By Michael Harriot
from The Black Person’s Guide to Game of Thrones
As America digests the worst collapse of a series since the Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead against the Cleveland Cavaliers (never forget), we must remember that Game of Thrones was bigger than any one episode, the last season or even the finale. The show was always an allegory for politics, competition and history. Now that we know how the story ends, we should step back and examine what we have learned from the show instead of recapping or criticizing the last episode.
As we stated in the original article in this series, Game of Thrones was an educational, dramatic re-enactment meant to teach the world about white people. The show was a master class on Caucasian culture, sociology and history.
One of the biggest themes of the show was the numerous varieties of white saviors. To understand what the show taught America about white saviors, we can simply examine the fate of our favorite characters:
Jon Snow: Only White Saviors Win
Many people are upset about Jon Snow’s fate but this is what happens to actual saviors. Jon fought valiantly in the white supremacist march and he killed the evil blonde dragon queen.
He started this save-the-world-shit. And yes, this is the motherfucking thanks he gets.
I don’t want to blaspheme the name of our lord and white savior, but Lyanna Stark so loved the world that she gave her only begotten son. He was born to a woman who was supposedly a virgin and held on to his beliefs even when he was literally confronted by a dragon queen who had deceived the world that she was going to free the planet. Jon was crucified by soldiers after his friend betrayed him. He was subsequently resurrected by the Lord (of Light) to go forth and save the world.
Eventually, Jon went “up there” to guard the “realm of men” at a place where you literally have to open the pearly gates to enter. A few of his disciples even wrote the gospel to let the world know about his life, which is how he became a historical hero.
If this story sounds familiar, it is because this is how white people have always rewarded true heroes. Remember how they rewarded Martin Luther King Jr. for fighting white walkers and criticizing his leader for raining fire from the sky on defenseless people? (Spoiler alert: They put him in jail, stabbed him in the chestand vilified him until after he died.) Remember what happened to Gandhi for fighting against colonialism? (Spoiler alert: They put him in jail, stabbed him in the chest and ostracized him until after he died). Remember what happened to Nelson Mandela for fighting South Africa’s “long night” of apartheid? (Again: assassination attempt, jail, ostracized.) Even Tupac survived an assassination attempt and prison before he was killed.
At least they let Jon go live with the unruly white people in Alaska.
Daenerys Targaryen: Beware of White Saviors
Hillary Daenerys Clinton assumed that she was going to sit on the Iron Throne because she had the right pedigree, the white privilege of being born with the ability to ride dragons and her husband had served two terms as president of the Dothraki. Her campaign team was very diverse and included a dwarf, a female adviser, a eunuch and several people of color.
Even though she had the support of the black community (The Unsullied) and Hispanic immigrants (The Dothraki), she was undermined when someone revealed some negative information about her on the eve of the election. She did win the popular vote, though (mostly because she roasted all of her opponent’s “deplorable” supporters on Election Day, which is a terrible form of voter suppression). Dany had already thanked her supporters and started handing out cabinet positions with her transition team when Jon’s sword cast the tie-breaking vote.
It be your own nephews.
Honestly, until this season, I was “with her.”
Grey Worm: Black Saviors Matter
Grey Worm is a former slave who valiantly fought in the Civil War against white supremacy. He was loyal to his queen. He risked his life on multiple occasions. He even lost his wife. He never complained. He just did his job.
And after all of this, what did the white people in charge tell him to do?
“Go back to Africa.”
Tyrion Lannister: The White Savior Whisperer
Tyrion’s character is a combination of previous Hands of the King like Dick Cheney, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Karl Rove.
Never forget that Tyrion came up with the stupidest plan of all time (taking a white walker to King’s Landing) that resulted in the Night King getting a dragon and the destruction of the Wall. Lil’ T is essentially responsible for the 9/11 of King’s Landing. His advice was almost always wrong. He convinced Jon to bend the knee to Dany, gave a jailhouse speech that convinced Jon to shank the queen and then talked the Seven Kingdoms’ Electoral College into making Bran king.
But, like a white man, he still gets to keep his job.
Cersei and Jamie Lannister: The Whitewashed Heroes of History
Jamie and Cersei Lannister’s legacy shows how history treats white saviors.
Cersei will most likely be remembered as a poor, pregnant mother who lost three children and was defending the city against the crazy Dragon Queen. She lost her last child to suicide in the first attack on King’s Landing when a terrorist bombed a house of worship. By now, I’m sure they’ve scrubbed all of her nudes from the internet from when she walked through the city like Kim Kardashian on an Instagram shoot.
