The men of Game of Thrones aren't the only ones who scheme and fight, nor are they the only ones with ambition. The fairer sex doesn't always fare so well, but many have endured longer than their male counterparts.
As season six begins, many of the key female players are all facing bleak futures. From the mightiest queen to a girl fueled by a thirst for killing, long roads lay ahead for all. Some are heroines, some villains, but all share (or shared) a common trait: they're dangerous. It's not always skill with a sword that constitutes a threat. The ability to instill fear, loyalty, and love in anyone can inflict more harm than a blade. Ignorance, jealousy, and hatred can turn a woman into her own worst enemy. Here are the most dangerous women, alive or dead, to have ever played the game of thrones...on television, anyway.
Stannis Baratheon's wife Selyse was weak of mind, body and spirit. Religion perverted and poisoned her mind, causing her to view her own daughter, Shireen, as both a heretic and a curse (the poor girl was stricken with greyscale when she was younger). Selyse kept Shireen locked away, even discouraging a relationship between Stannis and his only child.
Selyse's ignorance, her blind devotion to the Lord of Light, and her lack of compassion, all made her a threat to her own family. Selyse allowed Melisandre to coerce and manipulate and seduce her husband. Had the Queen been stronger, she could have saved Shireen and Stannis from the influences of the "Red Woman," and perhaps have even directed her husband in a better direction towards the Iron Throne. Instead, the former great House Baratheon lies in ruin, destined to be forgotten.
Selyse justified her own missteps as divine intervention, and she never faltered in her slavish devotion to a god that would need the sacrifice of a young, innocent girl — her own daughter.
Lysa Arryn had power and influence, and she chose to use them to further Petyr Baelish's insidious agenda. Lysa killed her husband, lied to her sister and brother-in-law and set in motion a series of events that would result in the War of the Five Kings. Then she retreated to the Eyrie and sat back and did nothing to support her sister, Catelyn Stark, or her nephew, Robb, when she had the legendary Knights of the Vale at her disposal. Instead, Lysa chose to rule her little corner of the kingdom by dropping people through a Moon Door and coddling her weakling of a son, Robyn, into sheer uselessness. And as members of her family were slaughtered one by one, Lysa felt no desire to intervene or to avenge their deaths, content to focus on self-preservation.
When her own niece, Sansa, came through her door in need of safety and sanctuary, Lysa became jealous and turned on her sister's daughter. Lysa was motivated by lust, by the pathological need to have the love and attention of Baelish. Lysa would have been better off without her vast resources, instead of choosing to squander them in such a misguided fashion.
On the brightside, Lady Arryn's foolishness could result in the highly anticipated reunion between two fan favorite characters, so there's that.
Jon Snow met this feisty, red-headed wildling as the Rangers embarked on a mission beyond the Wall. While Ygritte didn't possess many traditional feminine traits, she understood the power her sexuality could yield and used it to distract and disarm Snow. Being an outsider himself, Snow was curious about those living beyond the Wall, and he showed more empathy for the wildlings than his brethren. Ygritte manipulated and exploited this soft spot in Snow.
Even though she grew to love Snow, Ygritte remained wary and distrustful, and she wouldn't let her feelings deter her from her mission. After Snow abandoned her, Ygritte didn't falter, she became more determined than ever. She and her cohorts pillaged settlements north of the Wall, indiscriminately killing the inhabitants and getting a sense of vindication in the killing of innocent people to draw the Crows out of their nest. Ygritte was eventually reunited with Snow after successfully invading Castle Black, but her heartless savagery was her downfall: Ygritte was shot in the back with an arrow by a boy whose mother she had callously murdered. Even after her death, Snow maintained an affection for the wildling that caused him to fall out of favor with many of his brothers of the Night's Watch.
Both directly (she killed a ton of Crows) and indirectly (Jon's feelings for her led to his brothers turning against him), Ygritte's actions may result in the fall of the Night's Watch, which will likely soon be crushed by the White Walkers — especially without the Bastard of Winterfell there to lead.
Former prostitute Shae was both in love with and loyal to Tyrion. But his marriage to Sansa, coupled with his decision to send her away, made Shae into a spiteful woman. Hell hath no fury, right? The affection she once harbored for both Tyrion and Sansa became hatred, no doubt fueled by the whisperings of Tywin and Cersei. Shae returned to King's Landing when Tyrion stood trial for killing his nephew, King Joffrey, and testified against him, declaring Tyrion and Sansa were co-conspirators who went through great machinations to kill the King.
Tyrion was so incensed by her lies and betrayal, he demanded a trial by combat. Tyrion's champion lost, but he managed to escape thanks to the help of his brother Jaime, only to discover Shae in his father's bed. She had replaced one lion with another, and she was fully prepared to put a knife in Tyrion's heart as readily as she had in his back. What she wasn't ready for was Tyrion's wrath. One scorned woman set in motion a series of events that would end with Tywin Lannister dead and a familial dynasty in shambles.
The eldest child of Ned Stark's forgotten (but not for long) friend Lord Howland, Meera Reed served as the lone protector of her younger brother, Jojen. Jojen first approached Bran in the woods, telling him he wanted to offer him protection. When Osha put a spear to Jojen's neck, she was surprised by Meera, who approached her from behind and threatened to slit Osha's throat. But when Jojen proved he had wisdom to impart to young Bran about his supernatural gifts, the group united and headed towards Castle Black. The fact that Meera managed to keep her sickly brother alive during a time of war, all on her own, is impressive.
Obsessed with the Three-Eyed Raven and how it factored into his ability to see the past, present and future and determined to locate the weirwood tree, Bran insisted on traveling North. Meera and Jojen accompanied him, even though it meant facing wildlings, winter and White Walkers. The group made it to their destination but were forced to battle a small army of re-animated corpses, whom Meera battled valiantly but was still unable to save her brother from.
It looks as if Bran will get the answers he seeks this season, and his relationship with Meera hasn't run its course despite her brother's death. It's not just Jojen the Raven kept his eye on. Meera promises to be a loyal companion and friend to Bran, and she's heir to an important house in the North and a skilled killer. Perhaps even her father could factor into things at some point?
Growing up, Yara Greyjoy, the only daughter of Balon, benefited from being the sole recipient of her father's attention. As Balon told his son, Theon, when he returned home to the Iron Islands after serving the Starks, Yara had not only commanded men, she'd killed them. Desperate to prove himself to his father, Theon betrayed his king, Robb Stark, and joined his family in their quest to conquer the North. Theon was given one ship to pillage fishing villages, while Yara was given 30 to secure a far more desirable target.
After Ramsay Bolton captured and tortured Theon, Yara wasn't willing to abandon her brother. She forged a daring plan to take a ship filled with 50 skilled killers to the Dreadfort to rescue Theon from the flaying hands of Ramsay. Once they arrived, Theon refused to go with Yara, and though she and her cohorts killed several of Ramsay's men, she was forced to abandon Theon or die.
Whether Yara still has a part to play in her brother's life remains to be seen. Balon is old, and appears set to kick the bucket for good this season, so Yara could take control of the Iron Islands or at least become indispensable to the uncle that replaces Balon. The Ironborn have clashed with the North before, and another conflict seems imminent with Yara leading the charge.
The Sand Snakes — Tyene, Obara and Nymeria — are the illegitimate daughters of Prince Oberyn. The women are warriors, trained in the ways of combat by their father, and each has a particular set of skills. Tyene prefers daggers laced with poison, Obara is lethal with the Dornish spear, and Nymeria cracks a badass bullwhip. All three sided with Ellaria against their uncle, Prince Doran, and would have succeeded in their quest to kidnap and kill Princess Myrcella had Prince Doran's men not intervened.
