Kyra Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of Just One Night, the critically acclaimed Sophie Katz mystery series, and the novel So Much for My Happy Ending. Now a full-time author and television writer, Kyra lives in the Los Angeles area with her son and their lovable leopard gecko, Alisa. Visit her online at KyraDavis.com or follow her @_KyraDavis.
[Warning: here be spoilers!]
I write women’s fiction and erotic suspense novels and am fortunate enough to be able to make a living at it. My book Just One Night was on the New York Times bestsellers list for a few months and everything. So you see, creating strong, multi-layered women you can root for is sort of what I do. But to do it effectively I need inspiration. As odd as this sounds, I have lately found inspiration in the bloodiest, most male-centric and, some would even say, most misogynistic show on television. Of course, I’m talking about Game of Thrones.
Still, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, I was a little turned off at the start. I still vividly remember the first time I laid eyes on Daenerys Targaryen while watching the Game of Thrones pilot. I remember it because her first scene had such a serious ick factor. The girl was actually too weak and timid to even try to protest while her brother undressed her as she quivered in fear. I’m sorry, but it was just gross. There was weird stuff with Cersei Lannister and her brother too, but at least Cersei wanted her brother – although to be fair, she wasn’t exactly having such an easy time of it either. I mean, her husband, Robert Baratheon, didn’t show her so much as the pretense of respect. Yes, Cersei was a chilly character right from the get-go and choosing her brother as a lover is way up there on the perverted scale, but you can kind of understand why she would have sought some kind of comfort outside of her marriage.
Sansa Stark, on the other hand, seemed to be getting everything she wanted in the beginning but only because what she waned was so damn mundane. She preened as she was congratulated for her knitting skills, she prided herself on her prettiness, and she longed to be married off to a handsome prince. It was enough to make Gloria Steinem weep. And let’s not forget Lady Margaery. When we first meet her in the second season, she tells her husband that she’s cool with him fucking her brother. He still has her complete and unconditional loyalty and devotion (cue the Tammy Wynette music).
As an author, I pride myself on writing strong women. My gals may be seriously flawed but they’re all capable of standing up for themselves and they don’t need a man to rescue them. These women appeared to be the antithesis of that. And those scenes with Daenerys really were the worst. By the end of that first episode, she was stripped twice and while I have no problem with nudity, watching her being exposed against her will for men’s pleasure and for the pleasure of the viewer made me want to hurl my remote across the room.
There was simply no way to watch that pilot and come away with the impression that Daenerys was on the cusp of becoming a kickass-Breaker-of-Chains-take-no-prisoners-fire-retardant-mother-of-dragons. It literally has to be one of the greatest character arcs in television history. And while Cersei remains a cold-hearted bitch, we now know that anyone who disrespects her is going to have a very difficult (and possibly short) life. The only thing Lady Margaery is loyal to is her ambitions. And Sansa? Well, Sansa’s now aligning herself with a power-hungry killer while rocking a feather-trimmed diva dress. Game of Thrones went from a cesspool of misogyny to a mecca of feminism. And yes, I have seen and created these kinds of dynamic and nuanced female characters before but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen them all together and I certainly haven’t seen this many of them in any show or book that has attracted such a significant male following.
That said, their widespread popularity isn’t exactly a shocker. Women love watching other women break through glass ceilings without sacrificing their femininity or sex appeal (Daenerys still gets naked in almost every episode, but now she undresses herself, thank you very much). On the flip side, men seem to have a thing for incredibly dangerous women…like a certain red-headed sorceress we all love to hate.
And what makes these ladies particularly cool is that they know the world sees their gender as helpless and needy and instead of being cowed by that perception they use it as a weapon that is more deadly and efficient than any Valyrian steel sword. Sansa has finally figured out how to play the victim without actually being one. When Lady Margaery’s first husband is killed by some kind of pussy-smoke monster, she just shrugs it off and reels in the tyrannical boy-king, Joffrey. And when that little psycho turns purple and dies in the middle of a sadistic hissy fit she immediately moves on to his underage brother, Tommen. Each of these guys sees Margaery as a loyal, loving borderline submissive future wife. And then there’s the formerly diffident Daenerys, who is perfectly happy to let the master of the unsullied, Kraznys mo Nakloz, underestimate and insult her right up to the point when she incinerates the son of a bitch.
These are women that men want to sleep with, women want to be and nobody wants to mess with.
But, of course, they don’t represent every woman in Westeros. On the other end of the spectrum, we have Arya Stark, Brienne of Tarth and the recently deceased wildling, Ygritte; they’re individuals who utterly reject the roles society would cast them in and demand respect and equal treatment. They’ve taken a harder path, but it’s their path. They’re every bit as compelling as their dress-wearing sisters and they’re incredibly likeable, even when they shouldn’t be. After all, Ygritte did some really, really bad things. Murdering innocent villagers is completely unacceptable behavior! And yet I was so bummed when she died! The romance writer in me just wanted her to find a way to be with her one true love, the (sort of) virtuous Jon Snow.
I’m not saying that the depiction of women in GoT is perfect. It’s more than unsettling that Drogo rapes Daenerys before she falls in love with him, particularly since that’s not the way it went down in the book. And Jaime Lannister’s rape-that-wasn’t-supposed-to-be-a-rape of his sister Cersei was just a hot mess. But those issues don’t change the fact that GoT has created more powerful and nuanced female characters than any other TV show with a predominately male viewership. In fact, I would go so far as to say that these are women who could appeal to any one of Facebook’s 51 genders. Honestly, I’ll be shocked if I don’t see at least one guy dressed up as The Red Woman for the West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval. I know I speak for a lot of romance authors when I say, that’s something worth celebrating.