Badassery is not solely measured by combat prowess. The willpower to overcome dire circumstances and bullheaded determination to champion one’s beliefs matter too.
In the world of Game of Thrones, where women are forced to play bit roles, the following characters go above and beyond the norms of what’s expected of them in society. Their motivations vary—from protecting their family and constituents to pursuing far less nobler reasons like self-gain and seizing power—but you can bet they’ll go all-out to get the job done.
So while the men are too distracted making one foolish decision after another as they engage in an overblown, dick-measuring contest they call a war, these women have stealthily been fighting on their own terms as well.
Before she screwed over her lover Tyrion (figuratively and not the pleasurable kind), Shae was a pretty likeable character. She even held a knife against the throat of a fellow handmaiden in order to protect Sansa.
Being forced to hide in a room while there’s a raid at the Wall doesn’t mean she’ll cower in fear and wait it out. Nope, she grabs a piece of meat so she can fight off would-be attackers.
She’s pretty much Daenery’s second-in-command/hype(wo)man who’s intelligent and tactful enough to conduct political negotiations for and with her queen. She speaks 19 languages including High Valyrian and Dothraki.
This wildling was one hell of a combat nanny to Rickon and Bran as she’s pretty skilled with a dagger. And she’s not afraid to use her sexuality to distract the enemy so she can save the kids.
17. The Waif
Waif stressed us out for several eps as the assassin made like the damn Terminator and relentlessly pursued Arya Stark like prey. (Too bad their “face-off” didn’t end well for her!)
16. Catelyn Tully-Stark
Cat will stop at nothing to get her children back, even defying her eldest son Robb’s orders. The Stark matriarch would’ve been higher up on this list if the showrunners actually included her Lady Stoneheart persona.
15. Meera Reed
Meera, in a quest reminiscent of many an RPG extract and escort mission, takes over from Hodor as protector in chief of defenseless but quietly powerful Bran. Her fighting skills have saved them countless times and she’s even the first woman seen in the series to slay a White Walker.
14. Lyanna Stark
She’s long passed on before the events of GoT take place, but her presence and influence could be felt throughout the series. From what we hear about her and the bits and pieces we see from Bran’s mindtrip, it’s certainly clear that Arya takes after her kickass aunt’s attitude.
13. Margaery Tyrell
You’ve gotta hand it to the former Queen of King’s Landing because she masterfully manipulated both Kings (Joffrey and Tommen) and had them by the balls. If it weren’t for Cersei’s explosive play-of-the-game worthy moment, Margaery would’ve enjoyed a longer reign.
12. Ellaria Sand
Oberyn’s death pushed her to go on a roaring rampage of revenge against the Lannisters where she’s not above killing anyone else who gets in her way including the Prince of Dorne.
11. The Sand Snakes (Obara Sand, Nymeria Sand, Tyene Sand)
We’re lumping them all in one number because these hardcore fighters mostly function as a group. Just the three of them can inflict devastating damage and help overthrow a whole kingdom.
10. Olenna Tyrell
Who else would Margaery get her powers of persuasion from but the OG political chess master herself? Olenna’s backroom machinations have helped House Tyrell successfully social-climb its way up to King’s Landing. (And she gets major plus points for poisoning that bastard Joffrey.)
9. Sansa Stark
She doesn’t have her younger sister’s assassin training nor her brother’s leadership skills, but Sansa has a survivor’s grit. The fact that she’s managed to outlive far stronger characters means she’s doing something right.
The seasoned warrior schooled Jon Snow on wild(ling) things he knows nothing about, ahem, among other things. The eagle-eyed archer could easily snipe watchguards from a distance and climb a freaking ice wall like nobody’s business.
7. Yara Greyjoy
As the daughter of the head of House Greyjoy, she’s one of the few female characters in the show to command her own fleet. She’s far from a sycophantic follower of her father, though, taking it upon herself to try and save her brother Theon. While last season has her uncle taking over her dad’s position, we’re sure she’ll snatch back the Iron Islands in one way or another.
6. Cersei Lannister
We all know the current queen of King’s Landing as a power-hungry dictator now, but damn if she didn’t go through hell and back to secure her position. Incestuous proclivities aside, she’s had her sympathetic moments as she will do anything (the operative word here being ANYTHING) to protect her children. We are both horrified yet impressed with the epic move she pulled off last season to regain her royal standing. Though we don’t know if that’s enough to stand up against the Mother of Dragons.
5. Melisandre of Asshai
She’s not a main player in the Game of Thrones, but she’s one hell of a supporting character. Remember, the priestess can birth shadow babies and resurrect the dead. She may be opportunistic, but we can’t hate her hustle since she’s siding with Jon Snow this time.
4. Lyanna Mormont
While her male contemporaries were cowardly, weak-willed, and easily swayed (See: Tommen Baratheon and Robin Arryn), this 10-year-old makes her own decisions and leads her House with an iron fist. Lyanna’s brutal honesty means she’s got no time for Jon and Sansa’s pathetic attempts at smooth-talking her into lending an army. She even shoots a withering death glare at Ramsay Bolton in the battlefield that will send you packing. She is just so done with everyone’s BS.
3. Arya Stark
Arya’s moved around more times than the rest of the Stark kids, all while stealthily upping her kill count in her bloody quest to avenge her family. And after training with the Faceless Men (while temporarily blinded at one point) and the way she messed with Walder Frey? She’s definitely upgraded into a total badass.
2. Brienne of Tarth
Brienne has fought off gender stereotypes and overturned conventions by picking up the sword and shield and besting every man who’s ever faced her. She’s also single-handedly fought off groups and battled against a bear. Beneath her cold exterior lies a compassionate woman who’s determined to keep her oath—even if she has to punch someone in the balls to do it.
All hail Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons! Daenerys’ character arc can be summed up as everyone else saying “Dany, no!” and her replying “Dany, yes!!!” as she swoops in with her dragons while giving zero fucks.
The Khaleesi has suffered through so much shit, with the odds stacked against her and everyone out to get her. And yet she rose above it all and now we can’t help rooting for her to kick Cersei’s ass and take over the Seven Kingdoms. The one true queen deserves the top spot because she’s the very definition of #LitAF.
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