So I knew that even before I finished the first book. I knew, ultimately, that the Red Wedding would be coming. Which didn’t make it any easier to write because by the time I wrote it I’d spent six years with these people and I’d come to love Robb, I’d come to love Catelyn. Letting go of them was very, very difficult for me.

So, you may see some extremely shocking things in the show that come up in the next season or two, but I’m not sure you could consider them ‘spoilers,’ because they’re never gonna to happen in the books. They CAN’T happen in the books, because the show and the books have gone down different roads.
—  George R.R. Martin, 6/23/2015

This Map Of Westeros Shows The European Equivalents Of The Seven Kingdoms

Still reeling from Sunday’s season 5 finale of “Game Of Thrones”? Understandable. It was brutal!

One mental exercise useful during every traumatic episode of the show or moment in George R.R. Martin’s book series, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” is to remind yourself that Westeros, and the people living there, are not real. It’s all fiction! Nothing happening on the screen or page actually happened to a living human.

This is easy, of course, when there are dragons or White Walkers on screen. Yet Martin has made it clear that he did use historical events, people and places as the inspiration for some of his world.

With that in mind, we at The Huffington Post decided to play a fun little game: If Westeros did exist, what real world countries would correspond to each of the Seven Kingdoms?

See our full historical explanation for each country here.

In one intriguing new wrinkle, Martin says he just came up with a big, revealing twist on a long-time character that he never previously considered. “This is going to drive your readers crazy,” he teases, “but I love it. I’m still weighing whether to go that direction or not. It’s a great twist. It’s easy to do things that are shocking or unexpected, but they have to grow out of characters. They have to grow out of situations. Otherwise, it’s just being shocking for being shocking. But this is something that seems very organic and natural, and I could see how it would happen. And with the various three, four characters involved… it all makes sense. But it’s nothing I’ve ever thought of before. And it’s nothing they can do in the show, because the show has already—on this particular character—made a couple decisions that will preclude it, where in my case I have not made those decisions.”
on George Martin, ladies of ASOIAF and being a ‘feminist writer’

This long-ass post was brought to you by me starting my latest ASOIAF reread focusing exclusively on the ladies, plus some acutely on-point tag meta by him-e  re: Martin’s approach to female characters. 

It’s an interesting phenomenon that’s by no means exclusive to the this particular fandom or even the geek community, by which famous male writers made a name for being ‘feminist’ by popular acclaim and little else. One example could be Charlie Kaufman, or pre-controversy Joss Whedon (who is currently in the middle of a controversy exactly because the public realized that he’s really nothing special in this regard). 

This kind of writers, and I’m fully lumping Martin in the group, are not feminist at all - they are simply good writers, who do well with characters, and thus end up writing well-rounded female characters. Repeat after me: if you can write, you can write women. It’s not indication of any kind of inclination for social justice. In an age of fandom activism and sub-par female representation, this is enough to get some writers raised to sainthood; it doesn’t mean they deserve it.

Martin is one of such men. He’s not out to subvert the patriarchy, as I’ve seen suggested every once in a while; he’s merely crafty enough to realize which tropes to subvert to make for interesting storytelling. (I’m also of the opinion that all this subverting was merely a smoke-screen writing device and ASOIAF will turn more stereotypically fantasy with WoW/DoS, but I guess we’ll see about that). GRRM representing a wide-range of female characters in his work doesn’t automatically have to mean that he sees these characters as anything more than a writing exercise; shouldn’t get him a feminist medal.

We talk a lot about the Bechdel test around here, which is by no means indicative of how feminist a work is, but it’s alaways interesting to do, so I decided to do some Bedcheling of my own.

