A Retrospective of the Meereenese plotline from GoT’s fifth season
We hope you enjoyed our riveting recap of the Game of Thrones Season 5 Meereenese plotline, by Emmy-winning showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D). You can really just see why it was that they were pelted with awards this year! But now that we’re all freshly reminded of every thrilling moment our heros Deadpan Stormborn and Saint Tyrion went through, we can dig a little deeper in this retrospective, and analyze this story both in and of itself, and as an adaptation.
To start, we must first ask:
Whose story was it?
This might seem like a confusing question on the surface. After all, it’s Deadpan, right? She’s the queen of Meereen in nearly all the scenes…and her deadpan nature is serene? We’ll see ourselves out.
But here’s the dealio: to be the central character to a story, or the protagonist, you have to be the most prominent, AND have the most significant arc. And though it would seem logical that the character who appears on our screens most is the most important, this is Game of Thrones. And Jon’s fOlly clearly taught us differently anyway.
There’s no denying that Deadpan was the character with the most agency…until she wasn’t in the last couple of episodes, once Saint Tyrion showed up (what a coincidence!). And with that agency, she had the ability to elicit the most amount of change within this plot. Which she did…until she didn’t. Once Saint Tyrion showed up.
Like, don’t get us wrong here; we think Deadpan was supposed to have an arc. Her deciding to marry Hizdahr zo Sansa was framed as a good decision, right? It was the result of her learning about leadership? But it ultimately accomplished nothing because…nothing is nothing.
In fact, none of Deadpan’s decisions actually lead to any tangible result. The season opened with the masked Strawmen of the Harpy trying to kill Deadpan’s peeps, and opposing her rule. The season closed this way too. The public execution of a former slave for murdering one of them did nothing to appease the Strawmen. Threatening and roasting former slavers did nothing to stop them. The marriage to Hizzy and subsequent opening of the pits, her “great” concessions, did nothing to appease them (guess tradition was less important than poor Sansa-lite thought?). Deadpan made decisions sometimes out of emotion, sometimes out of a sense of justice, and sometimes because it’s what a dude suggested to her. And all of these decisions amounted to diddly squat. Then she became a hapless victim. Twice.
How is that actually an arc? We can pretend that Deadpan grew in her understanding of good governance by opening the pits, but the narrative itself isn’t even clear on if that was a wise choice or not. Then, in her victimization, she learned the important lesson that…what? Always keep your men around you because they’re the only good sort of protection? Randomly hopping onto your dragon’s back probably wasn’t the best idea? She made a huge, tiny mistake? Like, from what we can tell, every decision she made was to impress to the audience how much she needed someone else’s help.
So Saint Tyrion is the protagonist? He was a hero on a journey, that’s for sure. We mean, Varys Marx sets him up with a story in the first episode and then congratulates him for completing the quest in the tenth. He starts all depressed and thinking his life is over, with his break-up beard and his angsty proclamations of self-loathing, and then he learns how valuable he is, because everyone says so, rather than because of anything he actually does. Oh, and he sees a dragon, which must mean SOMETHING, right?
Jorah also has a journey. He must prove his worthiness to his lady love, and…does. He triumphs. Oh and contracts the plague, though we have yet to see that affect his actions or the plot. And like, that is definitely quite the arc to have. Yet compared to the likes of Saint Tyrion, his is an arc that is more in the background. In fact, he is entirely contextualized by Tyrion, whose journey we track from the season opener. Jorah is something that seems to happen to Tyrion. He is something our saint must deal with (what advice shall he give to Deadpan about Jorah, for instance). And the climax of Jorah’s arc (getting to rub his scaly hands on Deadpan) is most certainly not framed as the climax of Meereen’s arc. That’s Deadpan flying off on Drogon, which focuses on Tyrion’s reaction to the event.
We suppose you can pretend there’s other candidates for protagonists? Varys Marx…existed, we guess, and he was in scenes of Great Importance™ in the season opener and close. But he literally just traveled and showered Saint Tyrion with compliments. There was also Grey Worm and Missandei, who…learned to embrace love? It was a slavery recovery arc or something? The foregrounding of Miss Worm was bemoaned by many, but we think it’s actually rather disingenuous to claim its time allotment was one of the bigger problems here. There were seriously like, three scenes. It was an arc, but it was barely in focus. And they both sort of took themselves out of the “protagonist” equation in the finale when they decided to stan for Saint Tyrion like everyone else.
Barry? The dude was killed off in Episode 4 after getting a couple of overdue scenes that were clearly just there to get us to feel for him before his death. He had no arc, and just acted as the “voice of reason” on occasion. Daario was the “voice of chaos” maybe, though half his suggestions seemed fine. But other than fucking with Hizdahr, he really didn’t even do anything proactive on his own part. He was there so that Deadpan could have a sounding board against which to explain her own, deadpanny feelings.
But that actually leads us to someone who we would like to humbly submit as the protagonist you wish you had: Hizdahr zo Sansa.
