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In the 'Game of Thrones' Finale, Disabled People Were the Real Winners

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Editor's Note

This story contains spoilers from the final episode of “Game of Thrones.”

It’s over. “Game of Thrones,” the most-watched, most talked-about TV show in recent memory, has ended. Like many fans of the series, I was disappointed by aspects of the final season, particularly the rushed endings to some characters’ storylines. Jaime and Cersei deserved better and worse, respectively, and Danaerys’ character development didn’t fully explain her descent into darkness. But ultimately, I found the show’s ending to be moving and satisfying — particularly because characters with disabilities took center stage.

The characters who emerged victorious at the end of “Game of Thrones” were among the most oppressed in society. Over the course of the series, they had been treated as unworthy of basic human consideration, let alone power, and abused so horrifically, I found some scenes impossible to watch. Yet in the end, women who had suffered years of abuse became knights, warriors and queens. The Iron Throne, the symbol of so much misery and death, was destroyed, a man rejected because of his size forged a path to peace, and a new leader emerged — one whose throne is a wooden wheelchair.

After Jon Snow kills Danaerys Targaryen, the most powerful people in Westeros are at an impasse. Who among them should be King or Queen? Tensions could have quickly escalated into violence were it not for Tyrion Lannister having the courage to intercede despite being brought before them in chains, with execution his likely fate. He could nominate someone with obvious designs on the throne in the hope of saving himself, but he chose to lift up a fellow person with a disability, Bran Stark. “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story,” he tells the gathered leaders, and who among them has a better story than Bran?

I disagree with Tyrion that Bran’s story was the most compelling — Sansa, Arya and Brienne had stronger character arcs, in my opinion — but he was arguably the most underestimated character in the series, both by the people around him and by audiences. If you look back, there were many hints and moments that foreshadowed Bran’s destiny, but people ignored and dismissed them, deeming Bran merely a side character who might perhaps earn a place on the Council at the end, if he survived at all. People with disabilities are consistently and systemically underestimated in our society, so this doesn’t surprise me. But beginning in the first season, Tyrion recognizes Bran’s potential, even giving him an adapted horse saddle to encourage him not to give up after becoming paralyzed. Tyrion saw what the rest of us did not, and his insight served him well in the end.

Tyrion knows from experience that being underestimated and rejected because of your physical difference can give a person a unique perspective on the nature of power, and he understands that Bran not wanting to be King is precisely why he is deserving of the crown. Bran lifts Tyrion up in return, making Tyrion his Hand to give Tyrion the chance to atone for his misdeeds.

Was Tyrion’s appeal a heartfelt plea to right the wrongs of the past, or a skillful ploy for power by a man with nothing to lose and everything to gain? Tyrion has one of the most brilliant minds in the series, and I believe he realized he could accomplish both. He nominated a thoughtful young man who overcame a tragic injury to serve as ruler, demonstrating that inspiration porn exists even in medieval fantasy realms. This is not to say that Bran was unworthy of the crown, but Tyrion recognized that his own back story was far less sympathetic, and therefore he could not be king, regardless of his qualifications.

Tyrion also may have recognized that by becoming the Hand, he took on the day-to-day work of running the kingdoms, making him for practical purposes the one leading Westeros. Despite saying he did not wish to be the Hand, Tyrion was quick to step into his role; he amusingly arranged the Council chairs to face towards him and clearly relished taking his seat for the first time. When Bran showed more interest in finding Drogon than addressing other issues, Tyrion quickly took over in discussing plans for rebuilding the kingdoms. He also suggested to Jon Snow that they would meet again someday. What does Tyrion have up his sleeve? Perhaps we’ll never know, but I don’t believe his days of scheming are behind him. I believe Tyrion Lannister will be remembered as one of the greatest, most fascinating TV characters in history, and I hope Peter Dinklage’s incredible performance will pave the way for more disabled actors in leading roles.

Bran’s official title upon being crowned king is “Bran the Broken.” I’ve seen many people with disabilities objecting to this title on Twitter, and understandably so. Disability doesn’t make a person broken, and they could have chosen a different title that did not frame his condition in a negative way, like Bran the Seer. But there’s power in reclaiming the word “broken,” in saying this person who has been deemed broken by society is now the one leading it into the future. There is strength in saying a person whose physical spine was broken is not broken in spirit. Who better to lead the people of Westeros, who have endured so much, than one who also suffered at the hands of a tyrant and bears the scars? Bran is a survivor and he has the wisdom and experience to lead the Six Kingdoms, not despite his disability but in part because of it.

In the first season, Tyrion says, “I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards and broken things.” Despite all of its brutality and horror, “Game of Thrones” ultimately does too. In Westeros, a “broken” man with a spinal cord injury becomes King, an “imp” with dwarfism becomes his most trusted advisor, and an abuse survivor with PTSD becomes Queen. The series proved that people with disabilities can be complex, multi-dimensional characters and that a disabled actor can become a star. Whatever you may think about the final season, one thing is clear: in “Game of Thrones,” disabled people rule. And long may they reign.

Originally published: May 21, 2019
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