TV's 15 Most Empowered Female Characters (and Their 10 Hapless Counterparts)

As Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin once sang, “Sisters are doin’ it for themselves.” And that sentiment seems especially applicable to the dozens of strong female characters populating our television screens nowadays.

To celebrate Women’s History Month, TVLine has compiled a list of the 15 Most Empowered Female Characters on Television, ladies who are firmly in control of their personal and professional destinies — often in the face of daunting obstacles. On the flip side, we’ve identified 10 of their Least Empowered counterparts, women who allow the men in their lives and society as a whole to define their goals and values, and too often wind up playing the role of victim.

Click through our gallery below and tell us which of our picks are spot-on, where we got it wrong, and which powerhouse gals got snubbed.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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311 Comments
  1. ann says:

    i am honestly baffled that anyone would think that sansa going with littlefinger would be a good idea. clearly they haven’t read the books.

  2. Nicole says:

    While PLL has become one of my favorite shows, I do understand why they would be on the fence. But I do want to point out a few things for either side:
    Most Empowered:
    -I think a little over a year has passed in the show’s timeline so far. They’ve only been on summer break once and Ezra said last night they graduate in 7 months which means they are probably 17 (and in the pilot I think they were 16). Also, the last couple episodes have only been over the past 3 days because I think Ashley is still out of town and she was only supposed to be gone that long.
    -These girls handle being tormented/ almost dying better than I think most teen characters do. They didnt just give in, they fight back. (And I like that they dont talk behind other’s backs and steal each other’s bfs like most teen shows do).
    Least Empowered:
    -I understand why they dont trust law enforcement (and Byron, lol) but I do think they can go to Ella or Ashley. I have no idea why they dont get the two mom’s that have been suspicious/ in town the whole time involved. Ashley has more than proven herself to be trust worthy (or is at least able to take care of herself).

  3. Sean D says:

    i’ll give you knope n’ pope n’ michonne, but other then them this is an incredibly misguided list. i love you tvline but this is sexist victim-blaming garbage.

  4. Nicole says:

    SANSA?! Least empowered?! Jesus. In this series, survival is key, and Sansa’s got it down. She knows what she needs to do to keep living. She withstands countless abuse and molestation EVERY DAY, where one wrong move could get her killed, and she is still alive. I’ll tell you what, I’ve read the books, and she’s still alive at the end of the fourth/fifth one. And guess who isn’t? All your favorite characters. Sansa’s smarter than them and can survive better than them, so there.

  5. Nicole says:

    Sansa shouldn’t even be included on this list. Least Empowered? She has no power at all. She is a prisoner! What do you want her to be “badass” like Arya and literally fight back? Where if she did that she would be killed or raped? This is ridiculous. And a scaredy cat? Are you kidding me? She is doing the best she can in her position. She has to live in fear of being killed, raped, or beaten every single day. And she has already learned that she can’t trust anyone, so, it’s 100% understandable why she wouldn’t want to run away with Littlefinger. She probably thinks it’s cruel joke or something. Whoever wrote this should be disgusted.

  6. King says:

    LOL at Castle fans. Always complaining whenever their favorite show or characters didn’t make the cut on TV lists and countdowns.

  7. JTP says:

    Nice slut-shaming, TV Line!

  8. Khaleesi says:

    Full stop there guys – Sansa is NOT a weak female character. The fact that you compare her to Arya is shameful, because you’re implying that a female has to be traditionally masculine in order to be “strong.” Sansa uses her wits to play the game, keeping her head down and gradually learning the game of politics as the series progresses. It’s true that Sansa could not have survived in Arya’s position, but Arya, with her big mouth and often reckless behavior, could not have survived in Sansa’s position either. Both have their strengths, and one kind of strength is not more valid than the other. Moreover, Sansa stands up to Joffrey on multiple occasions (“Maybe he’ll give me yours”), saves the life of Ser Dontos, and manages to maintain her hope and dignity in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. The fact that she likes pretty dresses and is good at sewing does not make her somehow “unempowered.” The lack of power she does have isn’t exactly her fault – and (spoiler alert!) she DOES eventually break away from King’s Landing. Give her a break, anyway – she’s only 11/13 in the beginning of the series.

