Women of Westeros: Feminism in Telltale’s ‘Game of Thrones,’ Episode 6

Game of Thrones
“Ever since I left the city you got a reputation for yourself now.”

And so, with this last “Women of Westeros” installment, our journey finally reaches its end. It’s been a hell of a ride since I first started this series way back in April of this year! To be honest with you, I’m a little sad that this run of ours is over. It’s been such an unexpected pleasure playing through this beloved story and analyzing the way Telltale handled the women who populate what can often be a deeply misogynistic setting.

From the snowy, far-flung lands beyond the Wall to the blistering heat across the Narrow Sea, Game of Thrones treated us to experiences as diverse as the characters living through them. Some women made their own way in the wild with nothing but a bow and blade at their back. Others wielded weapons of a different kind behind grand walls and great finery, their own backs to the wall. And yet all of these women have something in common—something absolutely instrumental in the development of a truly “Strong Female Character.” They never lost their ability to choose their own fate.

You’d better brew yourself a cup of coffee before this one! We have a lot of stories to wrap up—not to mention a veritable treasure trove of screenshots to pair with them all. The cards may have fallen for our illustrious women of Westeros, but that doesn’t mean we’re done talking about how much we adored them. If you’re looking for feminism in a video game, look no further than “The Ice Dragon.”

Game of Thrones
“So it’s gonna be forever or it’s gonna go down in flames.”

As always, we’ll start with the newcomers to this doomed little trash family. We discovered fairly early on that Gregor Forrester implied a lot more than simply protection when he sent Gared to find the North Grove. Like the honorable Ned Stark before him, Gregor fathered a pair of dark-haired, brooding illegitimate children with the last name “Snow.” They, too, were cast out to make their own way further north, though I don’t know if Jon would’ve taken quite so quickly to blood magic. Maybe.

With so little time to spare for each character in the game, one might assume that Telltale would relegate Elsera to the role most witches occupy and nothing more. Her faith in blood magic could have easily been propped up by empty fanaticism—a drive for more power that eclipsed the love for her brother and father. That’s not what they did. By the old Gods and the new, they actually made her complex. In what could only be a total of twenty minutes with this character, we’re treated with the close dynamic of two siblings far removed from civilization. Two people who learned to rely on each other, and who, when met with a face from their past, take the risk of trusting him.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree with Elsera’s choices or not. That is made emphatically clear when Gared stumbles his way through conversations with Josera, who expresses concern for his sister, but never undermines her. Elsera pursues what she sees will benefit her family, and if you choose not to go through with the blood ritual, there’s no rambling monologue about the need for sacrifice. No caricature of evil waving the dagger just out of arm’s reach. Elsera accepts Gared’s decision and stands by her brother when they form a new plan.

To no one’s great surprise, Beskha survived—and kept her end of the bargain by shepherding Ryon, the youngest Forrester, out of the ensuing fray. If you play this game for no other reason, let it be for the fight scene you see above. Personally, I couldn’t bear to part her from Asher back in “A Nest of Vipers,” which is definitely one of the few decisions I’m thankful for. Seeing the two of them fighting alongside each other in Ironrath’s halls was really a treat. The moment when Beskha asserted that Ryon was her little brother too was wonderful to see, because women like this don’t always have to be sticking people with swords to be seen as “powerful.” Beskha is allowed to share a tender moment with her adopted brother and still firmly remain one of the game’s fiercest characters.

I’d also like to mention Amaya, who was the self-proclaimed leader of former Meereen slaves we met back in the last episode. Did anyone else notice she shared a very significant look with Beskha at one point? Oh, yeah. That totally happened. I don’t care what anyone says: there was something going on there—something I expect to play in a DLC, Telltale. Please take my money.

Game of Thrones
“Hello from the other side.”

And then there’s Mira—my darling viper in the dark. I feel as though Morgryn’s ultimatum was very interesting, but still a missed opportunity (for him, not narratively). While Mira wasn’t exactly in any position to call the shots in the bargain, had Morgryn actually offered some semblance of a working partnership, I would have immediately agreed. As it was, the terms seemed far too steep for the character I’d helped fashion: Mira was cunning, yes, but would she sell out her closest friend in the same breath she sold her own freedom? Death might not have been kinder, but it was certainly the smarter decision between the two. There was something morbidly satisfying about refusing such a high price. Even in the face of Morgryn’s pitiful shouting from the crowd, Mira held her head high before she met the axe.

