This proves that Game of Thrones has a major race problem
Rather than Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, for fans of a certain TV show, there now exist just two seasons of the year. For fantasy drama devotees, there is the glorious period where we can watch new episodes of Game of Thrones and the dry season where we sit twiddling our thumbs waiting for more. Call us dramatic, but it's as simple as that.
However, in spite of how much we've come to adore the HBO hit, all of us must admit that Game of Thrones is far from a perfect show. In fact, it is a TV series marred with stumbling blocks at every twist and turn. So what's the most troublesome of all the Game of Thrones controversies? Nope, it's not the unparalleled amount of incest and it's not the fact they brought Ed Sheeran in for a dodgy cameo in season seven. It's the race problem.
As George RR Martin began to attentively move his chess pieces across the board, many viewers were enticed by the treachery, murder and doomed relationships. However, since the very beginning, others have found themselves distracted by the lack of diversity on the show. And while we can argue about how worthwhile antagonists the White Walkers are, or if Jon and Daenerys really should have fallen in love, it seems this particular complaint is not up for debate.
While Game of Thrones certainly does have a few non-white cast members, it can't be denied that the grand majority of actors on the show are white. Firstly, let's think about the seven houses battling for the Iron Thrones. Of the seven "great houses" of Westeros - Stark, Lannister, Tully, Arryn, Baratheon, Tyrell, and Martell - only one of them boasts characters which have non-white skin. The Martells are some of the few characters who have non-white skin and speak with non-British accents.
To add insult to injury, it appears that the few other groups of characters who are non-white tend to be either savages or slaves, sparking talk of colonist undertones in the programme. Take the earlier seasons of the show for example, when the Mother of Dragons travelled about Westeros liberating those who had been kept for years in the clutches of evil masters. Her exploits were no doubt thrilling to watch, but showrunners were heavily criticised in the media for casting her as a white saviour who marches into an area of the world she knows nothing about and decides she knows best. Furthermore, despite a few bumps along the way, critics brought attention to the fact that the slaves in question were more than willing to throw down their spears and embrace her as their "mother". Was the white woman swooping in to rescue black people the right way to do things?
But the slaves aren't the only problematic storyline of the breaker of the chains. Her encounters with the quasi-Mongolian Dothrakis have also been subject to criticism. With their matted hair, war paint and passion for raping and pillaging, thousands of audience members pondered the idea that the race of nomadic horse-mounted warriors were merely mindless barbarians who revel in violence and are simply there to act in contrast to the dignified white characters. This argument has its limitations though. (After all, how dignified are the white characters on this show?)
The lack of diversity argument is not to say Game of Thrones doesn't have any prominent non-white characters. We've all no doubt grown fond of Nathalie Emmanuel's Missandei and Jacob Anderson's Grey Worm who are again loyal devotees of Daenerys Stormborn. But should the fact that this pair are given screen time and actual lines calm our complaints? Again, many argue certainly not.
One fan wrote personally to George RR Martin to express her disappointment on this very point. Posting on his personal blog going under the name "samara21" she wrote: "I am an african-american female and have been a devoted fan of GOT since the beginning but the lack of diversity in both the show and books has really been troubling lately. . . . So far in the series there has only been one black woman with a speaking role and while i love that she's getting a romantic storyline too but that hasn't been enough for me. . . . I’ve seen the new cast and I applaud the casting of DeObia Oparei but must all black people in the series be servants, guards, or charlatans?"
Although the millionaire author openly admitted that there were problems with his universe, he also responded by claiming that the lack of diversity could be put down to the time in which his story is set. Despite Game of Thrones being primarily a fantasy universe which takes place in Westeros, a continent located in the far west of the known world, it is said to be inspired by Medieval Europe in 297 AC, where the grand majority of noble families would have been white. In a nutshell, Martin drew heavily from the War of the Roses and Westeros is apparently the fantasy analogue of the British Isles. For example, the Starks are said to be from northern England, the Lannisters from the south and the country of Dorne inspired by the Spanish.
The Song of Ice and Fire author referred to this idea while responding to his complaining fan, posting: "Westeros around 300 AC is nowhere near as diverse as 21st century America, of course . . . but with that being said, I do have some ‘characters of color’ who will have somewhat larger roles in WINDS OF WINTER. Admittedly, these are secondary and tertiary characters, though not without importance. Of course, I am talking about the books here, and you are talking about the show, which is a thing apart. I do think HBO and David and Dan are doing what they can to promote diversity as well, as witness the casting of Areo Hotah [an analogue to Dany’s companion Grey Worm], which you mention. Of course, Hotah IS a guard... but he is also a viewpoint character in the novels, a brave and loyal warrior."
However, his reply left much to be desired, with many claiming that he simply side-stepped the question and avoided the glaring fact that the world he created was extremely problematic. The show's casting director Nina Gold was attacked for her similar response where she argued that the characters were simply cast in accordance to the novel, stating: "In the books, the Targaryens are these white, white people with silver hair and violet eyes. The Starks are kind of rough, like Northern English people. The Lannisters are golden, aren’t they? We really believed we were doing it like the books, basically.”
Is this a good enough response? Both Martin and Gold discuss the universe as if it weren't one of their own making. At the end of the day, is Game of Thrones not a fantasy world? They've given us back-from-the-dead ice dragons, a three-eyed raven and an ancient race of humanoid ice creatures, but they couldn't give us a little diversity in the casting?
In addition, have the TV series' creators ever been ones to remain true to the novel? There's no doubt at all that any book fan out there could write you up a university length essay on the swerves the show has taken from the book; the no-show of Lady Stoneheart, the dramatic differences in Sansa Stark's storyline and the death of Talisa Stark are only some of the dramatic plot deviations showrunners have taken.
The divisive issue isn't one that has escaped those in the acting industry's attention either. Star Wars actor John Boyega infamously told GQ he wouldn't watch the show due to its predominantly white casting, saying: “There are no black people in Game Of Thrones. You don’t see one black person in Lord Of The Rings. I ain’t paying money to always see one type of person on screen.”
His comments about the Game of Thrones controversy bring Hollywood's everlasting issue of whitewashing into focus. With news of white actors being cast in roles intended for minority actors, studio bosses still haven't learned their lesson, with directors admitting that they know it shouldn’t have happened, but simply stating that it’s the way it is when it comes to Tinseltown.
Ultimately, excuses over the Game of Thrones controversy can be made left, right and centre, but thousands of viewers out there won't be happy until casting directors recognise the fact that the show is a fantasyland and they could push the limits and cast a few more minority actors in main roles.
Should they be let off the hook for putting a realistic medieval twist on a fantasy drama? Or will the series be remembered as one of greatest shows in history that couldn't take the heat when it came to race? With six episodes left, chances are it could be the latter.