Don’t get us wrong; we know the narrative doesn’t recognize him as the central character. This is not actually his story. But maybe it should be? Like, we very much enjoy Sansa’s A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords chapters even if it’s clear that she’s not the primary actor in King’s Landing, you know? If there’s ever a novelization of GoT, we very much will look forward to reading Hizdahr’s PoVs. In fact, those might be the only PoVs we would read in this crap-fest.
Here’s the thing: we kind of want to say that Saint Tyrion is the protagonist. That was what we were planning on saying when we started writing this. But can we? His arc was…learning how awesome he’s been all along? A depression recovery arc? Because he saw a dragon for three seconds? What did he do to EARN ruling Meereen? How did he change? Did he grow? How can you grow up from perfection? He definitely moved around. He physically journeyed. But internally, there was absolutely nothing brewing. Because even though Tyrion has a quippery shell, at his core he is the same as Jonny Cardboard; unquestionably right, and a bonafide Hero™ for whom we can unproblematically cheer.
At this point, we kind of have to say that there’s no real protagonist. Saint Tyrion comes the closest, but please explain to us how his “arc” has any meaning. Please. Once again, it’s just stuff that happens, because the writers had a list of stuff that had to happen. It’s not a story, so it doesn’t have a protagonist.
What was the result of this story, from a thematic and character perspective?
In Jon’s fOlly, we made note of how Jonny Cardboard’s story lacked any sort of thematic significance because he had no actual arc. To quote ourselves,
“…the result was that D&D essentially sidelined their own protagonist by giving him absolutely no internal struggles or even reason to change. Just a bunch of skeletons for him to hit. Jon was right. Full stop. The Good Guys knew that and the Bad Guys opposed him for no reason”
We reiterate, as far as we’re concerned, a story lacking a protagonist with a meaningful arc is hardly a story. It’s a series of things that happens in a sequence, but does it mean anything?
One potentially meaningful element that they did try to establish was the ambiguity of the situation in Meereen. It’s a problem without a simple or unitary solution. But the issue is, without threats from outside of Meereen, without the bloody flux, without multiple factions all making demands on Dany every day, without the temptation of the Dornish alliance, without multiple sellsword groups to manage, and above all, without Book!Daenerys’s characterization, this fell flat. We’ll discuss this more in depth later, but one of the hallmarks of Daenerys’s personality is that she has a willingness to work within the system, at least up until a certain point (her breaking point at the very end of A Dance with Dragons).
Deadpan has no such willingness. She’s a queen, not a politician.
The ambiguity in Simplified Bay was at most, a tone, rather than a theme, because things were ridiculously simplified, and they never followed through with any of the implications from the small bits of messiness that actually made it onto our screens. And that’s because nothing Deadpan did could actually elicit change, since D&D wanted the pit scene to become a big Strawmen of the Harpy smash fest. They set her up to fail. The trial that was never going to take place didn’t have to have any details worked out. If she had roasted Hizdahr instead of surprise marrying him, the result would have been no different. The Strawmen could not be sated, and Deadpan was always going to need rescue from her menz and her dragon.
And we’re told that her decision to marry Hizzy was selfless and wise and a great sacrifice, but how exactly? Like, okay, she sacrificed her morality to open the pits, we guess. But this was literally the only concession she had to make all season. Not to mention, we’re pretty sure that by opening the pits, it also secured Hizdahr’s ridiculously golden deal with Yunkai, where they had agreed to run any major governance decisions by her. And there’s no more slavery there. Like, who wouldn’t open the pits for that? Though she really should crack down on that minimum wage loophole.
Then there’s also a bit of an oddity because of a throwaway line in The Wall plot. Aemon receives a letter from Meereen (what.), which states that apparently Meereen is “under siege from within and without.” We’ll give them the “within.” The Strawmen are legit terrorists. But who in the fuck is laying siege “without”? So we’re just confused, because it’s like the narrative wants to pretend that there’s a really complicated situation, but there just isn’t. And D&D want to pretend that Deadpan’s decision making with Hizdahr and the pits is good, but it doesn’t fucking do anything. Plus, it’s sexual abuse. Actually, to further muddy the waters, Saint Tyrion praises Deadpan’s decision to open the pits in 5×08, but then seems scornful the next episode.
We really feel as if we’re bashing our heads against a wall, because this entire plotline is just one of D&D’s famous nonversations. We’re told shit about Meereen that simply isn’t true. We’re seeing decisions that are made, but they’re not actually in response to anything. It’s just something that has to happen in the plot, so they slop it in. Like Doran’s soup. Seriously, in the “MARRY ME” episode, Deadpan had what? Three about-faces? Also, this is so minute, and we’re not sure why we’re even bothering, but did she and Hizdahr get married? Because we kind of suspect it happened off-screen, like so many other things in this show. They clearly seemed married in the pit scene, right?
