Game of Thrones: Mhysa

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.

07 comments on “Game of Thrones: Mhysa

  • Andrea , Direct link to comment

    I’m a person of color and I’m aware of the idea of the white man’s burden and etc… but I really do think you’re looking for ‘racism’ that isn’t really there. Daenerys is a foreigner from the West where there is no sun and everybody we see is really pale. I don’t understand why you describe her as ‘blonde’. Everyone in the East is olive or dark-skinned, except those rare sea-crossers like Doreah, Mormont, etc… I think being American and living in a diverse country makes us demand to see a diversity of color in our tv shows but its not like what was shown in the medieval-esque GoT world was really irrational or offensive.

    Also, I’m surprised you didn’t make a much a mention of Yara’s reappearance. I thought it was kind of huge and unexpected that she went against her father and culture to save her brother.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      I describe her as blonde, because she’s really really blonde. It’s one of her defining physical features.

      The show itself has shown that not everyone in the East is olive or dark-skinned: Daario isn’t. Varys is from the East, and he isn’t. The warlocks like Pyatt Pree aren’t. Magister Ilyrio isn’t. And even more of the characters in the book aren’t (e.g. Xaro). Essos is a diverse country land — much more diverse than Westeros, although Westeros is also diverse, especially further south. So to erase that diversity, and then end the season with this image, is more than a little bit troubling.

      Yara’s return was pretty cool, but I’m not really a big Greyjoy fan, and I wonder what they’re going to do with this change, since it’s so different from what she’s up to in the books.

  • Mark , Direct link to comment

    SPOILERS for ASOS to ADWD with the Dany storyline.

    The fact that its the last shot makes it look bad because we have to wait a year for the story to continue.

    If this happened as the season premiere, I wouldnt have as big a problem with it because of the way Dany’s story continues. She will quickly realize that she knows nothing of their culture and religion, and in trying to improve their life, she will make their life more miserable.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      I still think that the way it was shot made it a lot more problematic than it had to be, but I agree that it would be a lot less uncomfortable if it had come at the start of the season, rather than at the end. At the beginning, the season would be about all of Dany’s mistaken beliefs about how much good she’s done collapsing. At the end of the season, we’re clearly supposed to be celebrating and finding it an awesome, inspiring moment.

  • hoover2001 , Direct link to comment

    I’ll agree, those last scenes felt weird. But I wonder how much the race of the extras had to do with where they were filming. The Dany scenes are filmed in Morocco so the extras have dark skin, like having Croatian and Irish extras at their respective locations.
    You’re right about the slaves in the book. I believe slaves from Westoros are mentioned (Jorah was banished for selling slaves.) I’m wondering if the writers are setting up a subverting of the savior (white or not) trope. Things don’t work out for Dany and co. as we move forward.

  • Aleksandra , Direct link to comment

    I said the same thing on tumblr. We saw so many white people from Essos it makes no sense for all the slaves Daenerys “liberated” to be POC, it’s just racist casting.
    When I was reading the book that scene was so touching but watching what they did with it on screen made me very uncomfortable.

  • Alexa , Direct link to comment

    It sucks because I really love Dany’s trajectory and place in the story. I love how she is held in contrast to the kings if Westeros as a leader that is loved rather than one that is feared. And then we get this, which is honestly easy to fix. I would have much preferred a scene of her walking through the streets, like you said, and actually interacting with these people rather than being held above them.

What do you think?

%d bloggers like this: