When George R.R. Martin released a chapter last week from the still-unpublished sixth novel in his saga “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the books behind HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” he chose one written from the point of view of Sansa Stark.
Martin’s excerpt (read it at georgerrmartin.com/excerpt-from-the-winds-of-winter) not only assured readers that, yes, he really is still writing, it served as a reminder that Sansa and the other women play key roles in the story.
Unlike most other sword-and-scorcery epics – notably “The Lord of the Rings” – the women stand as equals in the medieval fantasy world of “Game of Thrones,” maybe not in title but certainly in power.
For fans of the HBO series, the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” figures to underscore that point more boldly than ever when it returns Sunday.
While key male figures were busy in Season 4 being stabbed, shot, poisoned and otherwise dispatched from the scene, the women were busy surviving and plotting revenge.
As Season 5 dawns:
(Warning! If you are not caught up through the end of Season 4, major spoilers await below.)
• Daenerys Targaryan (Emilia Clarke), given away as a bride by her brother in Season 1, has raised an army, conquered cities and now sits as queen of her own realm. Her ultimate goal remains sailing to Westeros to reclaim the Iron Throne that she believes is her birthright. The once fanciful goal now looks attainable.
• Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) became the pre-eminent power in the capital city of King’s Landing after the deaths of her son, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), and father, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). Her main rival for power is …
• Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), Joffrey’s widow and now betrothed to his younger brother, newly crowned King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman).
• Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), the 6-foot-3 warrior sent on a mission to find Sansa Stark, just dispatched Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann), formerly the most feared fighter in the land.
• Two women formerly in the background will play much larger roles in Season 5. Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), Margaery’s grandmother, wields the true power in the Tyrell family. And Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), the consort to the late Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), will be seen on her home turf as the Kingdom of Dorne is unveiled as a new locale.
• Most important in the long term are the Stark sisters, Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams). We’ve virtually watched the pair grow up on television. Williams, who was 12 when filming began, turns 18 next week. Turner, Williams’ close friend in real life, is barely a year older.
Their characters, along with their two surviving brothers, Bran Stark and Jon Snow, represent the key theme of “Game of Thrones”: people left outside the circles of power trying to fight their way in.
When the series began, their father, Eddard Stark, was the ruler in the north and the key ally to King Robert Baratheon. His eldest son, the handsome, princely Robb Stark, was his clear heir. But in the world of “Game of Thrones,” such clarity cannot be abided. Robert died, Eddard was beheaded and Robb murdered along with his mother.
The Starks were the heroes of “Game of Thrones,” and in the realm of fantasy epics, those families tend to triumph in the end – even if that end is several thousand pages or several seasons in the future.
So now, the hopes of the Stark family rest with Jon (Kit Harington), Eddard’s earnest but soft-hearted illegitimate son; youngest child Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), the paraplegic with magical powers; and the two girls.
Of the four, it’s the daughters who seem best suited to the task of resurrecting the House of Stark. Sansa, serially betrothed, married off and forced to flee, has learned how to survive through compromise and deception. Arya, never treated seriously by anyone, has turned herself into a fighter.
If one or both of them does indeed end up as the ultimate victor, it won’t happen in Season 5. Both women are destined to spend the 10 episodes in exile.
At the end of Season 4, Sansa, a fugitive from King’s Landing, left the mountain citadel of the Vale of Arryn under the protection of Lord Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen).
Arya, having lost her traveling companion, ended last season aboard a ship headed for Braavos, one of the free cities of Essos, a land just to the east of Westeros. Not coincidentally, Essos happens to be home to Daenerys Targaryen.
Will the two women meet? Fight? Become allies? We don’t know, but we do know it is their “Game.”