Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Song of Ice and Fire: Favorite Female Characters.

Edit: I can't get the spoilers that affect the plot fully blacked out; I will continue trying.  I'm going to try not to use too many spoilers, though. I do welcome comments, so if you want to ask or say something specific, please write "S/A" before your comment.  Thanks!

Image from

Perhaps it's just my perception- though I think many would agree with me- but female characters in fantasy novels and movies often seem one-dimensional and sometimes merely there for the "hotness factor."  So I was pleasantly surprised when I read A Song of Ice and Fire and watched the Game of Thrones series.  Yes, many of the actors and actresses are typically good-looking, but then so are their characters, and they play their parts well.  What I love is that George R. R. Martin gave unique personalities (both bad and good) to his female characters in ASoIaF, and I think that is why the story works better on TV than a lot of book-to-film adaptations.  The characters aren't solely defined by their looks, even when/if their looks do play a part, and it lends strength to the narrative.

Below are my top three favorite female characters:

#3: Sansa Stark

I know, I know, many of you are thinking "What?  Sansa's a hateful little spoiled brat."  Most of my thoughts about Sansa, especially about her ultra-femininity, are actually well summed up by the post In Defense of Sansa Stark (S/A) on the blog Feminist Fiction. Yes, she was a brat... at first.  However, in Game of Thrones, she's also a freaking 11 year old girl.  She had little experience dealing with the world beyond Winterfell.  She was fanciful and naive.   I think her growing up, with the rose-colored glasses coming off, is one of the more interesting, nuanced story lines.  Sansa might be capable of lying to protect those to whom she feels she owes something- which unfortunately included Joffrey in GoT- but she thought that was the worst she could expect from others as well.  She couldn't fathom that others would hurt or kill because of lies, because she wouldn't.

"Please tell me I didn't think that."

Sansa's awful mistake was that she gave her loyalty and trusted too freely.  She had the romantic notion that a prince should cater to his betrothed, so when she denounced her father as a traitor to prove herself to Joffrey and Queen Cersei, she likely expected him to be stripped of his title or exiled, not beheaded. She realized her mistake.  She matured.  She knows better.  Now she has learned how to stay alive to fight another day, which in Westeros is quite an achievement in and of itself.

#2: Olenna Tyrell

Ah, the Queen of Thorns.  She might not get much "screen time," (I haven't seen all of the GoT TV series yet(!!)- I just know she didn't in A Storm of Swords), but she is extremely entertaining.  In some places I have seen Olenna Tyrell referred to as the "Dowager Countess of Westeros."

"Deary me.  And possibly Lawks."*

Like Maggie Smith's character on Downton Abbey, she does indeed have a sharp wit and is definitely not someone you want as an enemy.   She tries to protect the innocent and those she loves, but she is not blind to faults, even calling her own son an "oaf" for the way he handles playing the game of thrones. She tries to keep Sansa safe by marrying her off to her grandson to get her away from King's Landing, a plot foiled by the Lannisters marrying her off to Tyrion.   She thinks rulers would be better off listening to their mothers and not constantly bickering.  And of course, if the only thing you know about her is that she had a role in Joffrey's death, you probably like her.

And my favorite female character...

#1:  Brienne of Tarth.

Brienne is a very, very good warrior.  This alone does not make me like her, but the dedication she shows to her chosen profession does.  She tries to live by traditional, honorable knightly standards, even though she is often told that most knights are far from honorable.  In many ways, she is the polar opposite of Sansa's GoT character.  She is considered both unattractive, even ugly, by many. People have to be kind and generous to her to earn her loyalty.  I actually like the fact that she is depicted as insecure and wanting acceptance.  I don't mean that I like it when people have those feelings, but that side of her character makes it extremely easy to relate to her, even if you're not a morningstar-wielding bad-ass.  When she is asked by Catelyn Stark to escort Jaime to King's Landing to free Arya and Sansa, both of whom she thinks are prisoners there, I think Jaime sees in her a better person than he could ever be.  Possibly, he sees the kind of knight that he could have been in another life.

At least, I hope he does.  It's hard to say with a Lannister.

