What Khaleesi and Hillary Clinton’s Downfalls HAVE IN COMMON
By Katrina Froelich
5 · 19 · 2019
During the 2015 White House Correspondents Dinner, President Barack Obama delivered a a humorous speech brimmed with jokes and jabs. One bit included comedian Keegan-Michael Key playing his iconic character from Key and Peele, Obama’s anger translator Luther, in which he gets progressively more “angry” while Obama stays calm as a riff on the President’s typical calm demeanor.
When the subject of Hillary came up, the conversation went like this:
OBAMA: And it’s not just Republicans. Hillary will have to raise huge sums of money, too.
LUTHER: Aw yeah, she’s going to get that money! She’s going to get all the money! Khaleesi is coming to Westeros! Watch out! Woo!
The comparison between Hillary and Khaleesi was met with thunderous applause, cheers and whoops. This was before Khaleesi had landed in Westeros, before Bernie had announced his run, before “but her emails” became the GOP’s favorite talking point, before Trump, before P**sy-gate, and before Hillary Clinton’s character was completely and totally obliterated.
This is what Daenerys Targaryen and Hillary Clinton have in common. Their stories were written for them by incompetent white dudes who were threatened by powerful women. How did two extraordinarily well-qualified, experienced, and admired women come to be seen as villains, unsympathetic hacks, and (for lack of a better word) mad queens?
Of course Daenerys Targaryen is a fictional character, but the culmination of news and press during the 2016 election created another fictional character: Hillary Clinton. Rooted in the assault of Hillary Clinton and her character was unwavering sexism, and rooted in the writing of Daenerys Targaryan (post-George R.R. Martin split) was also unwavering sexism. Seven seasons were spent building Dany as a liberator, giving her hours and hours of character development and leadership growth towards being a “better Targaryen.” As the seasons progressed, she learned from the mistakes of her misogynistic vicious abuser male relatives, culminated in lazy scenes deciding that she would be a villain. Just like Hillary, Dany was the most well qualified person vying for the throne, and just like Hillary, she lost. To be incredibly fucking clear - that loss is deeply rooted in the sexist fabric that makes up each and every institution of our nation.
The “Mad Queen” setup, if you can call it that, was nonexistent at best. Sure, there was some fun dialogue where a bunch of men couldn’t stop talking shit behind her back and they thought that maybe she could be crazy? And yes, she killed people, but so did everyone else in Game of Thrones. Crowd favorite Tyrion Lannister strangled his ex-lover and shot his dad on a toilet, so yeah, this show is super violent and redemption is still possible for the people who commit cruel and violent acts.
Those who observed Hillary’s rise to political stardom might remember when she delivered the first-ever student speech at her Wellesley commencement. Or when at age 26, she was appointed to the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Watergate. Some might remember when she delivered a speech at the United Nations and declared that “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights” or her tenure as Secretary of State where she earned significant achievements to her name, including rebuilding the image of the United States abroad. One could say that the people who watched Hillary, since the beginning of her political career, also had multiple seasons of character development and leadership growth. Anyone who had followed her closely (or even at all) reacted to the Hillary smear campaigns the same way many fans reacted to the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones: “Woah, where did that come from?”
Dany’s character arc was at the mercy of two white men who are very much a product of their time. A time when we have a sexual predator as a president and another one on the Supreme Court… or is it two? It was hinted that Dany might go full Mad Queen, but here’s the thing, hinting that someone will go mad isn’t the same thing as actually writing their descent into madness. Slight foreshadowing does not a successful character arc make. Dany’s entire journey showed a girl who was repeatedly abused, hurt and put down, and who chose to harness her pain for good, turning such tragedy into power and then into compassion. Her goal was always to help people. Of course she made some mistakes, she was a sixteen-year-old girl! But let me tell you, much like the experiences I had when I was a child and watched Hillary Clinton shatter every glass ceiling she could, it was so empowering to see a girl who had been vulnerable in so many of the same ways that I had, command agency and respect. Dany put the throne on hold multiple times throughout the years to help others, much like Hillary put her goals on hold in favor of Bill, or waiting for the right “time.” A plot twist only works if it can be valued retrospectively, when it’s inevitable for the character rather than in motivation for pure shock value. With actual buildup and proper foreshadowing, Mad Queen Dany would make sense, but what viewers were presented with this past Sunday was just a lazy last minute switch. And I would love to say this louder for the people in the back: Misogyny is not a plot twist. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Benioff and Weiss clearly love themselves someone who looks like them (aka white dudes!) These white bread personifications of human beings have done little throughout the entire series while the women have been the ones to forward the plot and provide nuance. Making Dany go full Mad Queen is the setup for Dany to be killed by one of these mediocre white dudes and his mediocre white brother, in particular, to take the throne. Benioff and Weiss specifically had Dany go full crazy, with no nuance so that they could feel justified killing her off and putting a mediocre white boy in her place. The beautiful moral complexity that has been woven into the show since day one was stripped in order to create an easy-to-follow narrative that props a man up over a more qualified and more deserving woman. A tale as old as time – in both reality and fantasy, mediocre white boys win.
Game of Thrones has created some of the most fantastic female characters I have ever seen. These women have overcome more than Jon Snow or Bran Stark could even imagine. The women on the show persist. They endure. They overcome. And now? Bran Stark sitting on the Iron throne represents all the ways in which male mediocrity will always be heralded over female greatness. Every. Single. Time.
This clear bias on screen can be assumed to be the product of the gender inequality in the GOT writer’s room, and this lack of parity spells trouble for more than just Daenerys. In past seasons, Benioff and Weiss have relied heavily on sexual assault as not just a plot device, but often times adding completely unnecessary rape scenes just to show how “dark” this show could get (The Jamie-Cersei rape scene was particularly agregious and it wasn’t in the book). This clear bias means that characters like Sansa suggest that they are happy they were abused because it made them strong (so much gross, so much to unpack, not enough time). And in doing so, the writers reduce empowered female characters like Brienne to slobbering messes who are begging for someone to stay (Brienne would never) and it causes characters like Missandei (one of the few people of color on the show) to grow into a person of power in her own right, only to be killed to further an already toxic narrative. Her death was a complete and total insult to her entire character. The thing is, it’s not just bad for the women. This type of writing reduces Jamie into some type of lovesick addict who goes back to his emotional abuser, Cersei, (because she’s his true love?) because she’s pretty and the woman that he had a healthy relationship with isn’t. Boys will be boys!
Watching women, both fictional and real, devote most of their lives to others only to be villainized when it comes time to ascend to a threatening level of power is a tale as old as time. But here’s the thing, Game of Thrones is and always will be, a fantasy world, it was a place where dragons and zombies existed. If I wanted to watch women be reduced to caricatures of themselves I could just turn on the news.
Graphic by Tara Steinmetz