What Game of Thrones tells us about Western wars of liberation
This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones and the Avengers End Game.
So finally the curtains fall on the Game of Thrones, and it feels after much anticipation and build-up that the show like the Golden Compass has managed to kill itself with a whimper. Prior to the final episode, fans complained about spoilers, with leaks already circulating on Twitter, leaving fans even more agitated whether the notion that Bran Stark played by Isaac Hempstead-Write who did nothing other than watch the destruction around him was actually going to sit on the iron throne – surely not!
With fans signing a petition for writers to re-write the ending I guess it somewhat makes sense why Hempstead-Write found the notion absurd, I mean after eight seasons his character finally becomes relevant. But even without the leaks, we had pretty much known DaenerysTargaryen (Danny) was going to die; the question was by whom – Jon Snow or Arya Stark. In the end, it was Snow, damned for saving humanity from its new tyrant and aunt turned lover– Daenerys.
But what had left most fans enraged is how the arc of Daenerys had been torpedoed into not making sense at all. How did Daenerys just disintegrate like that? It is telling however that in the latest edition of the New Yorker, Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys, mentions that her character’s arc is that of Lawrence of Arabia. It kind of makes sense now why Daenerys was accused of being a white saviour.
But viewers can’t complain about the show, as the producers had foreshadowed much regarding Daenerys’ character, many fans, however, chose to ignore this aspect of her character, maybe because we have sub-consciously become engrained of white saviours killing in the name of liberation.
One could argue this season that viewers apatite was being catered for as the only way to top death was more death – one becomes surprised how many creative ways death can be depicted. We might be upset with Daenerys, but murder, gore and betrayal were reasons people tuned in. We begrudgingly tolerated a child (Bran Stark) being pushed out of a tower for witnessing incest, or Prince Oberyn having his head crushed by the Mountain’s bare hands. We collectively witnessed rape, mass murder at red weddings and the detonation of a place of worship for the sake of secular power over religion. In the name of entertainment, there wasn’t much left to shock or upset, or was there?
The show also had its own ‘shock and awe moment’. Watching the ‘Breaker of Chains’ bearing down on the innocent with her mighty dragon Drogon, scorching Kings Landing to the core from the skies while her army of Dothraki and the Unsullied trashed the city from the ground has received the most criticism. It didn’t make sense, how could Daenerys flip out like that? Is this madness or calculation?
It raises an interesting point; can mass murder ever be permissible so long as there is a justified reason? Say liberation, perhaps? It raises a further point, are tyrants fair game for assassination without due process, if the process is to instil democracy in the way Bran has made it to the throne? Is this how democracy works? With Bran as the philosopher-leader is this the ideal notion of Western political theory?
In many ways, fans can’t be too upset with Daenerys as the foreign liberator who killed innocent prisoners of war, the old, women and children?
One could say in the West, we continue to ignore the signs of colonial structural tyranny in the name of liberty. For many, the boundaries between good and bad should be easy, but is it like that in real life?
After all, the Game of Thrones is simply a work of fiction. Maybe it is easier to speak ‘truth’ in fiction than in reality. If this episode points to anything is that in the name of entertainment, the traumatisation of the viewer is inescapable as reality and fiction become ever so blurred, even with dragons involved.
The academic C. Scott Jordan explained “[A] certain school of thought deems that all fiction ought to be an escape from the grinding reality of the day to day. But sometimes ‘escapism’ of fiction is just enough of a stretch to reveal deep insights into the reality we ourselves are blind to as we go about our days”. We invested in Daenerys, some even named their children after her, and jeered and cheered as she killed one after another in the name of ‘justice’ and ‘freedom’ and of course what was ‘rightfully’ hers.
So to finally discover that she was a complicated tyrant in the making and that absolute power irrespective of gender can be corrupting even if the person was good, suggested that we should have seen it coming, but we didn’t – or maybe we did. Maybe it continues to point towards how we view colonialism, or worst that in our minds that all the death and destruction is warranted if the outcome is one of democracy – or so the writers think.
I wonder if deep down our antipathy at Daenerys is somewhat a collective guilt, knowing we are complicit and that liberation is not supposed to be vengeful, is not supposed to kill innocence, and that when liberation arrives people should just put down their weapons rather than resist.Even if the true nature of liberation is messy, we shouldn’t have to see it. That we vote for ‘good people’ and ‘good governments’ and when they go on a killing spree in faraway lands, we are not to blame, just like in the case of Daenerys. Or maybe we can feel better and distance ourselves from Daenerys if she is killed by someone noble, if a just system comes out of it, that this makes it okay just as in the case of Bran.
The line for good and evil is supposed to be easy, it shouldn’t be one of perspective. In some ways if the show teaches us anything is that perspective is from the one who writes the narrative, narrative in fiction or fake news is about power and who tells it.
It was only recently that many would have watched the final Avengers movie in which the Avengers defeated the destructive Thanos as the clear heroic victors who embodied Western values such as Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain American) had both valiantly along with the other Avengers sacrificed much for the greater cause with Stark eventually dying while saving humanity.
Heroes should be like Stark, protecting the future against the mass killer Thanos. Even in real life, villains should be Trump-like caricatures, not like Obama.
Daenerys of Game of Thrones then left a bad taste in our mouth, is it possible that liberation like Daenerys’ as a representation is far closer to reality than that presented of Tony Stark? It might feel that Bran sitting on the melted throne is the breaking of the wheel, but is it?
The Game of Thrones is as much a popular show in the ‘Near Middle East’ as it is in the West, and the episode of the Bell felt all too familiar to people in the region. They have seen first hand the cost of so-called liberation. When I spoke to many fans in the region, they often told me that Daenerys’ dragon was a metaphor for them for the indiscriminate bombs of F-16s and drones scorching fire from the skies.
For most Gazans, the feeling of collateral also resonated this month as once again the Israelis have found a pretext to punish civilians. Unlike Arya, in real life, there is no “not today” moment. For many Daenerys who came as a liberator but then burnt down Kings Landing to the ground is a metaphor not only of tyrants in the region but for the USA also with its projects of providing democracy with bombs from the sky.
Unfortunately for many in the region, Daenerys’ fictional victims seem to have far more sympathy than people’s in real life. Additionally, Bran becoming the new leader to replace absolute authority will not sit comfortably with people either. If the shows writers assume that the ending might appease people in the region into thinking that in the end out of all the chaos, the emergence of democracy makes it okay, then they are wrong. There is something inherently supercilious in the show in which it propagates a value system as the universal ideal everywhere.
If the fiction of the Game of Thrones tells us anything is that more powerful than the dragons of Daenerys, or the powers of the Night King, is the power of the ones who tell the narratives. In the end, the power continues to lie in the hands of the show’s producers drawing from a worldview, which is inherent to the way they look at how the world was, is and ought to be. Tyrion believes that power lies in the hands of storytellers like Bran. This should tell you something. Maybe we should be upset with the writing, but as an audience, we should be more enraged of what the show has come to inherently represent rather than the killing of character arcs.