Can I Just Watch A Game of Thrones in Peace? [Brown Feminist Fan Rant]

by Latoya Peterson

Daenerys Poster

There comes a time, in every fan’s life, when you know you’re going to just shut up and take the blue pill.

For me, this normally comes up with new fantasy series. I am well aware of the dynamics of the fantasy world, and that most of the best authors generally create worlds in a certain mold: vaguely Middle Ages, super segregated European society archetypes and norms in play. The good are generally white and fair haired, the bad are at least dark haired, if not dark skinned. This is the major basis for most mainstream fantasy series (and even newer genres like urban fantasy follow this mold.) This is due to the sci-fi and fantasy world’s twist on Andrea Rubenstein’s video game based concept of the the usual amount of racism:

It starts with a primarily white universe*. If you really look at the worlds that the majority of games, even today, are set in, you’ll most likely notice a pattern: protagonists, antagonists, and random NPCs will tend to be white more often than not. You can read more about this trend, which is not confined to video games, in the post Why is the Universe full of White people? over at Angry Black Woman Blog.

The usual amount of racism doesn’t stop with the relative invisiblity of non-white characters, though. It extends to the concept that every non-white character that exists does so in a marked (versus the unmarked white) state. The marking of a character can be through comments drawing attention to the character’s race and/or through the use of clear racial stereotypes.

And, we fen of color know that generally, if we want to dip a toe in new worlds, they are going to be filled to bursting with white folks. As Angry Black Woman wrote a few years back:

12 colonies or planets filled with humans. So far I have seen exactly 2 black people (one was killed 42 minutes after he showed up on the screen), one Asian person (who isn’t even human, she’s a Cylon in disguise), one Latino person (whose son, for some crazy reason, is played by a white dude), and that’s it. The rest of the people are all white. White people everywhere. This is stupid. If you have billions of humans on 12 planets I refuse to believe that only the white people would survive. Statistics say so. Unless there weren’t many black people on the colonies to begin with. [...]

White, heterosexual men have the luxury of being able to turn to 99% of the channels beamed into their TVs and see themselves portrayed in a manner that makes them comfortable and happy. Most white women, do, too. Minorities of most any stripe do not have that luxury. This is especially true of ethnic minorities. Why do we ‘bean count’? Because we can. That’s not flippancy, that’s a fact. I can look at my TV and count the number of black people I see because there are so few of them and they tend to stand out in the sea of whiteness.

When we bring up this line of reasoning, rabid fans trot out foolish justifications. My personal favorite: “Black people weren’t everywhere.”

*DEEP EYEROLL*

Shakespeare wrote Othello, The Moor of Venice in the fucking 1600s. Why the hell are people still using that tired ass excuse for writers who were around for the end of segregation? Octavia Butler once said in an interview that you can confront supposedly progressive science fiction writers with their all white worlds, and many of them will be forced to admit something is wrong, just by simple logic and common sense. Yet, this madness keeps happening, even once the issue is pointed out.

Anyway, Game of Thrones is on HBO. I’ve been a fan of the series ever since a friend of mine and I swapped fantasy novels one afternoon at my apartment – he gave me A Game of Thrones, the first in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and I gave him Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart. I devoured the series, even though it isn’t my normal cup of tea, and ran straight into Martin’s bout of writer’s block. A Feast for Crows dropped in November of 2005, a few weeks after I had caught up with the other three. And after that was over, it’s been half a decade since I’ve immersed myself in that world. (How long has it been? We stopped doing the book exchange before my friend even thought about having a baby – the kid is now three. I hadn’t even heard of Mixed Media Watch then, I think it was still on Xenga. I stopped checking Martin’s blog for updates back in 2008. And Jacqueline Carey has concluded three story arcs across three generations across Terre D’Ange, Ch’in, and all points in between.)

Still, I was excited enough for the series. I had already resigned myself to whatever background noise style racism was going to be in the series, having read all the books. Swallowed my bluepill, prepared to head happily into Westero with a minimum of drama. Was it too much to ask that I would be able to enjoy the show in peace? Could I just keep my bottle of Jameson at the ready for the inevitable “Winter is Coming” reference, make my little rules for the drinking game (imps, nipples, incest are already marked), and figure out if the adaptation measures up to the books?

Nope. Instead, I got racism in my fandom (thanks to Drago and the Dothraki), and sexism from the mainstream media.

*Sigh.* Where do we even begin?

(Also, beyond this point, there are MASSIVE BOOK AND SHOW SPOILERS. You have been warned.)