  9. lucy says:

    I have a vagina and I am offended,

  10. olivia says:

    This is so ridiculous, just because some women don’t fight with swords and guns doesn’t make them less empowered. Sansa knows her best chance of survival is to remain polite and proper. She knows this better than grown men (like her father, who when he tried to fight back WAS KILLED) and her internal strength is no less valid just because it is based on kindness, either. This is such a basic article, god.

  11. Rul says:

    I highly disagree with you about Sansa. If you go through the cycle of books of A Song of Ice and Fire, she is one of the strongest female characters. Her character development hasn’t really been given a chance yet in the T.v. show, so it’s not fair to write her off yet. Book three is when she really starts to gain strength, and Season 3 will start very soon, so tvline you’re going to be eating your words because Sansa is one of the greatest female characters in the series. Also, The fact alone that Sansa can survive the Lannisters and King’s Landing is strength enough. She has beaten by the kingsguard and can be raped or executed at any moment. The fact you included Sansa in this is nonsense and I don’t think you have the intellectual level to appreciate Game of Thrones.

  12. emzz says:

    Cristina Yang and Peggy Olson need to be on the most empowered list FOR SURE

  13. Alex says:

    WOW! Thanks for saying Sansa is least empowered. Obviously someone has not been watching the show. Sansa knows how to play the game. Respect that.

  14. Ashley says:

    Leslie Knope is my personal feminist icon!
    And btw, I’m with many of the other commenters- bad form with Sansa Stark. She’s empowered by keeping her mouth shut. Tyrion, the smartest character, knows he should keep his eye on her. In spite of the circumstance of being a young girl imprisoned by her violent king of a fiance, she’s not a victim, she’s a survivor.

  15. pterabite says:

    You definitely got Sansa wrong. Her entire story is about manipulating her situation as much as possible to keep herself and her family alive. She’s learning “the game” from Cersei and Baelish and proving to be very good at it. Her strengths lie in politics – like Cersei, she lives in a man’s world and has to play second fiddle to those who have obvious power, like Joffrey, but they play every card they have to their advantage and it can easily be argued that they have the real power.

  16. Meg says:

    I call shenanigans. Sansa was raised with the understanding that she would marry a high lord and bear him heirs and run his household. What greater honor than to be betrothed to the prince of the realm and therefore the future queen! This isn’t just any ole family of jerks that she’s marrying into – this is the royal family. The king is her dad’s best friend. How could she not trust them initially?

    So OK then Sansa starts to realize the Lannisters aren’t the greatest and maybe Cersei isn’t a gracious queen and Joff isn’t one of those princes from her fairy tales. But by this time, they’ve already put all their pieces in place to bring the Starks to their knees (in Ned’s case… quite literally). Sansa (and Ned) realize way too late what’s happening.

    Wait, I know what you’re going to say. “But Sansa told Cersei about Ned’s plans so therefore she’s responsible for Ned’s death!” Nah. Cersei admits that it caused her to put her plans into motion a little earlier, but that she had planned it all along (and she just wanted Ned captured and sent to the Wall to serve on the Night’s Watch). Did Sansa do the right thing snitching on her dad? No. Hey, nobody in this series is perfect. But that action is not the cause of Ned’s death or the wars. And remember, this is the royal family that her father is defying. It’s not like he stole the neighbor’s newspaper. He was going to overthrow the person who appeared to be the rightful king (because only Ned and Cersei and Jaime knows at this point who Joff’s real father is). Sansa is supposed to be marrying into the royal family, achieving the ultimate accomplishment for a woman of Westeros (being the queen!), and she doesn’t yet realize how treacherous they are. She honestly thought she was doing the right thing.

