Last year, when New York Times writer Gina Bellafante reviewed HBO's "Game of Thrones," there were a few lines that stuck out from the rest, leading to quite a bit of backlash. After describing the show as a "costume-drama sexual hopscotch," she notes that "[t]he true perversion ... is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise." In other words, the show's ideal audience would be Dungeons & Dragons-loving guys and the show's creators had merely thrown in a few trinkets to try to attract women. As we approach the season-two premiere, let me assure you -- as a female fan of both the TV show and the books -- that this assessment was wrong. "Game of Thrones" is hugely appealing to women, at least those who are into good storytelling, compelling characters, suspense, drama and parable.
Below are five of the biggest reasons women should, and do, love the show.
1) Rich and layered female characters.
A USA Today piece this week began with the following statement: "It's a man's world on HBO's 'Game of Thrones,' but it's the women who remain standing." This is due to the fact that some of the strongest characters in "Game of Thrones" are women. You have the beautiful, smart and manipulative Cersei Lannister, one of the major players in the fight (the "game") to take the Iron Throne and rule the Seven Kingdoms. You have Lady Catelyn Stark, a strong mother who will defend her children to the death, a devoted wife and a shrewd political strategist willing to sacrifice to win the throne and get revenge for her husband's murder. And across the narrow sea, you have Daenerys Targaryen, who is hatching a plan to take back her family's throne. Female viewers can appreciate that, besides being strong, the women in "Game of Thrones" are not simply archetypes. They aren't noble or shrew, virgin or whore. Cersei is a devoted mother but isn't above murdering another woman's child. Catelyn shows immense kindness but is truly cruel to her husband's bastard son. And while a prostitute can be a power player, that doesn't mean she has a heart of gold. It's rare to find such rich and layered female characters, and for women who are sick of seeing feminine clichés onscreen, this complexity is a major draw.
2) Lots of bodice ripping.
Bellafante was right when she noted that the plot of "Game of Thrones" "gives license for unhindered bed-jumping." The characters in "Game of Thrones" are lascivious -- both the men and the women -- and I don't think it's incorrect to say that this heightens the show's appeal to women -- and men, for that matter. Certainly it is a misogynistic society (that issue requires a separate discussion), but if you can accept that it is based in a medieval-like time and not the present, you can enjoy the fact that there's a lot of sex, some of it naughty, some of it nice, but all of it, um, compelling. And it's not just the men who are using women as sexual pawns -- the women are sexually empowered (and using sex to get power), too. Plus, "Game of Thrones" doesn't just stick to heterosexual relationships. Even King Robert's own brother, Renly Baratheon, is having an affair right in the castle walls with Sir Loras Tyrell, a popular knight from a wealthy family. And when Daenerys wants to learn how to please her husband, she engages in sexual role play with her slave, a former prostitute.
3) Sexy, sexy men.
We owe a pat on the back to whoever cast the male leads. Ser Jaime Lannister, played by Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, may be a villain, but with his mop of blond hair, his searing gray-blue eyes, those chiseled features and his way with a sword, he sure is a sexy one. Eddard "Ned" Stark, played by British Sean Bean, is kind, noble to a fault and incredibly strong. He's the kind of man who would ravish you, then fall asleep holding you in his arms. Khal Drogo, played by Jason Momoa, with his shirtless muscles and his primal ability to dominate everything and everyone in his midst, makes a girl question whether being swept up and carried off by horse would really be so bad. Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister, the brother of Cersei and Jaime, brings equal sexual charge to his Golden Globe award-winning role.
4) It's never predictable and it's always exciting.
Centered on feudal families fighting for power with no moral qualms, "Game of Thrones" is one of the most exciting stories I have ever read or watched. "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die," Cersei tells Ned when he exposes her deepest, darkest secret. In other words, the only rule is that there are no rules. Whereas there are clear protagonists in other stories, "Game of Thrones" jumps from perspective to perspective making no one character more virtuous or depraved than the others. This means that no one is good, and no one is safe -- innocents are murdered while villains are victorious. There are also three major points of conflict going on at once: (1) the main war over the throne, (2) Daenerys preparing her Dothraki horde to come across the sea and (3) the wall that delineates the most northern line of the Seven Kingdoms, beyond which mysterious things are starting to happen.
5) It raises important moral questions.
This show works because there's a point to all of the conflict. It also forces the viewer to ask, "What would I do?," often in circumstances that stir women's empathy especially. Cersei may be a conniving backstabber responsible for her husband's death, but you feel for her when that husband looks her in the eye and says that nothing she could have done would have made him love her. Ned so badly wants to do the noble thing, but in the end, that gets him killed, leaving his children in harm's way and his lands without a leader. What woman has not had to chose between family and duty? Then there's the dilemma faced by John Snow: When he finds out his brother has gone to war and his father has been murdered, he's already taken his oath to protect the Seven Kingdoms. If he goes to help his brother and avenge his father, the punishment is death. Which obligation is more important? And which failure of action will he be able to live with? What do you put first, your family or your word? "Game of Thrones" is full of these questions. And if anything comes to light from it all, something that few storytellers are brave enough to admit, it's that there is no right answer. Whichever way you turn, you are stepping into a trap. It's not a question of what is the right thing to do, but what is the lesser evil. And anyone who's worked in corporate America can relate to that.
The real problem I have with people saying "Game of Thrones" is not for women, is that they make such a clear distinction between what men and what women like. But bottom line is that "Game of Thrones" has all the aspects of a story that would appeal to a female audience, not to mention it's just great storytelling.
PHOTOS: The Women of "Game of Thrones"