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The Marquis de Leech

Slavoj Zizek on the ending

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Posted (edited)

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has written a piece in the Independent, criticising the ending for its treatment of women and social progress:

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/game-thrones-season-8-finale-bran-daenerys-cersei-jon-snow-zizek-revolution-a8923371.html?fbclid=IwAR2mYK7eHEShZdRGkGFJ65gaW2wiEQkcRjBdxkJld8NcJ3ilzX1PrFc8GZY

While I am hardly a fan of this season I disagree a fair bit with his conclusion.

My reply:

Every man and his dragon clearly wants to have their twenty-cents’ worth on Game of Thrones at the moment. Celebrated Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has written a piece in the Independent, which criticises the implicit conservatism of the ending. It’s this piece that I thought I would comment on today.

I have a soft spot for Žižek generally. He marches to the beat of his own drum – ideological non-conformists are all-too rare these days. He may go off on his own little weird tangents, and pinning down his exact position is often like fighting a cloud, but he’s never a dull commentator, even when you disagree with him. And, well, I disagree with him today, because I think he simultaneously gives Game of Thrones too much and too little credit – at least in this particular article. You never entirely know with Žižek, who, as ever, delights in provocation.

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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.

There is an almost naive assumption here that ferocious debate must imply high stakes. It’s a profoundly mistaken assumption, of course – the debate over Game of Thrones is ferocious, not because the stakes are high, but because lots of people have become emotionally invested in the outcome. If anything, this episode is a sign of a curious disconnect in modern society between emotional attachment and what has actual meaning – many of us care far more about the fate of these fictional people than real people. There is even a meme going around at the moment, comparing Daenerys on Drogon to US foreign policy, which makes light of this.

(On the other hand, the fact that so many people care so deeply about the story is arguably a success of the story, not a failure on the part of the audience).

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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. 

Except that the showrunners were not under pressure to quickly end the series. HBO offered them a full ten episodes, but they decided to wrap it up in six. It was a problem of their own making. And Daenerys turn most certainly was badly handled character development.

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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.

If I were being facetious, I would suggest that Stephen King is an interesting authority to cite on the subject of endings. I also thoroughly disagree that the objections are rooted in hostility to narrative closure – if this is the case, why have there been so many calls for The Simpsons to be put out of its misery?

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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.

Problem is, the ordering of these struggles undermines the core theme of both book and series: human politics is not important.

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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.

Daenerys believes she acts on behalf of the underprivileged, yes. It’s why her destruction of King’s Landing made so little sense. But there is a distinction between belief and reality, and really what Daenerys (post-madness) offers is a return to the absolutist tyranny of the early Targaryen years, dressed up as a plea for freedom. Why should we be forced to take propaganda – even sincerely believed propaganda – at its word?

It is also mistaken to see the Starks as necessarily representatives of traditional good nobility. After all, Jon explicitly rejects the throne, then rejects a hierarchical structure altogether (our last sight of Jon is him running off with the Wildings). Arya has never fitted within the traditional framework, and she too runs away for a different life. Bran is a weird inhuman being divorced from mortal realms, full stop. Even Sansa, the most conventional of the four, has more regionalist ambitions – to pull the North out from beneath the heel of the wider realm in the name of self-determination.

What we therefore see is not so much a dispute between Tradition and Bonapartism, but rather a dispute between a Dark Messiah (complete with that image of Luciferian wings) and her sceptics. Rather than representing a coherent view of what the social order should be, the Starks are more certain of what they are against than what they are for.

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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?  

This reminds me of the old arguments that posit Tolkien’s Sauron as progressive. He isn’t – and neither is the Mad Queen of Game of Thrones. Certainly, Sauron believed that he was necessary to bring order to Middle-earth, just as Daenerys believes that she is necessary to bring liberation to Westeros and beyond. It’s just that, again, belief is rather different from reality.

This is not a binary choice: to be a sceptic of a “new order” (especially one involving thousands of people being burned to a crisp) is not to be an advocate for the old. Hell, Samwell Tarly proposes actual democracy, and no-one would accuse him of being a Daenerys fan.

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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.