    So then all this stuff happens – she gets beaten, she gets humiliated, she gets stripped in front of the whole court. She can’t escape because… she can’t escape! She’s a prisoner! She’s constantly threatened. She’s constantly watched and guarded and escorted almost everywhere. Then Blackwater happens and the Hound offers to take her away, but there’s a battle outside and it looks like her enemy’s enemy is going to win and the Hound is covered in blood and his own vomit and holding a knife to her throat (a little detail that the show left out). Not going with the Hound? Smart! And Littlefinger? Really? What about that smarmy man indicates that he’s trustworthy (“Hey you look like you’re mom and I thought your mom was super hot”) and that it would be smart to let him take her away? And by that time, things are starting to look up a bit as it sounds like Robb is winning and she’ll no longer have to marry Joffrey. So not going with Littlefinger? Smart!

    TL;DR – just surviving constant abuse and threats and basically surviving as a political prisoner of war is an incredible feat of strength, and it’s really gross that you’d blame the victim of such circumstances and implying that she brings it upon herself.

    Oh and she makes Sandor Clegane cry so there’s that.

  17. sansalark says:

    Sansa is playing the game just as well as, if not better than, most every other character out there. She’s 13 and has been taken so far away from her own family. If she didn’t act like she has and obey her captors, she’d have been killed just like Ned. Apart from that, comparing Sansa to Dany is appalling. Yes, they are both part of the huge game, but Dany was meek at first too, they’ve just developed differently. People, not just women, can be strong in many different ways.

  18. Kaia says:

    Wow, TVLine, congratulations on completely misunderstanding the point of Sansa’s narrative! Because of course she should stand up to her abusers, who literally have complete control over whether she lives or dies. Of course she should have run away with Petyr Baelish, of all people, who has been clearly established as one of the creepiest and least trustworthy people in King’s Landing (which is saying a lot). And yes, of course she should be more like Arya, because it’s not like that would get her killed within about three seconds. (And that’s not even going into the fact that Arya is forced into an equally traumatic situation and has to murder people, at the age of ten just to stay alive. That’s not badass, it’s awful.)

  19. Rachel says:

    Wow. This whole concept is incredibly trivializing and sexist. Guess what website I will be boycotting. (Hint: It’s this one)

  20. Arg says:

    This post is so slut shamey and victim shamey. You do realize that women who have problems can still be strong characters right? Women who don’t completely have their lives together can be strong characters. Women who have lots of sex with different people can be strong. Women who date older men can be strong. This list is show shallow and such a screwed up idea of empowerment is presented here.

  21. Mari says:

    Beckett anyone!

  22. Rebecca says:

    River Song from Doctor Who and Detective Juliet O’Hara

  23. Cah says:

    I don’t usually comment on posts and other stuff that I read aroundbut I feel like this article completely misses the point of what an Empowered Female Character really is and that is a sad thing to see.

    Saying that “Catherine is an enemy to her own humanity” because of her decision to accept a proposal, no matter how short it is, or because she’s okay with waiting to get married and while her husband does DWTS is just plain stupid. There’s nothing weak or embrassing about that. She’s a very strong and independent woman and there’s nothing wrong with supporting your husband every once in a while. And judging her by what you see in a TV screen is really questionable. A lot of women choose to be stay at home moms and support their husbands by taking care of the kids and that doesn’t make them any less Empowered than choosing to have a career or not having kids at all. You know why? Because it was their choice. Not that I believe this is what Catherine plans on doing.

    Comparing Sansa and Arya as if only one of them (the latter) is strong and empowered just shows a very superficial analysis of both as characters. Being a “badass” sword fighting young girl does not equal being empowered or strong just as being a feminine, song loving lady does not equal being weak or less than her sister. There are more ways to be strong and brave and EMPOWERED than using a sword or being manipulative or having amazing fighting skills, and it’s really sad to see a post like this today. Maintaining hope and still being able to see the good in people and being kind to them, all while being repeatedly abused in every possible way shows, to me, a lot more strenght than killing a boy with a “Needle” does. Not to say that Arya isn’t a strong female character, she is, but it isn’t because she’s a “badass little sis”. This kind of superficial view of female characters on television is very disrespectful towards women everywhere.

  24. Angelica says:

    Gotta love the smell of misogyny, victim-blaming and slut-shaming.