Jamie will be remembered as the Kingslayer who beat Ned Stark in a one-on-one fight, tried to save the King’s Landing from Dany, fought bravely in the Battle of Winterfell and died protecting his queen (the history books won’t mention that Cersei was also his baby mama). But we can’t forget that he ghosted Brienne after breaking her virginity and put Bran on disability.
The only reason I have any sympathy for Jamie is that he was repeatedly pulled over by the cops and locked up. I’m pretty sure he was being profiled. However, like most white guys, he never did any real time because he had connections with important people (Catelyn Stark and Tyrion).
I bet someone will eventually build a monument to the Lannisters’ “lost cause” because, of course, they were “very fine people.”
It’s about heritage, not hate.
Brandon Stark: The Merit Myth
I believe the Three-Eyed Raven story is a hoax.
Where is the evidence that Bran has these supposed “gifts”?
Samwell Tarly is the one who actually found out about Jon’s past when he was doing research for his Maester’s Degree at Westeros State College. He can supposedly warg into things but he didn’t even try to warg into Drogon and take the wheel during the King’s Landing Pearl Harbor attack. And some people will cite the Hodor story as proof of his abilities, but we know Hodor wasn’t the sharpest Crayon in the box.
Hodor was brainwashed.
Despite believing that his entire purpose in life was to serve as Bran’s doorman, Hodor had talent. If Hodor was holding the door at the Battle of Winterfell, a lot more people would have survived. I believe he was meant for more but Bran tricked him when they were kids by telling him:
“Nah, fam. All you gotta do is hold the door.”
He’s the epitome of white male privilege.
Think about it: Arya killed the Night King. Jon killed Dany. Sansa survived brutal, powerful men and basically won the Battle of the Bastards. All Bran did for the Starks’ legacy was sit by the Weirwood tree, stream movies on Ravenflix and get high all day. He became ruler of the Seven Six Kingdoms because of his “electability” while everyone else did the real work.
But he still got an A on the group project.
Arya Stark: The World Traveler
Arya is one of those white people who takes a year off after college and backpacks through Europe. Of course, the only reason she can do that is that she gets most of the Stark trust fund since Bran and Sansa are royalty, Rickon and Robb are dead and Jon’s DNA test shows that Ned is not his father (plus, no one has a good address to send his checks, and cell phone reception is spotty beyond the Wall).
As a white person and an undergraduate member of Faceless Sigma Theta, Arya can blend in anywhere. She’ll probably just wear cargo shorts, an old T-shirt and a dirty pair of New Balance and fit right in. Every now and then, she’ll stop by Winterfell to do some laundry and pop up in Storm’s End to let Gendry clap those no-faced cakes. I’m sure she’ll have time. After all ...
A girl has no job.
Sansa Stark: Queen of the Beckies
Robb was a great battle tactician. Arya was a trained assassin. Bran supposedlyhad greensight. Rickon had a little bit of greensight (although he was cursed with the compulsion to always run in a straight line). Jon defeated death and rode dragons.
Sansa’s gift was being a white woman.
Sansa would say that she has suffered a lot and has been oppressed by white men. But she doesn’t see how she benefits. If she hadn’t convinced her father to take them to King’s Landing because of her childhood crush on Joffrey and desire to be a princess, her father would still be alive and the Starks would still be living in Winterfell raising five direwolves. Her lies caused the death of her direwolf and turned Nymeria into a stray. While all of the Starks were out trying to defeat the wights, Sansa hid in the basement in an evening gown. She didn’t even let the Unsullied or Dothraki eat in the cafeteria after the Battle of Winterfell.
This is not to say that Sansa isn’t smart or a survivor. But like white women everywhere, Sansa will never admit to her privilege or that she may be complicit in anyone’s pain. Even when her brother was announced as ruler of the Six Kingdoms, Sansa’s response was to secede from the union so she could serve as the queen of her own racist confederacy.
Brienne of Tarth: After being ghosted by Jamie, Brienne eventually hooks up with Tormund and has 23 children, giving Tormund an endless supply of giant breast milk.
Yara Greyjoy: Dies in a brothel in King’s Landing.
Podrick: Gets rich traveling as a male stripper named “Rowdy Poddy Pipe-Her.”
Samwell Tarly: Names Jon Snow as his first child’s godfather. Becomes wealthy after starting a very lucrative line of medicated Greyscale ointment.
Dothraki: Continue their nomadic ways traveling the Seven Kingdoms with the Khal Carnival and Circus.
Drogon: After cremating Daenerys, Drogon finds Jon Snow and moves up North to provide heat for the entire community.
""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson