‘Game of Thrones’ Brienne of Tarth, ‘Walking Dead’s Carol Peletier & the Power of ‘Shipping

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HBO, Victoria Will/AMC

Carol Peletier and Brienne of Tarth are more alike than many fans of their respective shows — Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead — might realize.

They’re two incredibly strong women, and skilled fighters who have saved the lives of beloved main characters time and time again. And perhaps most surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, depending on your point of view), both are caught in the center of an internet ‘shipping war, with numerous fans wishing them to pursue a romantic relationship with one of two potential suitors.

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Let’s take a look at what makes these women so unique, and why fans are so drawn to one pairing or another for them.

Carol & Brienne’s Badassery

First, the obvious. Carol and Brienne are both incredible fighters and are on par with, or even better than, the central male characters on their shows in terms of skill in battle.

Brienne’s weapon of choice is a Valyrian steel sword named Oathkeeper (more on that later) and Carol’s shifted from a pistol to a bow and arrow over the six-year time jump, so they both have signature weapons and are deadly with them in hand. On a show where most women don’t use swords or bows and keep their battles confined to castle walls, Brienne is something of a glorious anomaly; on a show where the undead roam the earth looking for snacks of human flesh, Carol is one in a line of women who have learned to fight for their survival.

Their situations might be different, Carol and Brienne serve a similar purpose in the narrative. They’re trustworthy, powerful fighters who their show’s main characters know they can trust to get the job done.

A Note On Looks

In addition, Carol and Brienne are connected through their unconventional beauty. Both women aren’t what many might imagine as “typical leading ladies.” Brienne is taller than most men and prefers wearing a suit of armor to any kind of dress. Until recently, Carol kept her hair short, and even with her new ‘do, her flowing locks are still gray.

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They are not the youngest or “traditionally” fairest of Hollywood female leads, but both women serve an integral purpose in the storylines of their shows and even have multiple potential love interests. There’s something powerful and refreshing in the way Carol and Brienne challenge narrow, shallow notions of on-screen femininity and prove that beauty is as much about smarts and strength as it is a pretty face.

Fan Favorites

Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are both ensemble shows with beloved characters across the board, but Carol and Brienne seem to hold a special place in fans’ hearts. Brienne’s endured a tough upbringing filled with teasing from men who mocked her and called her “Brienne the Beauty,” and people of both genders disparaged her interest in fighting. Carol found her way out of an abusive marriage and survived losing her child, eventually finding a power — and at times, a ruthlessness — she never knew she had.

Their respective hardships and journeys through them have endeared these two to legions of fans who wish to see their stories end happily (well, Carol probably has a better chance at that). Next April will see the final season of Thrones and determine whether Brienne survives whatever encounters she may have with the terrifying White Walkers, so her fate is very much up in the air. But Melissa McBride just signed a new contract with AMC, so at least Carol fans can breathe a sigh of relief: the Queen will be around for a while longer.

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The Carol ‘Shipping Debate

To start, many fans have wanted Carol to get together with Daryl since The Walking Dead’s second season. There were several swoon-worthy moments between the two at Hershel’s farm — anyone remember Daryl giving her a Cherokee Rose? — and when Sophia was found in Hershel’s barn as a walker, it was Daryl who held her as she cried.

Though nothing explicitly romantic has happened between them, ‘Caryl’ have had quite a few moments since that keep their relationship ambiguous: their emotional reunion outside Terminus, Daryl coming to visit her at the Kingdom and his obvious displeasure at the prospect of her getting married. The ‘ship has a passionate celebrity fan in Walking Dead expert and host of the show’s SDCC panel this year, Yvette Nicole Brown. And AMC has even gotten in on the Caryl action, releasing promotional photos of them together and creating Caryl-centric viewer polls on Talking Dead.

But there’s a complication in the Carol-Daryl dynamic, at least as far as a romantic relationship is concerned. Carol is currently married to King Ezekiel, and it seems they’re quite happy together. Depending on which side you take in the Carol ‘shipping debate, this is your greatest joy or your greatest sorrow. Ezekiel is a very kind man who seemed to be smitten with Carol from the moment he saw her. He deeply cares for his “Queen,” and she deserves happiness after everything she’s endured, but…he isn’t Daryl.

The Walking Dead has never seen its source material as a step-by-step guide, but ‘Carzekiel’ was a key point the show chose to adapt. The Carol-Ezekiel storyline is based on a similar story from the comics, in which Michonne pursues a romantic relationship with the leader of the Kingdom. The similarities between the two and the decision to place Carol in Michonne’s position has made some wonder what that might indicate for her character down the line — or if Zeke is headed for his comic death.

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The Brienne ‘Shipping Debate

Believe it or not, Brienne of Tarth faces a very similar situation where fan opinion regarding romantic relationships is concerned. While perhaps not quite as loud or insistent as the ‘shippers hoping for Caryl or Carzekiel, some Thrones fans are convinced Brienne should end up with one of two suitors: Jaime Lannister or Tormund Brisbane.

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Jaime and Brienne have a similar backstory to Carol and Daryl, in terms of having an extensive, shared history. The pair met as enemies when Catelyn Stark tasked Brienne with taking prisoner-of-war Jaime back to King’s Landing. The two formed a bond as they travelled, with Jaime protecting Brienne from being raped by the Bolton soldiers (and losing his sword hand because of it), eventually confiding in her regarding the complicated, tragic meaning behind his tarnished reputation and venomous nickname “Kingslayer,” and saving her life when the Boltons threw her in a pit to fight a bear with nothing but a wooden sword.

Again, though nothing explicitly romantic has happened between them, there have been plenty of moments between the two that have made it appear there was something deeper than friendship brewing. Jaime gave Brienne a new suit of armor and a Valyrian steel sword, which she in turn names “Oathkeeper” to honor him and take some of the venom out of his other nickname, “Oathbreaker.” They meet again during Season 6, and while they’re on opposing sides, Brienne tries to give the sword back. Jaime won’t take it. When they meet in Season 8, Brienne tries to talk some sense into Jaime regarding the threat of the White Walkers; it could be argued she succeeds. Then there’s the fact that others have noticed their chemistry — Cersei called Brienne out on her “love” for Jaime, and Bronn hypothesized as much, in far less elegant terms, a few seasons later.

But again, there’s a potential complication in a potential Brienne-Jaime pairing: Tormund Brisbane. The Wildling leader was smitten with Brienne at first sight, and has expressed his desire to have “great big monster” babies with her. There’s not necessarily as much depth to Tormund and Brienne as there is to Jaime and Brienne — after all, Tormund has never really spoken to her and seems mostly fixated on her size — but fans thought his awkward obsession with Brienne was sweet, if a little creepy.

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To ‘Ship Or Not To ‘Ship?

So, with both of these strong women boasting two potential partners, who’s to pick? Or rather, should one take a side at all?

There is something to be said for appreciating more than a female character’s potential viability with a leading man, and Carol and Brienne’s storylines are about much, much more than who they choose to pursue a relationship with. On the other hand, these are two women who deserve happiness at the end of their lengthy, often-tragic storylines, and a fulfilling relationship would certainly be a way for them to finally achieve that.

But of course, fans recognize and acknowledge that these women are incredible for more reasons than a potential romance. And ‘shipping can be good fun, as long as it isn’t taken too seriously: after all, both of these shows are about quite a bit more than who’s kissing whom. At the end of the day, no matter what “ship” you’ve boarded or if you’re not ‘shipping at all, Brienne and Carol are great for a myriad of reasons. They should be appreciated for all of them.

The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC
Game of Thrones, Season 8 Premiere, April 2019, HBO