Brienne has the ability to inspire loyalty in others, and you find yourself wanting her to use that ability.  I just hope that she hasn't been influenced by un-Cat.  I know that Brienne was loyal to Catelyn, but Catelyn's zombie's actions have proven that she (it?) doesn't deserve loyalty, and even if I haven't come to like Jaime, I don't want Brienne to kill him on un-Cat's orders.  Brienne has qualities that are so much more valuable than looks: honesty, determination, and unwavering loyalty once gained, and I really want her to continue being a good person.  I also like that when people get to know her, they don't find her ugly anymore.  True ugliness is on the inside.

Do you agree with any of these?  Who are your favorite female characters in ASoIaF?

*The Terry Pratchett reference seemed to fit so well; I didn't want to waste the opportunity.


  1. I thought the Queen of Thorns was awesome and liked Brienne but Sansa reminds me of the girls at one of the camps I worked at in high school and so just set me on nerves. I kind of fell off reading the books, I think I'm still a good 80 pages from the end of Storm of Crows.
    Have you read any of Tamora Pierce or Patricia Wrede's books? Strong, multidimensional female characters are definitely present (and several series are already finished so there's none of this one book every five years nonsense).

    1. I hadn't heard of Patricia Wrede, but I've heard good things about Tamora Pierce and always thought about buying one of her books whenever we were at the store but never known where exactly to start- I'd love suggestions! I think my next fantasy novel is going to be the second one in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, Deadhouse Gates. I don't know if I'll be able to read more than one book while getting through that series... with the first book it took me quite a while to figure out what was going on (but once I did I really enjoyed it :-)), and it might be difficult to keep track of everything!

    2. I would start with her Song of the Lioness Quartet which is followed by Wild Magic (the first book had ponies on the front... I was a pretty easier reader to market to at the time) and then Protector of the Small and something about the Trickster that runs concurrently with Protector of the Small. She also has the Circle of Magic and the Circle Opens but they're aimed for a younger audience so quicker reads.

      Patricia Wrede wrote (among other ones) the Enchanted Forest Chronicles which features a very practical, sword-wielding, cherries jubilee-baking princess.

      Epbot (Jen of Cake Wrecks) has an occasional series on good books that often feature similar characters that could be helpful for rec's too:

  2. Hello, is new to your blog and was moved to read this post. I love Game of Thrones series. I have question for you. What about Arya?

    1. Hi- thanks for reading/commenting! (Also, for anyone else: very mild spoilers in this comment).

      I do like Arya. I know she would be #1 on a lot of people's lists. I hesitate to say she's one of my favorite, because I actually find her character more depressing than a lot of others. She reminds me that in Martin's world, the only way to get to other people is usually to kill them. There's not much compromise, hardly ever compassion met with equal compassion, and revenge is held in much more esteem than forgiveness. I get it; as humans we usually want revenge and/or justice for the guilty. But it still make me somewhat sad when I find myself cheering on someone whose main goal in life is to hurt everyone who hurt her.

  3. I will admit that Arya is insanely high on my favourites list, and Sansa is not quite as high... but I am still a huge Sansa fan, and anytime I see support for Sansa I feel like cheering and clapping.

    Weirdly, Brienne is not as high on my favourites list as I would have thought (though she's still in the upper tier... yes I really made a list...). I should say that I absolutely love her in the show, but for whatever reason I don't feel like reading about all of her thoughts in the books. Reason why? I don't find her to be quite nuanced enough. She's fairly predictable, in thought and action. Whereas when I look at a character like Sansa, who I admittedly LIKE less than Brienne, I enjoy reading her chapters more because she grows and changes so much. She's very nuanced by comparison.

    And Olenna? She can swap words with Tyrion and come out the victor, so she is just amazing.

    1. You are right that Brienne's personality and story line can be predictable. I haven't seen her in the show yet... yes, I've still only watched the first season! I've slowly come to realize that I have a soft spot for predictable characters or plots in literature, even if I love the more complicated ones :-).

      And Tyrion is my favorite character, so definitely, anyone who can match wits with him would get my vote!