Now Žižek is giving the writers too much credit. Game of Thrones engaging with Wagnerian criticisms of women? No. It is not that sophisticated. Not least because the truly monstrous representative of overweening ambition in the work is not Daenerys (who, after all, inherits familial entitlement from her brother) but rather Petyr Baelish, the decidedly male Littlefinger.

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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.

I agree that the scene in question is weak, but one can rationalise it as being less about the sexual satisfaction, and more about the idea that Daenerys wants (and is denied) acceptance – the People love Jon, but not her. I would also point out that the root cause of the War of the Five Kings is a battle over whose squirt of semen created Joffrey – one can reduce a fair bit in this story to the embarrassing and the vulgar.

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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.

 

Gender is less relevant here than the fact that (in-story) thousands of ordinary people were cooked alive. The most relevant analogies to Daenerys’ action are not female ones, but the rampages of the (male) Genghis Khan and Timur the Lame.

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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 objections to the scene would be just as fierce if Daenerys were male. If it were a matter of fearing a strong political woman, why has Sansa Stark not been set up as a similar monster? Ditto Yara/Asha Greyjoy? Brienne and Arya are ultimate subversions of Westerosi gender roles, yet both get what passes for a happy ending.

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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). 

Again – too much credit and too little credit. On one hand, Daenerys was corrupted because the writers wanted a cool scene (or because it was part of the intended ending and they couldn’t be bothered laying the groundwork), not because they were displaying the biases of the patriarchy. On the other hand, more charitably, Daenerys’ corruption was because she was complete master of a Weapon of Mass Destruction. She did, after all, have absolute power at that moment. The fact that Daenerys is a woman is irrelevant – Lord Acton’s famous dictum is not gender specific!

I am not sure of the point Žižek makes about Arya. She is never in power, but rather a stone-cold killer, who nevertheless avoids the fate of Sandor Clegane.

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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.  

Well, no. Sansa as ruler of Winterfell is explicitly treated as a competent, pragmatic figure – far more so than any of her other siblings. She operates as a lord among lords, yes, but that is a comment on class, not gender-relations. Honestly, if Daenerys were successful, I wonder if Žižek would be lamenting Daenerys as “the type of woman beloved by today’s capitalism.”

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 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:

Again, Žižek is treating scepticism of Daenerys’ Revolution as an endorsement of the old system. It isn’t – Jon himself rejects the system altogether, and runs off to live with anarchists. It’s an understanding that Revolutions are complicated beasts that very rarely go as intended.

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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.

The implication being that she would put an end to old injustices and create entirely new ones.

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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.

Does Žižek imagine that a place with Westeros’ level of development, with feudalist economic relations, and limited literacy, would support a modern, democratic, political system? Surely not. The best shot Westeros ever had at delivering Power to the People was the High Sparrow and his merry bunch of religious fanatics… which would have created its own problems.

I would also point out that, between the beginning and end of the series, there has been a shift in power. Recall that the series began with political power in the hands of highly patriarchal Houses – Baratheon, Arryn, Stark, and Lannister. Warlords all. By the end… we have a cripple on the throne (who may well have engineered events to get power, but I digress). We have a dwarf as his chief minister. We have a woman running his Kingsguard. We have an overweight nerd with democratic sympathies as Grand Maester. And we have two working class plebs (Bronn and Davos) operating as the rest of the Small Council. All told, we’ve come a fair way from a world run by Robert Baratheon, Jon Arryn, Ned Stark, and Tywin Lannister.

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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.

 

Daenerys was the most Nordic in appearance of the lot – to the point where the image of setting her up as the great liberator of the brown-skinned masses had more than a whiff of White (Wo-)Man’s Burden. Do other peoples really need a Great White Conqueror atop a Weapon of Mass Destruction to free them? Some of us can remember back fifteen years or so, to when certain (white) people were enthusiastically talking about bringing freedom to the Middle-East. I, for one, can also remember the consequences thereof.

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The radical queen who wanted more freedom for everyone irrespective of their social standing and race is eliminated, things are brought back to normal.

It is not back to normal. It’s not utopia either… but it is certainly not normal.

Honestly. I wonder how serious Žižek is being here.

Edited by The Marquis de Leech

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Posted (edited)
44 minutes ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

 

Gender is less relevant here than the fact that (in-story) thousands of ordinary people were cooked alive. The most relevant analogies to Daenerys’ action are not female ones, but the rampages of the (male) Genghis Khan and Timur the Lame.