Saint Tyrion fared little better in terms of theme. Kinda. As we already noted, Tyrion doesn’t have a real internal journey as a protagonist should, because he’s already a paragon of humanity. That being said, we do think D&D were earnestly trying to give him one. We see Saint Tyrion at what we think was supposed to be his rock bottom at the start of the season, evidenced by him drinking a lot. And being sad. He also had a break-up beard (Julia is slightly obsessed with Saint Tyrion’s scruff, apparently).
Here’s the thing. We are not trying to say there is any one way how PTSD looks or manifests. But in the case of Saint Tyrion, if this truly was supposed to be PTSD, as his book counterpart had, D&D really went about depicting it oddly. Like…he was sad. He drank. He refused sex when the woman apparently happily offered it, because he just “couldn’t.” He was showered with compliments. Then he saw three beats of a dragon wing and suddenly he switched to…becoming a Jorah-stan? Seriously guys, it was odd. Tyrion literally seemed panicked at the idea of being separated from him. Also, we’re kind of wondering if Drogon or the stone men somehow cured his alcoholism? Or his depression? Because that’s how those conditions work…
So given that, whatever “zeal for life” arc they were trying to give to Saint Tyrion, once again, fell flat. And this was made worse by the fact that Tyrion did not have to grow or be challenged in any sort of way. All he had to do was learn to acknowledge his own wonderfulness and stop being so hard on himself. Afterall, he had only been drinking as punishment for crimes that he was totally justified in committing. Literally, everyone else fell over themselves to praise him, from Varys Marx down to Faabio. So the true thematic climax of Saint Tyrion’s arc, therefore, wasn’t his conversation with Deadpan, it wasn’t him watching her fly off on Drogon and looking hopeful, and it wasn’t even him getting handed the keys to the city. It was when he finally had the insight to march his ass out into the middle of the shitty practice pit, look Deadpan in the face, and declare “I AM THE GIFT.”
Like, is this what we’ve been reduced to? Saint Tyrion, the unproblematic fave, is the protagonist and his arc is about how he needs to learn to love himself and his unproblematic awesomeness?
Fuck us with a bloody spear.
Still, we also need to examine the story of the three men in Deadpan’s life. As we mentioned, Deadpan has absolutely no arc or thematic significance as it relates to her style of governance. But she does have a love…rhombus. Or something.
We mean, there are three romantic options for her: Faabio, Jorah, and Hizdahr. She clearly ships herself with Faabio. She enjoys sleeping with him, she listens to him when he gives her advice (but only if he gives it to her in bed; she kind of blows him off in the council meetings), and she thinks he’s a hoot when he waves his weaponry around Hizdahr’s face. To the narrative’s credit, it makes no attempt to frame her desire to fuck her boyfriend as a bad thing (in a marked departure from the show’s typical pattern), although the extent to which she’s distracted by him fiddling with his stiletto and other shiny shiny is a little… there’s a word… it starts with an “i”….
But yeah, there was no real movement in terms of their relationship. Deadpan ended the season still clearly being into Faabio, despite a maybe!husband sitting right there. A fiancé at the least. Fine, we guess? Good for her. Not especially worth analyzing. Apart from, yeah, she clearly was not taking this marriage thing very seriously.
Then there was Jorey Bear. Or Ser Hilariously Friendzoned or whatever, who is apparently into Deadpan for quasi-religious reasons rather than just being a lecherous creep (more on that later). He was banished last season for spying a hundred years ago, and despite his earnest and humble apology, Deadpan sent him from her sight. Because they didn’t interact until the end of this season, this romantic(?) beat was mostly examined through Jorah’s eyes. We saw his ire at the sex slave’s lewd Deadpan impersonation, we saw his heart-eyes as he told Tyrion about the cry of baby dragons, and we saw him fight to get into that pit so he could get her attention. Um…twice. He did that twice.
We guess second time is the charm, because she happily grabbed his scaly hand and had tears in eyes. This imagery was actually in direct opposition to when she spurned him:
So…the only takeaway we can think of for the Bear and the Maiden Stolid is that it’s not stalking if you eventually wear her down. Or if you have some bullshit pseudo-metaphysical excuse. Or if you save her life. Or maybe it’s just that all Good Guys™ eventually will get their reward once the silly ladies see their worth. Yum.
And then there is Hizdahr. Poor Hizzy. He never wanted to be in this love parallelogram, did he?
Consider it from Hizzy’s perspective for a minute. His city, which, yes, had slavery and that’s a major fucking problem, was conquered by Deadpan who orchestrated a slave revolt, right? His entire way of life was turned on its head. His father was literally crucified for the actions of other ruling families that they had both derided. Hizdahr tries to do all he can in this new situation to make the exchange of power as peaceful for everyone as possible. He advocates for his people’s point of view on Deadpan’s council, and he does leg work for her. He’s clearly a huge asset. This includes negotiating with an enemy city and somehow getting them to give up absolutely everything for one minor concession.
And yet she clearly resents and despises him. She acts like she’s the injured party in the marriage, like she’s making this huge sacrifice…as if she’s somehow the one forced into this, despite the fact that it was a situation of her own creation.
