‘Game of Thrones’ Treats Its Characters of Color as Props, Part Infinity
SPOILERS FOR SUNDAY NIGHT’S GAME OF THRONES EPISODE “THE LAST OF THE STARKS” AHEAD
STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO GET SPOILED OR WHATEVER
Last week Vulture writer Nina Shen Rastogi wrote a piece titled “The Dothraki Are Dead. Does Game of Thrones Care?” I shared the piece in our Game of Thrones Slack channel, where GOT experts Genevieve and Lord Castleton and Hannah all grace us with their knowledge, and we all complained about how unbelievably frustrating that opening of “The Long Night” was, how absurd it was for Dany’s entire Dothraki army to charge head-on into a blackness they couldn’t see, how utterly lacking impact it was that all of the Dothraki seemed to die.
ALL OF THE DOTHRAKI SEEMED TO DIE! Dany’s first people. The people who took her in because of her love for Khal Drogo. The first group of men she stood up against. The people who stood by her as she walked into a funeral pyre and then walked out with three baby dragons. The first to witness the return of magic into the world, in the form of Daenerys Targaryen, first of her name. And the show does not give a fuck that the Dothraki died. And the show does not give a fuck that Missandei died, either.
Because that is the most important thing that happened in last night’s “The Last of the Starks,” isn’t it? The whole episode was stuffed full of plot developments, many of which I thought were handled ridiculously swiftly—Arya rejecting Gendry’s proposal and riding back to King’s Landing with the Hound; Jaime seducing a drunken Brienne and then leaving her behind to return to Cersei; Jon telling Sansa and Arya who he really is and then Sansa telling Tyrion, who then told Varys; Varys deciding that Jon has a better claim to the throne than Dany and basically telling Tyrion that he’s going to back Jon instead; Euron somehow sneaking up on Dany’s entire fleet on the water in the middle of the day and killing Rhaegal—but in terms of events that have one specific purpose, Missandei’s death is it. It is The Moment. It is clearly what the show wants us to believe will push Dany toward madness, and it fucking sucked.
Because just like the Dothraki, Game of Thrones is no longer interested in what Missandei, the show’s sole black woman character, this former slave who chose to follow Dany to the other side of the world, would want. Bless actress Nathalie Emmanuel, but she hasn’t had shit to do in, what, two seasons? This show engineered Dany leaving Meereen in season five, and season six was mostly Missandei and Grey Worm barely tolerating Tyrion’s presence as he struggled to rule and waited for Dany to come back. Then in season seven, Missandei was by Dany’s side, mostly as Dany ogled Jon Snow, but the adviser role she once seemed to have for Dany was minimized. And now, in season eight, I don’t even think Dany and Missandei have shared a scene where they actually spoke to each other. Stood next to each other, sure. Interacted with each other? No. Missandei has had shit to do in Winterfell but get judged by the racist-ass Northerners, and once she and Grey Worm had made plans to start a life together after the war, and once you saw them holding hands on that goddamn ship, and once you realized Euron and Cersei had somehow captured Missandei (HOW? NONE OF THAT SCENE MADE ANY SENSE IN TERMS OF SPACE OR TIME), you knew it was the goddamn end for Missandei.
And why? Not because Missandei matters as a character on her own, but because, just like the Dothraki, she symbolizes what Dany must lose because of her love for Jon Snow and because of her desire for the throne. Freeing Slaver’s Bay was part of that, inspiring the loyalty of the Dothraki was part of that. But whenever Sansa questions why Dany should rule, and what Dany has done, none of this ever comes up. The show leans hard on Dany’s birthright instead of reminding us of the actions she has taken to get to this point, and it’s because the show doesn’t care about the Dothraki or Missandei anyway. Their interest isn’t in the people lifting up Dany and calling her Mhysa. They’re interested in taking those people away and seeing how Dany self-combusts.
So, that death scene. Missandei is on the castle ramparts, her hands shackled—returned to her slavery. Cersei is killing her to … prove a point, I guess? Is she proving the point that Tyrion is an idiot? Because Tyrion is an IDIOT for thinking that he can reason with the sister who has lied to him numerous times and who has no interest in making deals. Cersei should have killed Tyrion in that moment, or Tyrion should have offered his life for Missandei’s. But no. Missandei says “Dracarys,” signifying her allegiance to Dany, a queen who the show hasn’t had us pay attention to Missandei all season, and then she waits for the Mountain to cut her head off. Writers and showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss couldn’t even give Missandei’s character the honor of jumping off the rampart to her own death and refusing to acquiesce to Cersei. Missandei just waits, waits to be made an example of, waits to die so she can further enrage Dany and galvanize Grey Worm, another person of color this show has flattened to further its fancy white characters’ political bickering.
Earlier in the episode, Varys mentions at one point that Dany still has Dothraki who follow her. Sorry, who? We just saw all the Dothraki die! We got one brief glimpse of them on their funeral pyres while Dany sobbed over Jorah Mormont and barely acknowledged their existence! And I wonder how this show will remember Missandei, if it does at all, a black woman who used to be Dany’s most trusted confidante and adviser and who was pushed away again and again as the show replaced her with white men. Jorah. Tyrion. Varys. Jon Snow. We know what the priorities of Game of Thrones are, and by this point, I shouldn’t be surprised by them anymore (REMEMBER HOW THEY FUCKED OVER DORNE?), but Missandei’s death fucking stings, a particularly awful misstep in a season rife with them. Burn it all to the ground, baby. Burn it down to ashes.
Image sources (in order of posting): HBO Media Relations, HBO Media Relations
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