The Sand Snakes are destined to play a part in the upcoming events (possibly even war) between Dorne and the Lannisters, but they can't function independently, even if they are loved by the people of their country. They lack fortune and power, and even in Dorne, where children born out of wedlock are still respected, they'll probably never hold any real power. The Sand Snakes will have to pledge their allegiance to Doran whether they like it or not. With Stannis and Shireen dead, it would benefit Doran to use all the resources at his disposal, including his nieces, to aid Daenerys (In the books the Martells and Targaryens have strong ties) in her quest to take back the throne for House Targaryen. Doran will likely send the Snakes to the capital to further his interests or to other parts of the world, to eliminate threats or forge alliances. They can travel inconspicuously and pose a formidable threat to potential foes since they appear to fear nothing, including death. When it's time for battle, these ladies will be on the frontlines.
The former lover of Prince Oberyn could think only of exacting revenge since the death of her beloved during a trial by combat in King's Landing. Ellaria asked Prince Doran, the ruler of Dorne, to let her have Princess Myrcella, Cersei's only daughter who was shipped to Dorne by Tyrion to marry Prince Trystane. Ellaria wanted to send the princess back to Cersei in pieces. When Prince Doran refused to retaliate, much less mutilate a young girl, Ellaria recruited the Sand Snakes, illegitimate daughters of Oberyn, to help her kidnap and kill Myrcella. Their mission was unsuccessful, and Prince Doran warned he would show Ellaria no mercy if she crossed him again. Ellaria obliged, but her not-so-convincing remorse was but a ruse. She poisoned Myrcella, who died not long after setting sail for King's Landing with her father/uncle and her fiancé.
Blinded by rage and grief, Ellaria neither cared nor considered the ramifications of her actions. Ellaria's desire for vengeance is sated now that Dorne is on the brink of war with the Lannisters, though we can't imagine that she'll have a role in the events to come. She has exhausted the goodwill bestowed upon her by Prince Doran because of her relationship with his brother, and her only allies now are seemingly the Sand Snakes, who can only do so much. Ellaria no longer poses an immediate threat, but because of her vindictiveness, the union between Myrcella and Prince Trystane — which promised to benefit Dorne in ways Ellaria was too short-sighted to fathom — has been severed. She's very possibly ignited a war with a single kiss.
Poor, poor Sansa. After spending years being tormented by King Joffrey and his mother, Cersei, she was married off to Tyrion as part of a power play. The newlyweds were implicated in the murder of the King, and Sansa escaped with the help of Petyr Baelish, only to be married off to the monstrous Ramsay Bolton.
Having run off with Theon (Reek?) in the finale, Sansa will need to assert her independence if she's to sever all ties with the Boltons. She has allies in the North, ones she has yet to meet, and Brienne of Tarth (more on her in a second) will continue to look out for Sansa in some capacity. Baelish should be arriving with the cavalry — the Knights of the Vale — but Sansa's days of waiting to be rescued are securely behind her. Littlefinger has never commanded troops, and as Cersei pointed out, he's just a brothel keeper. With Ramsay surely realizes just how important Sansa is to keeping the North in check, so he'll be hot on her heels.
It's time to for Sansa to put to good use her newfound expertise in lying and manipulation, skills she she learned under Baelish's tutelage and during her time in the bosom of the royal family. This season will (hopefully) be her chance to capitalize on her family name and focus her attention on ousting the Boltons from Winterfell. It's important to remember that aside from Cersei, Sansa has no enemies. If she can endure sharing a marital bed with the sadistic Ramsay, Sansa can survive anything.
Now that Brienne has avenged Renly, she will focus all of her attention on Sansa. Brienne told Podrick she's not a leader, she only wants to serve someone admirable, and worthy candidates are in short supply. Brienne is an imposing figure, and not only can she readily dispatch adversaries with a sword, she's not bad when it comes to hand-to-hand combat as well. The Hound was a hulk of a man, and the Lady Brienne shoved him off a cliff. Ramsay Bolton is proficient, but he does his best work on subjects incapable of fighting back. A showdown between Ramsay and Brienne is inescapable. Brienne will also expand her social circle on the road, which could end well or badly for all of those involved, depending on everyone's agendas. This is a woman who fought a bear, disarmed the Kingslayer and slaughtered countless men to meet her obligation, making her either a valuable ally or a formidable foe. Honestly, she may just be the finest fighter in all of Westeros.
