‘Game of Thrones’ Star Says TV Has The Best Female Characters

Published 9 months ago by

Comic Con Women Who Kick Ass Game of Thrones Star Says TV Has The Best Female Characters

It may have first been promoted as a fantasy tale of war and magic, but HBO’s fantasy adaptation Game of Thrones has earned special distinction for its cast: filled with intelligent, calculating, and powerful women. It’s no surprise, then, that two members of its cast were on hand at Comic-Con 2014 for Entertainment Weekly’s Women Who Kick Ass panel. Where prior panels had featured fan-favorite actresses calling for better roles for women, this year’s panel saw one opinion backed by many: the best female roles today are found on TV, not the big screen.

The smaller number of film roles for top-tier actresses is made clear every awards season, and the under-representation is one of the topics of conversation at Comic-Con every year. Being featured between big screen juggernauts in Comic-Con’s Hall H makes EW’s ‘Women Who Kick Ass’ one of the most influential.

This year, Game of Thrones‘ ‘Margaery Tyrell’ (Natalie Dormer) expressed her belief that anyone taking a casual look around the wealth of fantasy, sci-fi, or genre entertainment being promoted can see that television has surged ahead in regards to embracing ‘kick-ass women’:

“The best female roles are in television at the moment. Katniss Everdeen – as popular as she is – is an anomaly… Where television is fantastic and is way ahead of film is it doesn’t feel the need to polarize women so much… Male writers – and I say this with all love and respect – often want to make a woman either the angel or the whore: make her the witch, or put her on the pedestal. When people ask me about Margaery, I say they’re not mutually exclusive. You don’t have to be practical and politically savvy and not be a good person. You can be a good human being and just be shrewd. I think all these women [on the panel] play similar characters.”

Game of Thrones TV Best Female Characters Game of Thrones Star Says TV Has The Best Female Characters

Nicole Beharie (also on the panel, and one half of the detective duo starring in Fox’s Sleepy Hollow) was quick to agree with the sentiment, adding that it was also a factor in what drew her to the role of ‘Lieutenant Abbie Mills.’ Beharie went on to say that in her case, the role didn’t just make the actress seem powerful – but brought a sense of authority off-camera as well:

“That’s one of the things that drew me to the project, that Abbie wasn’t defined by a man in any way… and that she was very disheveled. That’s how I look, actually. It’s nice to set and not have to worry about how you look, and really focus on your intentions, and getting the job done. It’s so much pressure off of me.”

“A lot of different men will come on as day players or guest parts, and I recognize that there’s a certain strength that I have now, or a certain command that I have being one of the leads on the show that I hadn’t had before…. Just owning that space and not being expected, as a woman, to shrink, or curtsy, or any of those sort of things.”

At first glance, there may not appear to be much in common between the cunning and seductive Margaery Tyrell and cop-turned-paranormal-adventurer Abbie Mills. But the one thing they share is a an unwillingness to be placed into the category of ‘too good’ or ‘too evil’ – in other words: they’re complicated characters. Both are women who get the chance to exercise power week to week (on and off camera, it seems), but Dormer cites that power being shared across the entire GoT cast – male and female – as part of the reason for the show’s success:

“Game of Thrones shows you all the different ways you can wield power: Whether it’s psychological, physical, sexual, dragons… I think we’d all go for the dragons if we were given the choice. But that’s the secret of the writing, that’s why it’s such a compelling show—because it shows how different people are given different weapons, physically and metaphorically, and how they use them.”

Game of Thrones Williams Arya Game of Thrones Star Says TV Has The Best Female Characters

Giving that kind of power to a vastly varied group of characters is undeniably compelling, and Dormer’s Thrones co-star Maisie Williams (playing the fan-favorite ‘Arya Stark’) added that it’s just as important to show the complexity and consequences of having that kind of authority. Playing one of the ‘Women Who Kick Ass’ can get fans cheering, but everyone – Arya included – will have to pay a price to bring those actions meaning long after they’ve passed:

“She’s a 12-year-old girl living in this world, and we all like to brush that aside, that she actually just put a sword through someone’s throat. And like, hey, that’s such a kickass moment, but you can’t live your life like that and be okay in the head forever. That’s not the way it works.”

