“You really think a crown gives you power?” Tywin Lannister asked his son Tyrion during last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. The answer, of course, is no. In the War of the Five Kings, here is where the women, crownless but not powerless, stand at the end of the third season.
1. Daenerys Targaryen: It's a lot of fun to conquer cities with a guy who looks like a romance novel cover model on your side, not to mention crowdsurfing when the gates of Yunkai open and the city's slave population pours out to meet you, chanting "Mhysa” (which means “mother). But Dany should remember something that her challengers at home in Westeros often forget: basking in the attention of your people is not enough—you have to take care of them.
2. Melisandre: The Red Woman is awfully good at playing this game. “I take no credit. I have faith and my faith has been rewarded," she tells Davos after her leech curses appear to have claimed the life of Robb Stark. Seeming to have the Lord of Light on her side, she can avoid looking power-hungry and has the flexibility to turn on a dime, as she did last night with the announcement that, “this war of five kings means nothing. The true war lies to the North, my king. Death marches on the Wall. Only you can stop them.”
3.Yara Greyjoy: After raiding the Northern coast, Yara's been largely out of the action this season. But after she receives a present that's nasty even by the standards of Westeros—the flayed penis of her brother Theon, courtesy Ramsay Bolton—Yara springs back to life. She defies her father Balon, who believes that because "my son's not a man anymore," he's not worth rescuing. “I’m going to pick the fastest ship in our fleet. I’m going to choose the fifty best killers in the Iron Islands," she declares. I’m going to march on the Dreadfort. I’m going to find my little brother. And I’m going to bring him home.” If she succeeds, she could help not just her family, but knock out a scourge of the North in the process.
4. Arya Stark: The mark of a real player in the Game of Thrones isn't always how much power you have in a given moment. Sometimes it's how far you rise, and what resources you used to do so. At the beginning of this season, Arya was unarmed, alone in the wilderness, her only value as a hostage. Now, as she cleverly maneuvers to kill the Frey bannermen in the woods who talk gleefully of murdering and mutilating her mother and brother, Arya has her coin, her anger, the Hound's knife, and a cold-blooded instinct that not even he can deny.
5. Cersei Lannister: Cersei may believe she's gotten out of her marriage to Loras Tyrell. But she seems spent, resigned to the idea that her part in her family's reign of Westeros is to corral her vicious son. Jaime, her twin and the love of her life, has returned to her. But judging by her shocked reaction to his mutilated hand, it's not clear that even he will be able to make her happy, or to wield her power again.
6. Brienne of Tarth: Standing in the hallway outside of Cersei Lannister's quarters is a big step up from being threatened with rape and thrown in a bear pit. But with Jaime back in King's Landing, and no Catelyn for her to return Sansa Stark to, Brienne's a master-less, mission-less knight.
7. Shae: Heartbroken, and torn between her affection for Sansa, who she's come to regard as a little sister, and Tyrion, whom she genuinely loves, Shae gets a good offer this episode. "Start a new life, a good life, far from here. That mysterious foreign beauty. You’ll have suitors," Varys tells her, pressing diamonds into her hand to help her on her way. "This will never be your home, my lady. Find a true home, far from here, while there’s still time.” But Shae tosses the diamonds back at his feet, snapping that if Tyrion wants her gone, he should tell her himself. Is that admirable, stupid, or both?
8. Meera Reed: On the one hand, she's off to face a giant army of ice zombies. On the other, she's now armed with dragon glass, and the Reeds believe they're the only people who can save Westeros by helping Bran find the three-eyed crow. The details of the mission may be hazy, but their sense of purpose is not.
9. Sansa Lannister: She may have had her hopes dashed when she was married against her will to Tyrion Lannister, but Sansa's finding that she and her husband have a wicked sense of humor in common. That’s not much comfort, however, when she learns of her brother and mother’s fate at the Red Wedding—all organized by her new father-in-law.
10. Ygritte: I don't think most women will start shooting their ex-boyfriends full of arrows. But Ygritte's bitter "You know nothing, Jon Snow," should become a standard breakup line. Winter is coming. How will her pain play out when she and her former lover are on the opposite sides of the battle for control of the best defense against it: the Wall.
11. Gilly: In a way, putting Craster's former wife at the bottom of the Power Rankings is proof she's in a good place. Offering to cook and clean for the Night's Watch, welcomed as a guest to a traditionally all-male stronghold, Gilly's probably the safest she's ever been in her life. In the game of thrones as in Baltimore, you cannot lose if you do not play.