Let’s start with the racefail. I’ve been flinching all week as reviewers and fans throw around the term “barbarian” like it’s going out of style. The Dothraki can be interpreted a few different ways, but are described in the book as having copper skin and almond-shaped eyes. They are described by the language creators as “a cross between the Mongols and some of the Native American tribes.”

Even the actor playing him, Jason Momoa, describes Drogo as ” a savage beast.”

And they did place heavy emphasis on othering the Dothraki. In the book, Khal Drago can speak the Common Tongue, which allows him to communicate with Daenerys (also known as Dany) which leads to them establishing trust. (If memory serves, he also pretends not to know Common Tongue, in order to eavesdrop on the unsuspecting.) In this version, he doesn’t. The creators felt like it added more “authenticity” to strip Drogo of the Common Tongue and have him only converse in Dothraki – but I’m not so sure. Why wouldn’t Drogo, leader of a nomadic tribe, have picked up a few more languages in the course of his travels? There is much made of the idea that the Dothraki don’t have a word for thank you – but a society that has no use for the languages of others, even as they allow white folks who have learned a bit of Dothraki into their circles? Highly suspect. Still, it’s all part and parcel to that “savage barbarian” coding.

I’m left with a lingering question – who is supposed to be a savage here? The producers of the show gave the Dothraki all the markers of the other – less clothing, no real concern about murder, unclean food preparation. And yet, I didn’t walk away from the books with that impression. Now, mind, all the plot points have played out for me (so half the time, when they’re introducing someone in the series, I’m thinking: yeah, whatever, that mofo is dead by book two, anyway) so I may be forgetting the beginning details of Daenerys’ relationship with Drogo. Still, from her creepy, traditionally inclined toward incest, “don’t make me unleash the dragon” toolbag of a brother, being sold to Khal Drogo was the beginning of her life upgrade. Instead of being her brother’s whipping girl, her arranged marriage worked out well, with her eventually loving the guy enough to call him “her sun and stars.” Drogo kills the d-bag brother, and when he dies she relies on his memory to carry on to her new destiny – reclaiming the throne in Westeros.

So I’m at a bit of a loss as to how exactly the Dothroki got stuck with the barbarian title. It only makes sense in a void that does not include the regular activities in Westeros. Jamie Lannister’s blond kingslaying knight doesn’t get that, even though he’s also fucking his twin sister and decided it would be a great idea to chuck a nine year old out of a castle window. One of the new chapters shows a demented king flaying people’s toes and fingers and then leaving them to eat the mutilated digits or go insane with pain. Tyrion (under familial duress and false information, admittedly) destroys his first wife by participating in a gangbang designed to humiliate her publicly. And don’t get me started on Cersei Lannister.

Can you even make it through a chapter without some serial killer-esque madness going down? Every time I read this series, this song gets stuck in my head:

I mean, really – how are we defining barbarian, anyway? Scary and sociopathic dark haired people? Because let’s stop fronting – all the fair haired, scary, and sociopathic people in the GRRM stories are fucked up too – so in the context of Westeros, I don’t think the term barbarian holds any weight. There is no “civilized” society to compare the Dothraki to!

This whole “barbarians” thing reminds me of one of my favorite historical bastardizations:

Before we depart from Drogo-land, I did want to point out one other logical fallacy. Over at io9, Charlie Jane Anders brought up potential stickiness with the depiction of the Dothraki, saying:

the ambiguously brown Dothraki horse lords may feel like too much of a “noble savage” stereotype to some viewers, and you may be hearing a lot about people’s discomfort with the Dothraki scenes in weeks to come.

So, right on time, cue the commenter employing the fallacious flip:

Ram-Sacked
[...] p.s. For those people fretful that brown Dothraki will be poorly portrayed because they are brown, I can assure you that there have been plenty of awful societies here on Earth that were owned and operated by brown people. Brown people, just like white people, can and will be pretty awful some times. (Edit comment)

Right. And brown people, just like white people, can be awesome and heroic, but that never seems to happen for us. Perhaps one could claim ignorance about all ancient civilizations that don’t revolve around Europe (which is a tough sell, but considering what I learned in school, I’ll bite). But then that doesn’t explain the whitening of the handful of universes that aren’t completely white by creator design (oh, hai Earthsea!)

There’s a reason why Racebending had shirts made up with this logo:

Aang Can Stay Asian and Still Save the World

And still, people act like they don’t understand why we are so pissed. Back in the day, we had legalized segregation keeping brown faces off movie and television screens. Now, those laws have officially ended, but we can always count on other fans to keep segregation alive and well.

