Men may spend a lot of time posing claims to the kingdom in Game of Thrones, but every week here at XX Factor, I’ll be rating the real powers behind—and out in front of—the Iron Throne: the women. Or as Lady Olenna Tyrell, who makes her debut in the show and on top of this week’s power rankings puts it, speaking of her grandson, “Loras is young and very good at knocking men off of horses with a stick. That does not make him wise.”
1. Lady Olenna Tyrell: Lady Olenna, better known as the Queen of Thorns, has a number of built-in advantages against her challengers in this week’s episode. She hails from one of the most powerful houses in Westeros, one responsible for both feeding the realm and playing a decisive role in the Battle of the Blackwater. She’s widowed, and so old she can’t be married off again without her consent, saving her from becoming a pawn. And most of all, she’s utterly fearless, getting the truth out of Sansa Stark about the brutality of King Joffrey, and reminding the younger woman she knows how the game is played. “My father always told the truth,” Sansa tells Lady Olenna nervously. “Yes, he had that reputation,” the Queen of Thorns tells her. “And they named him traitor and took his head.” Lady Olenna’s head seems unlikely to end up on a spike, but she just might send someone else there.
2. Margaery Tyrell: Margaery comes in behind her badass grandma this week because she’s saddled with the unfortunate burden of managing King Joffrey, meaning she can’t do precisely as she’d like. But her growing influence in the capital is undeniable. As Cersei Lannister, who she dethrones in this week’s rankings, puts it, “Margarey Tyrell dotes on filthy urchins for a reason. She dresses like a harlot for a reason. She married a known traitor and degenerate like Renly Baratheon,” also for a reason. And what should scare everyone else is that no one knows what her reasons are yet.
3. Cersei Lannister: Cersei Lannister’s main approach to power is manipulating the men in her family, rather than developing an independent power base of her own. So when her son dismisses her advice about his betrothed, telling Cersei that Margaery “married Renly Baratheon because she was told to. That’s what intelligent women do. What they’re told,” giant cracks appear in that facade. It doesn’t help that Margaery’s strategy to displace Cersei is working. Cersei may try to channel her son’s worst impulses, but she’s never going to talk sexy with him over crossbows. There are some places a mother’s love can’t reach.
4. Brienne of Tarth: Jamie Lannister may give her a hard time about her crush on Renly Baratheon. But Brienne knows that the best defense is to give the man who considers himself the best warrior in the realm a whupping fit for royalty. The fact that she doesn’t need to even look at him after delivering the sword blow that knocks Jamie out of the fight is Westeros’ equivalent of a mic drop. That she and Jamie end up backing their way down a bridge at the conclusion of their showdown is a minus. But Brienne’s proved she’s not to be trifled with, under any circumstances. If only the three women ahead of her on the list had anything close to her power as a warrior.
5. Meera Reed: It’s a good week for tomboys in the rankings as Meera Reed, the daughter of an old friend of Ned Stark, shows up with her brother to join Bran Stark’s journey North. “My sister carries the weapons,” Jojen Reed explains when wildling woman Osha corners him. “I’m better with them,” Meera pops up to explain, putting a knife to Osha’s throat. And when Osha complains later that “Isn’t he ashamed, your brother, needing you to protect him?” Meera reveals a thoroughly modern attitude towards combat. “Where’s the shame in that?” she tells Osha. “Some people will always need help. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth helping.” Good with a knife and philosophies of violence? We’re listening.
6. Arya Stark: “You’re a dangerous person. I like dangerous people,” Thoros of Myr explains when he and his fellow members of the Brotherhood Without Banners corner Arya and her friends in the woods. Arya has plenty of pluck. But she’s a long way from being able to defend herself. And when Sandor Clegane recognizes her, she becomes a lot more valuable to her captors. If Arya’s to become a player, she’ll have to do it on wits and spunk.
7. Talisa: Minor points for being married to Robb Stark, King in the North, and also for her medical skills. But Talisa’s afraid of her horse and totally unfamiliar with the customs of her adopted land. She’s a long way from being a player.
8. Sansa Stark: You’d think that after all that Sansa Stark’s been through, she wouldn’t get blushy and excited by the idea that a middle-aged pervy dude who was into her mother back in the day might be in love with her. But apparently not. If Sansa were to recognize her own value, she might have some power. But she’s still paralyzed by fear and fairy tales.
9. Shae: Trying to keep Sansa Stark’s spirits up and her person safe has to be one of the most depressing jobs in Westeros. It’s probably better than being a sex worker. But given that she was on exclusive contract to Tyrion Lannister, I’m not actually sure this is an improvement.
10. Catelyn Stark: She’s been made prisoner by her own son. Her father is dead. Her youngest sons are missing. And Cat’s beating herself up for not having loved Jon Snow enough. This is, once again, just not Catelyn Stark’s week.