Warning: Excessive Spoilers Ahead
So the Game of Thrones season finale came out last night, and I’m sure you’ve already read a million things about it. How it was a pace-shifting, game-changing emotional rollercoaster from start to finish. How it was both predictable and unpredictable, thrilling and boring at once—basically all the things we’ve come to expect of a season finale. But let’s talk about what we didn’t expect.
Last night, Cersei Lannister leveled her last defense against all her enemies in one swift, brutal stroke. She placed the highly explosive Wildfire in the catacombs directly beneath the Sept, making sure it would ignite at the exact moment her trial was supposed to be taking place. She picked the moment when all her enemies—the High Sparrow and his following, the Tyrells—were in one place, and destroyed them. She watched from across the landing as the building went up in molten flame. Her son the King, also witnessing the explosion from across the city, took his own life as a result. Cersei, now without children or significant enemies, took the throne for herself, in an unexpected turn of events that left most of us shocked, impressed, and a little bit terrified.
At the same moment that Cersei Lannister was demolishing her enemies, something else explosive was going on a few channels away, at the 2016 BET awards. In an evening full of incredible performances and manifold Prince tributes, Beyonce’s performance of “Freedom” stood out, along with actor Jesse Williams’ viral speech about racism, as the politically-charged events of the night. Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, and a slew of back-up dancers stomped around on stage in what appeared to be a baptismal font, singing “I can’t move”, while Williams, building on Beyonce’s nod to Eric Garner and “I can’t breathe”, powerfully summed up the needs and goals of the Black Lives Matter movement in his acceptance speech:
“Now, this award – this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country – the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.
It’s kind of basic mathematics – the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.”
Williams’ call for change is an echo of what we’ve been hearing since the official start of the Black Lives Matter movement. This has been a year in which we’ve finally started to wake up and look at the recent rash of police brutality for what it is: Evidence of a country in total denial about its sweeping systemic racism and corruption. Last night it felt more powerful not because it was new information, but because we’re finally getting to the point where the kind of change Williams was talking about doesn’t seem radical anymore. It seems crucial to our survival as a country, and inevitable.
This past week, in the wake of Brexit hysteria and the aftershock of Pulse, we’ve begun to experience a political sea-change. Elizabeth Warren, formerly a more Bernie-leaning symbol of the radical left, endorsed Hillary Clinton, and began to campaign with her on what will (hopefully) turn out to be the campaign for her own vice-presidency. Americans have become frightened of what Brexit could mean for us—could Donald Trump feasibly win? Can hate and zenophobia win out after all? Can a country really go backwards?
We’re learning that yes, it can, if we don’t take steps to stop it. The example of a Cersei Lannister figure—someone driven by spite to demolish not only her enemies but her allies and loved ones as well—is a tangible metaphor for where we are as a country. We are a people with many grievances, much humiliation, and a lot of hurt in our recent past. We could allow it to humanize us, or we could allow it to make us monsters.
I’ve long said that George R.R. Martin is the Howard Zinn of fantasy—demolishing all our ideas about who is supposed to “win” a story by cutting down all the characters of observable privilege to make room for others. Characters who are differently gendered, differently abled, and in some way underprivileged. His way of designing the world of Game of Thrones is an almost political act. And as we see the ground raised and the smoke cleared, it’s strange to see the characters that are left standing, how much they stand for us, how much faith we have to invest in these very messed-up, tortured people, and how much we can learn from their example.