 

They had plenty of opportunity to make Daenerys into Genghis Khan or Timur, during 6 seasons in Essos.  If we get TWOW, I'd expect that to be the direction she heads in.

They could have omitted her order to spare children at Astapor, and shown the Unsullied slaughtering indiscriminately (the only innocent that died at Astapor was a horse);  and then the rousing scene at the end could have shown her marching out at the head of the Unsullied, after putting the city to the torch.  They could have shown her making good on her threat to raze Yunkai to the ground, and looking on impassively as women and children die in the flames, leaving a pyramid of skulls in her wake.

So, it would have been well-established by the start of Seasson 7 that she is prepared to commit atrocities, for what she considers to be the greater good.  Then, the dilemma for the Starks is do you ally yourself with Genghis Khan in order to confront a greater threat, (the White Walkers, not Cersei)?

Edited by SeanF

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I hated the season. But I think I hate people who are saying that the problem of the show is an anti feminist agenda more... 

I would even say that one of the problems of the show is how it wanted to have feminist power and how they became obecessed to compensate the Sansa backlash.. 

 

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Posted (edited)

My personal analysis and interpretation of Game of Thrones and ASOIAF is to pretend it's "real history" set in a world similar to ours, with similar factors affecting the progress of history, development of the economy through the ages etc., and which happens to be going through a period analogous to our Middle Ages.

Eventually they will end, Westeros will go through an early modern period, industrial revolution, experience the emergence of nationalism etc., with its political systems and social mores following a similarly "realistic" development. Therefore, any attempts by people to inject to it their personal leftist revolutionary Marxist ideals are dismissed by me.

There's 0 obligation for the story to conform to our modern morals and ideological paradigms, and imo it's selfish and entitled to expect it to. Also, indicative of a lack of understanding on how to write a good realistic story set in a medieval-like period, as well as real-life history.

Edited by Panos Targaryen

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Daenerys was the most Nordic in appearance of the lot – to the point where the image of setting her up as the great liberator of the brown-skinned masses had more than a whiff of White (Wo-)Man’s Burden. Do other peoples really need a Great White Conqueror atop a Weapon of Mass Destruction to free them? Some of us can remember back fifteen years or so, to when certain (white) people were enthusiastically talking about bringing freedom to the Middle-East. I, for one, can also remember the consequences thereof.

A white savior is better than brown folk not even existing in Westeros after the war.

At least Daenerys actually had plots involving them.

The brown folk simply...go away...after Daenerys dies.

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31 minutes ago, Panos Targaryen said:

My personal analysis and interpretation of Game of Thrones and ASOIAF is to pretend it's "real history" set in a world similar to ours, with similar factors affecting the progress of history, development of the economy through the ages etc., and which happens to be going through a period analogous to our Middle Ages.

Eventually they will end, Westeros will go through an early modern period, industrial revolution, experience the emergence of nationalism etc., with its political systems and social mores following a similarly "realistic" development. Therefore, any attempts by people to inject to it their personal leftist revolutionary Marxist ideals are dismissed by me.

There's 0 obligation for the story to conform to our modern morals and ideological paradigms, and imo it's selfish and entitled to expect it to. As well as indicative of a lack of understanding on how to write a good realistic story set in a medieval-like period, as well as real-life history.

See, I both agree and disagree and this is in part because of the way the novels and the earlier seasons of the show are composed. 

I agree there is 0 obligation to make any fantasy story conform to modern morals and ideological paradigms, regardless of when it is set. It's the creators world. If they want sexist cavemen flying spaceships, so be it. Let the outraged be outraged and the people who enjoy men being real men, women being real women and small fury creatures from alpha centuri being real small fury creatures from alpha centuri enjoy that.

Buuuut... and I got this feeling both reading the books and watching the show.... it was almost like GoTs was trying to have its cake and eat it too. Realistic medieval world, that has not changed for 1000s of years and has ice zombies. Ultimately, it was just a fairy tale for grown ups that tried to suspend disbelief by feeling real world. But it was never that realistic, there were always too many fantastic elements. Which brings me back to my first point - fantasy be fantasy and it can be whatever the creator wants.

