The Women of Winterfell: How Female Protagonists Can Define a War

The night of April 28, 2019 was one that few will forget. It was one of death, of triumph, of loss and of courage, all packed in to a stressful and highly anticipated 88 minutes of must see television. With the days leading up to the Battle of Winterfell, you would be hard pressed to go a day without seeing a tweet, or hearing a conversation on how the episode would change many beloved characters irrevocably.

Even if you weren’t a Game of Thrones fan, you knew that night was something unlike any other.

There were certainly no shortage of theories on who would die, who would live, and who would be the one to change it all. But in watching our timeline lose its collective shit with fan reactions and comments in the hours that followed the episode, one thing was made very, very clear.

It wasn’t the men that changed the fate of those at Winterfell. It was the women.

Women stepping out of the shadows, no longer hiding behind the protective walls and guards is something that we have seen in the past with other franchises. Lord of the Rings found Eowyn defeating the Witch King. Hermione Granger was the brains behind basically call Harry Potter capers, and victories. Marvel heroes such as Captain America and Wonder Woman have been box office hits, causing women world wide to call for more bad ass women leads. The tide is changing with regard to women’s roles within the world as we know it (women running for President, woman taking first photo of a black hole, etc), and it looks like television and film are finally starting to transition this long reality onto the screen.

But in a show that is predominantly male led, the Battle of Winterfell was a rally cry of female empowerment, and proof that gender will not define our ability to act, to triumph, and possibly, to rule.

Let’s have a look at some of the key female players in The Long Night.

Melisandre

Hers was the first contribution to the change in the Winterfell fate. Some things simple, others subtle, she played a much larger role than I think some may realize. First, she lit the swords of the Dothraki, channeling the Lord of Light, and giving them a small, albeit ineffective in the end, helping hand. Again, when Daenarys was unable to see the signal and light the trenches, Melisandre again used her power to protect Winterfell. But it is perhaps a more subtle action, a few lines, that made the biggest impact. While taking shelter in a room of Winterfell, as Arya and the Hound cross her path after the sacrifice of Beric’s life for Arya, and she reminds Arya of her fate to ‘close many eyes. Brown, green….and blue. It is possible that this was foreshadowing, that she knew Arya would be the one to end the blue eyed Night King. Again, moments later, it is Melisandre who reminds Arya of what  she could do by asking: What does one says to the God of Death?  Not today. Her ending, which she hinted to more than once over the years, was unexpected, as he stepped out into the winter beyond the walls of Winterfell, stripped herself of her necklace, and dissipated to dust. It would seem, her purpose had been served.

Sansa Stark

Again, her role in the victory of Winterfell isn’t necessarily a direct strike to the Night King or his disciples. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t worthy of a place on our list. It was made evident from the first episode years ago that Sansa was not a fighter. Quiet, feminine and with aspirations to the throne, she was never meant to be a warrior. At least not in the traditional sense. But as the years have passed, we have watched Sansa grow into a strong, capable, and focused woman who is just as fierce with her cunning and strategy as her sister Arya is with a blade. She is a leader, and she makes that clear when Arya tells her to take refuge in the crypts. At first, Sansa refuses, not wanting to leave her people, before joining the other women in the shelter. While there, she is introspective, considering not only her fate, but that of those around her. Even in this moment, she is planning. But when the Night King rises those within the crypt, as she hides with Tyrion, you watch her courage rise as she grips her blade, and prepares to fight for her life, showing those around her that she is worthy of respect.

Brienne of Tarth

She is woman, hear her roar. There is no female character stronger and more prepared for this battle (yes, we hear you Arya fans…just hear us out), and not only does she fight on the front lines flanked by her male counterparts, she is the lead of her group. It is her command, her strength and her skill that guides those around her through the toughest battle the show has ever seen. So much so, that Jaime, the King Slayer, takes up arms at her flank. He does not overthrow her…he stands beside her. She fights valiantly, she never gives up, and is a true warrior even when everything around her screams their defeat.

Lyanna Mormont

Ah, little Lyanna. Most may not now that this particular character was only supposed to make a single episode appearance. But the brilliance of Bella Ramsey propelled her into a recurring role in the series with her wit, her bite and her skill. Not only a woman, but a child in comparison to those around her, she is not to be overlooked. Her swan song is one that had fans screaming her name, chanting while mourning, as army of the dead giant Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun crushes her in his grasp after she charges him, only to have young Lyanna stab her dragon glass spear in his eye, defeating him before she dies.

Daenerys Targaryen

Okay, I’m going to be honest. As much as I adore Emilia Clarke, Daenerys is not who I want to see on the Iron Throne (hides from screaming fans and thrown produce). Her focus has turned more to power than to the people, and it will be interesting to see how her character navigates the new knowledge that she is, in fact, not the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. In terms of the Battle of Winterfell, as Missandei put it ‘Without the Dragon Queen, there would be no problem at all. We would all be dead.’ Yes, and no. Yes, without her armies (the Dothraki and Unsullied who were basically slaughtered), and her dragons (who had much less of an impact on the armies than I think we were expecting) it wouldn’t have been a battle at all. It would have been a quick slaughter. Those who she rallied made a difference in the battle, more than the Mother of Dragons herself, as she flew around the sky, then found herself fumbling impotently with a dagger while Jorah protected her. But no matter her personal impact, it is without a doubt because of her and those pledged to her that they were able to find victory at Winterfell.

Arya Stark

We save the best for last, ending our list with the true MVP of The Long Night. To say that we were surprised to see Arya be the one who ended the Night King would be an understatement, but as we look back over her character arc, we probably should have seen in coming. From episode one, she was desperate to fight, and willing to do whatever it took to learn. Her entire journey through the series was leading to this moment…her lessons with Syrio Forel, her training with Jaqen H’ghar and the Faceless Men. Working her way through her ‘list’ of people she was to kill, she honed her skills and it culminated in the most scream inducing moment of the night. Rising over the Night King’s back as he prepared to slay Bran (who spent the episode warging and left most of us are still wondering what the hell his role was), she lands in his deadly grip. But before he can end her, her blade finds its mark, and she in turn defeats the Night King, the one not even Dragon Fire could slow.

The men did their part, of course. Jaime fought valiantly, giving #Braime shippers all the feels as they battled back to back. Jon did his best to get to Bran, knowing that wherever he was, the Night King would follow. And of course, our biggest heartbreaks of the night….Ser Jorah Mormont and Theon Greyjoy, both dying defending those they cared for. But make no mistake, the biggest turning points were brought about by the female characters of Game of Thrones, and we want more episodes just…like…this.

So we bend the knee to you Arya, the youngest Stark, the Girl with no name, the one who referred to herself as No One, who along with her female comrades, won the battle of Winterfell. And we loved every estrogen fueled moment of their victory.

It was said no one could kill the Night King. Well, they were right.

No One did.

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.

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