The first female interaction in the books is in Arya I, when she’s arguing with Sansa. They’re talking about Joff. Scrapped. Then Septa Mordane criticizes her sewing. This one is good. Sansa I. She argues with Arya, which passes the test, but then it’s about Joff again. Arya II. There’s like half a page of her arguing with Sansa, talking about the tourney, but the underlying assumption is that Sansa is mad re: the Joffrey thing. Let’s say this is a pass. Daenerys III. She’s hanging out with her handmaidens, which is good, but it turns out all she wants is for Doreah to teach her how to ‘please’ Khal Drogo, who in that same chapter raped her repeatedly (but this is not that kind of post so let’s move on). 

I could go on in details, but I think we all remember how it goes - Sansa and Arya have a some more interactions, but only a few don’t make mention of / center about male characters. Lysa and Catelyn’s argument is more about Tyrion, Jon Arryn and Robert Arryn than it is about themselves, but must be a pass in some points. How revolutionary. There’s mention of Jeyne Poole in the Sansa chapter where she goes to Cersei, but the only dialogue they actually share is about Robert’s death, and the Sansa/Cersei conversation is obviously all about Joffrey and Ned. I think the mostly Bechdel-ish interactions of the whole book are the handful of lines between Dany and the handmaidens about Dothraki lore, but it bears noticing that Irri and the others are Dany’s slaves - they’ve been thrown together by circumstances, not choices. 

It’s interesting because, barring the above relationship, no woman on ASOIAF has friends. It’s interesting because it shows that, for all the glorification Martin gets, his female characters are yes, three-dimentional characters, but not women. They are nuanced in a way that has more to do with painting a detailed portrayal rather than going out his way to fully establish all these characters as their own people. He especially doesn’t try to establish the women of ASOIAF in a contest independent of male influence, which is what a true ‘feminist writer’ would do. Westeros is a heavily male-dominated society, true, but it’s a stretch that every woman’s character was first and foremost influenced by a man (you don’t need to search any farther than the family trees, and how everyone’s mother is dead or forgettable.)

The point I’m trying to make with the Bechdel line of reasoning is how odd it is that no woman in ASOIAF has female interactions worth of notice. This happens even when the character’s position would require it; it’s almost like Martin goes out his way to avoid writing such interactions, even when the worldbuilding suffers from it (the wife of the Warden of the North has no ladies in waiting? Cersei was alone before Taena came along? Sansa might be a hostage, but is there no woman in the KL’s court besides the queen? It’s weird but easier than writing girl talk!)

That the first instances of female ‘friendship’ we get in canon are in ASOS – mentions of Margaery’s ladies, some Sansa/Shae, Selyse and Mel, Daenerys and ten-year-old Missandei;  and that we have to wait until AFFC for a first-hand account in the form of Arianne’s flashback interactions with the Sand Snakes and Cersei’s description of Margaery’s court and her relationship with Taena. That’s a whopping 9 years after ASOIAF started to get a decent female interactions more than a page long. 

This is why Martin is not doing anything particularly extraordinary with his female characters, besides knowing how to write. This is why there shouldn’t be any kind of discussion on whether is is writing revolutionary feminist fantasy - all he’s doing is describing the world through a handful of female POVs who are all isolated or shunned from their peers, and however few mentions Margaery gets per book.

Pray notice, I’m not dissing Martin. I’m perfectly (okay, sufficiently) satisfied with what he’s accomplished, I’m just saying he shouldn’t get more praise than he’s due. Fleshing out a female character in a way that’s mostly shaped by the males in her life is not much of a feminist feat, and that if you actually pay attention to it the most genuine female relationship in the whole of ASOIAF is that between Arya and Sansa – pretty telling considering that they’re still children and not yet women.

(ETA: I absolutely forgot about Catelyn/Brienne because my brain is fried. It’s adressed here, doesn’t really change the overall argument).

Martin is a good writer, not a revolutionary. He set out to write a ‘classical fantasy epic’ (his words, not mine) and figured out that the best way to do it was though perfectly crafted twist, both of the plot and the tropes of the genre. The writing in ASOIAF is wonderful storytelling but not feminist activism; and should not be regarded as such.