Slavoj Žižek: Game of Thrones tapped into fears of revolution and political women – and left us no better off than before
international | arts and media | opinion/analysis Wednesday May 22, 2019 06:33 by CommonCommune
So justice prevailed – but what kind of justice?
The last season of the Game of Thrones has prompted public outcry and culminated in a petition (signed by almost 1 million outraged viewers) to disqualify the entire season and re-shoot a new one. The ferocity of the debate is in itself a proof that the ideological stakes must be high.
The dissatisfaction turned on a couple of points: bad scenario (under the pressure to quickly end the series, the complexity of the narrative was simplified), bad psychology (Daenerys’ turn to “Mad Queen” was not justified by her character development), etc.
One of the few intelligent voices in the debate was that of the author Stephen King who noted that dissatisfaction was not generated by the bad ending but the fact of the ending itself. In our epoch of series which in principle could go on indefinitely, the idea of narrative closure becomes intolerable.
It is true that, in the series’ swift denouement, a strange logic takes over, a logic that does not violate credible psychology but rather the narrative presuppositions of a TV series. In the last season, it is simply the preparation for a battle, mourning and destruction after the battle, and of the battler itself in all its meaninglessness – much more realistic for me than the usual gothic melodramatic plots.
Season eight stages three consecutive struggles. The first one is between humanity and its inhuman “Others” (the Night Army from the North led by the Night King); between the two main groups of humans (the evil Lannisters and the coalition against them led by Daenerys and Starks); and the inner conflict between Daenerys and the Starks.
This is why the battles in season eight follow a logical path from an external opposition to the inner split: the defeat of the inhuman Night Army, the defeat of Lannisters and the destruction of King’s Landing; the last struggle between the Starks and Daenerys – ultimately between traditional “good” nobility (Starks) faithfully protecting their subjects from bad tyrants, and Daenerys as a new type of a strong leader, a kind of progressive bonapartist acting on behalf of the underprivileged.
The stakes in the final conflict are thus: should the revolt against tyranny be just a fight for the return of the old kinder version of the same hierarchical order, or should it develop into the search for a new order that is needed?
The finale combines the rejection of a radical change with an old anti-feminist motif at work in Wagner. For Wagner, there is nothing more disgusting than a woman who intervenes in political life, driven by the desire for power. In contrast to male ambition, a woman wants power in order to promote her own narrow family interests or, even worse, her personal caprice, incapable as she is of perceiving the universal dimension of state politics.
The same femininity which, within the close circle of family life, is the power of protective love, turns into obscene frenzy when displayed at the level of public and state affairs. Recall the lowest point in the dialogue of Game of Thrones when Daenerys tells Jon that if he cannot love her as a queen then fear should reign – the embarrassing, vulgar motif of a sexually unsatisfied woman who explodes into destructive fury.
But – let’s bite our sour apple now – what about Daenerys’ murderous outbursts? Can the ruthless killing of the thousands of ordinary people in King’s Landing really be justified as a necessary step to universal freedom?
At this point, we should remember that the scenario was written by two men. Daenerys as the Mad Queen is strictly a male fantasy, so the critics were right when they pointed out that her descent into madness was psychologically not justified. The view of Daenerys with mad-furious expression flying on a dragon and burning houses and people expresses patriarchal ideology with its fear of a strong political woman.
The final destiny of the leading women in Game of Thrones fits these coordinates. Even if the good Daenerys wins and destroys the bad Cersei, power corrupts her. Arya (who saved them all by single-handedly killing the Night King) also disappears, sailing to the West of the West (as if to colonise America).
The one who remains (as the queen of the autonomous kingdom of the North) is Sansa, a type of women beloved by today’s capitalism: she combines feminine softness and understanding with a good dose of intrigue, and thus fully fits the new power relations.
This marginalisation of women is a key moment of the general liberal-conservative lesson of the finale: revolutions have to go wrong, they bring new tyranny, or, as Jon put it to Daenerys:
“The people who follow you know that you made something impossible happen. Maybe that helps them believe that you can make other impossible things happen: build a world that’s different from the shit one they’ve always known. But if you use dragons to melt castles and burn cities, you’re no different.”
Consequently, Jon kills out of love (saving the cursed woman from herself, as the old male-chauvinist formula says) the only social agent in the series who really fought for something new, for a new world that would put an end to old injustices.
So justice prevailed – but what kind of justice? The new king is Bran: crippled, all-knowing, who wants nothing – with the evocation of the insipid wisdom that the best rulers are those who do not want power. A dismissive laughter that ensues when one of the new elite proposes a more democratic selection of the king tells it all.
And one cannot help but note that those faithful to Daenerys to the end are more diverse – her military commander is black – while the new rulers are clearly white Nordic. The radical queen who wanted more freedom for everyone irrespective of their social standing and race is eliminated, things are brought back to normal.
This is republished under fair use for comment and critique