One of the most compelling aspects of Game of Thrones is its strong female characters. In far too many medieval shows and films, attempts to create empowered women fall short and come across as cardboard anachronisms. Recently, there has been a tremendous amount of controversy over the series of rape scenes in the Season 4 television show. Some critics applauded Daenerys’ show of sexual assertiveness in the last episode (“Mockingbird”) — no doubt because of the contrast it provided with sexually victimized women in previous weeks.
While going through our archives, I found this article discussing an amazing interview with Michelle Fairley about Catelyn Stark and the strong female characters she admires. Even though nearly a year has passed since her departure from the show, the interview still provides great insight into not only her interpretation of the character but also one of the series’ most powerful scenes.
Fairley notes in the interview that she based her interpretation off of the Game of Thrones‘ showrunners’ interpretation and not necessarily that of George RR Martin: “Sometimes David [Benioff], Dan [Weiss] and Bryan [Cogman] take from the books and sometimes they don’t. ”
Not surprisingly given her skill as an actress, Michelle Fairley provides some thoughtful insights as to what Catelyn was thinking during the Red Wedding.
Fairley explains how Catelyn misunderstood Walder Frey’s anger and desire for revenge. When she tries to bargain with him, she assumes that he would care more about saving his family than shedding blood. Catelyn badly miscalculates.
She tries everything with this man in order to save this son but he’s without care. She doesn’t know it was already planned.
When Catelyn holds a knife to Joyeuse Frey’s throat, she is trying to keep her wits in a last ditch effort to save her children. Since Ned’s death, her only motivation has been to reunite her children and become a family once more. Threatening Walder Frey via his wife is the only option that presents itself in the last terrified seconds of her life.
Still when Frey dismisses Catelyn’s threat by coldly stating, “I’ll find another” and Roose Bolton proceeds to kill Robb — the last moments of Catelyn, the eternal mother, are spent in vengeance. As Fairley notes, “I don’t think Cat ever thought herself capable of being able to slit someone’s throat. But that’s the journey she goes on.”
Michelle also has some compelling thoughts on why the Game of Thrones women are so powerful. “They’re all incredibly strong, but in different ways, with different moral fibers. They’re all acting for the own gain, whether for their children to be king or to get their family back together again. You can’t fault them for their drive or passion because they have to be stronger than the men. They’re the ones who stay behind. They’re the ones that have to run the family.” The emphasis here is mine.
This is a powerful and often overlooked aspect of Game of Thrones. These are the women of war. For millennia, women have stayed at home while their husbands and sons went off to war — possibly never to return again. During the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of the Roses periods, this would have been the experience of many women, not just the noble ones. In the case of the Hundred Years’ War, some men would have been gone for months or years. This experience of staying behind and keeping everything going continues even today with military wives around the world.
Michelle also provides her take on some of the other major characters, ” I admire Cersei because of her drive, but I don’t agree with what she does. I admire Tyrion: He’s coming from such a disadvantage within a family like that yet makes the most of his life… For Tyrion and Arya, it’s about survival; knowing that this could be your last day on earth so you go out and live it.”
Michelle currently has a recurring role in 24: Live Another Day. Since Game of Thrones, she has also acted in Suits as Ava Hessington as well as the Montana, Ironclad: Battle for Blood, Philomena, and Common. Some of you may also remember Michelle as Hermione’s mom in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I.
To read more of the HBO interview, click here.