How is Game of Thrones Neo-orientalist?

Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows of this decade and it enjoys a huge fan base that adores the show for its rich storyline. Neo-orientalism is a new and subtle version of orientalism that has been used to depict Middle Eastern, South Asian, and East Asian cultures (the eastern world). Game of Thrones portrays ideas related to a white man’s burden in such a subtle manner that you might think it’s not the least bit postcolonial. The fact that the Iron Throne is in Westeros while other countries have a savage population governed by rulers who don’t care much about the welfare of the people says a lot about how the rightful rulers and their cause has been legitimised.

The portrayal of people living in the East (beyond the Narrow Sea) is one of the very few things that can’t be historically placed despite the fact that most other places can be. It is a show that is based on the story of a medieval Europe and a timeless Asia and Africa with fluid boundaries where both black and brown people reside with little unity and great regard for the ruler for the most part. The Dothraki, for example are a tattooed tribe who decide their leaders based on strength and expertise in killing. They are portrayed as savages who have rituals that don’t make sense and the primary form of physical relationships that the Dothraki seem to indulge in is mostly non-consensual. They seem to lack cultural invention and don’t have much interest in conquering territories that are beyond the Narrow Sea. They don’t have any kind of regard for the women in the tribe unless someone as seemingly powerful as the Mother of Dragons comes along. With the exception of Khal Drogo there isn’t any mention of any kind of romantic relationship for the most part. Dothraki marriages involve murder as a ceremonial ritual. There is no word for thank you in the Dothraki which goes on to say that there is not much desire in terms of moral expression on the part of the Dothraki.

Daenerys Targaryen is the Mother of Dragons and the Breaker of Chains. She rescues a group of innocent brown and black people from the clutches of brown and white masters who have trivialised the identities of the slaves for centuries. While there is no such mention of slavery distinctively occuring in Asia, but this narration of slavery is very neo-orientalist in nature. The crowds of black and brown people proclaiming the Mother of Dragons as their mother is not controversial because there are only a few white people in the crowd. She handles the issues of the so-called slaves better than the evil masters ever could and also preaches the idea that slaves are also humans and they ought to be treated as equals instead of being terrorised and crucified. This is a very neo-orientalist idea because there is some sort of token representation to evade the allegation of orientalism. She is the liberator for all these people who aren’t exactly capable of doing much that extends beyond their physical strength certainly not a rebellion against the masters. They are made human, liberated and educated by the Khaleesi’s grace. Their opposition to this liberation isn’t really emphasised until the Sons of the Harpy come into the picture but since they are funded by the masters the ‘free’ people of Yunkai, Astapor and Mereen pledge to serve Khaleesi to the end of their days or until they die.

The world across Westeros is a timeless orient, plagued by a savage population that is led by undeserving and equally savage leaders. The concept of slavery is very conveniently attributed to those who live beyond the Narrow Sea while it was prevalent in many parts of the West and the Atlantic slave trade originated from the European continent. The people who live in the Dorne pride themselves over the fact that they are able to resist imperial control and they specialise in poison which is so convenient because they are bad people who plot and plan murders but they are also traders. There is a sad attempt of mimicry on the part of the slaves and people from Dorne which eventually puts them in a difficult position. There is a very obvious attempt to show racial salvation and the subtleties of neo-orientalism hint at a certain kind of decolonization which is yet to happen. Such portrayals would be problematic if all these colonial brutalities or liberations were granted to a population of white people instead of the ‘brown’ and ‘black’ slaves.

Game of Thrones doesn’t disappoint those who are interested in the idea of the white man’s burden and the west as the kind liberator in a postcolonial world but for those of you who are eagerly waiting for the next season, pause and reflect on what it means to a brown audience.

Picture Credits : Deviantart

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