And, finally, final buuuuuutttt... fantasy is always just a mirror of reality anyway. Its a way of using the unreal to make commentary about the real world - and provide some escapism along the way, of course. Obviously conflicts like traditionalism vs progressivism and nationalism vs globalism are big in the West ATM, so Western fantasy that offers some kind of commentary on that is just a product of its time. 

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Thanks for sharing this, @The Marquis de Leech. It does have a certain whiff of piss-take about it, but it's interesting reading.

My view is that GoT, the show, makes no profound statements about women nor about social progress. It began as a reasonably faithful adaptation of a literary work. When that literary work ran out, inevitably the show contracted sharply in scope, and became more reflective of the showrunners' own interests, attitudes, and preoccupations. Was this detrimental to the show? I believe it was. Could the problems have been resolved with extra eps or an extra season? Hell!! no. Reminds me of the old joke: "The food is so terrible here!" - "Yes, and such small portions!"

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There is an almost naive assumption here that ferocious debate must imply high stakes. It’s a profoundly mistaken assumption, of course – the debate over Game of Thrones is ferocious, not because the stakes are high, but because lots of people have become emotionally invested in the outcome.

Totally agree that viewers' emotional investment has been very high, and this has added considerable heat to the debate. @divica, for example, says above that they hate people who have a different viewpoint to theirs, even more than they hate the show itself. Fandom is fun! :)

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(On the other hand, the fact that so many people care so deeply about the story is arguably a success of the story, not a failure on the part of the audience).

Agree. The HBO powers-that-be might be a little defensive & cranky right now, but this has been a huuuuge moment in pop culture, and the whole thing is completely going to net out for them, overall.

Next, from Žižek:

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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.

There's a smidgen of truth there. Dany, as presented, does indeed embody both the Ball-Busting Bitch and Goddess of Evil tropes. Why doesn't it fly? Because, in my view, her previous acts of violence were framed as Harsh But Fair. The turn from grey to black happened in a bare two episodes, and it was anviled so hard that the top of my head is one big bruise.

But I agree with you, M de L., that to see the depiction of Dany & other female characters as a Wagnerian anti-feminist motif... well, that's drawing a long bow. So too with the sociopolitical analysis.

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Again, Žižek is treating scepticism of Daenerys’ Revolution as an endorsement of the old system. It isn’t – Jon himself rejects the system altogether, and runs off to live with anarchists.

Love this. :)

Welp - GoT has generated enough commentary for several master's theses, but I have the feeling I'll be moving on soon. Lots of other things out there in the big wide world to obsess about.

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Again, Žižek is treating scepticism of Daenerys’ Revolution as an endorsement of the old system. It isn’t – Jon himself rejects the system altogether, and runs off to live with anarchists. It’s an understanding that Revolutions are complicated beasts that very rarely go as intended.

Does Žižek imagine that a place with Westeros’ level of development, with feudalist economic relations, and limited literacy, would support a modern, democratic, political system? Surely not. The best shot Westeros ever had at delivering Power to the People was the High Sparrow and his merry bunch of religious fanatics… which would have created its own problems.

This is true, and yet I don't think it invalidates Žižek's overall point, which is that the ending was politically conservative to say the least.

The main problem -imho- is that the writers (i.e. D&D) largely did away with the fantasy/epic dimensions of the show when they killed the Night's King in episode 3. Whatever fantasy elements are left in the final outcome can easily be seen as symbolizing something else (Drogon being a metaphor for WMD) or as plot devices (Bran's "magic" powers only serve to present him as the ultimate philosopher king).

So of course, one can only look at what seems to be the political message of the finale, since the writers themselves chose to make it about politics.
This doesn't mean that the message we get is what the writers intended (because they are not political scientists so they probably didn't "intend" much).
Nor does it mean that there are no subtelties to be found in the message if one digs a bit (like Jon's apparent anarchism, as you say).
Nonetheless, if one looks at the morale of the finale at a glance, trying to guess what most viewers will take away from it, Žižek is essentially correct.