Like, one day, Deadpan is feeling really pissed, so she brings Hizdahr and a few other remaining former-slavers to the dungeons, where she proceeds to feed one to a dragon. And she specifically fucks with Hizdahr as if he’ll be next. Then she throws him into a cell (because..?). When she shows up later, he assumes it’s to continue the fun dragon-feeding game, so he begs for his fucking life, and she tells him, “lol no you’re going to marry me.” Worse still, she uses a completely anachronistic concept of what a marriage proposal looks like to somehow frame this fucked up situation as being his own choice. As if the reason he was on his knees was anything other than victim begging for mercy.
They may or may not have gotten married, who cares really, but Hizdahr takes this forced relationship in-stride, still working overtime to use his position and understanding of traditions to help Deadpan’s reign. He’s slightly miffed that her obvious boyfriend was given a place of high honor during the opening of the fighting pits, but he sure as hell didn’t say anything about it (probably because he’s terrified of his maybe!wife). Then he gets stabbed by the people he was trying to help, we guess because he was too conciliatory. Or something.
Look, we know there’s a major values dissonance problem with stanning for Hizzy. He was a former slaver (and in our opinion, #notallslavers is not particularly compelling, sorry Hizzy’s dad). He spends a large amount of time arguing for a blood sport’s revival. On the other hand, he does seem committed to reform. He is nuanced. Which is as rare and precious as a dragon on this show.
This is not a bit of ours. We seriously stan for him. He is an actual nice guy, without the trademark and everything. And sadly, the only sort of thematic significance that we can draw from this, is that these nice guys finish last. Real Men™ who fuck Deadpan, or who save her from life-threatening situations (after some low-key stalking) are the only ones worthy of attention, and men who do silly, emasculating things like negotiating and begging for their lives get fucked over.
Don’t think for one second we’re done talking about this obvious sexism. But first we need to push a little deeper and see how it was that this just awful plotline even came to be.
What adaptational choices were made?
So when we look into this section, we try and think about the adaptational “choice” that has the largest “butterfly effect,” as George R.R. Martin is so fond of saying. That is, it’s the choice that then requires the most change to the original narrative to fit it. For instance, Jon battling at Hard-On was the adaptational decision around which the entire Season 5 Wall plotline was centered.
For Meereen, Choice Prime seems to be Tyrion meeting Dany at the end of Episode 7. This required quite a few alterations to the source material to allow it to come to pass, as well as some alterations that definitely weren’t required, but creatively made sense, we guess.
The best example we can give you is Barry the Scary’s untimely death. We don’t think it needed to happen to make narrative space for Saint Tyrion joining Deadpan’s crew when he did, but clearly that was why Barry was killed off, because they had Tyrion say the fucking line, “You have no one at your side who understands the land you want to rule.” D&D also worked overtime to create this space by making Deadpan be in desperate need of his council. Everything she did was irrational and ineffective, and the end of the entire season was Tyrion overlooking the city he was going to take a crack at ruling after her fuck-ups. Which, in case you forgot, was Deadpan’s closing shot from Season 4.
Getting Tyrion to Deadpan also “required” outright stupid things. There needed to be cock merchants so that Tyrion wouldn’t get killed by slavers, but so they didn’t have to waste time establishing a grotesquerie or anything like that. There also needed to be slavers who loved the idea of purchasing slaves who punch their masters in the face repeatedly as a way of getting attention. And other slavers who love randomly striking the chains off of their slaves. Oh, and slavers who think it’s a nifty idea to go to the one place where slavery has been abolished, because Deadpan actually failed at abolishing anything and there were auctions, like, fifty feet from her walls.
Did D&D miss the part where Tyrion and Jorah still got to Meereen in the books without these inane contrivances? And good gods, we know this isn’t the point, but how fucking boring was Deadpan and Saint Tyrion’s conversation that they did all this bullshit for?
It may surprise you that Adaptational Choice #2 is actually not one we entirely disagree with. Well. Okay, so Meereen in aSoIaF is complicated. Like, famously complicated. In fact Martin cited the “Meereenese Knot” as the reason it took him five years to get aDwD out. We’ve discussed the complexity of the political situation before (#6), and just like Martin does with so many other plotlines, we feel that the complexity is half the point in this case. He didn’t cop-out and have it be “old system = bad, new system = good.” It was definitely dark grey vs. grey, which matters.
But seriously, we’re realistic. For a TV show with 10 episodes a season, where aFfC/aDwD were only given a single season of screentime (this still confuses us), there is absolutely no way even half of Meereen’s complexity could make it onto our screens. Of course we couldn’t have the Green Grace, Daenerys’s child-hostages to whom she was forming a growing attachment, the bloody flux, multiple sellsword groups, one of whom defects, Astapor falling to the Butcher’s King and refugees flocking to the walls of Meereen, Yunkai marching with a great host towards the city to take it back, a poisoned locust Scooby Doo case, and a Dornish prince with a marriage proposal popping in.