  25. Ray Lee says:

    For all those who say Sansa is playing her own game, I completely disagree with you. In no way shape or form is she playing her own game. She is definitely a pawn and is a piece in someone else’s game. She is doing her best to survive and it’s commendable considering how weak and idiotic of a person she is.

    Anyway, I think this list is silly as there is a feeling of sexism. And of course, missing Kate Beckett pretty much means this list is crap.

    • Angelica says:

      let me guess, you are probably one of those people who thinks Tyrion is the Good Lannister, yeah?

    • nikki says:

      “in no way shape or form is she playing her own game” but yet she’s on her way to take back the north and probably soon to become queen of the north, but yeah she’s is totally not playing the game and has learned nothing from the people around her.

    • risandre says:

      “how weak and idiotic of a person she is”

      I’m stuck on that line, since the character in question is a thirteen year old girl.

    • SSM says:

      Weak? So, let me guess, in her situation you’d have done better? You’d tell off everyone and steal The Hound’s sword and cut her way free and run off and never get caught and live happily ever after? Did you miss the part where she snapped back at Joffrey, or the part where she saved Ser Dontos, or the fact that she made THE HOUND cry?

      Even Tyrion Lannister saw she was a survivor. Did you miss the bit in the show where he said “Lady Stark, you may survive us yet?” Or did you just think he was being sarcastic?

      I still can’t figure out how you could consider her idiotic, considering how much she’s gone through and the fact that she has done everything she can up to this point to keep her own skin intact (not an easy task with Joffrey at the wheel, obviously).

  26. lll says:

    Regina and Emily are the best women on that list to show the others what being empowered is. It’s not about how many men you can fight, it’s not about treating men like dirt and it’s not about how everyone else worships the ground you walk on after being treated so badly or beating them up. It’s about being confident in your abilities and staying the course no matter what life throws your way.

  27. Isa says:

    This is a really problematic list.

  28. Brunna says:

    REGINAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

  29. Whoever wrote this is stupid AF, and clearly misses the whole point of Sansa being internally powerful. And FYI, if Arya were in the position that Sansa is, she would be dead (like Sansa would be if she had tried to escape with either Littlefinger or The Hound.) So yeah, maybe the poster should try to broaden their horizon on what is strong and what isn’t before making bs statements like this.

  30. Julia says:

    Nice try at trying to empower women by shaming female characters who don’t conform to your idea that only sword-wielding-armor-wearing heroines are the only kind of female characters who are strong. Nice. That’s just as bad as misogyny. It’s still sexist. Whoever wrote this needs to take a course in feminism, because this isn’t it.

  31. Lori says:

    Sansa Stark is clearly more intelligent than whoever wrote this article then, because look how running off with Littlefinger turned out! Tbh suggesting a 14 year old girl being held as a hostage is “not empowered” is somewhat stating the obvious, don’t you think? She uses what little agency she has, when she can, but most of her efforts are being used in staying alive.

    Victim blaming is disgusting

    • ladylance says:

      Also, it’s so silly having someone write about GoT characters without reading the books. Daenerys isn’t going to stay “most empowered”.

      • Dina Ewing says:

        This is a TV site, why would they write about the books? Talking about future events is not helpful at all in terms of what is wrong with this particular list. Both girls were raised to be strong by their father and mother, circumstances might make them seem not strong or one stronger than the other, but everything must be taken in context. Expecting someone raised to be a wife and mother to act like Xena is like expecting June Cleaver to bitch slap the Beave.

  32. Cah says:

    “To celebrate Women’s History Month, TVLine has compiled a list of the 15 Most Empowered Female Characters on Television, ladies who are firmly in control of their personal and professional destinies — often in the face of daunting obstacles. On the flip side, we’ve identified 10 of their Least Empowered counterparts, women who allow the men in their lives and society as a whole to define their goals and values, and too often wind up playing the role of victim.”

    This whole paragraph is problematic already when you think about the women they talked about.

  33. Annie says:

    This is rage worthy. Danerys should be the LEAST empowered.

