By Alyssa Rosenberg
Since there are clearly a lot of Game of Thrones fans in the audience, I thought we’d open up discussion of the most recent episode every Monday (if folks watch Treme and want to talk about it, let me know, and maybe we can do that too). If you’ve read the books, please try to avoid posting spoilers, or at least be cool tell people at the beginning of comments that you’re discussing future material.
One of the things that struck me about this episode is how the show is magnifying the ways women endure uses of force, and how they use it themselves. In George R.R. Martin’s universe, and feudal societies generally, men have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. It’s a no-brainer that Bran would be trained to use a bow, no matter how much or how little aptitude he shows for it. When the Hound rides down the butcher’s boy who was practicing sword-fighting with Arya, what’s offensive within the context of Westeros’ values is less that he killed the boy, but his attitude about it: “He ran,” the Hound tells Ned Stark of the dead child, “but not very fast.” On the other hand, when women want to use force, they have to be sneaky about it. Having failed to persuade her husband to punish one of the Stark children after Arya’s wolf bites Prince Joffrey, Cersei Lannister manipulates King Robert into killing one of the wolves. She can’t hurt the Stark children because they’re protected by their father’s position as Hand of the King, and she can’t kill the direwolf herself, so she has to come up with a compromise that will persuade someone else to commit violence on her behalf.
When women defend themselves, they’re circuitous about it: no matter how much she wants to be a warrior, Arya can’t bring herself to stab Joffrey after she disarms him, throwing his sword into the river instead, removing the potential of real violence from the equation. Dany’s decision to get herself sexually educated so her husband isn’t, in the parlance of one of her handmaidens, taking her “like a dog takes a bitch” is explicitly framed as her rising out of metaphorical slavery by becoming sexually dominant. And when a mysterious assassin attacks Bran, Cat doesn’t stab or disable him: instead, she grabs the blade of the knife, taking on the pain meant for her child in an act of self-sacrifice, rather than self-defense. If men are defined by their capacity to inflict pain thus far in the series, women are defined by their capacity to endure it.