In addition to Brienne's brute strength and skill with a blade, she has a loving heart. Renly's small kindness to her in her youth was the catalyst for her devotion to him. It would seem she forms attachments easily, but her loyalty stems from mutual respect. Brienne's tenacity regarding Sansa is due partly to her vow to Catelyn, but also because of her affection for Jaime, and he will always be an ally to her (we hope). She's got no love for Baelish, and Brienne doesn't have the capacity to lie, so she'll be looking out for Sansa's best interests where he's concerned as well. There's also another Stark floating around her somewhere (Rickon) and Brienne, should she stumble across him as she has the others, would undoubtedly swear to protect the "Little Lord."
What an odd world this is where the Queen is only the sixth most dangerous woman alive. One of the most beautiful women in all of Westeros, Queen Margaery has used her looks and charm to snuggle up to three different kings to date. First there was Renly (though whether or not he was a true king is debateable, then Joffrey (same goes for him, we suppose), and now sweet, innocent Tommen. Thanks to a helping hand from her wise old grandmother, Margaery has managed to get the crown on her head, though we're not sure if it will stay there.
After the Tyrells were betrayed by the underhanded dealings of Cersei Lannister, both Margaery and her brother Loras were thrown in cells, and that's where we'll find them at the start of season 6. She can't exactly count on Tommen to bail her out of trouble, as he's proven to be as ineffective a king as any in the series. Margaery may be all but powerless now, but if she does manage to procure her release, watch out. She'll be on the war parth.
Lady Olenna Tyrell breezed into the capital in the weeks before her granddaughter Margaery's wedding to Joffrey Baratheon. She plotted with Varys to have Sansa marry her grandson Loras. After learning about Joffrey's sadistic proclivities, Olenna conspired with Baelish to kill Joffrey, unwilling to let Margaery suffer years of abuse. She did this so discreetly, not one person suspected her involvement. Olenna has a sharp tongue, and she speaks her mind often and freely, but she also has the wisdom to know when to keep it shut.
With all of her money and connections, Olenna has been unsuccessful in getting her grandson, Loras, and granddaughter, Queen Margaery, freed from the charges brought against them by the High Sparrow. Her political savvy isn't serving her well when dealing with a religious fanatic. Her son is an ineffectual sycophant who Cersei dispatched to Braavos on an errand from which he has yet to return. Olenna will continue to tangle with the High Sparrow, and she could benefit from Cersei's hatred of the non-secular regime she put into power. Olenna holds the strings to a very deep purse, a fact she's pointed out to several members of the royal family on separate occasions, and while the promise of riches may not influence the High Sparrow, they're effective with just about anyone else. She's able to put aside personal differences to work towards a common goal, and she's proven she's capable of anything when it comes to taking care of her family. She's also got dirt on Baelish, which makes her best interests, his best interests.
A high priestess who serves the Lord of Light, Melisandre almost single-handedly dismantled Stannis Baratheon's campaign for the throne. She set fire to many of his loyal bannermen, manipulated him into adultery and filicide, and sent him off to not one, but two battles: The Battle of Blackwater (where he faced a crushing, humiliating defeat) and the conflict against the Boltons (that decimated what was left of his army and resulted in his subsequent death).
Melisandre is seductive, and she even had the chaste Jon Snow briefly reconsidering his vows. Her devotion to her god is unswerving, even when her prophecies fail to come to pass. Thankfully for her, the Lord of Light's power remains strong in her despite her failures (and let's not forget, she gave birth to a puff of black smoke that murdered a potential king, Renly Baratheon).
With the White Walkers making their way to the Wall, it's people like Melisandre and Bran who have the skills necessary to survive. She no longer has Stannis, but what her future holds depends on what she sees in the nearest fire. Melisandre is adaptable. The Lord of Light can bring people back from the great beyond, proven by Beric Dondarrion's multiple resurrections, and that's good news for one dead Crow. Will the Red Woman be the one to bring Jon Snow back from the dead? Time will tell.