Moving on to gender.

So then, right before the debut of A Game of Thrones, Ginia Bellafante, writing for the New York Times, decided to get super sexist on fandom, and explain in her review that GoT tacked a bunch of sex on to the series to entice female viewers who wouldn’t touch fantasy with a ten foot pole:

“Game of Thrones” is a cast-of-at-least-many-hundreds production, with sweeping “Braveheart” shots of warrior hordes. Keeping track of the principals alone feels as though it requires the focused memory of someone who can play bridge at a Warren Buffett level of adeptness. In a sense the series, which will span 10 episodes, ought to come with a warning like, “If you can’t count cards, please return to reruns of ‘Sex and the City.’ ” [...]

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

So much fail in a few short paragraphs.

One – who said SATC fans can’t be GoT fans? I am not the only person alive that got enjoyment out of both, for different reasons. I don’t expect Carrie Bradshaw and crew to suddenly roll out on an epic quest (remember how big of a deal it was for them to go to Brooklyn?). And I don’t expect anyone but Sansa to start worrying about landing the hottest boy and the cutest dress in the realm while they are in the middle of a bloody, multihouse battle for the throne. Apples and oranges, really. Also, since when is SATC the benchmark for women’s entertainment? I have a great many friends who watched SATC – now we talk about Burn Notice and Sons of Anarchy.

Two – It’s a pretty well known fact that women drive the slash fiction sides of fandom (and how!) but seriously – all that sex was already in there. That was GRRM’s doing.

Three – What kind of whack ass book clubs does she belong to? The book club I’m in has read Freedom, In Defense of Food, Eating Animals, The Pilot’s Wife, and now we are on The Mother Tongue, which is a book for language nerds. I’m planning to propose an essay collection for the next one, since I still haven’t read Zadie Smith’s Changing My Mind or Edwidge Danticat’s Create Dangerously. All these things are based on whatever we think is interesting reading. My friend who started the book club reads less genre than we used to, but since we bonded over Edward Rutherford’s London back in middle school, I doubt she’d have an issue with Game of Thrones. (In fact, I found it infinitely less painful than suffering though reading Freedom.) Sounds like Bellafante needs to expand her social circle.

Four - Boy-shaving scenes aside, most of this sex isn’t the sexy kind. It’s the rape, domination, incest kind. Some people may get off on that, but when GRRM employs sex scenes and rape scenes, they normally illustrate power dynamics between characters, more than any actual desire between players. Ain’t no seduction round here.

Five – Please don’t pearl clutch on behalf of women everywhere. Quite a few of us are fine with gory and grim portraits of humanity.

GRRM has the best response, as he must have been perplexed at the “Boy Fiction” label:

I am not going to get into it myself, except to say (1) if I am writing “boy fiction,” who are all those boys with breasts who keep turning up by the hundreds at my signings and readings?
and (2) thank you, geek girls! I love you all.

Amy Ratcliffe, over on Tor, also debunked that idea, and added:

All this said, it is a review and Ms. Bellafante is entitled to her opinion (though I don’t think it’s much of a review—as Daniel Fienberg points out, it doesn’t mention a single actor, character or plot point). The purpose of reviews is for stating opinions. She didn’t like the show, so what? But reviews are not for making sweeping generalizations about women. Generalizations that also happen to be incorrect. I understand that she may not personally know any geek girls. That doesn’t mean we don’t exist. One giant brush cannot paint all women the same color. It’s presumptuous for anyone to think they can do so.

Some folks have pointed out some of the gendered dynamics to the review and to the responses at large, especially the knee-jerk dismissals that popped up around female focused fandom and the way in which male focused outlets described the show (“Beheadings, Barbarians and Boobies?” Keep it classy, IGN…)

All of these issues speak to two larger issues – the idea that fandom is for men, and broader ideas of what is gender appropriate.

But most of the folks reading here are living, breathing, argument slayers (i.e. statistically, the average reader of Racialicious is a woman of color interested in social issues and pop culture with a heavy interest in general geekery) so I’ll just say to hell with it.

As a brown girl gone geeky, I’m used to being invisible in plain sight. (One of these days, I will have to share the story of arguing down some white dude who decided to question my geek cred while I was talking about Dune.) And you know what? Sometimes, it’s a relief. I made an informed choice to sink into GRRM’s Westeros, with all it’s race and gender issues. Issues aside, I still think it’s an amazing series, and I can’t wait for A Dance with Dragons to finally drop in June.

Now if I could just get all these other people to stop fucking up my bluepill buzz, I’d be set.

