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Defrosting the Ice Queen Trope

In light of International Women’s Day - let’s take a look at one of the most popular female character archetypes: The Ice Queen. Usually presented as emotionally distant, aloof and restrained, this is the woman who gets things done - and doesn’t care about whether society approves of their methods. Over time, this trope has undergone a lot of changes - no longer your run of the mill ‘Regina George’ type, there are so many layers to the personality type, which has been explored in television and film in recent years. In no particular order, here are some of the women on television that I believe have not just embodied these archetypes, but elevated them through their exceptional portrayal - and yes, there might be a few spoilers (sorry not sorry).

Olivia Pope - Scandal

Any Scandal watcher won’t be surprised to see her here. Whilst she starts off as a character who is the champion of the white hat, Olivia soon realised that the righteous way doesn’t get things done. Although you may not completely agree with sis’ character arc, it is indisputable that she isn’t just the face that launched a thousand ships - she is the artillery. Her version of the Ice Queen is not someone who wanted to believe but was shown that sometimes the ends have to justify the means. Through her journey, Olivia transforms from a woman with a good heart who tries to do the right thing into a Queen at the top of her game who cannot be taken.

Annalise Keating - How to Get Away with Murder

Once again, I’m sure for HTGAWM viewers this character needs no explanation. But for those who haven’t, let me tell you why this woman here is in the upper echelon. Firstly, she covers up the gamut of murders, not that she even committed any. And despite loads of people coming her way, trying to bring a successful black woman down, she held her own. Not only did she defend herself, but her whole team, even when they hated her. Her ability to think her way out of tight spots, even when the deck seemed stacked against her is the main reason why she deserves this spot. That and her tough love, of course.

Aunt Polly - Peaky Blinders

Tommy Shelby’s allure and prowess as a strategist shone through the whole show, but so did Polly’s. Similar to Carla, her Ice Queen persona lies not in her ability to be cold and distant, but more so her wise mind. She is the treasurer of the Shelby family, and everyone knows it’s the brains who handles the money. Not only is she one of the strongest characters in the show, but somehow is also the moral compass of the family despite the fact that she's who you would consider as a very moral person. Throw in her otherworldly intuition and Gypsy magic, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Cersei Lannister - Game of Thrones

Now this one requires no explanation. Not only did she do what needed to be done for herself and her family, she had a tendency to overcorrect. She is in no means in a role model, but her grit, strong stomach and unwavering cunning puts her solidly in this category. If not for the fact that she loved her children so dearly, we wouldn’t have been certain that she had any feelings at all! From the way she treated Jamie to marrying a man simply to consolidate her hold on the throne, there was nothing that she wouldn’t do to empower herself, and that is certainly something that we can all take inspiration from, even though it’s not anything to emulate.

Carla Rosón Caleruega - Elite

I wanted to put this character in for sis’ fashion choices alone. A complex Ice Queen, Carla’s appeal lies mainly in the fact that she perpetrates an image of emotional aloofness, but her relationship with Samuel shows how she is far from that. Though not as directly manipulative as some of the other women on the list, her ability to remain at the eye of the storm is why she deserves this spot; knowledge is power after all. Not only has she got a great poker face, but her distant nature seems to always have the boys begging her for more. Aside from her tiny stint as a heroin addict, her cool head tends to prevail, and she is often able to leave the fray unscathed.

Love Quinn - YOU

What’s so interesting about Love is that she is so different from the archetype. A loving, warm character that appears to be highly intelligent, her penchant for killing in cold blood jumps out like an emergence of an alter ego. What I like most about this modern take on an Ice Queen is that her surface persona comes across as the kind of person who could never harm another living thing, let alone murder two people. Her intelligence is displayed through the fact that she was able to pull one over on Joe in the second season, switching the shoe to the other foot in a way that left many viewers reeling from the revelation

Villanelle - Killing Eve

This sociopathic, yet charming assassin requires no introductions. More adjacent to the traditional Ice Queen trope, her remorseless nature made her chilling to watch, but her allure lies in her capacity for learning. As we see her fascination with Eve grow, so does her desire to actualise her inner self, which leads her to her family in Russia. She’s able to come to terms with her childhood and her relationship with her mother by murdering her, which was actually her version of noble. Needless to say, not only does she accomplish tasks with surprising efficiency, but she also looks good whilst she does it.