As blockbuster films seem to be inching their way towards showcasing and promoting those kind of complex female stars (with some serious hurdles faced in the superhero genre), Comic-Con’s representation of woman across film and TV shows that there are certainly more female characters hailed as ‘fan-favorites’ or influential. But do you agree with Dormer’s claim that they’re better than film, or feel differently?

Gwendoline Christie Star Wars Episode VII Sith Game of Thrones Star Says TV Has The Best Female Characters

Hopefully the actress will be able to offer more opinions on the subject at next year’s ‘Women Who Kick Ass’ panel, bolstered by some of her female co-stars – assuming they live that long.

Game of Thrones season 5 will premiere on HBO in Spring 2015.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce for updates on Game of Thrones as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Follow Andrew Dyce on Twitter @andrew_dyce
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  1. I always kind of roll my eyes when people talk about “strong female characters”. Give me female characters who are interesting and complicated, not just “strong”. Give me the same variety for female characters as we have for male characters, and don’t just pit them against each other. Game of Thrones is fantastic in this regard, and so is the Hunger Games.

    I think they’re absolutely right, TV is way better at female characters than movies at the moment. Apart from The Hunger Games and Lucy (oh, and Divergent), how many recent big-budget blockbuster films have had women in the leading roles? And how many of them were non-white?

    As much as people talk about Hollywood being a bastion of progressivism, the movie industry still has a long way to go with regards to female representation.

    • I guess that’s a distinction some people don’t quite understand.

      When I think of “strong female characters”, I imagine a female character that’s nuanced and has personality like an actual woman in the real world but others just picture a woman who can fight and lift heavy objects.

      • Yeah, I interpret the word “strong” there as “strongly written,” as in a well-developed character.

      • I always end up picturing a woman who is introduced sexily doing karate or something, then takes a backseat for the rest of the movie unless the directer wants to include a lingerie scene until she finally makes out with the hero after he’s saved the day.

        Like, Sherlock Holmes is an interesting character, but I don’t think most people would describe him as “strong”. Bruce Banner is (sometimes) an interesting character, but he’s not really “strong”. That’s the sort of thing I want for female characters, instead of just being pigeonholed into one character type.

        (This is the reason I’m way more excited for the Jessica Jones Netflix series than for Daredevil or the others. In the Alias series Jessica was allowed to be clever and kick butt sometimes, but she was also allowed to be neurotic and self-doubting and a bag of nerves sometimes too. I found her way more compelling than the typical “strong female character”.)

        • And honestly, that’s the kind of “strong female character” I yearn for in both TV and movies. They’re infinitely more interesting because they’re three-dimensional people rather than just the token woman.

          I guess that’s the great thing about the action films of the 80s that I love (Commando, Raw Deal, Bloodsport, etc). Both genders are reduced to one-note characters (the sexy one, the ass kicker) and aren’t really fleshed out at all beyond the usual “soft rock ballad during a moment of self-doubt” midway through. Those films are equal opportunity stereotypes.

          Hell, I’ve written a crazy female character (who puts the “hot” in “psychotic”) but given her nuances and emotions so she’s not always insane and violent, she only puts that mask on to hide her inner vulnerabilities, hates being referred to by her real name, etc.

          I’ve said before, I’m more into character personalities than most of my friends and peers, I like to get into the head of a character and know how they think and feel while others just say “Meh, she’ll be a cheerleader” and that’s as far as they go creatively.

    • Don’t forget Maleficent.

      • I can’t believe I forgot this one! I actually love that movie more and more as I think about it. (You have two interesting female leads who come to be actually supportive to each other, rather than competitive. Maleficent and Aurora’s character arcs are both about regaining one’s agency and ability to let people in after being betrayed and violated by someone they loved. Also there aren’t many movies out there about the importance of female friendships, although bromance movies are a dime a dozen nowadays. Basically Disney took one of their most sexist fairy tale stories and made the retelling one of their most feminist films yet.)

        So yes, good call :)

      • So you avoid movies for having a female lead because you’re afraid of finding a man-hating message? I dunno about anyone else but while I’ve seen my share of those, it’s been in the minority.

        You gave one example from the latest series of 24 but there are other examples out there and honestly, progressive isn’t a word that Hollywood seems to have heard of, at all. You don’t need to talk about nuanced female roles to see the lack of progress in that business.

          • What? You seriously can’t think that? “More privileges and rights than men..”, what planet are you living in?