Arya's life, since the murders of both her parents, has been all about death. The closest thing she's had to a father figure is the Hound. A brutal killer in his own right, he encouraged Arya's thirst for blood. During their time together, she killed Polliver and the criminal, Rorge, who became a last minute addition to her list of targets. Completely undisciplined, Arya has struggled while training under Jaqen H'ghar and the Faceless God, and she's thus far refused to let go of herself as she was instructed to. There is a wisp of sentimentality that resides inside her. Arya chose to hide her sword Needle, a gift from her half-brother, instead of throwing it in the water with her other belongings. Arya can't truly become no one because she's being propelled forward in life by her mission to avenge those who wronged her family.
She's currently in a holding pattern as she atones for breaking the rules of the House of Black and White (by killing Meryn Trant, whose life was not hers to take). She may be young, but she's already lethal. What she did to Trant exceeded in brutality anything she's done before. When Arya regains her sight — don't worry, she will — she might continue her training or join up with The Brave Companions (Bloody Mummers). No matter what path Arya chooses, it will be her own. A true wild card, there's no telling where she'll end up next.
The Dowager Queen's list of duplicitous deeds is long and distinguished: incest, adultery, treason, conspiracy to commit murder and attempted fratricide. Cersei trusts no one, and she's overhauled the Small Council to the point where they have no influence or power at all. She's been acting in her son's stead, keeping him out of the dirty business of actually ruling the country. Cersei is an opportunist, and when a religious sect rose up in the city, Cersei legitimized them by reestablishing the Faith Militant and appointed the High Sparrow as its leader. Her sole purpose for doing so was to get rid of her daughter-in-law, Margaery, who has shown adeptness at exerting influence when Cersei has tried and failed. Cersei orchestrated, from a distance, the arrest of Loras Tyrell and correctly predicted Margaery would come to her brother's defense, which resulted in Margaery being dragged off to the dungeons for committing perjury. What Cersei didn't foresee was that her own sins would come back to haunt her. Lord Tywin once warned his only daughter that she was not nearly as smart as she believed herself to be, and he was proven right this past season.
Cersei may have atoned, but she still has to face trial. Cersei will not emerge from her experiences with the Faith Militant humbled, though. We imagine she'll become more isolated and vindictive, leaning heavily on Qyburn. Cersei's Uncle Kevan, the new Hand of the King, has become something of an adversary, her daughter is dead, the people of King's Landing hate her, and she has few allies. What she does have is an interminable influence over a young, impressionable King, a monster created in the depths of the Red Keep to do her bidding, and the unswerving devotion of her lover/brother, Jaime. Cersei is as vicious as a viper, and her hatred extends beyond the Red Keep to Dorne, the farthest reaches of the North, and soon, to Meereen. The more she loses, the less she'll care about the consequences of her actions.
It wasn't so long ago that all Daenerys "Dany" Targaryen had was a birthright. She had no ambitions to ascend to the Iron Throne, only a brother who appeared to have inherited their father's cruelty. Bartered for an army, Daenerys found her strength among the Dothraki and she usurped her brother's claim. Dany has risen from a Khaleesi of a depleted and decrepit khalasar, to the Queen of Meereen by sheer strength of will — and some help from her three dragons, of course. She's amassed an army, freed slaves, slaughtered those who would oppose her, and gathered powerful allies along the way.
Despite her strength, Dany's empire continues to implode, thanks to the Sons of the Harpy (previous slave owners whose livelihood Dany has threatened) and the slaves themselves who have grown increasingly disgruntled with their surrogate "mother" as she tried to appease many while pleasing none. Dany now finds herself among the Dothraki, and we have hopes that she'll somehow manage to rally them to her cause, because that's what she does. She's the woman whose power of persuasion enabled her to take Astapor and Yunkai and Meereen. Dany is a fireproof Mother of Dragons after all, and she will take what is hers through fire and blood.
Dany has many challenges ahead of her, but she knows when to bend, and she'll die before she breaks. The Queen of Meereen has the strongest claim to the Iron Throne among any man or woman living, and with the influence of the Lannisters waning and Stannis dead, there is nobody left to really challenge her.
Did we miss any of your favorites? Let us know which ladies you think make the mightiest of men cower in fear in the comments section.