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Monday, April 22, 2024

Non-Existent Discussions: Game of Thrones and non-binary politics

Bran the Broken: King of the Six Kingdoms, Breaker of Genders

The fire of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” has been reduced to its embers. Its finale is still a hot topic, but since the series concluded, its once blinding flame now casts a light on the issues of gender politics within the show and how these issues mirror those in 21st century politics. Show viewers and book readers alike are unanimously disappointed with how Dan Weiss and David Benioff wrapped up the epic series, particularly with the decision to kill off Daenerys Targaryen, the all-powerful matriarch, and instill another “male” ruler. Most likely, this ending already contributed to libraries worth of articles highlighting the show’s neglection of capable female rulers. But one overlooked aspect of the show’s finale is the decision to place a genderfluid character upon the once-Iron Throne: Bran the Broken (i.e. the Three-Eyed Raven).

It is nearly impossible to view any piece of art without holding it under the scope of 21st century values, hence the extensive discussions about the absence of Queendom (and female Knightdom) in “Game of Thrones.” Popular interpretations of “Game of Thrones” have been done through a selective scope. But while such focus is drawn to the divide of the dancefloor, many onlookers do not have the tools to see who is dancing — the characters who refuse to meet the standards of gender in Westeros.

The concept of non-binary identities in Westeros did not exist in the 4th century AC (After [Aegon’s] Conquest), explaining why all characters still refer to the Three-Eyed Raven as Bran, a character who used the pronoun “he.” In many ways, the former friends and family of Bran Stark do not know what do with this new omniscient being, therefore resorting to an identity that’s comfortable for them. The Three-Eyed Raven does not stand on either end of the gender spectrum, they sit somewhere above it all, as an essence of knowledge that transcends the roles placed by humans on one another. The Three-Eyed Raven is deemed king, but never wears a crown. They are named the true born son of Eddard Stark, but reject the title. Sansa says Bran (who has not been Bran since season six) will father no children and will likely take no bride (as the divine royal rights were abolished in the finale). Therefore, who is to assign the Three-Eyed Raven a gender? Those of the Westerosi aristocracy, of course, as they have no knowledge of the term or what it means to exist outside of the binary. But for viewers to refuse to recognize the Three-Eyed Raven in this light says a great deal about the current conversations surrounding the non-binary community.

One day after “Game of Thrones” ended, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Elizabeth Warren sat down to converse about the show’s ending. Ocasio-Cortez commented, “we were so close to having this ending with women running the world and then the last two episodes it’s like ‘oh, they’re too emotional.’” Warren agreed with her, then Ocasio-Cortez voiced her frustration about the show’s male writers. And while this is a reasonable conversation to have given our political climate, it still says something about our society as a whole if two icons of the progressive movement forgot to include non-binary people in their conversations about gender politics in “Game of Thrones.”

If the first thing that comes to mind in discussing the political allegories of “Game of Thrones” is the inequality between the sexes, then that’s a good sign. The disparity men and women face in the 21st century needs to be reconciled. But if one’s mind does not go to other outlets for allegories within the show for social betterment (such as a non-binary character taking the throne), then it shows our world is succeeding in erasing identities that do not meet normative standards.

Consider the aspects of non-binary culture: all attention is given to the two ends of the gender spectrum but none to the middle ground. Those who do not meet the binary norms are typically met with silence or denial because communities do not know how to recognize and include the non-binary in societal discussions. Too often, non-binary people are marginalized and rejected by the institutions to which they belong, whether in queer spaces or under a government that attempts to force these individuals to pick a side that can make sense to the masses (thanks Title IX).

Although ancient Mesopotamian tablets from 3100 BC describe how the gods created an intersection of people that had no gender, the term “non-binary” was not coined until the 1970/80s when feminists Casey Miller and Kate Swift wrote “The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing,” where they encouraged the use of gender-neutral pronouns and acknowledged the existence of people outside the gender binary. It’s unacceptable that the discussions surrounding the biggest television series in history do not involve non-binary identities. And if the answer to that argument is that non-binary identities did not exist in 4th century AC Westeros, well, they existed in ancient Mesopotamia and through the proceeding centuries of our history. If “Game of Thrones” is a fantasy retelling of our history, it would be ignorant to cherry pick what parts of our history are included within that fantasy.

Consider the obstacles and adversities non-binary people need to overcome in order to exist: social rejection, a wall of legislation to keep one from claiming an identity and a life underneath the prescriptive roots of America’s nuclear family tree (not talking about the Three-Eyed Raven here). Yet nobody recognizes the Three-Eyed Raven as a non-binary being because other characters within the show are keen to push gender roles onto them. The Three-Eyed Raven is the essence of an omnipotent almanac forced into the human body in order to exist. They claim no identity, therefore they claim no gender, and what better way to end “Game of Thrones” than to say that the future is non-binary?

The wheel is broken in Game of Thrones, in more ways than Daenerys originally intended, and if the show was interpreted through a more holistic lens, such as recognizing a potential non-binary character taking the throne, then maybe it could influence the breaking of our own wheel of genders.

Written By: Clay Allen Rogers — arts@theaggie.org


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