Just New Spokes: Game of Thrones Never Wanted to Break the Wheel
A girl warns, “Here be spoilers.”
By L.S. Mendizabal/Kodao Productions
Finishing HBO’s Game of Thrones is like finally having that meal you’ve always daydreamt about after work on a Friday night. You get into a bustling restaurant and order the exact same meal but the waiter gives you the wrong dish half an hour later. You’re hungry and upset but you stay because they make it up to you and cook the meal you ordered even if it means waiting for another 30 minutes. Your dinner arrives at last but your anticipation already died. You eat the dish you fantasized about and realize that it’s actually quite bland. You go home still hungry, disappointed and dissatisfied, so do you reach for any leftovers in the fridge or do you sign a petition for better restaurant service, er, a better finale?
Nah, there are much bigger things to petition for and act upon. I am not one of those fans who went out of their way to buy George R.R. Martin’s books before or after the TV series first aired in 2011, so whatever I’m writing now is based on my limited knowledge from the show and how I’ve come to understand its worldview. To those who also felt cheated one way or another, say aye! GoT showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are “not our bitch” (as Neil Gaiman had famously said of Martin) but they are subject to critique, especially when not only did they rush the last two seasons—perhaps due to the fact that the literary source material has yet to be published, but most likely because they are greedy, lazy writers, too—but also wrote an undoubtedly retrogressive socio-political narrative in the ending. They did not “break the wheel,” but set in motion an even bigger one with new spokes that would be auspiciously run by predominantly white male characters because surprise, surprise! Almost all the writers and directors of the series were white men.
The only good that’s come out of all this is the actual backlash the finale has been getting from highbrow critics to toxic fans and traditional viewers alike. These negative reactions must be welcomed and celebrated because they are how people should appraise art and culture as a mirror of the times. Which brings me to a reflective state: Why did we like GoT so much in the first place? I personally enjoyed Tyrion’s intelligent wit and humor before the seventh season (somehow, he’d magically lost all that from thereon, no?) and the fact that unpredictable deaths of major characters (at least for non-readers like me) would occur early on but the show continued to be as intriguing and appealing even after. The inevitability of death, the dearth of justice, and the vague lines between good and evil had lured a cult following that definitely sets the bar higher for other TV series. GoT introduced a fresh take on the high fantasy genre but not necessarily superior to the simplistic moral tales and Christian allegories that are more apt for younger audiences (think: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings). For telenovela-loving Pinoy viewers, it was pretty much ordained that GoT would capture the middle-class (and up) Filipino imagination. Inter-family drama, secret parentage, scorned lovers and vengeful rampages—all the soap opera elements were present, coupled with a million-dollar production and overhyped publicity in between seasons and episodes. It was the perfect escape into a dark world that resembles so much of our own but with dragons, sorcery, faceless men and white walkers. When we voted for our senators, partylists, etc. on May 13, the subsequent local trending topics on Twitter were dominated by netizens’ feedback on the partial unofficial election results and that siege episode, both of which seemed to have sprung from “a coin toss among the gods.”
Viewers’ adverse reactions escalated when Daenerys Targaryen burned all the civilians (including helpless women and children) Drogon’s fire could reach in King’s Landing even as the bells tolled, signaling the Lannisters’ surrender regardless of Cersei’s unyielding command. Many were shocked, offended even, by these war crimes not so much because they were committed at all but because they were carried out by Dany, budding feminist icon and self-proclaimed “Breaker of Chains” after whom many babies were named Khaleesi by their parents recently. The genocide might have been a spontaneous decison, but The Mad Queen in Dany had been unravelling since season one. When she “rescued” women who were being raped by the Dothraki, she made them her personal servants before burning one to her death eventually when she failed to save Khal Drogo—who, by the way, violated his Targaryen child bride multiple times before she fell in love with him—by doing black magic that caused Dany’s miscarriage and his permanent vegetative state. Dany was well on her way to becoming a despot, holding onto her house’s entitlement to the Westerosi throne and justifying this further with a steadfast belief in her messianic role in bringing justice to the world with her “wheel-breaking” rhetoric and fire-breathing dragons. She used violence against the masters, while she was benevolent towards their slaves and merciful to the others who bent the knee for her. All these were utilized to her sole advantage, whether deliberately or not.