Not only does the ending bring back a variation of the old order (down to some surprising details, like the "need" for a Master of whispers [WTF Bran??]), but it dismisses the possibility of democracy with laughter. There is a tiny element of political progress in so far as the king must now rule in the name of the people ; from a constitutional perspective it means the people is now sovereign and that there is no "divine right" of rulers.
But that's very little for our modern sensibilities, and conservative to say the least in 2019. It effectively advocates the rule of a philosopher/enlightened king/elite and indirectly condones feudalism and aristocratism. Plus it openly mocks democracy, which was a bit unnecessary imho...
None of this is really surprising for fantasy. Lord of the Rings did the same after all. The problem is that in LotR, the crowning of Aragorn immediately follows the destruction of Sauron, and you even have the scouring of the Shire to nuance it. There is a direct link between Sauron's destruction and Aragorn's legitimacy. And politics was not a focus of LotR, at all...
In GoT however, we have three entire episodes superficially dedicated to the question of political legitimacy. And yet little time is really dedicated to explaining *why* Bran is the best possible solution, or to nuance how good a solution he represents.
For instance, democracy, instead of being laughed at, should have been carefully considered before being rejected. Just as the North's independence should have been debated, considering its impact on the long-term stability of the realm(s)...
Heck, even Dany's "vision" could have been more nuanced. She does propose to end servitude after all... What if she'd proposed to end feudalism? That would have made her far more interesting.
In a nutshell, there was both too much time given to the question of political legitimacy and too little time given to proper reflection about it.

A different way to put it:

15 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Again, Žižek is treating scepticism of Daenerys’ Revolution as an endorsement of the old system.

It kind of is though. Not because the endorsement is absolute, but because no alternative, no "third way" seems to be possible or considered. It's either bloody revolution leading to tyranny (Dany) or the old order with the benefit of enlightenment (the Starks). And some of the alternatives to be found in the show were even worse (the Sparrows).
The problem is that after 7 seasons showing just how inherently dangerous political power can be, it seems the show's answer is the philosopher king.
I'm not sure that's what was intended, but it *is* what is achieved.

This could have been avoided imho if Bran becoming king had been the *only* possible solution instead of apparently being the best. In other words, if the destruction in the wake of the Great War had been so complete, so traumatic, that any traditional form of power was completely discredited and impossible. If the Night's King had conquered most of Westeros, devastating most of it *and* the old order in the process, Bran taking over could have been seen as a necessity rather than a solution.

To be clear, the show gave us this order:
1) The Night's King is destroyed.
2) Dany becomes mad and ends Cersei's rule.
3) Jon kills Dany.
4) A brief debate leads to the crowning of Bran and the Starks essentially restoring the traditional order of things.
It's hard not to read this as condoning the traditional order of things...

Instead we could have had a very different order of events...
1) The Battle of Winterfell sees the victory of the Night's King.
2) The survivors of the North retreat to King's Landing while the dead conquer most of Westeros, laying waste to almost every kingdom.
3) There is a power play between Cersei, Dany, and Jon which shows that Cersei is too incompetent and Dany too ruthless to rule (Dany half loses it after the loss of most of her army). Jon and Tyrion are the ones who truly think of the people (i.e. refugees).
4) Dany has to be sacrificed for the greater good (as Nissa nissa?) and possibly does so willingly (thus redeeming herself in the end).
5) In an epic fight (possibly centered on KL, which is destroyed), Jon wields Lightbringer and defeats the Night's King, thus fulfilling the prophecies. Ideally, Drogon is killed in the process, perhaps after being transformed by the NK.
6) BUT Dany, like her father before her, has definitely discredited the Targaryen dynasty and Jon does not want to rule anyway. None of the other survivors truly has the clout to take the throne (the survivors would be too unfit, too unwilling, or too despised to rule, like Tyrion, Davos, Brienne, Sam... etc). So Jon goes North and Bran becomes king,
The ending is more or less the same, but the message is completely different. First, because the NK and the dead remaining the true threat keep the show within the fantasy genre, second because the vacuum of power in the end leaves Bran as an acceptable solution for the greater good.
As a bonus, we get the truly epic fight between the dead and the living, with Jon being the prophecised savior of ice and fire.

That's my two cents, and I'm not a professional writer. In the end, the heart of the matter is that the ending was botched. D&D chose to focus on politics, so of course they screwed up. If they'd stuck to fantasy they would have had a far better chance of giving us a better ending *and* message.

