“So why is a nice girl on her own heading to King’s Landing?” asks one of Ed Sheeran’s band of friendly, well-meaning Lannister soldiers in Game of Thrones’ “Dragonstone.”
“I’m going to kill the queen,” replies Arya Stark.
There was an awkward pause before the men burst into good-natured laughter, seeing only a fresh-faced girl who might not even be old enough to share their blackberry wine and not a trained assassin who’d just murdered several dozen of Walder Frey’s loyal subjects. It was a perfect encapsulation of how the show’s men continually fail to comprehend the power of the dangerous women around them.
The Season 7 opener was full of powerful women taking charge. Westeros—from the newly arrived queen in Dragonstone to the newly crowned queen in King’s Landing—has become a matriarchy. And yet, the world of Game of Thrones is one in which, much like our own, men fail to take women seriously, often at their own peril.
Whether it be Jaime Lannister assuming his sister Cersei—the woman who now sits atop the Iron Throne—doesn’t know what she’s gotten herself into or the Northern elders rejecting the idea that women should fight in the battle to save humanity while sitting opposite Lyanna-fucking-Mormont, even the fact that Ned Stark didn’t share his swear word–laden advice with his daughters (“He never wanted us to see how dirty the world really is,” explains Sansa), the women of Westeros are still treated as weak, ignorant, and in need of protecting by their male counterparts. And it’s going to come back to bite them.
Jon Snow, at first, seems to get it. Addressing his allies, he suggests everyone start training to fight—even the girls, who, he reasons, can wield a Dragonglass blade as well as anyone else. The gesture toward equality is met with some distress by the old white men of the North, but Lady Lyanna fiercely puts them in their place. “I don’t plan on knitting by the fire while men fight for me,” she tells a man who’s obviously never seen Brienne of Tarth fight. “And I don’t need your permission to defend the North.”
But when Sansa, the surviving Stark who best knows the politics of Westeros—not to mention the woman responsible for saving Jon’s army from imminent defeat at the hands of Ramsay Bolton—tries to have her say on the fate of the traitorous houses of the North and the looming threat from the South, Jon dismisses her concerns. Aside from the fact Sansa has seen a great deal and clearly knows what she’s doing, disregarding Sansa’s advice could prove very dangerous for Jon: The look of frustrated resignation on Sansa’s face and sly smile that crept up Littlefinger’s watching her was enough to tell us this plays right into the Lord Protector of the Vale’s scheming hands. If you don’t listen to her, Jon, someone will. (Jon is due to “face a revolt” in the next episode; could it be from the clever sister whose advice he refuses to heed?) With Littlefinger skulking around, the last thing Jon needs is to publicly disrespect Sansa and give the flattering Littlefinger a chance to get in her ear.
Jon is not the only brother having trouble taking his sister’s experience seriously. By now, Cersei has been playing the game of thrones for six seasons. Not always perfectly, granted—she’s lost all three children along the way, including one who she spurred toward suicide—but you don’t see anyone else on the Iron Throne, do you? Queen Cersei, with nothing left to lose, is pacing her freshly painted map of Westeros, plotting world domination. Enter brother Jaime, to tell his lover-twin how much trouble they find themselves in, as if she doesn’t understand that all too well.
Cersei is, of course, multiple steps ahead of him. When Jaime suggests they need allies, the show cuts to the incoming Greyjoy fleet. “Do you think I listened to Father for 40 years and learned nothing?" she asks.
Even then, she isn’t done being underestimated. She’s dangled the prospect of an alliance through marriage in front of Euron Greyjoy, but he comes at her like a cocky one-night-stand instead of a potential equal, and so she sends him packing until he can return with concrete proof of his intentions.
While there are exceptions, namely those in Daenerys Targaryen’s orbit, the men of Westeros are for the most part still having trouble taking the women around them seriously, in spite of everything we know them to be capable of. “Dragonstone” was full of strong, powerful women finally coming into their own, dominating King’s Landing, Dragonstone, and the North and killing rooms full of men. From Yara Greyjoy to Ellaria Sand to Olenna Tyrell, even the minor female characters in the Game of Thrones universe have shown themselves to be such masters of the game that it’s astounding men are still failing to appreciate the threat they represent.
As Cersei asks Jaime, “Are you afraid of me?”
“Should I be?” he replies.
Yes, Jaime. You should be.