    1. She started the books knowing exactly what she wanted. In the first chapter GRRM makes it clear that all she wants to be happy is a home (the ‘red door’.) Throughout the series she quickly looses her self to power, bloodlust, and revenge. She never wanted to be like her brother, yet she became and exceeded him in many ways.

    2. She was RAPED by Khal Drogo on her wedding night. She SUBMITTED herself to his abuse in a Stockholm syndrome kind of way, she even convinced herself she loved her enslaver. This is the ultimate slap in the face to say Danerys is the most empowered female on TV. She is a /willing/ victim, accepting her abuse, not fighting it.

    On another note lets look at Cersei, who would be a far better choice for most empowered woman of Game of Thrones.

    1. Grew up without a mother. It takes strength of character for her to fit into her own shoes, without any female rolls in her life AND to become queen. She knows exactly were she stands despite horrible odds life has thrown at her: the prophecy, the gender confusion, losing Jeffrey, losing her first born, the embarrassment and betrayal of being denied her betrothal to Rheagar by the Targaryens.

    2. Cersei survives torture, humiliation and (a very) possible death to be with her children and ensure their safety, validating her love for them. She walks through a bloody city that hates her! Naked, shaved, degraded and humiliated and with the very likely chance she will not make it to the castle. She never submits. If that is not empowerment I do not know what is.

    • risandre says:

      This whole list is problematic, that I rather not put any character in those two characters. I don’t want to play the game they have here with pitting women as “least empowered” and “more empowered.”

      “She is a /willing/ victim, accepting her abuse, not fighting it.”

      You really need to check how problematic your whole reasoning, especially since this whole list puts abuse victims in least empowered because they don’t fight and get out of it.

    • Cah says:

      Thanks for being an intelligent human being. It seems we’re kind of missing those these days.

    • Mini says:

      Wow yeah, let’s shame Daenerys for being raped, because that’s totally her fault, right? No, stop. Saying someone can’t be an empowered character because they’ve been “willingly” abused is gross and you should be ashamed.

  34. Rachel says:

    Shallow list for a shallow mind. Good job on calling a 13 year old girl fighting for her life empowered. Fighting dosent always mean a sword in hand and shouting demands. Sansa’s a survivor. Sansa’s fighting everyday in the most soundless way because she knows if she makes a wrong move she’s dead. Power and bravery come in so many different shapes and colors. What you’re doing is painting woman (or anyone for that matter) as one shape and color and that’s just not how life works.

  35. ffic4life says:

    Where’s Dr. Brennan from Bones? She is as empowered as they come.

  36. Para says:

    Where is Rachel berry?

    • Sean C. says:

      Certainly a worthy contender for the disempowered list, given the way the show treats her.

      The only reason Santana can even be considered for the “empowered” list is because she’s usually a supporting character in other people’s stories, and “Glee” is a bizarre show where supporting characters have agency but the leads never do. On the rare occasions where Santana gets her own stories, she’s stripped of any control over her own life and Finn or Brittany or Sue or whoever are suddenly in control.

      Rachel’s virtually always the centre of attention, so she’s pretty much always getting lectures and having other people solve her problems and tell her what to do.

  37. Patrícia Pereira says:

    Alexandra Udinov from Nikita is the beast and the Ultimate badass!

  38. Except that Sansa Stark chooses to fight her battles without the aid of a male to carry her to safety and without abandoning her moral principles. Arya is great too, don’t get me wrong, but I fail to see how Sansa can be considered among the least empowered. She is learning the ways of the Westeros society that require complete mental ingenuity and strength. If you think Petyr Baelish is kick ass then you better think Sansa Stark is too because neither of them rely on swords to be kick ass. If you think Tyrion Lannister is kick ass in the way he uses his mind to influence others and learning the best ways to respond to people, then you damn well better think Sansa Stark is kick ass too.

    Arya and Sansa are both amazingly empowered young girls in the series. Get it right.