            • Earth.

              • Must be a different Earth to the rest of us then. Wow, I’d hate to live on THAT alternate Earth.

          • Let me guess, you find it hard to meet women, don’t you? No idea how with that obvious charm and personality just shining through you like a beacon.

  2. yeah well… as a person that doesnt get movie roles she would say that.

    • Natalie was the woman who kissed Steve Rogers as Peggy Carter walked in on them during Captain America: The First Avenger. She’s also appeared in Rush, The Counselor, W.E. and will appear in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay parts 1 and 2.

      She also played Moriarty in Elementary and starred in The Tudors, Rebus and a few other BBC productions over the years. Not bad for someone who’s only been acting since 2005.

      • While I agree that tv is currently doing a better job than movies, there are still huge areas that can be improved upon. For every well-written female lead, there are a dozen whose only worth in a show is measured by their male counterpart. If you apply the Bechdel test to the top 50 movies and tv shows, tv will probably pull slightly ahead. 90% of the titles from each of the mediums will still fail, though.

          • And as a man, I have every interest in the movie and television industries giving both genders equal opportunities.

            Are you terrified that your manhood would be threatened by having more nuanced and interesting females on screen or is your preference for a sausage party style of movie-making giving us a clue about something you usually try to keep hidden from those who know you?

            Let me guess, you also hate non-whites getting roles too, right? Are you also against homosexuals being cast? How do you feel about openly gay men like Neil Patrick Harris, Sir Ian McKellen and David Hyde Pierce (to give three examples) becoming popular, beloved actors?

            If you think my questions in those last few paragraphs are ridiculous, don’t you think we males who are proud to stand up for equality for all find your comments ridiculous too?

          • And as a man, I have every interest in the movie and television industries giving both genders equal opportunities.

            Are you terrified that your manhood would be threatened by having more nuanced and interesting females on screen or is your preference for a sausage party style of movie-making giving us a clue about something you usually try to keep hidden from those who know you?

            Let me guess, you also hate non-whites getting roles too, right? Are you also against g-a-y actors being cast for roles? How do you feel about openly g-a-y men like Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen and David Hyde Pierce (to give three examples) becoming popular, beloved actors and personalities in the world of media? How about Ellen Page and Jodie Foster, two brilliant, respected but g-a-y actresses?

            If you think my questions in those last few paragraphs are ridiculous, don’t you think we males who are proud to stand up for equality for all find your comments ridiculous too?

          • I could care less about promoting anyone’s rights or positions. I care about movies. Hollywood doesn’t do a very good job of portraying women, in my opinion. I’d like a more consistently accurate portrayal. I also never brought up sexism in the industry. I’m simply saying that Hollywood seems to have a hard time getting women right when they’re put on film.

    • she is set to play a pretty important role in the final two Hunger Game films, had a small role in the first Captain America film and she will be doing movies for years to come. accusing her (arguably correct0 assessment re: good female roles in tv makes you seem petty and uninformed.

    • I’ll bet money she’ll one day be cast as a Bond girl…not that there are many ‘strong’ written Bond girls, but she fits the mold.

      • That’s the one reason Olga Kurylenko took the role she did in Quantam Of Solace, purely the lack of “typical Bond girl” in the character’s description.

  3. I can agree because lets face it, film has a limited time to put across a character’s personality, their wants, needs, desires. I’m talking both male and female.

    TV gets to explore that in detail. You have a male character who desires the murder of another. Several episodes later, he may baulk at the idea and change his mind and then you can spend the next episode exploring why he changed his mind or maybe he did go through with it and spends the rest of the season changing due to the regret of having done what he set out to do.

    That’s the treatment females in TV get too. There’s a major reason why Dame Helen Mirren became such a popular actress in the late 80s and early 90s for her role as DCI Jane Tennyson in the TV show Prime Suspect. She got to kick ass and solve cases but also got to be a nuanced person with a home life, real emotions, doubts and she changed accordingly (helps that the writer of the Prime Suspect books/show was a woman but I don’t think many in England cared about that, they just loved that here was a strong female lead that could be vulnerable as well as tough).

    I wouldn’t even say it was a female-exclusive world with female characters written by writers of a certain gender because there are male writers who also write strong, nuanced females (Joss Whedon being one example, likewise EL James is a terrible female writer who writes males and females as nothing but tired cliches) but again, it mostly comes down to how long you have to tell a certain story and TV works best in that sense.

