'Game of Thrones': Why We Love the Bloody, Sexy HBO Drama

Women aren't usually the target audience for violent fantasy dramas, but the storytelling and strong female characters on this HBO series have us hooked

Nationwide, a legion of fans of HBO's Game of Thrones are clearing their schedules for this Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, when the epic tale launches into Season 3. A sizable portion of that fan base is female, which at first blush seems anomalous. Women aren't usually considered the target audience for an epic fantasy fueled by graphic violence and sex. So why are we so enchanted by the characters of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros?

First and foremost, it's because both men and women are gripped by an absorbing story. And Game of Thrones has about six or seven of them going at once. (For the uninitiated, there are scores of interesting characters in a medieval-like setting maneuvering for power at a time when absolute sovereignty is up for grabs. There's also a supernatural element at play, with winters that last for years and deadly, nonhuman creatures that frighten everyone.)

Flawed anti-heroes and endearing villains fuel the power plays and love stories that move the plot forward. Sure, there are good guys to root for, but there's hardly a character that's purely benevolent -- and some of the so-called bad guys are too deliciously clever not to love. That goes for many of the female characters, who regularly one-up the men in their lives despite the lower position they hold in the show's male-dominated society.  

"It's not a boys' show," says Kit Harington (who plays Jon Snow), in a recent Rolling Stone interview. "The strongest characters are women." And they are some of the most richly drawn women on TV. Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) is a loving matriarch, and the closest thing this show gets to noble -- but she's not above deception and even violence to protect her family. You can't help but feel for Cersei Baratheon (Lena Headey), the vicious and beautiful queen who's been denied love for years -- even as you hate her for mistreating her subjects. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has been robbed of her family's throne and mistreated by her sadistic brother. But as she gathers her lethal dragons around her, you wonder what evil she may inflict this season.  

No one's perfectly good (or evil) on this show, and no one's safe, either. Viewers got that lesson in Season 1, when Ned Stark -- a character generally viewed as the chivalrous soul of the show -- was beheaded in the penultimate episode. From that moment on, viewers knew this story could shock them at any moment. What's not to love about that? 

Oh, and there's one other thing: "There are female fans who enjoy the show for nudity too," Harington says. Okay -- that too!

The stories are great, though. See for yourself in this sneak peek of Season 3 below. 


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