  • inkst

    Late add to the thread, but I saw episode 2 yesterday (takes me a while to get around to it without HBO), and I was almost literally slamming my head against the table in every Daenarys scene. I like those chapters in the books in spite of the orientalism issues, but in this series they are TERRIBLE. From little details (why isn’t Drogo’s hair braided and oiled? Why aren’t Dany’s eyes purple?) to bigger things like escalating and amplifying the orientalism of the book. And those parts still feel like a B movie or Syfy original. The stupid, contrived accents, what?! And the direction and acting is like it’s coming from someone else. You go from a great scene at breakfast between the Lannister siblings to something that makes Xena Warrior Princess look like the epitome of acting…

    And did we really need the pseudo-lesbian scene where she learns how to please Drogo? All the other things you cut, and that you add?

    I suspect this is only going to get worse…

  • Jeda

    Great post Latoya,
    The fact that the series is not mysonigistic doesn’t appear in the first episode. But the conclusion that it is shouldn’t be jumped to either. Even if this is fantasy, it’s still within a middle-age reminiscent world where time was prejudice was everywhere and hard to overcome, it’s designed to make you feel for the characters. The fact that Arya is not supposed to be pretty is intended to show the struggle against this particular one for example. Women are not the only ones to be prejudiced against, hence Tyrion and Jon, but they managed to survive and rise. If anything I find GOT a lot more feministic than Buffy or Lara Croft or other pc series that portray women as needing superpower or ridiculous unrealistic skills to be on top. Who really believe that Elisa Dushku in high heels will kick so many male butt when she weights like a 10 years old boy and they are the size of an Ox? Talking about a blue pill, it’s a particularly high groan factor (for my wife even more than me) and non immersive. No, GOT doesn’t make that mistake, women are portrayed with the strength you know them to have, to quote Tyrion ‘Really, they are the strong ones…’. And statistically, the four favourite characters of the series are Tyrion, Jon, Danny and Arya. That’s 50-50 and it says a lot about the gender portraying of the series. I see your point about all civilisation being shown as savage but no real brown skins hero you can identify to. But I think GOT still has them, and in full class, in Dorne! Oberyn and his daughters (I really didn’t picture them as white)… Sure he doesn’t win when you’d like him to, but for the same reasons that none of the other characters you care for do, at least so far…

  • Top Gear

    A bit late, but the Dothraki are barbarians in the classical sense. Also there was nothing about their portrayal in war that can be conceived as anything other that barbaric. They did rape women in public and when sacking other tribes. I’m also pretty sure it said in the books they liked their food a bit on the raw side.

    Of course the only difference between the barbarians and their western European, I mean, Westeros counterparts is that the Dothraki are a lot more honest about it.

    And that’s the point I got from the novels. That pretty much every social group within the story sucks, with only a few people spread around who have a bit of good morality.

    Oh and to end on a geeky note, you may not remember that Targaryens and their own race of people have a history of incest. It seemed to have been accepted in Westeros because they weren’t considered quite human. So in another time, Daenerys and her brother would have been married.

    But I agree with everything else you said, especially around the Dothraki. Their portrayal in the series does smell of Savage Brown Folk.

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  • http://tigergray.blogspot.com/ Tiger Gray

    “So I’m at a bit of a loss as to how exactly the Dothroki got stuck with the barbarian title.” The same way Hollywood thinks it is perfectly acceptable to recast Akira with ALL WHITE PEOPLE? (Seriously. Favorite anime. It is what got me IN to anime, before anime was seen as worn out stereotype for preteens. You were a back alley lurker trading in VHS without subtitles in those days)

    I can’t express how wrong that is. I read a great article that basically pointed out that Akira is essentially about the trials of being Japanese, a particular cultural experience that has shaped a whole people that have weathered some pretty incredible disasters. And now we want to make it in to…what exactly?

    I have been thinking about white washing in terms of book covers a lot lately, too, and I wonder if it’s just the gatekeepers making quite a few assumptions about what their customers will and won’t buy. Is the child doing poorly in school doing poorly because he is in fact an idiot, or is it because he isn’t being challenged/expected to do better? Maybe I am an optimist but I like to think the white majority can handle seeing some people of color in their media, that they would become open to the idea that their world is bigger than it seems, but how will we ever know if those images keep being obscured? As George Takei pointed out, we’re a different country now than in the forties, when Asian actors were (according to him) first breaking in to Hollywood. We can handle the idea that maybe, just maybe there are more people in the world than white people.

