So, what did Game of Thrones choose to do in its final episode after the Red Wedding? Not a whole lot, it seems. Except be offensive.
I wrote a post several weeks ago about how I felt that Daenerys’s story is, in some ways, a subversion of the white savior idea. She is justified in liberating the slaves, but, as she soon discovers, storming into a culture she doesn’t know and telling them how to do things can have disastrous unforeseen consequences. She screwed up, and although the narrative does have problematic elements, I don’t think it presents Daenerys as some kind of flawless hero for her actions.
I’m a little stressed and upset that a lot of people have been finding my old post since this episode aired, because I don’t think that any of this reasoning applies to what we just saw. Perhaps I am wrong (and if so, I hope people will educate me), but I didn’t have many problems with the way Daenerys was shown this season, up until the final minute of the show. In the last two minutes, she even pays lipservice to the idea that she can’t storm in and give these people their freedom. It is only something that they can decide for themselves. But then it all falls apart, as the crowd of black slaves reach out to her, call her mother, and then literally lift herself above them, still reaching out in praise to her.
Did no-one in the cinematography department look at those shots and think that they should probably portray the Mhysa moment in a different way? Even having Daenerys ride through the streets of the city while crowds shouted Mhysa would have been infinitely preferable. Because visually, it is pretty bluntly horrific, especially as Daenerys is the palest of whites, and the executives chose to cast every one of the Yunkai slaves as dark skinned.
It’s been a while since I read a Storm of Swords, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty certain that, canonically, the slaves of Yunkai (and of Essos in general) are all different races and origins. Even in the show, prominent slave characters are usually white, or lighter skinned than the characters in the crowd here. Varys. Doreah (the longest surviving of Daenerys’s handmaids, despite the fact that she is the one who dies in the Red Waste in the books). When taking this fact in the best light, we could say that slaves in this world are of all ethnic backgrounds.
But when Daenerys “liberates” the slave city and is held aloft by the crowd, every one of these liberated slaves has dark, dark skin. If the show executives wanted to be even a little bit sensitive or even just cautious, they could have cast a wide mix of races and skin colors in the crowd, so that, although the scene would still be kind of strange considering what Daenerys just said about not being their savior, at least it wouldn’t be a slap-you-in-the-face image of a bunch of dark skinned people holding their pale blonde savior aloft, literally holding her above them, and reaching out for her benediction. The fact that they went against book canon, and their own previous casting of slaves, to create this “uplifting” final moment of the season shows that, at best, they felt that had to fall back on stereotypical “real world” expectations that slaves must be black and liberators must be white. Worse, main character slaves are generally more Westerosi-looking (slaves that, generally speaking, have found success and something like freedom for themselves), while the slaves that Daenerys liberates are all dark-skinned. Named characters who take initiative for themselves are whiter than the mass of nameless, grateful, liberated slaves who view Daenerys as their savior. And when we have a group of slaves on equal footing, like Daenerys’s handmaids? The Dothraki ones die far earlier than the Westerosi one, despite the fact that, in the books, Doreah is the one to die, while the Dothraki haidmaids are so far still alive.
There’s so much wrong here, on a gut-reaction level, that it’s difficult to put into words. I’m sure people who are far more well-informed and eloquent than I am will have wonderful things to say. All I can really say is… are you serious, Game of Thrones? How did you think that this was OK?
As for the rest of the episode? In general, it was just… disappointing. A lot of scenes where nothing really happened. Sansa and Tyrion had a cute moment, Asha/Yara made a reappearance, Shae proved once again that she is a badass, and Davos was awesome, but as a whole, the episode seemed to drag on and on with no real purpose or forward drive. Character moments are great and all, but when you have too many of them without any action moving forwards, things just start to feel tired.
And was I the only person bothered by the idea that Cersei would have killed herself if not for her children? Cersei, to me, is all about living to spite people and take her revenge. I doubt she would ever want or try to kill herself, because then how would she punish the people who made her feel that way? To me, this feels like more softening of Cersei into the concerned mother with an out-of-control son, rather than the increasingly insane, ambitious, vengeful, power-mad woman we see in the books. But compared to the way this episode ended, it’s a minor point.
And that’s it for this season. As an adaptation of A Storm of Swords, it was pretty good. It had lots of epic, dramatic, memorable moments. Unfortunately, it also had lots of little things thrown in, lots of random asides, that casually introduced extreme sexism and racism into the story. And it’s those little things that make me so frustrated with the show. It would be so easy to not do those things. To take out ridiculous misogynistic comments, to have more dialogue for Cat instead of another brothel scene… to cast a more diverse crowd at the end. It almost takes more effort to include these problematic things than to avoid them. So, why, show? Please check yourself before next season rolls around. We’ve got a lot of important stuff coming up, and I don’t want you to screw it up.