Linking (Neo-)Liberalism, Identity Politics and Bureaucracy
(Note: this post probably won't be interesting to people who haven't read (part of) ASOIAF and watched most of Game of Thrones. Before reading this, please first watch Ellis's video. :) )
Visitors to this blog might wonder as to why I'm posting about this show. Obviously, this whole universe is miles away from the kind of egalitarian solidarity I espouse. But what I find interesting about it was how enthusiastically and uncritically this show was embraced, given how reactionary this universe is, with the partial exception of Daenerys and those she converts to her cause, what with the mass of the population mostly counting for nothing, being trod underfoot by elites who go about their business. The fact that most (re)viewers don't comment on the politics of it all disturbs me, as even Ellis (who -- to her credit -- at least makes the politics a topic of discussion, and has done so in the past with other shows, even if her expressed opinions are very safely liberal) is either unwilling or afraid (for reasons of branding, monetization or sponsoring?) only calls it out the ending for being lame writing (which it was), without pointing out that this is par for the course when it comes to "entertainment".
In her analysis of the arc of the final seasons of GoT, Ellis documents a significant shift in tone, presentation and behavior of the major characters during the final seasons, pointing out that quite a few characters seem to have undergone lobotomies, or at least big transformations, as soon the books stopped being the source of the TV series adaptation. At this timestamp, Ellis asks (paraphrasing) whether the blandly centrist ending, with "Bran the Broken" -- who, as far as the reader or viewer knows, has no politics -- being elected as king, is interesting in 2019, especially as it makes no sense in terms either of the GoT universe in general, or the protagonists' earlier statements and behavior.
Given that the in-universe incoherence of this ending, and the sharp political changes perfectly tracks the shift from the show basing itself on GRRM's work to the show trying to write its own story, I'd suggest that there is a big chance that the reason why the ending was so terrible is that some combination of the show creators, its funders (HBO plus sponsors and advertisers) were uncomfortable with GRRM's Daenerys and her entourage end up as the winners. And so they did what they had to do to arrive at an ending they were comfortable with politically.
This is a pattern that Michael Parenti talks about in his Make-believe Media, where he explains that and why this is basically par for the course when it comes to media behavior. Because as he notes, since most of the owners, funders, advertisers and distributors of every show that gets major traction at best have "moderate" politics, no matter the politics of the writers, most shows and films are deliberately apolitical, while of those that are about political or emancipatory topics, nearly all shows promote political views that range from "moderate" to reactionary. Parenti provides the following illustration of their influence:
Television writer David Rintels offered to write an episode for “The FBI" television series; it was to be a fictionalized version of the 1963 terror bombing of a Birmingham church in which four African-American girls were killed. The proposal had to pass four censors: the producing company, QM; the network, ABC; the sponsor. Ford Motor Company; and the FBI, any one of which could veto it without having to give a reason. Instead, Rintels relates:
[They] reported back that they would be delighted to have me write about a church bombing subject only to these stipulations: the church must be in the North, there could be no Negroes involved, and the bombing could have nothing at all to do with civil rights.
After I said I wouldn't write that program, I asked if I could do a show on police brutality, also in the news at that time. Certainly, the answer came back, as long as the charge was trumped up, the policeman vindicated, and the man who brought the specious charge prosecuted. 22
So true to form, starting from season 4, just about every major character in the series starts acting dumbly or out of character, when the ending requires it: Tyrion slowly and selectively becomes uncomfortable with violence, while suddenly wanting to redeem his sister; Sansa becomes uncharacteristically cruel and unreasonably distrustful, Varys never does more than talk, Jamie develops only for his development to be abandoned so the siblings can die in each other's arms. Similarly, the story of the Night King is never explored.
And most importantly, Daenerys is literally horseshoed from being a (leftist) anti-slavery and populist crusader into a genocidal fascist wearing black, fantasizing about and promising eternal war, killing advisers, and making completely batshit decisions like not flying her (randomly invincible) dragon up to Cercei's window immediately, but first "punishing" the citizens of King's Landing for not starting an uprising against (proven and presumably greatly feared) mass-murderer Cercei. And note too that while the inhabitants of Westeros come off as far less impressed with Daenerys than her freed slaves and quasi-religious Dothraki followers, no real explanation is provided as to why they feel this way. As such, Daenerys's whining about how she "isn't loved" really comes out of nowhere, and felt to me like yet another apolitical/psychologizing (hackneyed) literary device "foreshadowing" her going on a "mad" and "conceited" killing spree, that "justifies" Tyrion and Jon conspiring to kill her.
And so winter came and went, and nothing made sense.