‘A Sly and Stubborn People’: Game of Thrones, Orientalism and Islamophobia

  • Author(s): Roberta Garrett
  • When: 2019-05
  • Where: Contesting Islamophobia: Anti-Muslim Prejudice in Media, Culture and Politics
  • As the multi-volume saga reaches its denouement, the ideological inconsistencies within the Essos plotline become increasingly evident. In series 5 of the HBO adaptation – based on Martin’s long-awaited and as yet unpublished The Winds of Winter – two of the most sophisticated and politically astute Westeros characters finally arrive in Essos. Westeros spymaster, Lord Varys and the pragmatic and intelligent Lord Tyrion Lannister, plan to swear allegiance to the queen but find the ‘liberated’ states in chaos. They immediately put in place effective counter-insurgency strategies and implement some much needed negotiating skills to broker a more gradual transition towards primitive democracy. The Western characters then set sail to retake the Iron Throne with Daenerys as their figurehead. The conclusion of the Essos strand of the narrative – planned originally as a minor plotline but later extended by Martin – therefore provides something approaching an upbeat resolution but at the price of the series’ liberal and feminist credentials. As we have seen, Daenerys’ role as liberator is justified by a popular feminist ideology of female empowerment and individualism, linked to broader mission to rescue women, children and disempowered men in the Slave states. This fails, in part, due to Martin’s later decision to rework the Essos storyline as an allegory of the US’ failed attempts to ‘liberate’ Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving Astapor and Yunkai in chaos and with a growing insurgency movement in Meereen, her disastrous attempts at regime change are redeemed by Daenerys’ newly arrived Westeros supporters. This tangled knot of feminist and anti-imperial storylines thus concludes in a manner that undermines one of the more progressive aspects of the series as Daenerys’ role as liberator and moral authority is supplanted by two elder statesmen. More significantly, Tyrion and Varys’ ability swiftly to restore peace and stability to the region presents a fantasy resolution of the catastrophic destabilisaton of the Middle East that has continued in the wake of the real-world invasion and occupation.

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