'Game of Thrones': Despite lack of characters of color, the show celebrates diversity in all its flawed glory
Diversity not only includes people of color but is an umbrella term which considers humans in all their different characteristics
Diversity has been pitched as an important aspect of storytelling in the beginning of the 21st century, an era where differences are being considered as the biggest reason of acceptance. HBO's 'Game of Thrones' has been time and again criticized for not including enough characters of color, and even the ones that are there, are either not the main characters or serve as servants to kings and queens.
Fans and stars, including John Boyage, have expressed outrage at the show's lack of diversity, but if you look closely, George RR Martin's story, inspite of being set in the medieval West, celebrates diversity in all its flawed glory.
When a fan posted on Martin's personal blog that "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....must all black people in the series be servants, guards, or charlatans?", the author came up with quite a rational explanation. He wrote, "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."
That is the exact point of diversity in 'Game of Thrones'. Martin's book was first published in 1996, a time when the diversity in popular culture wasn't such a hotrod topic. On the other hand, the story travels back to an era when every country was isolated from the other, and the West (or Westeros in 'Game of Thrones') was trying to expand its kingdom by raging war and making sure that the sun never set in their part of the world.
We all know that their urge to claim themselves as the greatest power on this planet led to colonisation, and with that crept in evils such as intolerance, unacceptance, and immense whitewashing.
However, creating characters of color cannot be the only aspect of maintaining diversity in a story. Diversity does not only include people of color, but it includes humans of every kind. Consider this, some of the main characters who are literally spearheading the plotline of 'Game of Thrones' are women, dwarfs, and eunuchs.
Let's begin with the women! On one hand, we have Mad Queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), who is incestuous in nature and let's just admit our collective hatred towards this queen whom we really want to suffer even in her death.
On the other hand, we have Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), whose story from rags to riches made her our favorite rebel on the show. In fact, we don't mind her pairing up with her nephew...maybe!
Both Cersei and Daenerys are extremely headstrong and neither of them are ready to give up their decisions based on solely what men say. While this clearly establishes both of them as independent women who are ready to take charge of their lives, why do we hate Cersei?
Not because we are jealous of her as a woman of power, but because she is just a bad person. Daenerys might act silly time and again, however, in the end she considers the opinion of her people and wants them to live in peace.
She does not believe in intimidating people without reason as Cersei does, nor choose to roast people to death unless they are just as bad. This is what defines the two as characters, their intention behind their action and not their physical state of being.
Now let's get to the ones who have been literally ripped off their identities - Lord Varys and Grey Worm. Varys' (Conleth Hill) past with the sorceror who emasculated him and left him to die, made him the man he is. Strong willed and a master manipulator, Varys is a spy whom every ruler wants by their side and it is only Varys who decides whom he will serve.
That is the kind of power he holds, and he considers himself fortunate that he is absolutely free of all desires since that truly gives him power over everything else. We remember him saying, "When I see what desire does to people, what it’s done to this country, I am very glad to have no part in it. Besides, the absence of desire leaves one free to pursue other things."
While Varys embraced his unique identity as his greatest strength, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) on the other hand found pride in his identity. Although he was compelled to give away his masculine part in order to serve as a slave in Meereen, he chose to fight for Daenerys as a free man which depicts his control over his own decisions inspite of not having any memory of his life as a free man.
Moreover, Grey Worm's character is a representation of those communities that were pulled down in chains by the West when it set out to conquer the world. When he was proclaimed free, he chose his duty above everything else, which once again highlights his nature of bravery and compassion.
Finally, let's not forget that one of the most beloved characters on the show is actually a dwarf, and we would love to see him stay alive while all the kings and queens die at the hands of the White Walkers.
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is the Hand of the Queen who is presently the owner of the largest army, and if Lord Varys is the most manipulative man on the show then Tyrion is a man of the highest intellect.
He might not be the greatest swordsman, but Tyrion knows that in order to win a war you need to first survive and then fight. His strategies have often proven extremely useful for the ruler he is serving and although he has been hated by his sister, Cersei, Tyrion is in the end a man who respects women for who they are. He understands consent and never forces himself upon anyone, and that is exactly what makes him one of the most lovable characters on the show.
'Game of Thrones' might be led by a series of white actors because that is what a story set in medieval West would demand. That was not the time of equality, dignity, or even feminism, but brutal times which we are now trying to free ourselves from.
Martin has honestly depicted the time by not giving any of his characters the stature of a hero or a savior. We do have Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), an all good person but in the end, he is just a flat character, and sometimes they are needed in a story to maintain balance and for assurance of an inherent goodness. Other than that, none of the other characters are either good or bad, they are all just as gray as the age at which he show is being seen and the book is being read.
'Game of Thrones' Season 8 returns to HBO on April 14, and we cannot wait to see the Great War for one last time.