  39. Sean C. says:

    There are like four or five different definitions of “disempowered” going on here. There are general groups of people with no narrative agency, and people who have narrative agency but make highly questionable decisions. Within the former group, you’ve got people whose lack of narrative agency is a really crucial part of their story (numerous commenters have already skewered the inclusion of Sansa Stark on this list for that reason; she’s a terrified little girl in a situation that doesn’t allow her much in the way of opportunity to be proactive), and others who the writers just don’t care about (if you were going to do an article about disempowered women, that would be a good category to focus on, because there are plenty who fit that description; most of the women on “Glee”, for instance). Within the latter group, again, you’ve got characters whose bad decisions are intentional (does anyone think “Girls” wants us to believe Hannah and Marnie are making smart life choices?), and others that are just bad writing.

  40. JTP says:

    L O L at blaming the Pretty Little Liars ladies for the fact that their QUASI OMNISCIENT AND INCREDIBLY RESOURCEFUL *TEAM OF STALKERS* that doesn’t have the same obligations as they do re: family/school/etc. is always three steps ahead of them.

  41. CV says:

    I can’t believe they put Sansa in there, just because she doesn’t act like a maniatic murdered means that she is weak. And as some other have said, she is one of the few that is playing the game, and she has a great master to learn from. I have no doubt that she will be one of the few main characters that will survive in the books to come, after all the game is not won by brute force but with knowledge and subtlety.

  42. Fio says:

    Wow.
    I can’t believe you have Sansa on here as least empowered. She is doing the best she can in her situation. I love Arya but if she was in Sansa’s place she would be DEAD by now. Sansa knows to use courtesy as her armor, and gets quite a few awesome digs in at Joffrey in spite of it all.
    Petyr Baelish is a pedo creep, by the way, and I wouldn’t go with him either.
    This narrow assessment of what an empowered woman means is totally sexist and disgusting. You have entirely missed George R. R. Martin’s point in creating this character.

  43. Morgan says:

    Sansa? Least empowered? Really?

    Apparently you haven’t been paying attention to the show. Let’s see, she saw her father beheaded mere feet from her, she was betrothed to a psyco who had no qualms about having his bulky guards smack her around, she was stripped at court, nearly raped in a riot, has to endure mental torment from her future mother in law and has no one she can count on.

    But she is surviving. Oh but that takes so little effort right?

    Tell me if there were a least empowered men list, would Petyr Baelish make the list? Cause he is much more words than weapons. But I suppose that’s okay because he’s a man?

  44. Kay says:

    YES NIKITA!!!

  45. N says:

    Not leaving with littlefinger does not make Sansa weak. (SPOILERS AHEAD) he is clearly obsessed with her at an unhealthy level, demanding she call him her father while kissing her. His sexual perversion with her is bordering on pedophilia. Besides, he is not a very trustworthy man (he got her dad killed ffs) so not trusting him is very wise of her.

    Besides, if Sansa would have acted as hot-headed as Arya, she would have been killed. Sansa did what she had to do to survive the abuse and torment she went through, which in my opinion makes her very strong. A woman doesn’t have to wield a sort to be progressive.

  46. Allison says:

    You have got to be effing kidding me with Sansa. She’s one of the strongest characters in the entire series. Just because she’s not out smacking people with swords doesn’t mean she’s weak!

  47. A.G says:

    This is some straight up bull. Sansa least empowered? WOW okay. OKAY. In fact composing an entire list of women who are not empowered is pretty damn offensive tbh. Like how can you even decide who is not empowered? Like excuse me I didn’t realise there was a freaking list of points you had to tick to be considered ‘empowered’.

  48. l2u9 says:

    Where the hell are Ziva and Beckett??? Those two are my description of Empowered Women.

  49. Sarcasm says:

    I like how you guys measure the strength of female characters by glorifying some and shaming others using an extremely narrow-minded and counterproductive view of strength. Really great feminism here, guys.

  50. Molly says:

    You ask for us to tell you where you got it right and where you got it wrong – the simple existence of an article like this is entirely wrong, and the notion that there is a right way to be an ~*~empowered female character~*~ is complete and utter nonsense and frankly COMPLETELY MISOGYNISTIC. You should really be ashamed for posting an article like this.

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