February 24, 2020

Game of Terrible Fans

“Game of Thrones’ ending left many fans disappointed with what they viewed as lazy or misguided storytelling, or sloppy writing that abandoned many of the show’s longstanding plot threads.

Among the most hotly debated, even confusing choices the show made was the issue of who would finally rule what was left of Westeros. After the dust cleared, the answer was … Bran Stark.

It’s true that Bran is an interesting choice, in that he isn’t a hyper-masculine character; unlike other contenders for the throne, like Jon or even Tyrion, he’s never fought in a battle. His abilities are entirely mental and intellectual rather than physical, as he’s lost the use of his legs. He’s portrayed as a “soft” counterpoint to Game of Thrones’ other, much more rugged heroes.

But to many fans and critics, including me, Bran winning the game of thrones hardly seemed like a step forward for Westeros; instead, it felt shortsighted and regressive. Part of the frustration stems from something beyond the world of Game of Thrones: By naming him king, Bran Stark is cemented as a perfect analogue for a certain type of protector of geek culture; specifically, fans (often male) who are rigidly deferent to the original lore of a story, often alienating other (typically marginalized) fans who support a more flexible approach.

Within our own real-world context, Bran’s ascension to rulership feels like a myopic, self-aggrandizing celebration of curatorial fandom, or the specific way in which many fans worship canon — in this case, Game of Thrones’ source material, the Song of Ice and Fire book series by George R.R. Martin. Ending the show with Bran in charge of Westeros codifies a male-dominated version of geek culture that reflects mainstream perceptions about fandom and aligns generally with the show’s frequent misogyny. Moreover, it’s a choice that’s ultimately bigger than Bran: Whether it was intentional or not, when Game of Thrones made room for a reading of Bran as a stand-in for male geekdom, it unwittingly revealed how flawed this type of fandom is. And the flaws within this oppressive, holier-than-thou type of fandom can also help explain just why Game of Thrones itself was such a disappointment to many in its final two seasons.”

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