EDIT: The original thread title was, "A fundamental misunderstanding of the female characters of God of War!" which I have edited due to the fact that certain individuals claim it comes off as too aggressive. It was not my intention to belittle other peoples point of view, but to challenge the criticism leveled against God of War's treatment of women in the game of the year podcasts. I will not be changing the text in the original post which still says that I felt that some people fundamentally misunderstood the treatment of women because I still believe that people did and I want the discussion below to continue as it had originally.
I think that there was a fundamental misunderstanding of the female characters of God of War expressed in the game of the year discussions that I wanted to express my opinion on. This isn't meant to hate on anyone, but just to give my two cents sort of breaking it down character by character in a game which I think has some of the strongest and most nuanced female characters of the year. There will be spoilers, just so you know.
Faye (mom of boy)
The first and most important character that I'd like to discuss is Faye, the mother of Atreus and wife of Kratos. Traditionally in more cliche games you might expect that the protagonists are fueled by revenge for someone having killed the female character in their lives. In fact this trope was used as the primary motivation for Kratos in the original God of War game, where a guilt ridden Kratos was hellbent on killing Ares after he had tricked him into killing his wife and daughter. The difference in the new God of War game is that there is no quest for revenge, and no particular enemy that Kratos or Atreus can lash out against for having killed Faye. Faye has died as far as we know, of natural causes and the entire goal of the duo is honor her final wishes of having her ashes taken to the top of the mountain, which unbeknownst to them is actually a journey of returning Faye to her home.
It ends up being a story about two characters who have lost someone who was clearly the most important person in both of their lives when they just weren't ready to lose them and they have to learn to deal with it together. The most interesting part being that Faye doesn't send them on this journey for no reason. She has such a complete understanding of who Kratos is and ultimately who Atreus might end up becoming without her influence that she sets the entire journey up for them knowing full well that without a task to bind them together, they might fall apart. The final scenes of the game demonstrate that she knew in great detail that her passing would put them into disarray, and that they needed to make this journey to grow together.
The game also demonstrates her understanding of the males in her life throughout multiple different gameplay points. All those times Atreus lashes out against Kratos, or becomes a pompous dickbag after learning he is a god are put there for a reason. He becomes insufferable because we as players need to see him like that. If the task of delivering the ashes didn't exist to drive Atreus and Kratos closer together, then you can see what a terrible person Atreus might become, especially with the reveal that Atreus is actually Loki, the Norse trickster god. Faye's final act was designed to drive the men in her life together and have them grow past the things that could haunt them both.
Freya (mom of other boy)
The next character I'd like to talk about is Freya. Freya's character was meant to be tragic from the very beginning. She is so worried that her son Baldur will end up dying (due to a prophecy) that she literally goes around asking every creature in existence that they need to promise to not kill her son. She knew that Baldur being under the influence of Odin had no path but to become a misogynistic, pompous and violent asshole (like himself) which would eventually lead to his own death. Her love for her son was so great and so selfish that she essentially cursed him to never feel again to make him immortal. And this is the thing that ultimately drives Baldur insane. Not the influence of Odin, but the love of his mother damning him to an eternity of living but not feeling anything.
The scene at the end of the game where Baldur is choking Freya, might seem like some weird uncomfortable moment where a man is dominating a women, but I feel that that is a very shallow way of looking at it. Freya's irrational fear caused a type of insanity in her as well, and her love for Baldur was so great that she would rather let him kill her and keep him immortal then do the thing that he longed for, but put him in danger by freeing him from her spell. I'm not exactly sure what other people consider as strong character traits, but to me self sacrifice is usually seen as an admirable or noble one, even though in this particular set of events was meant to be seen as warped and tragic.
Valkyries (aka damn it stop throwing that shit at me... oh god dodge)
The final characters I'd like to talk about are the Valkyries. In the GOTY discussions it was mentioned that these characters thanked Kratos for killing them. This is completely untrue and is a complete misunderstanding of what those fights are. Firstly the fact that the strongest enemies in the game bar none are the female Valkyries is a point that should be applauded I think, when we're specifically talking in the context of how female characters were treated in God of War.
Secondly and perhaps more importantly Kratos is not killing the Valkyries. It is mentioned in the game that the Valkyries are supposed to be incorporeal spirits, but Odin has trapped then in physical bodies which has corrupted them. By Kratos destroying the corrupt physical forms, he's freeing them to return to Valhalla. The thank you is for helping them get released, not because you're killing them.
I'm not really sure what other people expect constitutes strong female characters, but having two characters both trying to protect the men in their family in two very different but perhaps oddly mirrored displays of maternal love is pretty strong in my opinion. And then there are the other female characters that will kick your ass, over and over... and over... and OVER again in a different display of strength.
If strong female character just means having a female version of Kratos, then that definition is too close minded and frankly a tad insulting I feel. I have no problem with super over the top powerful god like female characters existing, but to dismiss Faye and Freya's differing but ultimately mirrored displays of maternal love, is weird. The female characters were the glue that held the story together and the ones that propelled it forward.