This post will be discussing various royal characters in the HBO show Game of Thrones. How spoilery could this post be? Probably very. If you are behind on your show watching, let me first call you a clown, and then request that you watch the show and come back.
Game of Thrones takes place primarily in the Seven Kingdoms, where in the show’s early seasons various kings contested for the Iron Throne (while other kings attempted to secede from the multi-kingdom hegemony.) I’ve already talked about those dudes, how few of them bothered to accessorize with crowns, and how most died.
Kings are kind of cool to talk about, I guess, but I don’t want to ignore the many queens in Westeros, who engage in their own power plays.
Since much of the action in Game of Thrones is driven by household warfare, it’s convenient to sort the major and minor queens in their respective houses.
- Daenerys Stormborn
The only queen on my list that’s never set foot on the Westeros mainland (having been born on the island of Dragonstone and then ferried off across the narrow sea with her brother Viserys, just ahead of the Usurper’s forces) Daenerys in some ways is nearly as mythical to the people of the Seven Kingdoms as the Others north of the Wall.
Just like the Stark words are “Winter is Coming” – the Baratheon words should have been “Targaryens are Coming, Unless We Kill Them First!”
Although she has relatively little influence on the Seven Kingdoms at the moment (well, other than people like Varys allegedly prepping for her arrival) Dany has a well trained army of Unsullied soldiers (don’t believe the Internet, those guys are deadly), dragons, and the belief that it’s her destiny to rule Westeros.
She’s the queen to watch out for before the series is over.
- Cersei Baratheon
(It’s so weird to not call her Cersei Lannister, but it’s the Baratheon name that makes her a queen.)
Cersei, the Lannister Lioness, once lectured Lord Baelish that “power is power” – putting him in his place with a blade to his neck when he brazenly tested her patience. Married to the largely unaware King Robert, Cersei groomed his heir Prince Joffrey to be a cruel and selfish ruler when the time of King Robert’s passing came at hand.
Unfortunately for Cersei, Robert’s death initiated the decay of her own power. Joffrey was inclined to do as he liked, ignoring her wishes until Tyrion arrived on the scene as acting Hand. Her younger brother exercised the power she wished to wield until their father Tywin arrived to effectively act as an uncrowned king.
Cersei’s power shrunk largely down to the control of her toadies and hanger-ons. She tried to recruit the church as an ally by appointing a humble holy man she’d befriended and allowing the ‘sparrows’ to arm and enforce religious laws. But this source of power turned against her, turning her essentially powerless.
Things are looking bad for Cersei, and it’s largely her own responsibility. Since she’s her own worst enemy, it’ll be hard for her to get any power back without outside help.
I think her story won’t change much going forward, but I assume the worst is yet to come, thanks to a prophecy told to her when she was a child.
- Myrcella Baratheon
Hold on, I hear you say. Myrcella isn’t a queen, she’s a princess.
And most likely dead from Obara Sand’s venomous kiss.
Yes, yes. Hear me out.
Some of this is related to the books, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t spoilery. Precisely because the show is ignoring a critical fact about Dornish governance. And I am nearly 100% convinced Myrcella is dead. Sadly.
In Dorne, the law is not as rigidly patriarchal when it comes to succession. It’s not the eldest son who has preferential claim, it’s the eldest child. By the traditions of those descended from the Rhoynar, Myrcella Baratheon is the rightful monarch of the Seven Kingdoms, because she is older than Tommen.
In the books, some of the relatives of dead Oberyn Martell wished to declare Myrcella the Queen of Westeros. Once she was married to Trystane Martell, this would give the Martells a claim they could pursue through war. Although this tradition is not honored throughout the rest of Westeros, the Lannister controlled-regime is so disliked, the time they might be a-changing.
But this might have been possible had she not been poisoned.
And had the show bothered to deal with Dornish law.
As things stand now, a dead Myrcella has little influence, other than as a child to be avenged.
- Talisa Stark
Speaking of dead… It’s possible that Myrcella might pull through or have an antidote administered, but Talisa Stark is super dead. Some might say that Jon Snow is super dead, but that’s just peanuts compared to Talisa. So why include her in this list?
