HBO’s Game of Thrones as a show has been slowly but steadily declining in quality for quite a few seasons now. As the complicated story nears completion, the writing has gotten sloppier and more infantile. Countless YouTube videos and blogs have been created with the sole purpose of picking apart inconsistencies that are popping up with more frequency as the show runners clearly struggle to connect the dots before the series ends this Sunday, May 19.
While fans have been complaining for a bit now about the show, last week’s episode seems to have touched a nerve among viewers who were collectively furious about how one of its main characters was portrayed. Daenerys Targaryen, First of Her Name, Breaker of Chains and whatever else, went full “mad queen” and spent most of the episode committing genocide by burning most of the population of King’s Landing with her dragon.
This drastic turning point for such a beloved character has widely been panned by people claiming that it happened too quickly, that it betrayed the portrayal of Deanery’s’ character, that it was an anti-feminist depiction of women in power, among other criticisms. While I believe that all of those arguments have valid points, it was interesting to see so many people in social media have such a visceral reaction to the idea that Daenerys would use her dragons to rain fire on a town indiscriminately.
If only that outrage at a fictional character burning down a fictional city would translate to a broader conversation about American foreign policy, the drone program, aerial bombardment and root causes of migration.
Daenerys had been advised by pretty much all of her advisors and allies not to torch King’s Landing. She countered by saying that this was the price current generations would have to pay in order to not live under the rule of a tyrant. This is reminiscent of language used by the Bush administration during the Iraq war. Coupled with lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraqi possession, the war was sold to the American public as an effort to bring democracy and freedom to the country.
This has been a recurrent theme throughout U.S. foreign policy—justification for intervention abroad in the name of a greater good, even if it’s at the expense of innocent lives. The fire-bombing of Dresden, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the indiscriminate bombing of North Korea, the carpet bombing of Cambodia and Vietnam are all examples of this twisted rationale.
One does not need to go so far into the past to find examples of this Game of Thrones style brutality. The U.S. military is still present in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and continues to conduct air strikes and drone strikes in many places as part of its so called war on terror, among other military operations.
The United States has spent nearly $6 trillion on wars that directly contributed to the deaths of around 500,000 people since the 9/11 attacks of 2001. American troops dropped white phosphorous in the town of Fallujah during the Iraq war and the cities of Raqqa and Mosul have been devastated by U.S. airstrikes during its fight against ISIS.
Since the war on terror began in 2001, the U.S. has played a significant role in the displacement of people around the world—particularly in the Middle East and neighboring areas. The U.N counts 2.7 million refugees from Afghanistan due to almost two decades worth of war there. Together with Syria and Somalia, two other countries the U.S. has active military operations in, those three countries account for over half of all people displaced outside their home countries. In Syria and Yemen, we have displaced hundreds of thousands of people due to military action not only from our behalf but also by bad actors resourced by us.
Adding insult to injury, those refugees are later demonized by the Trump administration and the media. Muslim refugees in particular are cast in a bad light, as terrorists or criminals at worse and as financial and societal burdens at best. Trump in the past has characterized Syrian refugees as “Trojan horses,” and has mocked asylum seekers repeatedly.
Game of Thrones is a fictional show, and its viewers may watch it as a form of escapism from their daily lives but the show has been analyzed deeply by its viewers. Many theories and interpretations have surfaced throughout its eight seasons, like how the impending threat of the White Walkers is a metaphor for climate change (winter is coming) or how its famous ice wall in the north is a symbol for white supremacy and American exceptionalism.
Those of us who are privileged enough to not live in many of the world’s combat zones need to connect the dots when we watch entertainment such as Game of Thrones and realize that if we have a visceral reaction to a character like Daenerys fire-bombing a town, we should probably spend more time considering what our country is doing abroad. Unlike Game of Thrones, the implications of these actions are real, the suffering inflicted is real, and we all pay the consequences as a result.
Thomas Kennedy is the Political Director for FLIC Votes and a communications fellow for the Center for Community Change Action. He tweets from @Tomaskenn.