Monday, July 15, 2024

Game of Thrones and Character Assassination: Emilia Clarke Edition

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I love A Song of Ice and Fire.

I read it at a fantastic part of my life, so naturally there is good association whenever I think of it.

I look up questions and theories I have just for fun.

I thoroughly research characters that have not even said a word, and have frame-by-frame imagined scenes from pivotal passages.

As an actress, I longed to be in Game of Thrones for a while, if only for the chance to be part of such a juggernaut cultural phenomenon. But as the seasons progressed, I grew less enchanted with what was being interpreted. I also started outright disliking the content being put on my screen for cheap shock value. My desire shrank as I realized a few things: Missandei is one of the only WOC worth noting currently (we won’t talk about the Sand Snakes or the lack of Arianne, I refuse) and even she is becoming sexualized. If I were to be on that show, what the hell would happen to me? Secondly, this show has become its own reckless stream of consciousness with little actual plot, and the characters I love are, one by one, being picked off. Mostly, I’m speaking of the ones that are still alive.

On this episode of “Game of Thrones Cast, What the Fuck Are You Doing”,  Emilia Clarke has an interview with Glamour about Daenerys Targaryen’s- I mean, Khaleesi’s- growth.

The nature of this article deceived me at first. Ms. Clarke gave some insight into her roles and starting out as an actress, which is exactly where I am today. I empathized with the survival job, type casting, and I ate up the quips about being the weird kid, the girl starting from the outside in. I even agreed to an extent that HBO’s depiction of Game of Thrones (GoT) may be something that, at face value, “must be for guys” (at least, the hyper-masculinity attributed to them). But this is where the similarities-and my empathy- end.

We should start with the fact that throughout this article, Dany’s title as Khaleesi overwhelms mentions of her actual name (a whopping 20 to 6, most of it coming from Ms. Clarke). In fact, she did the same on the MTV awards on Sunday. What’s in a name? Not fucking much, apparently. Oddly enough, I’m actually fine with this development, in the way that you see a friend drift away from you and you slowly accept it. We’ve already established that this is not an adaptation but rather a “loosely based” screened amalgamation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) and the deluded fantasies of showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D), especially in its last seasons. So why the hell should Dany actually be what she was in the novels? Especially when she can just be no-real-name Khaleesi. Screw the research, and any possible familial backstory. Throw away her myriad of earned titles and just keep the one she acquired as a result of becoming a child bride. Best way to encourage empowerment among women, right? It’s a shame, because I love the word itself, as a title. But I’m 100% over its usage.


We get it.

One also has to ask where the slow deterioration of Dany began. Obviously the writing and direction has to do with the creation of what we now call Deadpan/Khaleesi, but who else has the influence here? None other than the actress, I would think. Emilia Clarke is utterly loved throughout the broader Game of Thrones community, and holds a lot of cultural clout. She was recently praised for “crushing the sexism debate” in another interview, which Kylie actually crushed a week ago. And in another fell swoop, she expertly demonstrates in this article how to dispatch an established and loved character in record time, at least by my standards.

All of Dany’s titles, including her own name, have been taken away and replaced by “Khaleesi”: the sexy, badass, no-nonsense caricature of Daenerys Stormborn. I like to think of this as her alter-ego, a la Sasha Fierce for Beyonce (who Dany is compared to in the article, unfortunately) and Yeezy for Kanye. Khaleesi is a figurehead for badassery (sigh) and “empowerment,” but on our televisions and streams she is consistently reduced to a little girl that does not know how to even exercise her political knowledge (or when she does, it mostly fails) and would benefit to have the men around her take her place.

To me, this is in a way destroying the character. Reducing the young woman with years of layered naivete and knowledge to a Strong Female Character™ who effortlessly kicks ass and then, for no reason, must be saved, essentially throws away years of hard objective work that go into building a character- but we are referring to Game of Thrones, so consistency may not be the strong point here. I could go into method but the bottom line is that most actresses prefer to give their arc layers, not remove them.

Hold the Khaleesi.


…said the poor Benioff and Weiss duo

Glamour also touches on the rape scene in the first season between Dany and Khal Drogo, which Clarke immediately removed herself from and throws Martin (GRRM) under the bus for writing. It has been the topic of much debate, and to some who have read the novels, that wedding night scene may have been like night and day. What grinds my gears is that this knowledge was not used in the interview to create an insightful conversation. I have to say, way to contradict yourself so well, Ms. Clarke, as you’ve been notably one of the actors that claimed to have read the novels. Sure, you could have gone down the route of not reading the chapters for your character (as John Bradley does), but I highly doubt it. That being said, this is a part of a bigger trend with our beloved GoT actors. Upset with the way a character or plot-line was presented in the show? Blame it on the original author, definitely not the producers or borderline sadistic writing team! Or, as Peter Dinklage  likes to do, make the audience think they’re shitty for not speaking up about a minor character’s torture and rape while causing an uproar for a major character- except, oh wait, people have spoken about it. You just chose to ignore us, Mr. Dinklage. Bravo. (It took me maybe 5 minutes to find these links)

Judging you, Half Man.

Am I being picky? Hell yeah. For the lack of cunning female political figures I get on this show (of which there are quite a nice selection in the novels), another dragon scene takes its place. At the very, very least, it can be annoying for one of the only women to root for in this show to be an inept teenager, especially when the actress playing her just does not help. Also, I’m sincerely appalled at the polarization of what Khaleesi and Daenerys really are to one another: the cultural explosion and the troubled politician. I probably just chalked it up to Dany-worship, which is a very popular mindset to take on in both the novels and show. But it has become something more, to the point of over-simplifying one of the most complex and active players in the game.

My point here is that while actors and actresses have a smaller amount of power than say, writers and producers, Emilia Clarke is in a prime position to influence the culture of the fandom. Ultimately, the writers/directors may have created Deadpan, but Emilia is perpetuating the “Khaleesi” lost in a land and kingdom that is not her own, who has to consistently be saved and guided to make it to a throne that, in my opinion, she does not deserve. This is not the Dany I’ve read about, and the actress in me is, frankly, disappointed. Something in this character died when Season 5 aired, and unlike the novels, not even her dragons could re-awaken her. We’ll see what is to come, but it doesn’t look very promising.

P.S., her fanfic outlines are pretty hilarious. Like, My Immortal status. 


Images from Game of Thrones courtesy of HBO and Entertainment Weekly

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