I put this off because I focused on writing a quick mash-up of recent S6 promo material for my FanSided presence, and the latest Entertainment Weekly spread was part of that mash-up, but I’d like to focus on the spread itself.
The angle for EW’s coverage was to focus on six ladies to watch out for in Season 6. One could surmise that HBO encouraged EW to focus on female characters as a sneaky way to avoid talking about Jon Snow, but the issue DOES include a sidebar about Jon Snow’s living status. But, you know…maybe they tossed us that little bit of meat to distract us from looking too hard at Jon’s chances of return. There’s merit to the idea that HBO wanted to get the show some nice hefty coverage in EW while aiming the camera mostly away from Jon. Fine.
With that in mind, which female characters did they decide to feature in the story? At the photo shoot in Spain, we have the three queens at various stages of difficulty: Queen Mother Cersei Lannister, Queen Consort Margaery Tyrell, and Queen of Slaver’s Bay Daenerys Targaryen.
At the photo shoot in Belfast, meanwhile, we have three more notable ladies: aspiring assassin Arya Stark, budding player Sansa Stark, and watchful warrior Brienne of Tarth.
First, I’m going to do the nerdy thing and ask: what other ladies could they have featured in EW, and didn’t?
They didn’t feature Yara Greyjoy. She’s already appeared in the promo materials, so we all know, without sharing spoilers, that Yara’s coming back, but she’s not in this story. Maybe because she wasn’t on-screen in S5? But that’s not really an answer; there was no reason why the story had to be limited only to female characters who were present last season. If Yara’s going to be important in S6, then why isn’t she shown here?
They didn’t feature Ellaria Sand, or any of the Sand Snakes. Probably because the Dorne storyline was the most widely and vociferously panned part of S5. Nobody wants to hear about the Sand Snakes now. Oh, sure, they’re coming back; I’ve seen the leaks. But for now, HBO knows the fans don’t want to hear about them, so they’re left off the page. (Although we DID see Nymeria’s face among the character masks in that Hall of Faces push, so it’s not like HBO is shoving the Snakes entirely out of sight.)
They didn’t feature Missandei. Maybe because she’s a servant, not a lady, but there is still no reason why we can’t talk about a character in a well-educated servant position. When you stop and think about it, most of the characters we see on GoT are acting in service to someone else. There’s no reason why the big story at EW needs to exclude non-nobles. Missandei is left out…probably because she doesn’t have a very substantial role in S6.
They didn’t feature Melisandre. Possibly because they can’t draw attention to Melisandre without inadvertently pointing to the giant question mark hanging over Jon Snow’s corpse, but actually? Given how all the actresses manage to talk about their parts in S6 without telling us anything actionable in terms of events, I think they probably could have made Carice van Houten part of the photo spread, and they didn’t. If Margaery and Brienne have big enough parts in S6 to warrant magazine covers, I think Melisandre could be there, too.
They didn’t feature Gilly. Probably because she’s never been an especially substantial character and that’s not likely to change.
They didn’t feature Meera Reed. She was also absent in S5, but Ellie Kendrick has shown up in some interviews and promos, and we’re well aware of Bran’s return, so Meera’s return is no secret. She probably doesn’t have much of a role in S6. She’s there to look after Bran, and that doesn’t warrant the cover of EW.
They didn’t feature Olenna Tyrell, and that is, IMO, the most interesting omission. It’s odd that they’re showing both Stark girls, but not Olenna along with her granddaughter.
I can’t really think of any other female characters who could possibly have a substantial presence in S6, and are still alive. There’s Osha, but she’s not in the promo materials, so we’re not supposed to know about her. And I don’t think she’ll get much screentime. All the other women we’ve seen on the show are either small parts, or dead.
These six characters were chosen for this coverage because they met some criteria, and other, fairly substantial characters, didn’t.
Now I would like to talk about how they’re shown.
The photographer (Marc Hom) appears to have divided the ladies into two groups of three, and already, that wasn’t inevitable. They didn’t have to split the ladies into two neat groups. They didn’t have to do group photos at all. Each actress gets a cover, and an individual portrait, and that could have been sufficient. However, Hom did one photo shoot in Spain with the three queens, and another shoot near Belfast with the other three.
I surmise they did the one shoot in Spain so they could do outdoor shots that look like they could be in King’s Landing. Emilia Clarke’s individual portrait has an indistinct background, so they don’t care about showing her at a particular location except in the group photo. If they weren’t committed to outdoor settings, they could have done all the photography in Belfast.
There appears to be a theme for each group of three. The queens’ theme is sort of difficult to pin down. Cersei is posed to show off her Lannister lion gear. Margaery shows a similar emphasis with her Tyrell roses.
