Game of Thrones has a reputation for being a gritty, masculine show about war, kings, and naked prostitutes. But halfway through the premiere of season four Sunday night, during an engrossing scene in which a beautiful young bride-to-be and her charmingly mouthy grandmother argue playfully over jewelry choices for an upcoming wedding, it occurred to me that Game of Thrones isn’t just a fantasy series. It’s an old-fashioned daytime soap opera. It’s a chick show.
Think about it: Nearly all the plots set in motion in this episode are the stuff of traditionally feminine narratives. Marital troubles, sexual jealousy, ungrateful children, and, of course, the intricacies of wedding planning. It’s All My Children, just with more amputated limbs.
The war is basically over for now, and the surviving characters are turning to domestic concerns. As Salon TV critic Neil Drumming explains, the episode focused on the “organic, enduring” and of course “confounding unit of humanity: the family.” Tyrion Lannister is caught between concern for his wife and loyalty to his family. Plus he has a demanding mistress whose intense jealousy threatens to upend whatever fragile peace he’s trying to keep in his household. Cersei Baratheon is a jealous mother-in-law struggling to be No. 1 in her son’s life, even though he’s getting married. Jaime Lannister is resisting his father’s pressure to marry and settle down, still infatuated with a woman he can’t ever marry, because she’s his sister. Even Daenerys Targaryen, who is marching across Essos sacking cities and freeing slaves, is having trouble adjusting to her darling children becoming more independent. Yes, those children are dragons, and they’re showing their independence by dropping mutilated goats from the sky, but the empty nest pangs she’s feeling should be familiar to any parent. Plus, she maybe sort of has a crush on a cute guy. When he gives her flowers, she blushes.
None of this is really new, of course. Unlike more traditional fantasy like the Lord of the Rings series, where there are so few women that you start to wonder if the characters reproduce through parthenogenesis, female characters and domestic concerns have always been central to Game of Thrones. The War of the Five Kings starts for the most soap opera-y of reasons—the queen is passing off children she conceived in adultery as her husband’s own—and ends, tellingly, at a wedding. A wedding where the host kills off half the wedding guests in a bloody massacre, but even that is an act of revenge because of a romantic snubbing. In the world of Game of Thrones, who marries whom and who has a baby with whom matters, in the end, even more than who wins on the battlefield.