The Unsullied, Second Sons and majority of the freed Dothraki and former slaves were made to believe that they had a choice but all ended up serving the silver-haired white Mother of Dragons anyway, expediting her journey across the Narrow Sea to the only thing she had ever wanted in the world more than any lover, child or a life of peace: the Iron Throne. She is your typical white savior who promises people of color autonomy over themselves but in reality, to borrow Ser Barristan’s words, “The men…will be slaves in all but name,” for they could not help but worship Dany with the powerful, rousing speeches and dragons which had not existed for a thousand years until her “children.” The colored people of Southern Essos were written that way: superstitious, crude (what with the prevailing master-slave relations) and more vulnerable to idolizing extraordinary beings than organizing themselves into a unified whole, say, a kingdom. The chiefly white population of Westeros, on the other hand, were written to be suspicious of foreigners, much more advanced in government and not easily beguiled into bending the knee for a Targaryen, let alone one with people of color in her service. Dany loved the Dothraki and the emancipated slaves because they could love her enough to be her first loyal devotees, subjects and army. Meanwhile, she only had murderous thoughts for those who questioned her authority. Note that the few times she was asked to exercise restraint were only a means to an end (e.g. not attacking King’s Landing immediately to first earn the trust of the people by securing alliances with the other major houses against Cersei). Her heart might have been theoretically “in the right place” when she crucified and burned the masters, but her overzealous quest for power, her superhuman ability of not burning, her dragons and the feudal monarchy system in Martin’s fictional medieval world were bound to corrupt her. Daenerys’s character is complex and irresistibly charismatic, but she is the embodiment of patriarchy and colonial dominance in the guise of a once wide-eyed innocent teenage girl, abused by her own brother and sold off like cattle to another male abuser as if to justify the monster she’d later become—a ruthless, deadly dragon in sheep’s clothing. Dany was written like that for us to sympathize with, to egg on, to root for. But looking back, who else cringed when she crowd-surfed amongst the newly freed slaves of Yunkai as they called her “Mhysa” (Mother) in chorus, a white dot in a backdrop of black and brown bodies?
Speaking of people of color, their representation had been mostly reduced to secondary protagonists, bellicose savages, slaves, prostitutes and extras. Seven hells, even Daenerys who supposedly traces her ancestry back to non-Caucasian Essos is white! Missandei’s character seems to have been purposely created to serve as confidante to Dany and love interest to Grey Worm, which were convenient enough motivations in their hellbent killing spree after Cersei had her beheaded. A white woman inciting another white woman to war by killing off the single remaining woman of color in the series is all you needed to prove that brown and black people in GoT did not have agency and couldn’t possibly evolve into anything more than mere tools to drive the plot forward in favor of a white character’s arc. If this looks bad now, wait until after a decade or so. It’ll be as racist as The Birth of A Nation (1915) and Uncle Remus singing “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah!” in the cotton fields in Disney’s Song of the South (1946). Of course, in the end, Grey Worm and the rest of the Unsullied along with the Dothraki horde sailed back to the east where they belonged.
Back in the North, The Wall separating greater Westeros from the wildlings was never taken down even with the eradication of the threat of the Night King care of Arya ex machina, another white savior about to explore “west beyond Westeros” presumably for the sake of knowledge and the imminent building of colonies because hello? How could the Westerosi reconstruct/rehabilitate their institutions and infrastructures (brothels and royal fleet included, yes) after the War of the Five Kings, the Great War and the Last War without having to borrow gold from the Iron Bank and importing resources from far richer lands to survive and pay their debts back? Alas, would this medieval fantasy world manage to slide into primitive capitalism without any upheavals from the toiling small folk, i.e. peasantry, the ones who were crushed the most by the wheel? After all, the writers killed their likely leaders, Mance Rayder and the main men of the Brotherhood Without Banners.
So far, the finale has taught me to beware of attractive women with strong personalities and political ambitions; that people of color are savages and better off dead, overseas or behind borders; that immigrants have no place in King Bran’s Westeros and Queen Sansa’s North (which are, in my opinion, poor consolation prizes for the audiences who are persons with disabilities and women respectively); and that white men, inspite of being “cripples, bastards and broken things,” can do nothing but sit and spy all day, or go to war rejecting female advice despite being terrible at strategy and tactics, or fail at their jobs repeatedly that they resign only to get promoted later, but still get to be whoever the hell they want to be. Nothing new came of the Council of the Dragon’s Pit but the selection of the king among high lords only, just another Kingsmoot! Of course, democracy would have been funny and absurd in feudal times! What were you thinking, Grand Maester Samwell? Meanwhile, the final shots were a sweet montage of the Starks being sent off to live right back in the sad world they had the chance to change but were too white and privileged to do so. Not even Ramin Djawadi’s beautiful scoring could hide that fact.
The reason most fans hated the GoT ending is that it failed to be their escape where hope, social progress and gracefully served poetic justice were all possible, and only brought them back to the depressing conditions of late capitalist crises in the world over, from civil wars to hate crimes to a botched national election all thanks to “Duterte magic.” The real Long Night has come. Only this time, there is no Promised Prince but Ourselves. “Don’t judge a TV series by its finale,” some might say. But GoT has proven that not only did Benioff and Weiss not break the wheel in its ending, they never reallyintended to from the very beginning. ⚔ out of five for this literal epic failure. #