    • Hira Animfefte

      Fully agreed. It makes me crazy. There are enough actors of all races out there looking for work that they can cast anybody of any race/color/gender/sexual orientation that they so desire. But no. They continually mine the same pool of actors for every. single. stupid. movie.

  • http://dcmoviegirl.blogspot.com MsGo

    Hmm, maybe they’re planning a big ol’ flip on the audience’s expectations, a’la “the Latino gang” episode of The Walking Dead?

    For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, basically some POC’s were introduced in one episode, with the expectation that they would comfortably fit all the stereotypes.

    And then “the twist” came in the end that they weren’t that at all.

    Perhaps this is where they’re going with Drogo and his people? …I hope?

    Perhaps, he’ll reveal that he speaks the common tongue, after-all?

    • Facebook User

      I liked that episode. I think it’s called “Vatos”

  • Logoskaieros

    Thank you thank you thank you for this post. I spent a half hour complaining last night about how they changed Drogo from a complicated character to a barbaric rapist. I’m also realized most of my anger was coming from the destruction of Dany’s agency: she’s going to eventually fall in love with this dude who has now–according the show–raped her. But I see now that I should also be pissed for the destruction of Drogo as a multi-dimensional person, and not just an almond-eyed viscious savage. And echoing someone else’s comment that Visyeris (spell?) is supposed to be the true barbarian. It’s supposed to be poignant that Vis. says “I would let 40,000 of them rape you” and then the one, Drogo, DOESNT do that. GRRM does have plenty of race fail, but this interaction was not one of them in the books. Also, Dany is 14 at this point. That makes how the show depicts Drogo even more sickening. ARRGG. SMASHH.

    Also, hearing someone else argue that it’s perfectly consistent to find a show problematic, and still enjoy it overall. I’ve felt with fantasy novels, Supernatural, and a ton of other shows. I want to enjoy them, but the oppression fails are so frustrating and sometimes I think I shouldn’t watch anything that promotes racist/sexist tropes, but then I realize that would mean not consuming 99% of contemporary media.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rebecca-Belen-Austin/1423651770 Rebecca Belen Austin

      Admittedly, they did age Dany, and many of the other characters up. As I recall, Robb is supposed to be about the same age, and partly because of modern sensibilities. We could never accept a middle school aged kid in the sex scenes but we also couldn’t accept Robb being a leader later among other things that happen.

      However I have to agree that this scene was very badly done. After taking away the “given me the wind” line – which I always saw as the first connection between Drogo and Dany to turn what was essentially a seduction into a rape really demeans the characters- both Dany and Drogo. Especially if their relationship develops as it did in the book.

      I don’t have my copy handy, but I don’t believe that Drogo’s ability with the Common tongue was revealed at this point, so that didn’t bother me. I’m really hoping that the portrayal in the wedding sequence was really colored by what the director though were Dany’s perceptions, and hope she warms up to Drogo and the Dothraki hoard quickly. On my first reread of the books, I was surprised by the initial portrayal of the Dothraki, because I didn’t see them that way as the series progressed.

  • Anonymous

    Can I tell you what sad joy I have achieved to have found you. Sad that someone shares my frustrating sad making experiences, and joy that someone shares my frustrating sad making experiences. Growing up brown in St. Paul, MN in the 70′s w/ a white mother had me lips deep in fantasy/sci-fi, a kind of an ‘anywhere but here’ reaction. And that shit kept me alive and well-ish.

    So, with much excitement I sat with blunt and snacks at hand for the HBO GOT premiere. And wouldn’t ya know (not having read the series, I’m a little old) they got me again. Initially, I thought to myself-OK, all white people, no new terrain here, move along, and then, what’s this? Grunting brown folk who cannot manage their primitive urges running about raping and killing and putting crying Barbie on a pedestal, that’s what! I will probably keep watching because who can turn away from all that incest, murder, and intrigue replete with period costumes. But it does hurt, it does make me walk a little more hunched over, and question my right to have a voice.

    It’s like my daughter who passes, asking me some time ago, “Mommy, what’s a minority?”. Me, “It typically means people of color, so in that sense I am a minority.”. Her, “Oh, I’m sorry.”. Yeah, I’m sorry too that this is how I appear to entertainment executives. I just hope that is not how I appear to my daughter.

    But write on! YOU are saving the world one reader at a time!

  • Anonymous

    Can I tell you what sad joy I have achieved to have found you. Sad that someone shares my frustrating sad making experiences, and joy that someone shares my frustrating sad making experiences. Growing up brown in St. Paul, MN in the 70′s w/ a white mother had me lips deep in fantasy/sci-fi, a kind of an ‘anywhere but here’ reaction. And that shit kept me alive and well-ish.

