“Game of Thrones,” HBO’s insanely popular television series, has finally ended after eight seasons that gripped viewers the world over. While some, like “Seinfeld’s” Jason Alexander, have defended the controversial final season, at least a million others were so unhappy with the denouement to the series that they signed a petition to have the entire eighth season redone. Hate it or love it, about 13.6 million people around the world watched the finale of “Game of Thrones” on Sunday, and it turns out that Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek was among them.
Unlike many viewers who were focused on how the show’s creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, may or may not have butchered author George R.R. Martin’s as-of-yet-unfinished book series, Žižek was more concerned with the sociopolitical messaging behind the sloppy, rushed narrative and computer-generated imagery (CGI) spectacles. The series ends with the death of Daenerys Targaryean, a ruler who liberated slaves in various parts of the world, only to lose her sanity in the penultimate episode and burn down an entire city using her remaining dragon. Following the new queen’s demise is a quick summary about how the rest of the characters would proceed with ruling the fictional Westeros after Cersei Lannister’s horror-ridden reign and Daenerys’ massacre.
Perhaps one of Weiss and Benioff’s most controversial narrative choices was Daenerys’ rapid descent into madness. Misogyny certainly plays a part in the destruction of this once-revered female character, as Žižek points out in a piece for The Independent. Reminding readers that the two show-runners are indeed male, the philosopher posits, “Daenerys as the Mad Queen is strictly a male fantasy [that] expresses patriarchal ideology with its fear of a strong political woman.” To top it off, Žižek argues, the finale not only fits into patriarchal themes most women would recognize from their daily lives, but there’s an another disturbing ideology at play that echoes modern politics.
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. … 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.
Žižek also notes that Daenerys’ followers, such as the Dothraki and the formerly enslaved Unsullied Warriors—all of whom promptly leave Westeros after their queen is murdered—are far more diverse than the all-white crew that takes up the reins from the fallen queen. What about Sansa, some die-hard fans may ask? The Stark sister, who many believed might become the ruler of Westeros, is crowned the Queen of the North instead, gaining freedom for her native region with a simple request to her “baby brother,” the newly-minted King Bran. According to the Slovenian thinker, however, Sansa is “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.”
Meanwhile, Žižek depressingly concludes, “The radical queen who wanted more freedom for everyone irrespective of their social standing and race is eliminated, things are brought back to normal.” As much of the West, like Westeros, finds itself battling authoritarian leaders who are increasingly turning the vestiges of democracy into a laughingstock, and political revolutions led by grassroots movements are dismissed as pipe dreams that should give way to the same old elite-led political system, it turns out truth is not stranger than fiction. Rather, fiction produced by our own modern-day nobility ends up holding a mirror to their own pathetic desire to quash any struggle against the status quo.
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