I have to admit I’m not always great at identifying the social or cultural issues that exist in the world of Game of Thrones. While I can certainly be sensitive to certain things (like what I consider an absurd amount of unnecessary boobs on the TV show), a lot of the subtle stuff flies by me because I love to immerse myself in the world of the show and not think too hard about it. Generally. There are always exceptions.
But when I was watching Season 6, episode 6 (“Blood of my Blood”), I had a moment where I thought, “Oh my, this is a major white savior complex thing going on here.” That’s why I think it was probably absurdly obvious, because in a really cool and epic moment on the show, all I could think about was how we white people have such an issue figuring out how to do good, culturally sensitive narratives.
And I know, I know, nobody wants me to rain on their parade and make Game of Thrones sound any less awesome than it is, so I’d like to take a moment to say that I love the heck out of the show. I’m very obsessed, and I enjoyed the episode. It is possible to both enjoy something and recognize its issues. But if you don’t like hearing about social issues and Game of Thrones, this is probably not the post for you.
Additionally if you are not caught up on the show and you don’t want spoilers, this is not the post for you. Many spoilers (up until “Blood of my Blood”) appear in this post. You have been warned.
This post is going to focus almost exclusively on the show because the visuals make this issue somewhat more obvious, and also because the big moment at the end of “Blood of my Blood” has not yet happened in the books. However, if any of you want to engage in a conversation about whether these issues are contained to the show and don’t exist in the books, I am so game. Hit me up in the comments.
Right, so racism. In “Blood of my Blood” the only Dany scene we get is a brief convo with her boy-toy, Daario, about how she’s a conqueror and will take back what is hers (whatever that is) before she rides off around a corner, only to reappear on Drogon, her favorite dragon baby who is no longer a baby. She proceeds to give a rousing speech to the Dothraki about how they’re all going to be her Blood Riders, and they’re going to go where Dothraki have never gone and conquer like Dothraki have never conquered.
It’s all great, in theory, until you actually, you know…. see it.
And suddenly there is a really white woman (like honestly how is she so pale after living outside and in the desert for like 6 years now?) out culturing a group of brown people at their own culture. I even made the comment to a friend that Dany is more Dothraki than the Dothraki, and I was kind of laughing as I typed it and then I had to catch myself because this is a story we all know too well.
This is the story where a white, European-type character goes to a land (or planet) of non-white people and saves them from their plight, usually by being better than them at their own culture. If you want more information on this trope, you can certainly look here.
This trope, in so many ways, colors the entirety of Dany’s story. The greatest Khal chooses to marry the white foreigner for some reason that is never really made clear, as the Dothraki are not generally fans of foreigners and she is dismissed as a foreigner more than once. But she learns from them, adopts their ways, and becomes really invested in their conquering narrative to the extent that some of them are even willing to follow her for a while after her husband dies (which also has a lot to do with dragons, because dragons).
But she takes a break from the Dothraki for a while when she gets busy freeing brown slaves all over Slaver’s Bay — and, I mean, it’s not like I am complaining about this. I am a big fan of freeing slaves. But, in the show’s narrative, you have a white Westeros that is enlightened enough to be slave-free (with perhaps the exception of the people from Dorne, who are depicted as darker than other Westerosi (and also foreign in a way no other Westerosi on the continent are)), even if it’s otherwise the Worst Place, contrasted with a brown Essos, where slavery seems to permeate everything to the extent that part of Essos is actually called “Slaver’s Bay.” And you get a white Westerosi woman who comes in and frees all the brown slaves and thus earns their loyalty and you get to be happy for her because she now has armies and followers and crowds of brown people calling her “mother.” And, honestly, if she wasn’t white and they weren’t literally all non-white, it wouldn’t sit quite as funny with me.
But because Dany is white and everyone she saves is not, it looks too much like a white savior narrative to me.
I think what really got to me about the epic, dragon-riding Khaleesi rousing the Dothraki troops is that it then took that narrative even further. Because white Dany has now not only saved all the poor brown people in Essos who were oppressed, but she’s out-Dothraki’d the Dothraki at their own game, and now they worship her for it.
And I mean, OK, she has a dragon. So this isn’t like the sort of show where it makes no sense that the white person might outshine the brown people at their own game, because riding dragons is objectively the step up from riding horses. Dragons, people. Dragons. But it still irks me that, in this narrative, all the brown people are part of a white girl’s story, and their role in the narrative is to be her people and serve her.
I guess I just don’t understand why Westeros itself can’t be more diverse. Or why Dany couldn’t have conquered some white people. Or really just anything to make the narrative feel less to me like an obvious and problematic white savior narrative.