I am an enormous “Game of Thrones” fan — read the books, watched the show multiple times, mainlined the fan theory podcasts — but the show has never made me cry. Even the Red Wedding, to this day still the most tragic event in “Game of Thrones” history, left me more shocked than weeping.
That changed last week. When Ser Jaime Lannister knighted Brienne of Tarth, tears finally sprang to my eyes.
What was it about this moment that tipped me over the emotional precipice? It was seeing a woman get the recognition she deserves — something that is still all too rare in pop culture, and in real life.
If you haven’t watched the show — lucky you! You have a lot of amazing TV in front of you. But if you got past my headline, I’m going to assume you’re at least a casual fan so I’m not going to waste words explaining the story and everyone’s relationship to each other.
More than anyone on the show (man or woman) Brienne lives by an unshakable code. She is brave and just and she protects the innocent. Not surprisingly, those are the exact qualities laid out in the code knights are supposed to follow, but until this last episode, Brienne wasn’t a knight because Westeros only lets men become knights.
So instead, she fought alongside (and sometimes against) actual knights. When charged to defend someone, she did so with all of her might and always made it clear that she would give her life to protect those in her charge, whether that was Renly Baratheon, during his doomed quest to take the throne, or Sansa Stark.
Brienne knew that if she was going to be respected, she needed to stick to her code no matter the costs. Because she could not be an official knight, she had to be better than the other knights all the time. She had to have more honor and be braver and stronger. One slip and not only would she lose their respect, she could lose her head.
This ridged adherence to a set of rules has meant a fairly lonely life for Brienne. She can never let her guard down, never get really close to someone. Even when she feels love, as she did for Renly, she can only express it through service. As she trains her squire Podrick, (whom she loves in a way), she almost never gives herself permission to praise him, instead pushing him harder to live up to her extremely high standards.
Her life is almost monastic in its purity and she doesn’t expect recognition or reward.
For many modern-day women, that can feel familiar.
Though few (if any) of us can claim to stick to a code a severely as Brienne does, we know the feeling of having to be smarter and harder working just to fight alongside the men. We have a bold, confident face we put on to the world that helps us deflect taunts and slights. We try to never let our guard down. We don’t complain about the difficulties of raising children and running a home while working a full-time job because it would show weakness and give men the excuse they’re looking for to disregard us. We soldier through physical and emotional pain in the hopes that we will be taken seriously by the men in charge and given some small degree of power.
In truth, Brienne represents a brand of feminism that I think might be on its way out the door. Millennial women seem to have a very different attitude. They are more like Sansa than Brienne. They’ve been beaten up by the world and come out stronger on the other side. They don’t play a man’s game in the hopes of being accepted. Instead, they lead their own way — telling men honestly what they think instead of worrying about how their opinions will be received. They don’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be on equal footing with men from the get go, and if they see things are being run badly, they go out and start their own companies to be the queens of their own domains. It will be interesting in this final “Game of Thrones” season to see who lives and who dies. I fear that Brienne finally being knighted was a precursor to a heroic death, though I don’t think Brienne would have it any other way. And I do think there’s a chance that when all the fighting is done, Sansa will be in charge of something — maybe not the Seven Kingdoms but maybe The North. Passing on the reins of female empowerment to the next generation could be the uplifting ending we all need.