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Image: Daenerys on "Game of Thrones"
Helen Sloan  /  HBO
Yes, HBO's upcoming "Game of Thrones" has swords and blood and gore, but it also has a number of very strong female characters, including Daenerys Targaryen.
TODAY contributor
updated 4/13/2011 11:41:44 PM ET 2011-04-14T03:41:44

Blood and gore. Sex and swords. Dragons and wraiths.

On the surface, HBO’s new mythical series “Game of Thrones,” based on George R.R. Martin’s phenomenally successful “A Song of Ice and Fire” best-selling novels, appears to be a total testosterone experience.

But don’t try to convince young women raised on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” anxiously waiting for “Game of Thrones” that this is anything but a series geared toward geek girls.

“From my experience, I see more women getting excited about the show than men,” said Amy Ratcliffe, a blogger for Geek With Curves. “The posts and links I've seen have been more from women than men.”

Geek girls are speaking up, proving that comic-book conventions and fantasy series aren't just for boys. And they are TV watchers, part of the female 18-34 demographic sought after by broadcast and cable networks.

HBO entertainment president and self-professed geek girl Sue Naegle believes young women will absolutely watch when the series premieres on April 17.

“I will admit to going to Comic-Con as a fan before it was cool, and I was giant freak for ('A Song of Ice and Fire,' ” said Naegle, who came to HBO in 2008 a year after development began on “GoT.” “This is smart, sexy and delicious. In my mind, you can’t help falling in love with (Princess) Daenerys, who is a powerful, fierce role model.”

Not just for boys
Traditionally, networks — especially broadcast networks — have attempted to grab young women viewers with romantic comedies, keeping the mindset that fantasy is for boys and romance is for girls.

Yet a slew of new romcoms fell flat this season. Geek girls who love fantasy and sci-fi say it’s time the networks woke up and started courting them if a hit show is what the networks want.

“It’s wrong to assume that our demo only wants to see hour-long med dramas with cheesy dialogue or romantic comedies,” said Ratcliffe. “(Networks) need to embrace the fact that there is a large female contingency looking for entertainment like ‘Game of Thrones’ with seriously wonderful women.”

The anecdotal evidence is everywhere. There was "Xena: Warrior Princess," Dana Scully on "The X-Files," Claire Bennett on "Heroes," and many others. More recently, “True Blood,” which features heroine Sookie Stackhouse and vampires Pam and Jessica, has become one of HBO’s hottest properties.

Actor/writer/producer Stephanie Thorpe loved “Buffy,” but had her reservations about “True Blood.” She quickly charmed to HBO's vampires.

“Give us smart female characters instead of generic romances and we’ll rally around that show,” Thorpe said. “If networks are looking for die-hard fans, then your demographic is women. We are incredibly loyal to shows. We want to live and breath it and buy the T-shirts.”

Thorpe said “Buffy” turned the fantasy tide from cult to mainstream with the help of a large female audience.

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“(‘Buffy’ creator) Joss Whedon gave us an autonomous heroine and surrounded her with smart friends,” Thorpe said of the show's successful formula.

Driving force
While the genre may hook them, it’s the follow-through that counts. HBO has worked for years with “GoT” creator Martin to perfect his vision, even down to inventing an entire language for a horse warrior culture led by exiled Daenerys, whose ruthless father was overthrown by his allies.

And Daenerys' story is just one in this sprawling saga. “Game of Thrones” tells the tales of several noble families vying for the Iron Throne, and those in their sphere caught up in the palace intrigue. Oh, and there’s a supernatural element as a rag-tag group of soldiers attempt to secure the wall between this world and those otherworldly beings.

While there are plenty of hunky men taking charge in this show, the driving force in the minds of many geek girl fans are the women of the series:

  • Daenerys “Dany” Targaryen (played by Emilia Clarke), who goes from a 13-year-old sold into marriage by her brother to finance his bid for the throne to a strong contender for the Iron Throne.
  • Cersei Lannister (played by Lena Headey), the queen of King Robert Baratheon, the manipulative monarch who uses her sexuality to wield power.
  • Lady Catelyn Stark (played by Michelle Fairley), the noblewoman who inadvertently instigates the destruction of her family when she sought only to save them.
  • Arya Stark (played by Maisie Williams), Catelyn and Lord Ned Stark's scrappy young daughter who's more at ease with a sword than an embroidery needle. Her wit never fails her, evidenced by naming her sword Needle. Her pluck repeatedly saves her life as she faces unimaginable dangers.

GeekSix blogger Autumn Massey said for geek girls, it’s more about relationships and character development than just defeating the bad guys.

Image: Arya Stark
Arya Stark, who is more at ease with a sword in hand than an embroidery needle.

“Daenerys starts young and scared, then comes into her own, which is a theme we can identify with,” Massey said.

Naegle, who helped put together the deal for “True Blood” when she was an agent, said these series carry on the tradition of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The X-Files” and other TV shows centered around empowered women.

It’s that theme that has these passionate fans looking forward to not only returning shows such as “Torchwood” and “True Blood,” but also new series such as “GoT” and David E. Kelley’s new NBC series “Wonder Woman.”

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“I’m definitely looking forward to ‘Wonder Woman,’ even though I’m nervous about how it’s going to turn out,” said Has Boobs, Reads Comics blogger Jill Pantozzi. “It’s just good to have her on the air again.”

And even Naegle said she’s interested in seeing the new season of “Torchwood,” a British sci-fi show that follows the adventures of a group of alien hunters, which will be set in the United States for the first time.

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Still, it’s an uphill battle for geek girls to get recognized as a consumer force to be reckoned with — even when it comes to HBO.

At San Francisco’s WonderCon in April, the premium cable network broke out the big guns to promote “Game of Thrones,” from photo ops with the intricate Iron Throne to T-shirts promoting all families involved in the fantasy saga: House Targaryen. House Stark. House Lannister. House Baratheon.

But nowhere in the house were women's sizes.

“We were ready to buy, eager to wear the shirts right there around WonderCon, but all they had were men’s small sizes,” Thorpe said. “They said we could go online and order them, but that’s not the point. The point is they obviously didn’t realize there’s a large number of girls who are fans. All that planning and they blocked out 51 percent of their audience.”

Susan C. Young is a writer in Northern California.

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