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.”
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.”
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?
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.