When Grey Worm and Missandei kissed on episode two of this season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and began making postwar plans, someone should have started making their funeral pyres. If there’s one promise that “Game of Thrones” has made to fans since the very beginning, it’s that characters are going to expire — especially if they’re dearly loved.
— theblerdgurl™️ (@theblerdgurl) May 6, 2019
Missandei’s demise on this week’s episode, however, struck a nerve with several viewers who feel that the show doesn’t have the best reputation with how it treats black and brown characters.
On Sunday’s episode, Missandei of Naath, played by Nathalie Emmanuel, was captured during an ambush
She was afterward beheaded atop a wall at the command of Cersei Lannister, all while her dearly loved Grey Worm, her Khaleesi Daenerys, Tyrion, a dragon, and a few dozen soldiers observed feebly from the ground. Her demise decreased the show’s population of dark ladies to 0% (Emmanuel self-identifies as being ” of mixed heritage”), which didn’t review well on Twitter.
I'm not just "I liked Missandei" mad. I'm "Dany's entire storyline has been built on the backs of people of color and we didn't need the murder of the one black woman on the show to solidify her ~loss~" mad. #GameofThrones #gameofsnark
— marines (@mynameismarines) May 6, 2019
Missandei was Daenerys’ translator and dearest pal, so it makes sense that Cersei and Euron would take her prisoner or even murder her to get a reaction out of Daenerys, but that doesn’t alter the fateful optics of the scene.
For some, the public execution of the show’s only black woman — a earlier slave — as she stood injured and shackled between two quarreling white women is tough to dismiss as simply fantasy, even on a show with magic and dragons.
Having the character expire in another way would have still sent ripples through the Twitterverse, but seeing her expire in oppression had many saying that Missandei deserved better. (For her part, Emmanuel has admired the way her character died.)
— Wagatwe Wanjuki 🇰🇪 (@wagatwe) May 6, 2019
As Daenerys is the “Breaker of Chains,” the major talking point during her campaign has been about release people from slavery and getting rid of existing conditions.
While the attitude is marvelous, a blonde-haired, green-eyed woman riding across the continent to release an army of nonwhite warrior eunuchs and other imprisoned people who in turn vow their unending faithfulness to her does induce the white-savior trope.
Missandei's story is what happens when the writers can not imagine a world where Black characters are fully developed so…not surprised
— ❄Mikki Kendall❄ (@Karnythia) May 6, 2019
Many also brought up the show’s history of cruelty against women and people of color and noted that the “Game of Thrones” authors’ room is mainly white and male.
Justice for all the storylines white male writers have butchered #GameofThrones
— Shelby Fullerton (@shelbyfullerton) May 6, 2019
— Leslie Stark (@Leslie_Stark23) May 6, 2019
‘Game of Thrones’ has been called out for controversial choices regarding people of color in the past
One main criticism has been that, save for the now almost destroyed tribe well-known as the Dothraki, POCs are few and far between in Westeros and Essos. There was Lucian Msamati, the pirate; Xaro Xhoan Daxos, the well-off, backstabbing merchant of Qarth; the people of Dorne, including Oberyn, Ellaria, and Doran; Grey Worm; Missandei; and a few others. But the list is terribly short.
In addressing the melanin shortage in his fantasy world in a reply to a comment on a blog post in 2014, the writer George R.R. Martin clarified that “Westeros around 300 AC is nowhere near as diverse as 21st century America.”
Martin wrote that his forthcoming book, “The Winds of Winter,” would highlight more nonwhite people as “secondary and tertiary characters, though not without importance,” adding that he thought HBO and the “Game of Thrones” showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, were “doing what they can to promote diversity.”
Even as someone who likes #GameofThrones in general, I can't help but think about how much better this show would have been if they'd had more women, poc, and woc writing and directing it. Just, every part of it would have been improved.
— alanna bennett (@AlannaBennett) May 6, 2019
With only two episodes and perhaps two brown characters left, it’s impractical to anticipate “Game of Thrones” to fix its diversity trouble, but there’s still optimism for the medium and the genre. Hiring more writers of color and women to assist tell stories — both in the fantasy genre and in general — that won’t infuriate fans feels like a simple enough solution.