 

Edited by Rippounet

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Democracy in the modern sense (basically what Sam was suggesting) deserved to be laughed at, in context. In the nineteenth century - so a far greater degree of social development than Westeros - it was commonly argued that expanding the franchise would inevitably lead to self-evident absurdities, like women voting. Had Sam suggested that property owners have a say in governing the realm, that'd be a different thing. As it is, going from aristocracy to modern democracy would indeed evoke the reaction of "I'll ask my horse."

Complaining that the political ending was conservative by 2019 standards is thus like complaining water is wet - 2019 governance was not on offer, nor could it have been. It'd have been as alien for the setting as reviving the Divine Right of Kings would be in the modern West. More alien, actually, since an intellectual basis of absolutism still exists, whereas there seems little or no progress in political theory in Westeros, and certainly nothing more sophisticated than a vague call to "break the wheel." Daenerys wasn't offering 2019 liberal democracy either, of course, and shouldn't be represented as such. What we did have instead was a shift in who is actually doing the governing - the disabled, the deformed, women, and social upstarts. That in itself is a shift in a society that has basically been the domain of wealthy warlords.   

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7 minutes ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Democracy in the modern sense (basically what Sam was suggesting) deserved to be laughed at, in context. In the nineteenth century - so a far greater degree of social development than Westeros - it was commonly argued that expanding the franchise would inevitably lead to self-evident absurdities, like women voting. Had Sam suggested that property owners have a say in governing the realm, that'd be a different thing. As it is, going from aristocracy to modern democracy would indeed evoke the reaction of "I'll ask my horse."

Complaining that the political ending was conservative by 2019 standards is thus like complaining water is wet - 2019 governance was not on offer, nor could it have been. It'd have been as alien for the setting as reviving the Divine Right of Kings would be in the modern West. More alien, actually, since an intellectual basis of absolutism still exists, whereas there seems little or no progress in political theory in Westeros, and certainly nothing more sophisticated than a vague call to "break the wheel." Daenerys wasn't offering 2019 liberal democracy either, of course, and shouldn't be represented as such. What we did have instead was a shift in who is actually doing the governing - the disabled, the deformed, women, and social upstarts. That in itself is a shift in a society that has basically been the domain of wealthy warlords.   

Democracy had been tried, in the Ancient World, and to many well-read people in later ages, had proved to be a total failure.

That said, there were democratic elements in some medieval societies - the franchise for elections to the House of Commons in the 15th century reached about 25% of the male population, and elections were often truly competitive. Sam's suggestion was not completely out of the left field, if, as you suggest, he had restricted it to property owners.

It's hard to know what Dany was proposing (blame the showrunners);  some weird mix of national socialism and communism, it seems.

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Silly question - do you have a source for that 25% figure? The reason I ask is that only about 20% of men could vote after the 1832 Reform Act, and while the system did become substantially more corrupt over time, inflation meant the property franchise (in England, but not in Scotland) also became less of a hurdle over time.

Daenerys strikes me as just straight-out despotism, rather than any coherent ideology ("I have a dragon. I know who is naughty. End of story").

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Dany herself based her claim on the IT on her birthright.  Eventually,  she couldn't handle the fact that there was someone with a better claim.  Her descent didn't come out of the blue - she's always been a problematic character. Good at killing people she decided needed killing - not so good at creating a better system afterwards.  

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18 minutes ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Silly question - do you have a source for that 25% figure? The reason I ask is that only about 20% of men could vote after the 1832 Reform Act, and while the system did become substantially more corrupt over time, inflation meant the property franchise (in England, but not in Scotland) also became less of a hurdle over time.

Daenerys strikes me as just straight-out despotism, rather than any coherent ideology ("I have a dragon. I know who is naughty. End of story").

I'd need to search for it, but my understanding is that borough representation made far more sense in the 15th century than it did by 1832.  A lot of places that had been flourishing boroughs in 1450 had become backwaters by 1832 (or vanished completely) whereas new centres of population were completely unrepresented at borough level.  The property qualification in the counties had remained unchanged for centuries, but small freeholders tended to get bought out by bigger landowners in the preceding century, so the number of freehold voters fell.

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, Rippounet said:

ending was politically conservative to say the least.

Only in contrast to the last 10-20 years of Western politics, which have gone to insanely progressive levels. 20, 30, 40 years ago people would look at Western politics today and think that they're all nuts. The political shit the people preach now would have been laughed at in the early 00s, let alone the 90s. It's not like the Chinese invented the world 'baizuo' without reason.

