‘All Men Must Die, but We Are Not Men’: Eastern Faith and Feminine Power in A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones

  • Mikayla Hunter
Part of the Queenship and Power book series (QAP)


In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones, the lands of Essos and Wessos are peopled with characters whose lives operate around their faiths. From the confined lives of the dosh khaleen and the complacent Dothraki refrain, ‘It is known’, to Melisandre’s terrifying abilities as a dedicated servant to the Lord of Light and the shadowy independence of the prophesying Quaithe, the women of Essos in particular seem to glean their power and agency through religions—organisations that paradoxically constrain as they empower. In more traditional narratives, medieval and modern, the concept of a power that confines as it enables is, for women, usually reserved for love and/or sexual attraction, but A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones notably lack this kind of high romantic love story.

For Wessosi women, however, religions often prove more constraining than empowering. For those women who hold the highest positions in their social hierarchies, the Wessosi queens’—Cersei, Margaery, Selyse—religions are at various points in the series set up as powerful organisations which they can only temporarily wield before they undermine their own royal authority. This chapter explores the role of religion as one of the very few sources of power and agency for the women of Essos: Melisandre, Quaithe, the dosh khaleen. It compares these women’s limited access to power to that of some of the most powerful Western women, queens who share a troubled relationship with faith and often find it constricts or undermines more than it empowers. It also compares this source of power with the sources of power for heroines of medieval romance and chansons de geste, and discusses how the unusual dearth of conventional love stories in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones reshapes traditional reliance on love and sexual attraction as female sources of power, drawing conclusions about how the series’ portrayal of women’s relationship with faith interacts with current Western views of women in the East.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mikayla Hunter
    • 1
  1. 1.English Language and LiteratureUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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