  4. Excellent article.

    Natalie Dormer is right. Television seems to be the place for women to get juicy roles.
    Excluding Game of Thrones, three of the best performances on television this year belong to women:

    Tatiana Maslany – Orphan Black
    Allison Tolman – Fargo
    Eva Green – Penny Dreadful

    Even though I think that The Walking Dead is painfully overrated, Melissa McBride’s performance, has consistantly been one of the show’s highpoints.

    But I’m not entirely sure it’s ever been any different. Whether we’re talking about Buffy and Willow (Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alyson Hannigan), or Jane Tennison (the great Helen Mirren) television has always seemed to offer better roles to women.

    In Hollywood…it’s 40 and done for most film actresses. But television seems to realize that just because Jessica Lange is 65 years old, doeasn’t mean she’s not great.

    • Yeah but I believe most actors (mainly stage actors) feel that TV is a step down from film, which is a step down from stage. Can’t link you to any interviews but that’s what I’ve heard or read from a lot of performers.

      • Mainly because performers work best when there’s a live audience to perform to and gain reactions from.

        I’ve done some stage acting (nothing major) as well as performing in several bands over the years and there’s nothing like that feeling of a live audience to feed off.

    • Add Olivia Colman to that list if you want to extend it to include last year too. She’s gone from a side helping in comedy shows and films (she was in Hot Fuzz and Peep Show amongst others) to one of Britain’s national treasures thanks to dramatic roles in Broadchurch, Accused and more. She’s really started racking up those Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards.

      • It’s a true shame that most American audiences aren’t familiar with Olivia Colman and her stellar work on ‘Broadchurch’. Actually, the FOX network is doing an American version of Broadchurch that also stars David Tennant, and Anna Gunn (from Breaking Bad).

        As for Taraji P. Henson, well, I’m a fan. She is set to star in a new series (next year, I think). Of course, we could also talk about the lack of roles for black (not specifically African American) actresses, as well.

        But it’s funny to think that the actress that plays Natalie Dormer’s mother on Game of Thrones (Diana Rigg), was once one the actresses that many a fan would fantasize about in her youth (if you don’t know who Emma Peel is…then never mind).

        • Oh, I know who Emma Peel is. The Avengers was regularly on in our household growing up (via repeats since I was born 2 decades after the show first started).

    • What about person of interest?

      • Taraji P!
        Haha, every black man’s favorite black woman!

    • I watched one episode of Orphan Black and was hooked. Tatiana Maslany has been my 2nd favorite of the year after Eva Green.

  5. It’s exciting to see so many women leads in series’. Coupled with good writing I’d prefer a female led show. Mary Louise Parker’s Nancy Botwin was an amazingly complex character and well written. Lena Heady is brilliant and Eva Green!? Just wow! I’ll watch anything with Julia Louis-Dreyfus to be honest, she’s one of my all time favorites. Lizzy Caplan and Claire Danes. The True Blood girls. Lena Dunham’s Girls. And Julie Bowen is on like every other commercial.

    Not mention there’s a lot of non white actresses getting good roles. Danai Gurira is hands down amazing. And look how big Kerry Washington has gotten from Scandal. And of course Nicole Beharie. And Angela Bassett in Horror Story.

  6. Natalie Dormer is so beautiful.

  7. Natalie Dormer is instant likability.

  8. If an actress wants a good role, stage and TV are the way to go. Movies are more interested in selling to their target demographic: 18-49 males. “Strong” women to them means being able to beat up guys while wearing a skimpy and/or sprayed-on outfit. Bonus points for being sexually aggressive. That’s why a lot of guys crow over Black Widow, Sif, Scarlet Witch, etc. and have no love for Jane Foster and Pepper Potts. Even if the love interest characters are written more strongly; they’ll hold no interest in that demographic because they don’t look like they dance on the pole.

  9. I agree with Natalie Dormer’s statement and all of you guys as well. Women in TV are portrayed brilliantly and with a lot of depth and substance as evident to shows like Breaking Bad,Homeland,GoT, and even shows like Elementary adapting a female version of Watson and True Detective’s upcoming season that will add a female lead. It’s a great time for women in all aspects of entertainment whether it’s in the Big Screen or Small Screen.