Two reasons. Talisa got to be the first Queen in the North in something like 400 years, so it deserves a mention.
Secondly, she pretty much single-handedly torpedoed Robb Stark’s otherwise successful campaign against the Lannisters by winning his heart and losing him allies.
But we can’t really blame her. It’s not like she intended Robb’s downfall. Or did she?
A compelling theory that surfaced before the Red Wedding episode suggested that Talisa was not merely a Volantene noblewoman turned medic, but a Mata Hari-esque operative sent by Tywin to spy on the Stark forces. And if the opportunity to sabotage Robb’s marriage arrangement with the Freys presented itself, to take full advantage.
It’s a fun theory, and worth checking out: the Lannister Honeypot.
It’s not a home run. Talisa death seems to be a flaw in the theory. But if we imagine that Talisa expected to walk away with a lot of gold, but was delivered a burn notice instead of a paycheck…
Regardless, Talisa was only a queen for a short while, but had a tremendous impact on the Stark war effort.
- Sansa Stark
Sansa Stark has lost so much. Her dire wolf, her father, her freedom, her mother, her eldest brother, and as far as she knew (until Theon broke the news about the farmboy substitutes) her younger brothers.
But with the nigh-destruction of her family, Sansa Stark is pretty left with the visible claim to Queen in the North. The North rallied behind the Starks in defiance of King’s Landing, and Robb’s death did not change that.
The North knows but one King, and his name is Stark.
Robb died without leaving an heir (calm down, book readers, keep your cool) and Bran and Rickon are presumed dead. The great houses in the North, already irritated by the new Bolton regime, might require very little urging to form ranks behind Sansa Stark. But like the Lannisters and the Boltons, their interest in Sansa might largely include marrying her off to one of their sons.
I would not be the first person to suggest a similarity between Sansa and Queen Elizabeth I, who used her intellect and political savvy to turn England from practically a vassal-state of Spain to a geopolitical powerhouse.
That’s assuming the fall from the battlements didn’t kill her. Maybe she used Theon to cushion her fall. At last! A use for Theon!
- Margaery Baratheon
In the second season, by the side of her assassinated first royal husband, Margaery told Petyr Baelish that she didn’t want to be a queen, she wanted to be the queen.
A sentiment Cersei probably shares, which is why the two of them immediately squared off in passive-aggressive opposition to one another. In all fairness, Margaery gets points for being a queen three times.
As kings go, her current husband Tommen is relatively weak and not confident. That might have suited her should she want to exercise her wishes through him, but his weakness meant he wasn’t useful in protecting her brother from the Faith Militant, or in keeping her safe from clerical-ordered confinement when the Faith accused her of crimes as well.
She is relatively powerless now. Fortunately for her, she’s the granddaughter of the ruler of the Reach who can advocate for her.
- Olenna Tyrell
I’m not confused and stating that Margaery is Lord Mace Tyrell’s granddaughter. Her father Mace is obviously the Lord of Highgarden and ruler of The Reach. But her grandmother Olenna is in charge.
Wait, I hear you say. She’s not a queen! Well, she’s the Queen of Thorns, and since she’s as much a boss as Tywin is, who was totally the uncrowned king, I’m including her in this list.
Olenna has certain advantages when it comes to the exercise of power in this so called Game of Thrones. The Tyrells are nearly as rich as the Lannisters are believed to be, they’re not really hated like the Lannisters are (except maybe by Dorne, their traditional rowdy neighbor), and Olenna has an excellent piece in play with Margaery.
Olenna claims that she didn’t approve of Highgarden throwing its support behind Renly, but it’s awfully convenient for her to be saying this after Renly’s death, when the Tyrell power play depended on making common cause with the Lannisters against the remaining Baratheon brother pursuing his claim.
Olenna isn’t jockeying for position herself so much, she’s not going to end up sitting on a ghastly throne. But I suspect that anyone who does end up there will have to be on her good side if they know what’s most beneficial for them.