However, what we could have had was a paired down situation that still played with the same themes and tones. We could have had moral ambiguity, we could have had that “dark grey vs. grey” nuance, and we definitely could have had the entire fucking point of Daenerys’s plotline: she willingingly worked within the system through a series of moral concessions to bring about some semblance of peace, eventually realizing that bit-by-bit, she’d fallen uncomfortably far away from her beliefs, only to ultimately strongly reassert her identity in Daznak’s Pit by very literally embracing her internal and external dragon.
We think D&D tried to give us moral ambiguity in Deadpan’s decisions and how the newly established system was grey. Right? But the problem was that all of this fell flat because the Strawmen of the Harpy were just strawmen. As we said, nothing Deadpan did could have any actual effect. Which, by the way, is the opposite of nuance. It’s a foregone conclusion. Any attempt to introduce ambiguity in Meereen with the execution of Mossador, or the question of how Deadpan should utilize her dragons was a miserable failure, because at the end of the day she was going to fall under attack in the Pit of Inevitability.
Why were D&D determined to make that the outcome? ¯\_ಠ_ಠ_/¯
Actually wait, it might have been to suit Choice #3: Deadpan welcomes Jorah back with open arms.
Hopefully we don’t need to point out that Daenerys’s series of moral concessions and struggle with identity were just absolutely absent.
They way that D&D chose to simplify the bay was also very interesting, in that while Deadpan’s choices sometimes seemed unclear, there was only one enemy: the Strawmen of the Harpy. The Strawmen only operated within the walls of Meereen, they were only one group, they were masked and conspicuous, and they apparently were besties with one evil sex worker. Much of the messiness of Meereen in the books came from the fact that it was impossible for Dany to please everyone, because what benefited one group, harmed another. She couldn’t please the traditionalists and the freedmen at once; she couldn’t marry both Quentyn and Hizdahr; she couldn’t stay, and also go. She couldn’t win, she could only do what she thought was best, and right.
And her decision to blow this entire taco stand at the end, and her walkabout wherein she determines to be a “dragon” is all about a theme that permeates A Dance with Dragons: “I don’t belong here. This is not my place. This is not who I am.”
The reason we’re harping on this (no awful pun intended) is that we were told there were enemies “within and without” Meereen in that dumb letter that Aemon magically received. So should we honeypot and pretend that Aemon’s source was just unreliable, or is this just another case of D&D not understanding what story they’re writing? Because truthfully it’s getting exhausting to parse out the levels of their incompetency.
While we’re talking about simplification, there was also the adaptational choice to exclude a rather important subplot from the books: the Prince formerly known as Young Griff. In aDwD, Tyrion spends time on a boat with Varys and Illyrio’s candidate for the Iron Throne: not Dany, but the supposed Aegon Targaryen, the surviving son of Rhaegar. Though yeah, there’s uncertainty about his identity. Tyrion’s time with “the Griffs” matters thematically to his own arc, not to mention, “Aegon” and his traveling companions matter a whole lot to their own story (Jon Connington is a PoV character, and he’s the one that contracts greyscale and tries to hide it). And also, that arc is on a collision course with other characters D&D deemed unimportant, apparently. Or not cinematic. Or something.
Why did they make the adaptational choices they did?
We are uniquely fortunate for this retrospective in that we know exactly why D&D made Choice Prime, because they told us:
“We’re really excited to see these two characters we love so much finally set eyes on each other,” Benioff said. “Creatively it made sense to us, because we wanted it to happen. They’re two of the best characters of the show. To have them come so close together this season then have them not meet felt incredibly frustrating. Also, we’re on a relatively fast pace. We don’t want to do a 10-year adaptation of the books… It’s time for these two to get together. It’s hard to come up with a more eloquent explanation, but this just felt right.”
So there you have it. Creatively it made sense, because they wanted it to happen. Our work is done; good-day.
No, we mean…this quote almost outright tells us that they were under the impression that sticking two popular characters together is what makes exciting television. Which really came across so well in the scene where even the actors looked like they were having trouble staying awake:
That still leaves a couple of other adaptational decisions to address. We do think that Deadpan’s incompetency was sometimes unintentional, because D&D don’t actually understand anything about governance. The trial for the Strawman was framed in a positive light, but it actually makes no fucking sense, just on a basic societal level. We think the marriage to Hizdahr was supposed to be a good thing too, but it was coercion. However, as we said, she couldn’t actually fix anything or elicit any real change because space for Saint Tyrion needed to be made, and because there needed to be an epic Strawman showdown in the pit.
We’re guessing that D&D wanted us to be excited about Saint Tyrion’s collision course with Deadpan, which is why they needed to hammer home just how badly she needed him, and also why they killed off her only Westerosi adviser. But they didn’t notice that by doing that, they were making her look like moron.
We’re also guessing that D&D wanted us to feel happy about her welcoming Jorah the Good Guy™ back, so maybe that’s in part why they engineered a situation where Deadpan needed her life saved? Who cares that it’s the complete opposite of what happened in the actual fucking source material, where Dany ran out to Drogon not just to embrace her identity, but because he was a major threat to her city. And she climbed on his back not for lolz, but because he was injured and she was trying to pull a spear out of him.
