'Game of Thrones': Why Women Will Rule Westeros When the Show Ends

Daenerys Targaryen - Game of Thrones
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen in "Game of Thrones". Will the Khaleesi rule the Iron Throne by the time the show ends? HBO

As the dust settled following the conclusion of Sunday's "Battle of the Bastards" and Ramsay Bolton quite literally went to the dogs, to the most dedicated of fans, the conclusion of Game of Thrones started to take shape.

If rumors are true that season six will be the final season to consist of 10 episodes and producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are planning to end the show after season eight, then Sunday's "Battle of the Bastards" was setting the scene for Thrones ' eventual conclusion. Some key pieces of the puzzle fell into place—order was restored as the Starks reclaimed Winterfell, for example—while other pieces inched ever closer to their final positions.

While Game of Thrones started as a story of various families—Starks, Lannisters, Targaryens—it may well end as a story about the triumph of the women of Westeros.

In Sunday's episode, dragon-commanding queen Daenerys Targaryen fortified her strength by obliterating the masters of Slaver's Bay that revolted against her and refocused her efforts on her ultimate objective: taking the Iron Throne. She also made a pact with Yara Greyjoy, who, it was teased, could be the first woman to rule the Iron Islands with the Khaleesi's support. The feminist subtext of this scene—women working together to achieve greatness—felt like a nod to where Thrones is going in its final two seasons.

Elsewhere in the episode, Sansa Stark, once a frightened young girl, became a fearless woman as she looked her abusive husband Ramsay Bolton dead in the eyes and set his own vicious dogs upon him. It's a vast contrast to the Sansa of season one, who wanted nothing more than to marry Joffrey Baratheon, have babies and wear pretty dresses. The Sansa we see now is more like her mother Catelyn: brave, hardened, ruthless even. With Winterfell now back in the Starks' possession, it wouldn't be unthinkable for her to slide into her mother's former role as proud lady of Winterfell. (Her elder brother Jon Snow is, after all, still a bastard.)

Sansa's younger sister, Arya Stark, always the braver of the two, has been on her own long journey into becoming a similarly courageous woman. Her arc in the last two seasons, giving up her identity to become "No One" and then reclaiming it, could be seen as an expression of the awkward prepubescent phase many girls Arya's age go through before blossoming into their teenage selves: still the same person, yet changed. "A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell," she declared confidently in season six's eighth episode "No One", a turning point signaling the end of her growing pains.

Of course, Thrones has no shortage of strong female characters, all of whom appear positioned for prestigious stations that previously belonged to men: Brienne of Tarth, after keeping her promise to Catelyn Stark to protect Sansa, could be the young Stark's right hand woman at Winterfell; Ellaria Sand, having killed Doran Martell early in season six, has now overtaken Dorne with her soldier daughters, the Sand Snakes; and one of this season's biggest scene stealers was the 10-year-old head of the Mormont family, Lyanna Mormont, who was thrust into that position after the deaths of all her male ancestors. (Perhaps the one female character whose future is in doubt is Cersei Lannister, but, as she is a villain, it is cathartic for the audience to see her get her comeuppance.)

It isn't lost on viewers that many of Thrones ' big casualties over the last six seasons have been men: Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, Robert Baratheon, Tywin Lannister and, most recently in season six, Rickon Stark, Hodor and Ramsay Bolton. Most of the female characters killed in the last six seasons have either been inconsequential in the grand scheme of things (Osha, Shae) or their deaths have spurred the plot forward towards its eventual—possibly feminist—conclusion (Catelyn Stark, Ygritte).

Arya Stark - Game of Thrones
Arya Stark has grown up before our eyes. Where will her story arc end? Helen Sloan/HBO

No character exemplifies Thrones' shift towards a female perspective better than Daenerys Targaryen, however. In season one she was essentially a pawn, used by her brother Viserys in his own quest for the Iron Throne and married to Khal Drogo to serve Viserys' interests. She was treated as a piece of property but, as the show has gone on, has become central to the series and a genuine candidate, thanks to her dragons, to take the Iron Throne. Isolate her story arc and Thrones' feminist undertone becomes clearer, whether by design—and let's assume it is—on the part of Benioff, Weiss and author George R.R. Martin, whose novels gave the show its inspiration, or not.

Dany may go on to fit the archetype of the "final girl", a horror genre theory first posited by film academic Carol J. Clever in her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. The Khaleesi continues to defy the odds and by the show's end she could well be, like Alien's Ripley or Scream's Sidney Prescott, the character that lives to tell the tale of the great wars that have been fought for the throne.

While the "final girl" is a traditional convention in horror, a more recent, and more direct comparison, could be made in 2015's Mad Max: Fury Road , George Miller's road action movie that shares similarities with Thrones in its ambitious scope, full-throttle action and fantasy tropes. It was praised by critics for subverting action genre traditions by relying on its strong female characters, particularly Charlize Theron's Furiosa, to drive the plot and action forward. Together, these empowered women challenge and—spoiler alert—shatter the longstanding patriarchal society that allows villain Immortan Joe to keep numerous wives locked away solely for breeding. The titular Max—played by Tom Hardy—essentially becomes a supporting character in "his" movie.

By tradition, the audience for Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels is comic book-reading, video game-playing, fantasy-loving males—something Thrones has certainly transcended. Martin's novels and the television series have both revolutionized what we think we know about the fantasy genre—Thrones has never been afraid to kill off beloved characters or shied away from taboo topics such as incest—so it isn't unthinkable Martin, Benioff and Weiss would end their series with yet another transformative move: a Westeros ruled by women.

After Sunday's season six finale fans can at least look forward to two more seasons. By the time the war for Westeros ends, presumably in 2018, perhaps the groundwork will have been laid for a world ruled by women off-screen. If Hillary Clinton can be U.S. president, surely Daenerys can sit on the Iron Throne?

'Game of Thrones': Why Women Will Rule Westeros When the Show Ends | Culture