- Selyse Baratheon
Of all the queens on the list, Selyse Florent Baratheon is probably the saddest. Married off to the least-pleasant Baratheon brother Stannis, unable to produce a surviving male heir, and having dove into a religion that eventually called for the sacrifice of her cherubic daughter, Queen Selyse did not have much joy in her life.
In some ways, I consider Selyse to be trapped in the situation that Sansa feared she might be in with Joffrey during Season One, when she and Septa Mordane discussed the future in front of the Iron Throne:
Septa Mordane: One day, your husband will sit there, and you will sit by his side. And one day before too long, you will present your son to the court. All the lords of Westeros will gather here to see the little prince.
Sansa: What if I have a girl?
Septa Mordane: Gods be good! You’ll have boys and girls. And plenty of them.
Sansa: What if I only have girls?
Septa Mordane: I wouldn’t worry about that.
Sansa: Jeyne Poole’s mother had five children, all of them girls.
Septa Mordane: Yes. But it’s highly unlikely.
Sansa: But what if?
Septa Mordane: Well, I suppose that if you only had girls, the throne would pass to Prince Joffrey’s little brother.
Sansa: And everyone would hate me.
Selyse must have felt a similar pressure to produce a male heir. Seven Hells, Stannis was already crabby and unhappy enough as it was. It’s no surprise that Selyse was grasping for any kind of hope, and fell under the sway of the enigmatic Melisandre.
Selyse brought Melisandre into Stannis’ court, and would hold on to some small portion of the Red Woman’s successes as if they were her own. That was ulimately self-destructive.
- Melisandre of Asshai
Selyse might have technically been a Baratheon queen by marriage, but just like Tywin was the uncrowned king when he was Hand and Olenna is the Queen of Thorns, Melisandre of Asshai was actually Stannis’ queen. She was the one that gave him sons (if that’s what we’ll call shadow-smoke assassin monsters…) and whom he relied on for power.
Melisandre and Talisa have similar roles… both foreigners, they showed up, seduced a king, and everything went to hell just when they thought they might be on the tide of victory. Talisa kind of wandered into this role innocently (OR DID SHE – see above) and Melisandre theoretically was innocently getting bad advice from her magic seeing-the-future candles.
Or was she following bad advice? It’s possible that Melisandre was playing a long con on Stannis, which makes her pretty evil to lay out a path for victory to Stannis that was ultimately against his best interests. And she knew it.
I’m also fine in considering that R’hllor was the one playing the long con on Melisandre.
Regardless, Melisandre wielded considerable power among the Baratheon faction and her prophecies and counsel to Stannis shaped the conflict of the War of the Five Kings, along with the interdiction of the Wildling incursion in the North. So she gets proper credit for much of the big geopolitical action. But her power at the moment seems rather used up with Stannis destroyed outside of Winterfell.
Quite a lot of queens…
When Game of Thrones first aired, it mostly received favorable reviews but there were the handful of criticisms asserting that the show was typical fantasy fare that would only appeal to dudes. Or worse, that author George RR Martin was a misogynist by virtue of writing about a world with a patriarchal society that devalued women and robbed them of power.
I think time has shown that the show has broad appeal, and that power and strong characterization did not solely rest with the males in the story, so I don’t necessarily feel compelled to make an argument in Martin’s defense.
But I did want to focus, at least in this post, on the variety of situations that queens have been involed in the past five seasons. They vary in power and agency, some are successful, some are kind of poor off, and some overestimate their abilities while others are underestimated.
Some act alone, while others compete with one another. Any of the queen’s stories could justify a book dedicated to them and their narrative journey, and we’re lucky to have all them participating in one epic tale.
So here’s to the queens. Often more interesting than their male counterparts.
(I apologize if there are any queens from the books that I’ve forgotten. I’ve deliberately refrained from talking about at least one quasi-queen because the show might still touch on her story, as she tries to make history. Yes, I’m being vague.)
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text. So there.
If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.
© Patrick Sponaugle 2016 Some Rights Reserved