Last week's Game of Thrones season finale ended with a scene full of racial imagery that seemed kind of messed up. But actually, argues comedian Aamer Rahman, Daenerys' whole storyline has been problematic from the very beginning. Here's why.
I’m late to Game of Thrones — but I caught up. And I couldn’t help photoshopping this picture of Khal Drogo as a Klingon. Anyone sad enough to be familiar with both GOT and Star Trek knows exactly what I’m talking about.
The Klingons are the Dothraki of Star Trek — the scary, warmongering Other from the Heart of Darkness out in deep space. The great thing about imaginary black and brown people is that white sci-fi/ fantasy writers can project their repressed oriental fetishes onto a blank canvas without taking responsibility – “WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT’S RACIST, THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS KLINGONS OR DOTHRAKI! How can we be racist towards people WHO DON’T EVEN EXIST??” Funny how it’s always real black and brown people who have to play the role of the imaginary ‘non-existent’ warrior/tribal/primitive/race. (With the exception of the original Star Trek, which had white actors in blackface as Klingons.)
You can dress it up as fantasy, but we know who you’re talking about.
GOT wasted no time in establishing the Dothraki as a horde of raping, warring animals who have no word for ‘thank you’ and enjoy public sex games and deaths at a wedding. The codes are never original: love of war and pillaging, and animalistic sex rituals (anyone remember this tender moment on Star Trek: TNG?).
Plus some ‘noble savage’ warrior code that glorifies conquest, authoritarian social order, growling, pumped up men and hyper-sexual women, beards, braids, boobs blah, blah blah. The Dothraki are a grab bag of every native/ savage/ other signifier you can think of.
But this isn’t just about imagery and brown people looking bad on TV – the Dothraki storyline is just a stepping stone for Dany’s overall storyline which is more deeply racist - essentially, a liberal white woman who goes around saving and civilising brown people. The subtext of Dany’s story is a cultural war where Dany’s enlightened values triumph over lesser ones, where whiteness is both a conquering and civilising force.
It begins with taming the savage Drogo who rapes her “like a hound takes a bitch,” on their wedding night (and every night after that) - until she teaches him the tenderness of looking him in the eyes when they sleep together. Then, the reforming of Dothraki customs: Dany prevents the rape of female prisoners and even gets Drogo to back her against the wishes of his riders. Finally, she establishes herself as a leader when she gives birth to her dragons (at this point the brown people literally prostrate themselves to her).
Barbarian cultures who don’t know how to treat women bowing in the face of superior technology and military arsenal (Dragons are basically the advanced fighter jets of the GOT universe) – does this feel familiar? She then goes from city to city freeing slaves who dutifully join her quest. Dany’s story is, at its heart, a neocon wet dream. She is Laura Bush, advocating for the invasion of Iraq under the pretext of saving its women who are desperate to live a life like hers.
I feel like we are supposed to root for Dany because she is becoming a strong woman; originally meek and abused by her brother, she outsmarts men at their own game. We are supposed to forget that she is fighting for nothing more than her own sense of entitlement to the throne, like some upper-class brat who loses her family’s fortune and eventually manages to become CEO of her own corporation. Somehow all the grateful brown people she liberates are happy to march behind her for the sake of an imperial project that they have no stake in. Oh - like every good white liberal, she manages to pick up a Black Best Friend (Missandei) along the way:
The Season 3 finale took things to the next level; after liberating another city of slaves, Dany waits to see whether she will be greeted as a liberator or conqueror. (the writers try to get off the hook by acknowledging that she is aware of the difference). In fact, she gets a better deal - they claim her as their ‘Mother.’ She ends up crowdsurfing over the brown people like some kind of Tagaryan Bono with all of the smug satisfaction of a gap-year backpacker that has just built an orphanage in a village somewhere.
Anyway. It’s just a TV show, right?
Aamer Rahman is a standup comic based in Melbourne, Australia. He is one half of the standup comedy duo Fear of a Brown Planet.' Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter. This article originally appeared on his Tumblr.
Update: Aamer Rahman wrote a followup article, responding to the comments he got on this article, on his Tumblr.