By Ken Mondschein
Warning: This article has spoilers for the series finale of Game of Thrones
Well, our collective 11-year journey has finally ended, the Iron Throne has been won, lost, and melted down into slag, and in the end, the winner is who it always is… a bunch of white guys. And the loser is… we historians.
Now, I’ll admit Danerys Targaryen couldn’t be trusted to rule: her Maleficent costume change and Nuremberg rally signaled that she was no better than a petite blonde Pol Pot. Clearly, she wasn’t electable. Jon did what he had to do, and then, like Shane, rode off back into the wilderness to cavort with his ginger-haired friends in the snow, or maybe open a craft brewery. So brooding! So haunted! So scruffy! (Apparently the Night’s Watch doesn’t care if you desert any more since the only things they have to guard against are frostbite and beard conditioner.)
Other aspects of the series finale are a white nationalist’s dream: The People of Color (Unsullied, Dothraki, M13 gang members) in the person of Grey Worm categorically rejected Davos’ offer of reparations. Instead of forty acres and a mule in the Reach, they self-deported back to PoC-land, thus sparing the protagonists the problem of dealing with inconvenient eunuchs giving black-power salutes. (Did they make Andrew Johnson-like racist comments behind their backs?)
Sansa, meanwhile, becomes the ginger queen of her own ethnostate in the North, running the North-xit through Parliament so fast poor Theresa May’s head would have spun. Worse, Bran, who is clearly a believer in state’s rights, readily assented to this. The Small Council meeting showed us he’s an absentee king, at best, letting the bro club of Tyrion, Davos, and Bronn run things. Brienne is reduced to writing Jaime Lannister fanfic while playing Screech to the Small Council’s Zacks and Slaters, or maybe Sam is the Screech and Brienne is the mother hen who makes clucking noises when they talk about re-opening the brothels. Or maybe they’re George W. Bush’s cabinet—I can make a case for Bronn as Dick Cheney, what with his mercenary ties and propensity for shooting people in the face. In any case, rather than making their conveniently centralized continent into a parliamentary democracy, Westeros seems doomed to go back to becoming a decentralized feudal society with an economy that runs on systematic sexism and a weak ruler who’s chiefly good for exposition and finding dragons.
And Arya… Arya, what are you doing? We thought you’d have to go back to the House of Black and White to serve in exchange for your revenge. You know, balance, responsibility, a life for a life, all that Jedi crap from the first few seasons. Instead, you’re sailing off to explore… er, colonize more PoC? Damn girl, do you even know how problematic you are?
So those are the winners. Ultimately, the big loser is… history. Tyrion’s speech in the Dragonpit about stories being the real magic that binds people together was obviously the showrunners’ own masturbatory self-congratulation… but what that speech could have equally been about was the writing of history. History is the thing that binds us together into communities, Tyrion reminds us, and what the story of Westros means as a metaphor for our own world has become its own mini-industry amongst medievalists.
Well, here’s a secret for you: Despite academia’s various claims to having a monopoly on truth, history means what the people who write it say it does. So Brienne glosses over Jaime’s incestuous relationship with his sister, but the ultimate ironic insult was when Tyrion himself gets written out of (the show’s version of) A Song of Ice and Fire. Benioff and Weiss’ message is that it doesn’t matter what story you’re writing or what the ultimate meaning is, so long as it’s a good narrative. The sad thing is they’re correct: everyone writing on history, from the white-nationalist heathens ranting about this column I wrote to Cord Whittaker talking about serf empowerment over on In the Middle, is trying to craft a story that’s satisfying to them. We “academic” historians merely have more and better footnotes. It seems, my mini-rant in my introduction to Game of Thrones in the Medieval Art of War was prescient: Our job as historians is to produce socially useful truths. No doubt some future Westerosi historian will be decried as a revisionist when he or she writes the women, people of color, disabled back into history, while others will want to stay with the Robb Stark-as-founding-fathers narrative they learned in grammar school. But to me, the historical notes in the series finale seemed not just anti-intellectual, but deeply nihilistic. As a nihilist, I can get behind that, but the rest of you might not be so sanguine.
In the end, the only one we can agree had an unambiguously satisfying conclusion to their arc was Ghost. Ghost doesn’t care about power or thrones or history. He lives in the present. He just wanted his remaining ear scratched—and he finally got it.
Ken Mondschein is a history professor at UMass-Mt. Ida College, Anna Maria College, and Goodwin College, as well as a fencing master and jouster. Click here to visit his website.
Top Image: (Helen Sloan/HBO)