    So, with much excitement I sat with blunt and snacks at hand for the HBO GOT premiere. And wouldn’t ya know (not having read the series, I’m a little old) they got me again. Initially, I thought to myself-OK, all white people, no new terrain here, move along, and then, what’s this? Grunting brown folk who cannot manage their primitive urges running about raping and killing and putting crying Barbie on a pedestal, that’s what! I will probably keep watching because who can turn away from all that incest, murder, and intrigue replete with period costumes. But it does hurt, it does make me walk a little more hunched over, and question my right to have a voice.

    It’s like my daughter who passes, asking me some time ago, “Mommy, what’s a minority?”. Me, “It typically means people of color, so in that sense I am a minority.”. Her, “Oh, I’m sorry.”. Yeah, I’m sorry too that this is how I appear to entertainment executives. I just hope that is not how I appear to my daughter.

    But write on! YOU are saving the world one reader at a time!

  • inkst

    Seriously Latoya, get outta my brain! I literally finished the first book this afternoon then watched the first HBO episode a couple hours ago and had pretty much the same exact thoughts about the Dothraki.

    When I was even toying with the idea of getting the book, I hesitated knowing what kind of setting I was in for, and I have been making a serious effort lately to read sci-fi/fantasy from writers of color or at the very least women, but I´ve got some time on my hands right now for a series like this and thought I´d give it a shot. I was resigned to there being no POC protagonists and was anxious about female characters. And with the former, aside from Drogo, I was right to have low expectations (GRRM just threw in random people with “skin as black as ink” from somewhere far away. The Summer Isles was it?) As far as the latter, I´m still thinking on that one. Some great female characters, and not shying away from the fact that a lot of sex in an environment like that would have been rape, but the book has a clearly male gaze. Anyway…

    From the book, I had mixed feelings about the Dothraki passages. Totally orientalist, constant othering, and Daenarys definitely is the white savior (I hurt my eyes rolling them when she stopped the warriors from raping women and then took them as slaves), but GRRM did a nice job of fleshing out an interesting culture (when you manage to set the problematic parts aside).

    In this first episode from HBO, they looked like something out of some damn B movie. Any of the depth of their fictional culture from the book was flattened out into a grotesque charade. Granted, there will be more episodes, but this is the introduction. It´s important how they are portrayed from the get go!

    You took the words right out of my mouth. I literally cringed in every Dothraki scene.

    Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage seem to be the saving graces of this thing so far…

  • Anonymous

    i wasn’t going to watch it, but my love of fantasy, especially dark fantasy, overtook me. so i said “give it 5 minutes”….and i ended up watching the whole thing and for the most part liked it.

    Their decision to make Drogo and Dany’s wedding night come off as it did in the show, which i’m told is significantly different from the novel, is a serious misstep. The whole depiction of the Dothraki was problematic to put it lightly

    Anyways, i put off reading the series for a long time but i’ve decided to give it a try

    • Kwaku

      I don’t think they changed that much about the wedding night and what they changed I think made up for the TV viewer not being in Dany’s head like the reader was.

  • LMDC

    In the book, Khal Drago can speak the Common Tongue, which allows him to communicate with Daenerys (also known as Dany) which leads to them establishing trust. (If memory serves, he also pretends not to know Common Tongue, in order to eavesdrop on the unsuspecting.)

    In the book Khal Drogo eventually learns some rudimentary Common Tongue but he is never fluent, especially not at the beginning of the story. You are half remembering the second part correctly, it is Dany later on who feigns ignorance of High Valyrian in order to eavesdrop.

    There are also white barbarians presented in a more savage light than the Dothraki (and with none of the nobility) in the tribesmen from the Mountains of the Moon.

    But generally I agree, and the Orientalism in ASOIAF is one of its biggest weaknesses. However as there is only one POV character in the East it could be that Martin hasn’t had the chance to fully explore this setting yet, and without trying to spoil anything, this will be a situation that is rectified in the next book.

  • http://profiles.google.com/seitzk Katie Seitz

    Oy – Jacqueline Carey. Love her books, hate her politics. There is so much Orientalism and other varied fail in those…. WHY DO I KEEP READING THEM? Agh.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve read the books several times over and the one thing that stands out is Martin’s tendency to fall back on the old fantasy standby – Orientalism. It’s boring and cliche, and the chapters involving Daenarys are incredibly hard to read for this reason. Other than that I do enjoy the series quite well.

