(If you haven’t watched a series finale of Game of Thrones [episode six of season eight], then be warned that spoilers are below!!!)
I invested almost 9 years of my life in a television show. That’s correct. To some it may sound crazy, but many of you have been there, either with Game of Thrones like me or with another TV show that you have been equally as passionate about. In the weeks and months leading up to the final season, and tonight’s series finale, I’ve been rewatching so many episodes from seasons past – some to remember what happened and some just because they were amazing episodes. I’ve been reading all of the theories, some crazy and some more reasonable, about what would happen tonight. And while there were a few surprises here and there, nothing floored me more than seeing two people with disabilities at the very top of the Westerosi food chain when literally all the dust had settled.
Before I get into the details of the finale, it’s important for people without disabilities to understand that people with disabilities (and particularly wheelchair users) are the most underrepresented minority in film and television, despite being the largest minority in the world. Even when we are represented, it’s usually by actors who do not have that particular disability or don’t use wheelchairs in real life. The actor who plays Brandon Stark in Game of Thrones is not a wheelchair user in real life, but Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister, has a form of dwarfism – something his character (and many others) refers to frequently throughout the series.
As for Brandon, he became disabled after Jaime Lannister pushed him out of a window at the beginning of the series, likely causing him to suffer spinal cord injury that paralyzed him. Given that the setting of this fictional series is in roughly the late medieval period Of our real world, the wheelchair constructed for him is rudimentary at best, despite being designed after one used by a former Targaryen royal. He cannot self-propel, and is completely reliant on other people to either carry him or push him in his chair. But now as many people know, despite being physically disabled, Brandon Stark (or who was once Brandon Stark) has now become the most powerful person in all of Westeros.
Tyrion Lannister has endured many ups and downs in his life, both personal and what you might consider professional. His sister has wanted to kill him since he was born since their mother died during his birth. Because of his dwarfism, he has been ridiculed, cast aside, bullied, unloved by his own family members, and worst of all, underestimated. Yet arguably, Tyrion has always been one of the smartest people in Westeros, and is now the Hand of the King — also arguably the second most powerful person in the six kingdoms.
People who are part of minority groups are always longing to see themselves represented in popular culture, whether that means dolls, cartoons, movies, or TV. The way these two characters have developed and played out in the eight seasons of Game of Thrones has been highly representative of how the lives of people with disabilities play out in real life. We are seen as weak. We are seen as dumb or incoherent if we can’t physically speak. Our intelligence is routinely underestimated. We are seen as incapable of participating equally in society.
So fast-forward through nine years and eight seasons of watching Brandon Stark — now known as Bran the Broken — and Tyrion Lannister be continuously and repeatedly minimized. Now, we see the culmination of their struggle, and they’re in charge of navigating Westeros into (hopefully) a just and secure future. I’ll be honest, that at first I wasn’t sure how I felt about the word “broken” being used in Bran’s new official title. But looking at the writing of the show, the spirit of the show, and the irony is clear. Disability advocates have long fought against society’s view that we are broken in some way. WE know that we’re not. And I would venture to say that most Game of Thrones viewers know that Bran truly isn’t broken, either.
I’m not sure how many able-bodied people will pick up on the fact that the two most powerful people in Westeros now are disabled. Part of me hopes that people don’t note it at all, because that means they consider their positions to be completely normal. That’s what all of us are struggling for every day. Another part of me hopes that they will pick up on it, and maybe see a positive message in their ascendance. And the last little part of me just wants to laugh with my friends, joking that the brothels in King’s Landing will be ADA compliant once they are rebuilt.
Not everyone will be happy with the series finale, and I’m sure that many of us Game of Thrones loyalists and addicts will be picking it apart for weeks and months to come. But I, for one, am grateful to the writers and thrilled that two characters with disabilities have been placed front and center of one of the largest fictional worlds in television history.