I’m not a fan of that interior pic of Natalie Dormer? I guess they went with the hair-stroking shot as an excuse to show off her ring, but it makes her look vapid. We can’t tell whether she’s standing or sitting, so I guess her position isn’t relevant.
Meanwhile, Emilia Clarke doesn’t have any specifically Targaryen gear to highlight her family loyalty. The texture on her dress evokes dragon scales, so that works. Cersei’s a Lannister, Margaery’s a Tyrell, and Daenerys is the Mother of Dragons. Cersei appears to be walking somewhere. Dany is standing still. Margaery is ambiguous.
Mostly, though, the three queens in Spain don’t have anything to do except stand around and look pretty.
The three Northern-ish (either from the North or located there at the moment) ladies are handled better. They’re not wearing any House-specific clothing or jewelry—Sansa has her mockingbird gown on, Arya has her House of Black and White uniform, and Brienne’s in her armor as usual—but they are all shown handling weapons.
Arya has Needle, which is an interesting choice, given that she hasn’t touched her sword since early Season 5. She’s wearing her No One outfit, but she still has her sword from home. Sansa has an ice-pick type thing dangling from the end of her necklace, and she’s holding that sharp object in all the photos.
And of course Brienne has Oathkeeper, which is given a very prominent display on the cover. They made sure to put that Lannister lion hilt where we could see it. She’s the only one carrying any House-branded gear, and ironically it’s Lannister-branded. Something tells me Cersei wouldn’t like that.
They have her posing with the Stark girls, though. In their group photo, they’re all, still, touching their weapons. Sansa’s position is lounging in the grass, Arya’s is standing and about to draw her sword, and Brienne’s is kneeling in the grass with her sword out.
To be honest, I’m not going to read too much into the actresses’ positions in their individual portraits. Probably not much significance in the difference between Cersei walking and Dany standing still.
I will point out, though, that Brienne appears to be in the middle of swearing a vow of service. She’s about to lay her sword at someone’s feet. It’s a very specific pose.
What about the groupings? In one trio, we have two ladies who are already carrying the title of Queen, who are both based in King’s Landing, and currently at war with each other. Along with them, we have another young lady who is queen of somewhere else, but who has designs on the Iron Throne. In the other trio, we have two sisters, and we have another lady who has made it her mission to be their protector, even after they both told her to fuck off.
The end of the last season showed the tall armored lady getting distracted from her mission, and yet there she is, standing behind Lady Catelyn’s daughters. All of them handling their weapons.
In fact, the Northern trio somehow warranted a second group photo that went around Twitter. They’ve set aside the “weapons” theme, but they’re still together. This is the “we’re trying to distract you from Maisie Williams being so petite” shot.
I think those trio groupings were deliberate, and reasoned. They didn’t arrange the ladies in those groups just because they could. I think they posed Dany with Cersei and Margaery because Dany will be on her way to King’s Landing at the end of the season.
I actually got that idea well before the EW issue came out; I looked at patterns in events over the finales of the last five seasons, and I decided: this is when Dany will be on her way. The last thing we see of Dany in the Season 6 finale will be her aboard a ship with her peeps, finally sailing for Westeros.
Meanwhile, the Northern grouping suggests that Brienne will be significant to both the Stark girls. They’ve both said no to her before, and this is the part where they say yes. I don’t think Arya will make it far enough north to be reunited with Sansa in Season 6; she won’t have enough time left in the season once she gets back to the Riverlands. What I think is more viable is that she’s joined up with Brienne, who has spent the latter half of the season looking for her on Sansa’s orders, and they are on their way back up to Winterfell.
The theme of the S5 finale was that everyone was having a miserable day. Everyone was getting killed, or risking death, or losing loved ones, or getting kidnapped or humiliated. The end of S6 will be that everyone’s on their way somewhere. Dany will be on her way to Westeros to take over. Brienne and Arya will be on their way to Winterfell to get Arya back to her sister. The White Walkers will be on their way into the Seven Kingdoms. You know, folks are going places.
Also, this is not from the EW spread, but it’s more material in the vein of “I am so willing to die on this hill.” See this Tweet from HBO UK:
That line is presented as a direct quote from Season 5, but, actually, nobody said those words in Season 5. It’s close to Brienne’s little spiel to Sansa in S5Ep2, but it’s not interchangeable. What Brienne said in S5 was, “I gave my word [to Catelyn] I would find you and protect you […] and give my life for yours if need be.” What they’re written on this photo is someone saying, “I give my word [to you] I would give my life for yours.”
She didn’t say those words to anyone in S5 (and certainly not in the scene in which that still was taken), but maybe that’ll be the phrasing when she swears her vow of service to Sansa—not reciting her promises to Catelyn, but making a new promise to the living girl in front of her—in a few weeks.