    I am shocked at Momoa’s description of Khal Drogo. He is more than just a beast – he’s a king in his own right. It’s just George’s Eurocentric brain at work.

    I always feel conflicted about reading medieval fantasy as a brown man because I just know I’m going to be told how beautiful a “fair” maiden is, or how brave a white guy is while the brown exotic cowers in terror. At the same time, I love fantasy a lot and I wish that there were more diverse options.

    • Anonymous

      Orientalism. It’s boring and cliche, and the chapters involving Daenarys are incredibly hard to read for this reason.

      Thank you! I love Daenarys as a character, but for real – racial stereotyping is lazy characterization!

      • http://unweddedwidow.blogspot.com Hira Animfefte

        [Warning! Warning! Spoiler Alert!] I read Game of Thrones and wasn’t able to get any further in the series because every time I got attached to a character–any character–either they died, or something horrible happened to them. I started on book two and couldn’t get past the second chapter.

        On the whole, I found Khal Drogo to be one of the most sympathetic characters in the first book, and was dissapointed in his fate. If Martin ever finishes the series, I will slog my way through it. I kind of hope Daenarys winds up the winner, since nearly everyone else in book one who didn’t die is such an asshat.

        I am alarmed at hearing what the TV series has done to the character. Why am I surprised? The movie ruined Faramir, one of my favorite chracters in LoTR (the book).

        I always get annoyed at people who assume girl fantasy/sci-fi readers/watchers don’t exist. AHEM! Started reading them in elementary school, thank you!

  • http://heartlessgamer.com heartlessgamer

    So I’m curious what your thoughts are on Brienne then from further along in the story. She is pretty much the anti-every-other-female-character-except-arya.

    • Anonymous

      Lordy. That’s a whole takedown of that gender house of cards. I find it fascinating that both Brienne and Arry are described as unattractive and plain (former and later respectively), yet they are two of the most competent, survival oriented women in the bunch – and that’s also a theme in GRRM’s work, but to do that take down, I’d have to do a strong re-read.

      Really waiting for DoD – going by GRRMs normal M.O., Dany is due for a major character evolution – and her dragon just ate a kid, so how she handles that may be a tipping point. There’s also an interesting meta-commentary to be made about female agency more broadly in fantasy and how that is coded – for many male writers, beauty is bound with either a prize to be won or a wicked woman. Urban fantasy, with lots of women writers, bucked this trend, but not completely. I touched on this a few years back (http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2008/09/07/paranormal-smut-novels/) but those same dynamics of women characters and power even play out in this space – why does a woman have to be imbued with magical powers or be descendants of huntresses to have some freaking common sense?

      But that is a far longer, and much needed other kind of rant.

      Side bar; I don’t trust Brienne yet. She seems honorable enough, but will that change once she gains a bit of power?

  • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

    I don’t expect Carrie Bradshaw and crew to suddenly roll out on an epic quest (remember how big of a deal it was for them to go to Brooklyn?).

    I think I can write this! Can you imagine hipster elves?

    Also, since when is SATC the benchmark for women’s entertainment?

    As usual, I believe it was a straight man who knew all about women /eyeroll

    Now if I could just get all these other people to stop fucking up my bluepill buzz, I’d be set.

    I can’t judge – I’m a Tolkien nerd, and JRR was not a poster child for progressive ideas about gender, race, class, or sexuality. Nevertheless, I loved The Silmarillion and the History of Middle-earth series (especially Vol. X-XII) and couldn’t stand LotR (the books – I love the films).

    • Anonymous

      I think I can write this! Can you imagine hipster elves?

      Ha! And they were tasked to guard the One Manolo, a shoe so devastating and so powerful, it even comes with a specialty cocktail. But it can only be found on the wilds of Fort Green, where Manhattanites fear to dwell…

      • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

        LOL!

        And in the sequel, they go to Bushwick.

        • Anonymous

          On the bus.

          • http://rvcbard.blogspot.com RVCBard

            Now I think you’re asking too much of our audience. Elves and dragons and Cthulhu are OK, but brown people on a bus is more than they can handle.

      • http://unweddedwidow.blogspot.com Hira Animfefte

        In the movies, they ARE hipster elves. Case in point: Legolas Bloom.

  • Anonymous

    As you should. I feel that way about Supernatural but no one (this blog including) seems to let it go.

    • Anonymous

      LOL – There’s a huge difference between saying “I’m going to enjoy this show with flaws and I don’t want people throwing their damn sexism and racism in my face” than “I want to enjoy this show, and it cannot be critiqued.”

