Daenerys Targaryen: HBO’s finest TV females
The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones featured Queen Daenerys Targaryen going completely off the deep end, killing and burning down a city of innocent civilians in a dragonfire-fueled temper tantrum. Feminists decried the turnaround of the character – known in previous seasons for her adherence to a moderately strict ethic that had her destroying the slave trade across several large cities – as a dramatic travesty.
We’re not certain about a wider societal narrative, but it didn’t make sense for her character arc, either. There are plenty of other great female characters to celebrate, though; women in TV have been on fire lately. Here’s our ranking of the strongest TV females in HBO’s finest shows. Let’s hear it for the girls!
Cersei Lannister: Game of Thrones (2011 – 2019)
A noteworthy character from the Game of Thrones cast is Cersei, who was married off against her will for her father’s strategic gains. Using her power and savvy, she surveyed his cunning political moves, which ultimately led her to become the sole protector of the seven Kingdoms. Boss!
Carrie Bradshaw: Sex and the City (1998 – 2004)
While Sex and the City might contain some (okay, many) outdated views on sexuality, feminism, and social status, at the time it undoubtedly portrayed strong female characters with sexual agency. As the central character, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her highly relatable relationship antics kept audiences enthralled for six seasons and taught women to be more open about their sexual experiences.
Valerie Cherish: The Comeback (2005 – )
Lisa Kudrow (Friends) absolutely shines as the lead in this mockumentary about the pain and pitfalls of fame, as she attempts to rekindle the flame of her once prominent acting career with nothing but a camera crew and some determination.
As Forbes put it, “Valerie Cherish is not the first complex female antihero we’ve seen on premium cable (Carrie Mathison, Nancy Botwin, Jackie Peyton), but she feels like the first who wasn’t written as a direct counterpart to the male anti-heroes that have revolutionized television.”
Amy Jellicoe: Enlightened (2011 – 13)
Enlightened was a truly inspiring show with co-creator Laura Dern (Jurassic Park) starring as a woman on the verge of a mental breakthrough. Following a terrifying (but also very believable) meltdown at work, Dern’s character Amy experiences a spiritual awakening, making her determined to live an enlightened life despite the many pitfalls that come with it. Her character was flawless because of her flawlessness, while the storylines were both fun and moving.
Eileen Merrell (Candy): The Deuce (2017 – )
In this show about life in New York City during the 70s and 80s when porn and prostitution were rampant in Manhattan, Merrell (Maggie Gyllenhaal) stands out as a streetwise hooker who refuses to be the pawn to any pimp. It’s a headstrong and dicey decision, but she takes the risk in order to earn all the money she can get to support her son. As the narrative progresses, Merrell discovers her talents stretch well beyond the streets – her true calling in life turns out to be filmmaking.
Dolores Abernathy: Westworld (2016 – )
Westworld (S2 is here, folks!) offers smart deconstructions of the nature of storytelling, presenting lead female characters who fight back against structures of exploitation and abuse. In the show, Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood) realizes her given reality, rejects the archetypal heroic male figures audiences might’ve expected to save her, and starts a revolution on her own terms.
Selina Meyer: Veep (2012 – )
In HBO’s award-winning comedy series Veep, former Senator Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) finds that being Vice President of the United States is nothing like she hoped and everything that everyone ever warned her about. Anyone who has watched the show will know that Meyer is definitely not a feminist hero, but that’s why we need her. Not all female leads have to be either disposable characters or perfectly strong women. And even if they’re not perfect, they can still likeable.
Veep showrunner David Mandel (Curb Your Enthusiasm) described how “no matter how horrible Selina is, somehow the Veep audience and we as writers still root for her. Root for what, I’m not sure, as she was not a great President, but we still root for her.”
Daenerys Targaryen: Game of Thrones (2011 – 2019)
Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) has survived all sorts of hardships, from sexual assault, to raging fires, to the sociopath brother who sold her off to a barbarian husband. Did she let it get her down? Absolutely not – instead she conquered all to become the Mother of Dragons, leading a crusade to rule the world with righteousness and equanimity. Except she gave up both of those all of a sudden, right when victory was assured. WTF?
Maeve Millay: Westworld (2016 – )
Sweetwater’s premium brothel madame does not fall foul to becoming a dispensable female character – quite the opposite. Like Dolores, she fights back on her own terms, haboring an unfathomable strength as she embarks on a quest to find her daughter.
Issa Dee: Insecure (2016 – )
We’re huge fans of Issa Rae and the comedic empire she has built, from her Awkward Black Girl web series to the HBO hit Insecure. Following the awkward experiences and racy tribulations of a modern-day African-American woman, her craft and performance as Issa Dee manages to be refreshing, inspirational, and lol funny all at the same time.