Dany’s Big Speech in the Game of Thrones Finale Is Filled With Nazi Imagery—Here’s the Issue
Fans and critics alike are still processing the finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones and honestly, that might be the greatest thing that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have done for the franchise: given it a discussion-worthy ending that fans will be talking about for years to come. Still, one aspect that continues to bother me (among many) is the Nazi imagery that was paired with Daenerys Targaryen’s speech during the finale.
Nazi imagery is often used in Western media because the images tied to Nazism have been so codified that they can be placed into anything (even Disney movies) where the shorthand will tell you how you’re supposed to feel about the character. As a child, I didn’t instantly see The Lion King‘s “Be Prepared” and notice the goose-stepping hyenas, but once you do and you know what it means, it’s a chilling image to see so easily emulated.
Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl is the fascist director who is behind Triumph des Willens (“Triumph of the Will”) and Olympia, two of the most effective propaganda films ever made. A lot of images we have from Nazi Germany come from Riefenstahl’s works. There have been plenty of smarter people than me who’ve talked about Triumph of the Will and the language of propaganda films, but what I want to touch on is the way we have separated Hitler’s ideology from the images associated with Nazi propaganda.
Part of the problem of taking images of fascist Germany and uncritically planting them into other media that does not address Nazism is how it erases the racist and ableist genocide connected with Hitler’s Germany.
In an interview with Variety, Emilia Clarke said she watched Hitler’s speeches and those of other dictators/leaders to prepare for delivering her own lines because she wanted to be able to convey the power of what she was saying without needing to understand the language.
“In giving all these speeches in fake languages, I watched a lot of videos of — now it seems funny — dictators and powerful leaders speaking a different language to see if I could understand what they were saying without knowing the language. And you can! You absolutely can understand what Hitler’s f—ing saying, these single-focus orators speaking a foreign language. So I thought, “If I can believe every single word I’m saying, the audience won’t need to be looking at the subtitles too much.”
You can also see the header image, with Dany in her black military styled garb, facing her Unsullied soldiers in perfect formation, the Dothraki in the background, and of course, the Targaryen flag draped in triumph over the rubble of King’s Landing. Now, I’ve already made my feelings about Dany’s turn to “madness” clear, but what I find so frustrating about the optics of this is that Daenerys Targaryen is speaking to her mostly non-white army. Not only is it gross and lazy to use Nazi imagery in this way, but it also illustrates that the creators wanted to use the shorthand of the images without thinking about the ideology.
Beyond being racist, homophobic, and ableist, Nazi Germany was also sexist. Women were confined to the roles of mother and spouse and excluded from all positions of power and responsibility. Of course, women were part of the propaganda machine that existed, as shown by Leni Riefenstahl. However, let’s think about the implications of depicting a woman who was clearly one of the heroes of the show, someone who was seen as an emancipator and an overall force for good for the majority of the run, as a Hitleresque figure at the very end?
We live in a world where Nazis and Nazi ideology are constantly being rebranded and repackaged in order to become more acceptable for the mainstream public, so we need to be cautious about how this imagery is used in media. Using it as a visual key marker for a character’s descent into “madness” is not necessary. It’s important that we remember the ideology beyond these images and stop divorcing the two.
(via Screen Rant, image: HBO)
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