      We have a “fuck it, I like it” rule at Racialicious HQ, because sometimes it happens that you like something and it’s problematic. Doesn’t mean you have to stop liking it (though that does happen, see me & Stephen King) but you acknowledge that things are problematic and you either lay out the argument, or you allow someone else to take on that particular film/show/book/comic.

      I’m not mad at anyone critiquing my favorite things – if they are that good, they should stand up to the scrutiny (which they normally do). The problem is that fans tend to think any substantive critique will kill their favorite thing, so they will shy away.

      In short, I don’t have a problem with fans who can acknowledge the core issues and say they still like something. I do have a problem with fans who want to silence the conversation all together.

      • Anonymous

        That’s the thing. I talk about it , I acknowledge it. I actually watch Glee only for the music and I feel the same about some other shows the way you feel about GoT.

        Mind you, this wasn’t snarky or anything. Thanks for the reply.

        • Anonymous

          No worries. I need to get around to our “founding documents” or however the hell we’re going to call the things we believe. I am just at a loss at how people don’t understand you can acknowledge something is problematic and yet still like it. I’m sure heads will start exploding when we start chit chatting about Archer.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think the books were that much better off. It is canon that they as a group are totally into rape and killing — have you forgotten the attack on the Lhazareen? While there are such unprovoked depravities depicted as committed by white Westerosi, these are almost always portrayed as the acts of perverted individuals not representative of Westeros or even any of the Seven Kingdoms (Tickler and Biter, the Brave Companions, Gregor Clegane).

    • Anonymous

      Which is exactly the dynamic that fed the portrayal. It isn’t coincidence why GRRM coded one group as unthinking, murderous hoardes, and painted another group as a mass of amoral, homicidal individuals. It’s years upon years of racial conditioning.

      Dany, while I love her so, also neatly fits the need for a white savior, someone who will reform the Dothraki from their barbaric ways and integrate them into a new society. Same script, repeated time and time again.

      • Ludwig_Van

        @aoede & racialicious
        While I follow you judgement of the television series, the divide between the Seven Kingdoms and the Dothraki as written in the novels is not as great as you imply.
        During war, both groups pillage, murder, rape and enslave their enemies – and they do so systematically: When the horrors of war are inflicted upon people, they are not just “acts of perverted individuals not representative” of their group (pillaging – called foraging – is used explicitly as a tactical means by Tywin Lannister and Robb Stark during the War of Five Kings). All of this is depicted as a general feature of warfare in “A Storm of Swords”, even more drastically so in “A Feast for Crows”. Martin nowhere implys that only a ‘few bad people’ tend to commit such acts (which, by the way, is in accordance with historical precedence, for example from the Thirty Years’ War, even though some groups might have been more brutal or desperate than others).
        Daenerys is no stranger to these horrors either. She orders the crucifixion (!) of 120 random (!) slavers. They get no trial whatsoever, instead their peers have to select from among themselves. She’s not some sort of enlightened messiah. Opposing the Dothraki’s raping of the Lhazareen seems to be a consequence of her individual empathy (she does not object, for example, to them being killed), but the reason why she is the first to (ineffectually) prohibit the practice is her particular position of power (Drogo already vowed to reclaim her throne, though foreign she is a royal noble with strange charisma, her husband seems to respect her and so on).
        The only real twist to Daenerys’ social philosophy is her opposition of slavery which happens to be rampant in Essos but outlawed in Westeros. Her abolitionist stance is the only moral issue in which she greatly diverges from those around her (namely the Dothraki and the people of Slaver’s Bay). Interesting is why she opposes slavery, because the Weserosi stance seems to be religious in nature while Daenerys is rather irreligious herself (she never invokes the Seven in this matter).

  • Anonymous

    @Guest, true about Merlin, also Guinivere’s brother is one of the knights of the round table. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me one bit.

  • Guest

    Would be interested to know what you think of race in BBC’s Merlin. The cast is definitely predominantly white, but there are a number of black characters, including Guinivere.

    • Melissamedia

      @ Guest and littleeva> I am enjoying Merlin. I expected HBO to mess up GoT. I think AMC has become the cable channel of the moment. You might enjoy their new show, The Killing.

  • http://twitter.com/raanne Sarah (Burch) Grady

    I have not seen the show at all, and haven’t read the books since around 2006ish (?) but I do remember thinking, regarding Dani & the Dothraki, that part of the point was that her brother is the true barbarian. I thought the books hit that point rather hard – I’m disappointed if the show does not reflect that.