Considering the long run of run of politics generally and the world of the show, it was actually tending towards progressive.

Edited by ummester

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6 hours ago, SeanF said:

It's hard to know what Dany was proposing (blame the showrunners);  some weird mix of national socialism and communism, it seems.

Given her preaching about taking it to the world in the last episode, I'd say she was going for global communism with her as chief Oligarch, Jon as Oligarch husband and Greyworm as Oligarch 2IC. She wanted to break the wheel everywhere, which I assume, judging from Essos, was rising the lower classes up against the upper classes - so long as she was revered above the upper classes. It was a very entitled ideology.

But, they did visualize it like Nazis, I agree - I guess that was more to drive home she is bad for the lowest common denominator among the viewers.

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Nice post. I too am partial to a bit of Zizek, but I think he's over thinking things here and layering political thought onto a script that D&D haven't written. 

I won't say too much more than that, other than I am tired of the way that certain commentators hijack contemporary media to crowbar in their own political bugbears and use it as evidence of things they want to criticise in life. 

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Strange that he doesn't delve into the implications of Bran as king, which is crying out to be read as a surveillance state enforcing control

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7 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Democracy in the modern sense (basically what Sam was suggesting) deserved to be laughed at, in context.

Yes, it did. But "in context" as you say, even Sam would have known better than to suggest it in the first place. Sam is a well-read noble and given his experience (in the NW) he would know that not everyone in Westeros can "decide for themselves."
In fact there's little in his story that would make Sam a democrat, this truly came out of nowhere.

Anyway the moment a character raised the issue it became less about Westeros and more about our world. At some point (because of the lack of book material) the show veered away from "realism" (verisimilitude, let's say) and started to go into obvious/superficial social commentary. It seems to me it's too easy to have an "in-context" answer to a modern question if the modern question shouldn't even be there in the first place.

And again, my main point was that the show wouldn't have had this problem if it had remained focused on fantasy.

7 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

What we did have instead was a shift in who is actually doing the governing - the disabled, the deformed, women, and social upstarts. That in itself is a shift in a society that has basically been the domain of wealthy warlords.

Except no woman sits on the IT in the end, that *is* what Žižek is saying... If the show makes a point about having a feminist vibe but ultimately doesn't deliver, it ends up delivering an anti-feminist message. It probably wasn't intended, but it *is* what is achieved.

I suppose giving power to the disabled or social upstarts is interesting/progressive, but I don't think the show bothered much (or enough) about their plight in the first place... It would have worked if it had been anticipated and this had in fact been a theme throughout the show. Was it though? And even if you consider that it was (it's possible), can Davos and Bronn truly be seen as representative of social mobility?

I think I get your point. And maybe the showrunners did indeed try to give us a progresive ending/message. But if they did I agree with Žižek that they failed.
Democracy was laughed at in the finale of the most-watched show in history. Female empowerement ended up being limited through the killing of the two lead female characters (both of which died with their lovers). Restoration of traditional feudalism and aristocratism was presentend as good.
I wouldn't care if the final season had been about the Second Long Night. But it wasn't! The showrunners made it about politics, and in many ways about *modern* politics too. They shot themselves in the foot, and I'm not inclined to blame the pistol for that... They made the pistol too.

 

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On 5/23/2019 at 12:56 PM, The Marquis de Leech said:

Problem is, the ordering of these struggles undermines the core theme of both book and series: human politics is not important.

So, that's why the books' 75 percent is all about politics and intrigue?

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He's making the mistake a lot of us make, which is to assume the showrunners put half as much thought into the plot as he did.

It's not an anti-feminist or anti-progressive commentary because there was not enough thought put into it for it to be a commentary on anything.

They tried to hint at some kind of political progress by having it become an elective monarchy at the end; but as people on this board have pointed out, elective monarchies were actually worse than hereditary monarchies and many of them became hereditary anyway, but the mainstream audiences are not going to realise that and to them it will seem like some kind of progress.

Having an all-knowing god-king on the throne at the end is really weird though. He can spy on any of his subjects anytime and anywhere, it's a dystopian nightmare. Maybe Game of Thrones was actually the prequel to 1984 all along?

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