Still, the idea that the entire
Equalist attack Strawmen attack in the pits was to service Jorah is a difficult claim to make, especially when the narrative focus was on Saint Tyrion anyway. So, we guess that once again, D&D thought this would make for razzle-dazzle exciting television! Because a woman making an empowered choice that involved her whipping a fire-breathing beast in the face is apparently so dull. It certainly wouldn’t have fit in with their true theme of the season.
Oh and don’t even bother worrying about how the strawmen conveniently disappeared for the next episode. They dropped their weapons after seeing the girth of Deadpan’s empowerment, and went home without fuss.
Benioff’s quote also told us something else about their reasons for making the decisions that they did: they are not making a 10-season show. They have a plan for a 7-8 season show, and they want to sprint forward through the material. For that reason, lot of their decisions were simply about scale. They don’t think they have time to establish The Griffs, so they just didn’t. They didn’t think they could create such a politically complex scenario in Meereen, so they didn’t.
Like we said, this is an argument that we very much understand. But the issue is that the way in which they went about paring down the narrative led to an incredibly shitty, nonsensical result that is also nearly a perfect thematic opposite to the books. And yes, a result that was often offensive, as we’re about to discuss.
How did those choices change the story?
Not to belabour the point, but the largest change was that Daenerys Targaryen’s characterization was entirely absent. The willingness to compromise, the pragmatism, the utilitarianism, the high amounts of compassion…just totally absent. This was only made far worse by the fact that the situation was so simplistic. Deadpan did not have to consider murdering child-hostages to whom she had grown close. She didn’t have to contend with the Astapori refugee crisis, or the bloody flux showing up at her doorstep. She didn’t have to deal with the temptation of the Dornish alliance. There was no army marching to squash Meereen, and the enemies within her walls were, frankly, clear-cut.
Yet how she navigated through this dumbed-down plotline was mystifying. She looked like an erratic idiot, literally going from one extreme stance to the opposite within a single episode. And this happened more than once. Deadpan also was a completely ineffective leader; the Strawmen hated her no matter what, and slavery still clearly existed 20 feet from her city thanks to a minimum wage loophole. For the character who is the face of “female empowerment” in television, we really can’t believe how people miss that her scripting is ridiculously infantilizing. Frankly, it’s rather offensive that anyone considers this character “feminist.”
Like, how is she” badass”? Because she kills people and says everything in a tone of absolute, pig-headed certainty? Unless there’s a man there to talk her out of it. Or is it because she makes the empowering realization that she, the empowered ruler, will let the Strawmen kill her, empowerdly? Nevermind that she was a goddamn damsel in distress for the entire scene, only to be spirited off to another location where she then…wait for it…found herself in need of rescue once more.
We really hate Deadpan. She’s a major asshole, and we can’t for the life of us figure out why the audience has gravitated towards her. Or like…how anyone in-verse would follow her too? She clearly can’t form a coherent strategy, even in the short-term. And the characters who actually could give her valuable feedback just end up looking daft for their stanning of her.
Take Missandei, who is portrayed as quite intelligent. Deadpan asks her what she should do, and Missandei just kisses her ass. She waxes lyrical about how Deadpan makes her best decisions when she doesn’t listen to anyone. What. This is also the scene that followed Deadpan roasting a fucking dude alive. A decision she made all on her own. And then she makes the decision to coerce a dude into marrying her. Which, as we’ve discussed, accomplished nothing, except to torment our boy Hizzy.
So because D&D either don’t know what their narrative is presenting, or don’t care, they end up performing a major disservice to Missandei, just by having her seem to like Deadpan. It’s almost as if characterizations matter or something. At least Barry the Scary got to have minor Aerys-panic about Deadpan before suggesting that she established an entire anachronistic judicial system.
Speaking of Barry, we should also point out the result of his narrative. Because in our opinion, it was quite clear that D&D wanted to kill him off to make space for Saint Tyrion, but they also wanted us to be really sad about this dude’s death, despite the fact that he has been as criminally underutilized as Leia in TFA for the past two seasons. We understand that he wasn’t a point in the Deadpan love quadrilateral of no-one-gives-a-shit, but oddly enough we still think he was worthy of a bit more focus. In the novels, he has always been her tether to Westeros and her identity as a Targaryen.
Oh, and also, he’s a PoV character with an arc that is also important. He’s the perfect knight who has lived a life that, on paper, should be blameless. But all he did was serve assholes. And now, at the end of his life, he finds it quite hard to deal with. He has regrets. He’s trying to do the right thing when the governance of Meereen gets dropped in his lap, but he doesn’t know what that is, because he’s been a follower his whole life. Maybe that’s not so very cinematic, but it’s important. Barry doesn’t belong here either.
Which, btw, this was all something that his actor pointed out to D&D when he found out about their planned ass-pull death for him. And they really responded to that argument with sensitivity and maturity.
