This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season seven.
Game of Thrones continues to under-serve and under-develop its femme* characters. While this season has finally given us some much-anticipated femme power, it's also shown how limited female representation and motivation is and how much further we have to go. We finally have a strong contingent of femme players making moves for the throne and forging alliances, but there are clearly still limitations for what femme characters are capable of — here's what we've seen so far this season.
The Sand Snakes
These were some badass ladies! They were the bastard daughters of one the best warriors of the seven kingdoms and were somehow taken out by one crazy-eyed motherf*cker and his horde of ships? Seems unlikely. More that that, it seems unlikely and impossible that Oberyn's daughters would only be experienced with one weapon each, especially whips and daggers when the oldest used a spear. Nowhere in the seven kingdoms do we ever see a male character that can only use one weapon well. We deserved more, and they deserved to live up to the legacy of their father. Their capture, along with Yara's, proved that even the toughest femme warriors are no match for a male character who was introduced one season ago.
Cersei continues to be motivated by her pain as a mother and lover. Cersei has the captured women retrace her steps from the walk of shame and kills them with brutal creativity, something only Cersei could come up with and execute. Cersei is cunning, but continually driven by her love for her family rather than the show allowing a female character to be propelled forward by blind ambition or her own desire to rule.
Sansa is the lady of Winterfell (and I am here for it), but her rape is used again and again — for Bran to prove he is the Three-Eyed Raven, for Sansa to come into her own as a true lady, for Theon to fight back . . . Sansa's pain as a woman has advanced the plot and the development of others and given her deeper insight into Cersei's motivation and the ability to manipulate creeps like Littlefinger. While Sansa doesn't have the skills and otherworldly abilities of her siblings, she has real grounded experiences, something the show should treat as more than a backdrop and pivotal moment.
Arya remains bloodthirsty and vengeful, but continues to eschew traditional feminine roles. The family reunion of the Starks is marred by Sansa's upset when Arya spars with and maybe even beats Brienne. We see these siblings again pitted against each other again through the same tired tropes given to female-assigned characters: tomboy or princess. Arya has fought, trained, assassinated, and made it home to Winterfell. Let's hope that we get more than renewed sibling rivalry and more training montages.
Brienne of Tarth
For Brienne, femininity is a punishment. We see Brienne almost correct Pod when he says "lady," we've seen Brienne forced to wear a dress as punishment, and we've seen Brienne's motivation and desire to be knight questioned. Brienne's dismissal of traditional feminine roles is refreshing and empowering and serves as a role model to Arya. Through the destruction of the Sand Snakes, we are reminded that there are two ways to be a female warrior: either being an assassin or rejecting femininity.
Daenerys finally acts like a dragon, taking advice from Lady Olenna, the baddest b*tch in the seven kingdoms, and takes action toward securing the throne. She's consistently given the most dynamic non-traditional femme roles, but the women around her suffer for it. Missandei serves as Dany's most trusted advisor, confidante, and friend, and yet Dany turns to Jon Snow for advice while Missandei is reduced to furthering Grey Worm's plot through disclosing her sexual exploits to Dany. This show has yet to give us a person of colour to root for in a big way; fingers crossed it's Missandei.
This is not to dismiss Game of Thrones; HBO is making a show with strong femmes and giving us different representations of what people assigned female at birth can do. They gave us nonprocreative sex between a man and a woman, consistently give us examples of complicated female sexuality, and give female characters room to grow and feel. This is a challenge to us as viewers to think about how much more complexity we can have on screen for women.
*I am consciously making the choice to use femme instead of female, as we see Brienne gets very close to telling Pod that they are not a lady and Arya was trained by no one, giving them the ability to comfortably disregard gender.