Wendy Byrde - Ozark

This woman. Words cannot even describe. Although we first meet her in season one fresh from cheating on her husband, the rest of the show illustrates the true Ride or Die-ness of her nature. Constantly having to fight everyone for information - even her own husband withholds honesty and transparency, Wendy swoops in whenever it seems like there’s no hope. Once again, like other members on this list, she is not the ice queen because of her emotional limitations, but rather her strength and willingness to become whoever is required to help her family survive. In one of the most fascinating character developments I’ve seen personally, watching Wendy shift from an ignorant wife who petulantly has an affair as a cry for attention into a seriously potent member of the Cartel, all while keeping up the facade of a quintessential American family is nothing short of brilliance.

Wendy Rhoades - Billions

This psychologist has earned her spot on the list for her uncanny ability to tell you what you need to hear. Even though Bobby Axlerod might be the unstoppable force that keeps on going, Wendy is definitely the mechanic that gives his engines a fine tuning when needed. From her husband Chuck to almost about anyone who she interacts with in the show, we see how she not only wins them over, but influences them in a way that proves them to act in her best interest. Wendy is never characterised as a woman who needs saving, but always has someone powerful ready to help her, and although she might use her powers for good (definitely up for debate), this honest hide the fact that she has the potential to wield a lot of damage. Nevertheless, she still gets things done, even though she tends to use more conventional methods.

Dolores Abernathy - Westworld

This entry might be puzzling for some, especially when you consider her in season one - young, innocent and childlike; it’s almost impossible to believe she becomes the agent of anarchy that destroys the order of her society as it stands - but she does. Dolores’ fervour for her cause is why she deserves a spot on this list; she even goes so far as to clone herself to use as pawns, sacrificing them as required in order to achieve her goal of abolition. Such callousness, though born from a necessity from her perspective, cannot be classified as anything other than prime Ice Queen behaviour.

Tokio - La Casa de Papel (Money Heist)

Tokio earned her spot on this list for one obvious reason: sis never knew how to stick to the plan. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of others - the fact that she only seems to put her own interests first is amongst them - but she had a tenacity that prevented her from backing down, even from a death wish. Somehow despite her emotionally intense and impulsive nature, she’s still a likeable character, evidenced by John Doyle of The Globe and Mail’s review which described her "as a strong female lead, her character doesn't conform to [w]hat you'd see in an equivalent British or American crime drama.” Not only is she able to get her way most of the time, but she does so via her own rules and (questionable) moral compass.

Alice Morgan - Luther

This playful serial killer not only captures the hearts of the audience but the main protagonist also. An ice queen in almost every sense of the word (bar her feelings for Luther), she’s deliciously layered and complex, more than happy to let you know that there’s more to her than what meets the eye, despite you not actually knowing anything for certain. Her mischievous nature makes for a captivating watch, and her obvious penchant for flouting the law speaks to her intellect, which she uses to ensure that she never gets caught. Like all the other characters in this list, she’s not really someone you want to piss off.

Arya Stark - Game of Thrones

Though I didn’t want to have multiple characters from the same show, it would be remiss of me not to mention her. From the beginning of season one when she bested Bran with the bow and arrow, Arya has never concerned herself with a conventional lifestyle. Even before she becomes the disciplined killer that kills the whole House of Frey single-handedly, she has always been compelled towards justice, even if nobody around her permits it. Like many Ice Queen children, she struggled with the expectations and desires foisted upon her by society, but this just made it even sweeter when she evolved into a woman that decides her own fate. Her archetype is also evidenced by how she learnt how to embrace her weaknesses and turned them into strengths. This culminated in the death of the Night King - not only did he not see her move coming, but she did it in her own distinctive style that gave viewers the feeling that this was destiny unfolding; this was the way it was always going to happen.


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