But it wouldn’t be a true D&D Shocking Moment™ if they didn’t have cheap scenes designed solely to get us to care about the person to whom horrible things were about to happen. So we got one where Barry talks about Rhaegar’s minstrel days, which doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons, and also was about as thematically significant as Deadpan’s “break the wheel” line. Did you know that Daenerys would proactively ask Barristan about information concerning her family? It wasn’t just Barry randomly volunteering information about how drunk he and Rae-Rae got?
Truthfully, we’re not sure why we’re so annoyed at this, when there’s so much more to pick apart. It’s just cheap. Putting zero effort into a character for four seasons, then writing two scenes that make no sense just so we might give a slight bit more of a shit when a red shirt stabs him with a spear is cheap. And an insult to viewer intelligence.
We discussed before how if D&D were trying to depict Saint Tyrion as having PTSD, they didn’t exactly go about doing it in a sensitive manner. And how his arc actually just seemed to be about overcoming break-up blues by having everyone kiss his ass, to the point where he finally could hold out his hands and declare himself “the gift” (and mean it). So…the result of this? He’s the unproblematic fave. Got it. They took a character arc that was all about confronting self-delusions and changed it into an arc that was basically, “well how could anyone not like you?” The world was altered so that he could always be in the right. He’s a Good Guy™ with no delusions, no flaws, and of course, no room for growth. So therefore, there’s no room for us to analyze anything because this is not even an actual character.
And yes, all Good Guys™ in this arc got their reward, as we saw not only with Tyrion being gifted a fucking city, but Jorah *finally* winning Deadpan’s affection. But only if they’re Real Men™. If they are actually decent guys, but they happen to be anything less than stereotypically masculine, then they are punished, not only through negative feedback from other characters, but literally punished by the narrative.
And then there is Varys Marx. At some point they decided they were ditching the Griffs, but, unfortunately, they’ve already spent four seasons building up how our favourite eunuch is “up to something”. And again, unfortunately for them, that “something” was supposed to be Young Griff. So they had to asspull something for him to be scheming about this whole time.
And, yeah, we suppose Deadpan was kind of the only option, despite it being more or less ruled out by his actions in the first season. Which we guess they tried to explain away by saying that his motivation was some kind of general, non-specific commitment to good governance, rather than any real loyalty to the Targaryens. Even though he is now definitely just some dude from Lys with no stake in this at all. Just…Robert was shit, so therefore Deadpan. And he stans Tyrion for some reason.
So not only is his whole stance hilariously anachronistic, but it’s also so surface-level. Like, he totally meant everything he said to Ned in that cell, apparently. He just really cares about the realm, yo. Good thing Varys Marx doesn’t have a trail of abused and mutilated children in his wake to muddy up those waters.
To be fair, we don’t know everything we need to about Varys in the books to really say much about his purpose. But he seems to be a man who has a goal that he is obsessed with completing. And quite possibly has been for a long time. And he will do anything to achieve it. He started the War of the Five Kings as much as Littlefinger did, even if the timing was too soon. A land torn apart by war was his goal. He does not give a fuck if the Seven Kingdoms burn, as long as it means an easier road to the Iron Throne for Aegon. He is not some kind of vacillating Social Justice Warrior.
So those were the character-results of their adaptational decisions. Ready for the outright horrific implications?
We think we’ve been pretty clear about detailing the large issues with their scripting of women in this plotline. But one thing we very much need to discuss is the rampant racism. Look. We’re not saying Martin does this perfectly in his books. In fact, his lack of an Essosi PoV character makes whatever commentary we do believe he is providing on racism in the eastern continent far less successful than, say, Dorne, where we have two PoVs.
Like, to be clear: we don’t believe that Martin wrote a highly misogynistic and racist setting for hoots and giggles. It’s obvious to us that he is actually looking to challenge these issues in his approach, which we personally feel he does quite successfully when it comes to sexism. However, with racism, having no Essosi PoVs would be as if Martin wrote this series without any female PoVs. The commentary he is making feels less accessible in this case. Which is why we are very sympathetic to many people’s issues with the racial implications of Essos.
However, what is clear is that Martin does take the time to realistically world-build and think about how this will play into his narrative on a thematic level. In some ways, the situation is Slaver’s Bay has to be incomprehensible, since it is to Daenerys. And of course it is. It’s a civilization that has been developing for thousands of years; not something even a very intelligent teenager can wrap her head around in the span of a few months.
Martin does not glorify this place. He is not scared to show us the absolutely ugly results, like how Tyrion in the books quite clearly rapes a slave who is so deadened from her years of abuse that he thinks to himself about how he just fucked a corpse. He also makes a point to depict how messy the transition to a post-slavery economy and society is, with many people in such desperate straits that they’ll happily sell themselves back into bondage. Fuck, in some ways Martin’s criticized for going into too much detail about the tensions surrounding slavery and its eradication, or the Meereenese classism that focuses on the amount of Ghiscari blood someone has. And even though there is a lot to bogged down in, the messiness is, once again, the goddamn point. It happens to be a point we think is valuable, too, even if do have discomforts with the scripting of Essos at times.
