female characters.
Power relations are in a state of constant flux in Game of Thrones, with characters rising and falling in the space of a season or less. There is an ever-present pressure for characters to play the game, and to play it well, as that, of course, is the only way to survive. Seasons 1 and 2 overtly vocalised the men who were playing well: those who manipulated the system from their position below – Littlefinger, Lord Varys and Tyrion specifically seemed to be fine tuning many of the cogs. Whilst those men with the most power, Ned Stark and King Robert, both met grizzly ends.
Our strong women, namely the other halves to Ned and Rob, Catelyn Stark and Cersei Lannister, were the only ones making themselves heard: Catelyn because she didn’t want Ned going south, and Cersei because she wanted control and kingship for her son, Joffrey. Now that we’ve reached season 3, Cersei is losing control of her monster son and Catelyn has been made prisoner by her son, Robb, for freeing Jamie Lannister.
Teenage tyrant, King Joffrey, quite provocatively told us this episode that:
“That’s what intelligent women do: what they’re told.”
Initially his comment seems a loaded attack against feminism, but actually there a shadow of truth in this statement – one that Joffrey himself doesn’t realise.
In fact, Cersei and Catelyn are the only women who haven’t been doing what they’re told, and they are the only women (except for Sansa perhaps) who find themselves in really rather bad situations. The other twelve women are doing quite well for themselves, and having essentially done as they were told in seasons 1 and 2, it now seems that in the beginnings of season 3, as many of the male characters are dwindling, these women are emerging as quiet assassins.
Many seem to be building momentum toward positions of power, whether in terms of actual status, or ability to manipulate others. Margaery had a particularly pivotal scene in this episode, where she, in Joffrey’s bedroom, wheedled her way out of his accusations against her by playing up to his perverse interests and succeeded in wrapping him round her little finger. After she suggestively rubs the crossbow on his lap, he offers to the crossbow to her. A foreshadow, perhaps, that the object of power may shift to Margaery as she enchants her way around Joffrey. We can see, as she looks at their reflection in the mirror, there is very much a glint of deceit in her eyes.
Prior to this scene, we met Margaery’s grandmother, Olenna, a woman with a lot of sass who was certainly the one giving the orders and getting what she wanted – both lemon cake and information from Sansa. Sansa’s character has made little movement until now since the death of her father in season 1, but after admitting to Joffrey’s monstrousness we may wonder whether she has gained herself some protection from the Tyrell women. Even if this isn’t the case, she has certainly struck lucky by gaining Shae as her handmaiden. In episode 1, Sansa stood on the docks discussing a potential flight from King’s Landing with Littlefinger.
However, the real focus of that scene was the private conversation between the supporting characters, Shae and Ros. Up until now Shae and Ros have always done as they are bid by the men in their life and though not exactly wallflowers, they’ve played their parts well. This, conversely, was the first time their own feelings of self-empowerment and identity have been revealed, as Ros mentions to Shae that both women have done well for themselves. She also cautioned Shae/Sansa to be wary of Littlefinger’s intentions, which shows that her head isn’t as empty as her submission may suggest.
Our other leading woman, Daenerys Targaryen, who we only saw in episode 1, has had a rocky road of power highs and lows – depending a lot on when she chooses to do as she’s advised. She has always had the good advice of her loyal knight Jorah, and holds her own power as both the mother of dragons and the Khalese, especially now she is on the brink of buying herself an army.
The only other female character with some fantastical power at present is Melisandre. Still commanding Stannis Baratheon and burning whomever she chooses, she is relatively high up the power scale. Also, what is often pushed to the back of our minds but was proved to us when she gave birth to the assassin of a shadow baby last season, is that with her black magic, she has the power to completely change the direction of the plot at anytime.
Episode 2 also shed light of some of the other female characters who weren’t called upon during episode 1. We finally saw Arya in the depths of the forest asserting herself against a new band of rogues whilst her male companions cowered in the bushes. Brienne too was still standing up to the ridicule of Jaime Lannister as she dragged him around the woods in manacles, and commanded even more respect of him as she matched and bettered him in their sword fight on the bridge.
Not to forget our wildling women as well: Osha is still heading the pack as she guides Bran to the wall, despite a few mishaps against their new friends Meera and Jojan Reed, she has still proved herself to be a feisty, strong-willed fighter. Also worth noting is the relationship between Meera and Jojan, where it is the sister who protects the brother. North of the wall, Ygritte is still holding her own as she orders around Jon Snow, is all very casual about the giant and the Warg, and competes on the same level as her fellow male wildlings.
The other supporting women in the piece, Talisa Maegyr and Yara Greyjoy, seem to be holding similarly firm positions. Talisa was mentioned as having been the main cause for the weakening of Robb Stark’s battle to overthrow the Lannisters. She was also the woman who Catelyn chose to confess her inability to be a mother to Jon Snow to. Yara hasn’t turned up on-screen yet this season. Nonetheless, her brother Theon, trapped in a dungeon somewhere, was approached by an unnamed boy claiming to have been sent by her. It seems she doesn’t even need to be present on-screen to be more powerful than her brother.
Casting our eye over the masses of women in the two introductory episodes of this season, it very much seems Westeros and Esteros is inhabited by a lot of intelligent women. These women frequently appear to be doing as they are told by another character, whether it be their father, husband, king, owner or just someone in their care, and as a result they are all commanding a certain amount of unsuspecting power. It will be interesting to see when, where and if they will use it…