Judging by the social media response, the only people to appreciate tonight’s “Game of Thrones” series finale might be politics and history nerds like myself.
Daenerys’s speech to her Dothraki cavalry and Unsullied infantry among the burned out ruins of King’s Landing might not have exactly given me chills but it certainly rang some familiar bells, and not just because I’m nearly finished reading Orlando Figes’s excellent “Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991”. While the monochromatic visuals of military formations had something of Leni Riefenstahl to it, the rhetoric was pure Sergei Eisentstein (or would be, if he did not make silent movies). In other words, it was the perfect illustration of why we should be wary of high-minded utopianism. Daenerys, the Breaker of Chains who wants to destroy “the wheel” (the metaphor for the oppressive system) ends up being the biggest mass murderer of the show. But that’s just the beginning – there is the rest of the world to “liberate” in a sort of a “permanent revolution” that Trotsky would have heartily applauded. There can be no peace until the forces of communism have defeated the forces of capitalism. Looking at King’s Landing, shrouded in the rain of ash, one can only wonder how many people would actually be still left alive after Daeny and her armies have finished liberating everyone. It all starts with noble sentiments but ends up in piles of bodies, from Russia to Westeros. It’s the absolute moral certainty that yours is the one true way that leads you to gulags and genocide. “What about all the other people who think they know what’s good?” Jon Snow asks his Queen. “They don’t get a choice,” she replies, in a pure distillation of Marxist-Daeneryst philosophy. Only a dragon and a bottle of bleach separates Alexandria Occasio-Cortez from Daeneys Targaryen.
All this is quite surprising, since the world of entertainment is not exactly renowned as a hotbed of conservatism, and Benioff and Weiss are unlikely to have been inspired by Solzhenitsyn and Conquest. True, before “Game of Thrones” script Benioff had written “City of Thieves”, a novel set in the besieged Leningrad of World War Two, so he is not unfamiliar with the nightmare that accompanies the clash of rival totalitarianisms, but the series finale is still something of a mystery.
Of course, if you are on the left it is quite possible to read the transition of the Dragon Queen from a liberator to mass murderer as a completely different metaphor. Here, Daenerys might stand in for the United States, which started off with the noble rhetoric about liberation from tyranny and being the beacon of freedom and democracy for the entire world to eventually get bogged down in endless wars of liberation from Vietnam to Iraq. The dragon incinerating women and children of King’s Landing from above has got something of “we need to destroy the village in order to save it” feel to it, even if the burned out ruins and the haze of ash owe more to Dresden and Hiroshima; perhaps a warning that even “good wars” spawn unimaginable horrors. In the end, even if you love the ideals, or maybe precisely because you love the ideals, you need to stab the neo-con war machine through its heart before it can do more damage to the world.
Invariably, people will take whatever they want from the finale, the same as “Star Wars” told completely different stories to George Lucas and to most of its viewers. Like the Bible, there is something for everyone and everything is open to a range of interpretations. All we know is that post-Daenerys the world is not made safe for democracy, despite a valiant suggestion by Sam Tarly. Now we also know that the Davos conference is really named in honour of Ser Davos as an occasion where the great and the mighty from all corners of the world meet up to decide the fate of Westeros. With the Iron Throne melted (those dragons really can be a metaphor for anything from Al Qaeda to climate change), the leaders of the Seven Kingdoms (soon to be six, with the North seceding for a change) decide to be a sort of a Holy Roman Empire, where the monarch gets to be selected by an electoral college of princelings. Unlike the Holy Roman Empire, the chief qualification for the role seems to be the inability to get it up. And then they all live happily ever after, except for all the countless ones who died along the way.