Of all the characters I had the pleasure of revisiting throughout this game, Mira was undoubtedly one of the most complex. When major players like Margaery and Cersei take notice of a handmaiden—and even enlist her help in their own schemes—you know she’s made it into the Westeros big leagues. I also feel as though Mira offered the most opportunity to grow as a character compared to everyone else. She really came into her own in “The Ice Dragon,” regardless of what you chose as her ending. I was so delighted that Game of Thrones allowed you to go to bat for the Forrester family by playing a veritable game of chess. Mira commanded her own agency with as much grace as she had cunning, and yet you didn’t have to sacrifice the vein of nobility that ran through the core of her motivations.

"Then there's no more use in running. This is something I gotta face."
“Then there’s no more use in running. This is something I gotta face.”

I’m not exactly happy with the way Elissa’s story ended, but I do understand that a few characters had to become collateral damage (if for no other reason than there simply wasn’t enough time to continue everyone’s story). I think her end was fitting, though unsurprising, as mothers are all too often used as plot devices in the service of a man’s pain. That said, Elissa didn’t go quietly. With flames licking at her heels and a storm at her gates, she refused to escape and defended her family as her husband and son had: with a blade and her life. There’s some solace in the fact that she never—not once—compromised her morals even in the face of certain death. If anyone has a backbone of steel, it’s the Lady of the House.

Asher, Talia, Ryon, and Duncan all escaped thanks to her sacrifice, which brings me to the next character on our illustrious list of ladies: Talia. While she didn’t exactly have too many moments to spare in this dizzying fray, we don’t see her so much as flinch when the Whitehills swarmed upon their gates. She held her ground despite only catching a glimpse of Ryon after so long, not to mention the charred remains of Rodrik when his body was rolled beyond their walls. With certain death looming over them all, Talia held her head high and demanded that Asher slaughter all of them for what they brought upon their family. This is quite the departure from the young girl playing in the ironwood back in “Iron From Ice.” I had a hunch she would outlive many of the characters in this game, and I’m relieved to see that I was right.

Game of Thrones
“Yeah I know that I let you down. Is it too late to say I’m sorry now?”

And yet, after all of that, I think we can glean the most insight as to what it’s like living as a woman in a place like Westeros from the quiet moment shared between Asher and Gwyn. We learn that the only reason why the Forresters were offered a peaceful bargain (or as “peaceful” as you can really get in war) was because Gwyn persuaded her unruly, temperamental father that it was even an option. With nothing but her wits, Gwyn has expertly positioned herself at the forefront of the proceedings. She sharpened the tools given to her to a fine point and placed it at her father’s unsuspecting back, all the while keeping a calm, cool composure. It’s a shame she and Mira never met—I think they would’ve gotten along like a house on fire.

This is how you handle writing women in historically restrictive times. You give them opportunities to show their agency. You include motivations that have nothing at all to do with the men that surround them. You allow them room to grow as people would naturally, which inevitably means allowing them to make mistakes. When you remove the shackles of roles and tropes—when you strip a character down to their bare bones—this is what you should find: the living, beating heart of a woman with her own mind and a say in how her story ends. Whether you pursued a romance between Asher and Gwyn is immaterial to the fact that Gwyn made her choices for her. And that’s what makes Telltale’s Game of Thrones such a refreshing departure from the industry standard.

It’s with a heavy heart that I’ll be concluding my “Women of Westeros” series. We can only hope Telltale signs on for more Game of Thrones works in the future! I’m halfway through a playthrough of The Walking Dead Season 2, and there’s no other development team I could possibly hope to bring my favorite medieval trash series to life again and again. Thank you to everyone who worked on this. It was truly a transformative, stressful ride, and I loved every minute of it.

Now to the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the screenshots that didn’t make the initial cut. Happy gaming, friends!

"Very well. I wouldn't want life in the hold to become ... unbearable."
“Very well. I wouldn’t want life in the hold to become … unbearable.”
Remember, kids: blood magic is ALWAYS the answer.
Remember, kids: blood magic is ALWAYS the answer.
"She's the hero Westeros deserves, but not the one it needs right now."
“She’s the hero Westeros deserves, but not the one it needs right now.”
Game of Thrones
“You flatter me.”
"I'm trying."
“I’m trying.”

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