We're halfway through the third season of Game of Thrones, and the games are definitely afoot. The advancing plots are upsetting the balance of power among some of the most able women in Westeros and beyond—as well as introducing us to new players, even if they're significant only on a small scale. Without further ado, here are this week's Game of Thrones lady power rankings:
1. Lady Olenna Redwyne: Knows the state of a wartime economy—and her family's contribution to it? Check. Understands class differences and the consent of the governed? Check. As she tells Tyrion Lannister when she visits him to discuss funding for the royal weddding, “The people are hungry for more than just food. They crave distractions ... . Their distractions are likely to end with us being torn to pieces. A royal wedding is much cheaper, wouldn’t you agree.” Able to cannily increase someone's debt to her? Check. “We’ll pay for half the expenses, and the celebrations will go on as planned," she ends her meeting with Tyrion. And in a single meeting Lady Olenna consolidates her position as the most powerful female player in the game of thrones. There's no man who can tell her what to do—and she's in a position to do exactly what she wants.
2. Daenerys Targaryen: "A man of honor keeps his vows whether he’s fighting for a drunk or a lunatic. Just once before it's over is over, I’d like to fight for someone I believe in," Ser Barristan tells Jorah Mormont, explaining why he's happy to be marching through the desert in Essos with Dany, the Unsullied, and some pre-adolescent dragons. But this episode shows how far Dany is from her actual goal of the Iron Throne and how much she has to learn about the men she's freed from lives of servitude and about what makes ordinary people tick. When she orders the Unsullied to "throw away your slave name," the elected commander of her men has to explain that his childhood name has only bad associations for him, but that “Grey Worm is the name this one had the day Daenerys Stormborn set him free.” Hopefully she gets the hang of ruling during that very long march home.
3. Ygritte: Orell may snap at the wildling warrior girl that “Just ‘cause you want him inside you doesn’t make him one of us," in the matter of Jon Snow. But Ygritte’s got enough juice to be able to protect her former Night's Watch boyfriend, and she knows how to get Jon's goat, making off with his sword Longclaw and challenging him to demonstrate the authenticity of his conversion. "It’s time you proved yourself. You swore some vows. I want you to break them. I want you to see me. All of me," she tells Jon in the cave where they escape, temporarily, from the pressures of being a wildling and a man from civilization. Maybe consensual sex and gender equality are the winning combination in the game of thrones, and nobody else has managed to figure it out yet.
4. Margaery Tyrell: She's still about to marry Joffrey, but Margaery's about to get outflanked by Tywin Lannister. If the young queen-to-be wants to reestablish her influence, she's going to have to pull off a plot other than Sansa Stark's marriage.
5. Cersei Lannister: What a comedown. Cersei starts this episode plotting behind her father's back, telling Littlefinger to investigate the Tyrells because “My father is a practical man. He appreciates facts," and warning the former Master of Coin that “Your best will prove better than when I asked you to locate Arya Stark.” But by the end of it, her father tells Cersei that “Tyrion will do as he is bid. As will you. You’ll marry Ser Loras ... . Tyrion will secure the north. You will restore the reach," by marrying the obviously gay Loras Tyrell. Neither Cersei's insistence that “I’m queen regent, not some broodmare," nor her plea “Father, don’t make me do it again," sway Tywin. It's a terrible reminder that no matter how much power a woman accumulates in Westeros, if she's young enough to marry, she's valuable property to somebody.
6. Talisa: She's married to the King in the North, but that doesn't get Talisa much. She doesn't even know where her home is supposed to be. Her husband ignores her advice. And when she suggests he give his flagging Bannermen a new reason to support him, Robb realizes he has to make nice with the guy who should have been his father-in-law.* Maybe Talisa would have been better off staying a medieval Florence Nightingale.
7. Brienne of Tarth: Okay, being in Roose Bolton's custody rather than Locke's doesn't count as much of an upgrade, but it's an improvement in her circumstances none the less. And Brienne has not just proven herself strong and noble—she's also earned the confidences of one of the most powerful and complicated men in Westeros. "Forgive me," Jaime Lannister tells Brienne after insulting her and realizing he doesn't want to hurt her feelings. "You’ve protected me better than most ... . I’m apologizing. Let’s have a truce.” “You need trust to have a truce," Brienne tells him, and for once, Jaime is sincere, telling Brienne, "I trust you" and proceding on to confess his most deeply held secrets. What happens with the two of them next is one of Game of Thrones' most intriguing questions.
8. Sansa Stark: Some days, Sansa Stark seems like the Ryan Lochte of Westeros: so cute, and yet so dumb. After all the trauma she's experienced, she still believes that Margaery Tyrell is going to come through with the promise to marry Sansa to Loras, missing the fact that Loras is gay. She even believes it enough to tell Littlefinger that she wants to go home, “of course, more than anything. But maybe it would be better to wait.” Of course, waiting is going to mean marriage to Tyrion Lannister. Sansa just doesn't know it yet.
9. Selyse: If you found attachment parenting champion Lysa Arryn creepy, Stannis Baratheon's wife is a strong challenger for the person who's been driven most bonkers by a traditional Westerosi marriage. When Stannis shows up to tell her that he's been cheating on her with Melisandre, her response is blinkered approval. “I know," she tells him. "The Lady Melisandre has told me everything. No act done in service of the Lord of Light can be a sin. When she told me, I wept with joy ... . I thank God every day for bringing Melisandre to us. She gave you a son. I give you nothing.” And by nothing, she means the remains of their stillborn sons in vats. With that kind of decorating, no wonder Stannis isn't home more. Yikes.
10. Arya Stark: Poor Arya. The Hound gets found innocent in a trial by combat. When she tells Gendry, the smith's apprentice from King's Landing who's become her closest friend on the road, "I can be your family," he reminds her, "You wouldn't be my family. You'd be my Lady." When Arya asks Thoros, “Could you bring back a man without a head? Not six times? Just once?” thinking of her father, he has to disappoint her, explaining “I don’t think it works that way, child.” All she's got going for her at this point is a lot of rage and a mantra of her enemies. But that alone is reason enough not to count Arya Stark out.
11. Shireen: Her mother keeps her stillborn brothers in vitrines in the living room. Her father rarely visits, and when he does, he tells his daughter of one of her only friends, “Ser Davos is a traitor. He’s rotting in a cell for his crime ... . Best forget him.” She's got a skin disease that deforms her face. Of all the noble kids in Westeros, Shireen seems to be leading the competition for Most Depressing Childhood. So more credit to her that she appears to be a really nice girl, sneaking over to Ser Davos' cell to bring him stories about Aegon the conqueror on the grounds that "you're my friend. You must be bored down here," and promising to teach him to read. Shireen may not be much competition for any other woman playing the game of thrones, but maybe she can help someone else out.
Correction, May 3, 2013: This post originally misstated Walder Frey’s relationship to Talisa. He is her father, not her father-in-law, and would have been Robb’s father-in-law had Robb married Talisa.