Enter D&D. They take this world that Martin’s built, and use it as a fun backdrop. Sometimes. This is really evident with their magically disappearing patriarchy. As an example, over in Carol’s Landing, Carol is shut out of power for being “the queen mother, nothing more,” and the poor thing can’t actually elicit any change, but House Tyrell is totally fine having Olenna be their official negotiator because she’s sassy.
The same thing happens in Weisseroff with race. They will take components of Martin’s world and use it as a meaningless backdrop, and then forget it the second any sort of implication of such a system needs a follow-up. For instance, in 5×03, Varys Marx takes a lot of time to explain the Volantine slavery system. This was something we already knew about from Talisa, everyone’s favourite field nurse, because we guess that made her seem badass or sympathetic or something. But three seasons later, we’re once again walked through the facial-tattoo thing, only this time we’re seeing it up close.
But then, in the same fucking episode, we go into a brothel with sex slaves (they have the tattoo) who act absolutely not in accordance with this established system. They’re perky! and flirty! (and yes, we’ve seen honeypots about “well isn’t that how they’d be forced to behave?” and want to hear none of it). The one sex slave is so sad the men won’t give her attention, and she offers Saint Tyrion free sex for being funny. Because she doesn’t have an owner that would fucking kill her for that or anything.
Fuck you, D&D. You don’t get to decide when slavery is cinematic enough for you to deign to put it on the screen. It’s okay to give someone a compelling backstory, or it makes for interesting commentary on someone’s vacation, but when it actually might affect how someone behaves it’s magically absent? Or is it that you thought your misogynistic, whorephobic exchange was just that much more entertaining?
And then there’s D&D random tone-deaf uncomfortableness, that just pops up every now and then. Like making the crew of the slaver ship that captures Jorah and Tyrion all black, for instance. Yeah… that was…in good taste. Maybe those were just the extras who turned up yet again.
Speaking of extras, we really couldn’t help but notice that in Meereen, things weren’t less white-saviory this season. All of the former-slaves were brown, where the former-masters seemed to have a bit of diversity. And yes, this sits in contention with the source material. But it was more than that…it was how D&D they went out of their way to “other” the former slaves. They all spoke broken-English with a strong accent, while the former slavers (such as Hizdahr), Daario, Barry, the Good Guys™, and Deadpan, spoke flawlessly.
We’re not saying that there wouldn’t be a notable difference in how someone like Hizdahr, who grew up incredibly privileged, would sound versus someone like Mossador. But…what language were they even supposed to be speaking? Because wouldn’t Hizdahr, Mossador, and possibly Grey Worm all be fluent in the same tongue, and it’d be people like Barry the Scary who were on the outs of the conversation? Deadpan speaks Valyrian, so let’s pretend that was their language, right? We mean, we see Mossador speak it to her with the subtitles, right? Did she insist on everyone at the table using the Common Tongue instead? Which then we pretend that Hizdahr was somehow fluent in because he went to the best schools, and ignore the fact that if they went with a simple majority of who speaks what, it’d be Valyrian?
Sorry, we’re getting lost in the weeds here. It’s just that to us, it seemed as if D&D were using convenient modern-day shorthands to convey something quickly, even though they applied it arbitrarily. Broken-English = poor “foreigner” who sounds naive and uneducated compared to everyone else in the room. And it’s the brown peeps with the accents who call Deadpan “mother” and look to her for all the answers. Still. Even Grey Worm and Missandei, who have some degree of agency, stan her unquestioningly, to the point where it makes them seem daft. But everyone without an accent can (and does) challenge her.
Yes. Game of Thrones still has a white saviour problem, sorry critics. Of course they do. Weisseroff has a completely meaningless cultural backdrop that, at best, is used as an anachronistic shorthand for the audience to cling to. Fun.
What the fuck were they thinking?
Again, D&D told us what they were thinking. This is what they wanted to happen. They must not have liked aDwD very much, because oh golly was it sure ever frustrating that Tyrion and Dany didn’t meet! And how dare Jorah not get rewarded for his heroics!
Like, there is no way we’re not going to take them to task with this. D&D seriously seem to think that they know better than Martin, and have the right to “fix” the narrative for him. They said so. Tyrion and Dany were “supposed” to have met by now, and Martin is a stupid face for not making it happen. But don’t worry: they’ll bravely take on the work of that talentless hack and give us the “right” story.
So to get to that “right” story, D&D had to brush aside all that pesky stuff like, we don’t know…the characters’ actual arcs. Or their personalities. Or the context of the entire situation. Because you really can’t have any sort of appreciation for these characters that Martin’s created and think that this is somehow doing them justice:
Guess what? We’re excited for Dany and Tyrion to meet in the books too! But not if it comes at the cost of everything central to who they are.
Traditions are the only thing that will hold this city… your city, together. Without them, former slaves and former masters have nothing in common.
Internal character journeys are the only thing that will hold this narrative…your show, together. Without them, ASOIAF and GoT have nothing in common.
We told you Hizdahr zo Sansa was wise.