'Game of Thrones' is being called out for using people of colour as plot devices, and its latest episode is no exception

HBOOne character’s death brought a conversation about diversity on the show back up.
  • Warning: This article contains major spoilers for the final season of “Game of Thrones.”
  • “Game of Thrones” has often been criticised as lacking diversity in its cast and production team.
  • Many feel that it has led to storylines that objectify people of colour.
  • This week’s episode saw many of those criticisms come to light again.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

When Grey Worm and Missandei kissed on episode two of this season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and started making postwar plans, someone should have started constructing their funeral pyres. If there’s one promise that “Game of Thrones” has made to fans since the very beginning, it’s that characters are going to die – especially if they’re beloved.

Missandei’s death on this week’s episode, however, struck a nerve with some viewers who feel that the show doesn’t have the best track record with how it treats black and brown characters.

On Sunday’s episode, Missandei of Naath, played by Nathalie Emmanuel, was captured during an ambush

She was later beheaded atop a wall at the command of Cersei Lannister, all while her beloved Grey Worm, her Khaleesi Daenerys, Tyrion, a dragon, and a couple dozen soldiers watched helplessly from the ground. Her death reduced the show’s population of black women to 0% (Emmanuel self-identifies as being “of mixed heritage“), which didn’t go over well on Twitter.

Missandei was Daenerys’ translator and closest friend, so it makes sense that Cersei and Euron would take her prisoner or even kill her to get a reaction out of Daenerys, but that doesn’t change the unfortunate optics of the scene.

For some, the public execution of the show’s only black woman – a former slave – as she stood bruised and shackled between two feuding white women is hard to write off as purely fantasy, even on a show with magic and dragons. Having the character die in another way would have still sent ripples through the Twitterverse, but seeing her die in bondage had many saying that Missandei deserved better. (For her part, Emmanuel has praised the way her character died.)

As Daenerys is the “Breaker of Chains,” the main talking point during her campaign has been about freeing people from slavery and doing away with the status quo. While the sentiment is admirable, a blonde-haired, green-eyed woman riding across the continent to liberate an army of nonwhite warrior eunuchs and other enslaved people who in turn pledge their undying loyalty to her does evoke the white-saviour trope.

Many also brought up the show’s history of brutality against women and people of colour and noted that the “Game of Thrones” writers’ room is primarily white and male.

‘Game of Thrones’ has been called out for controversial choices regarding people of colour in the past

One major criticism has been that, save for the now virtually extinct tribe known as the Dothraki, POCs are few and far between in Westeros and Essos. There was Lucian Msamati, the pirate; Xaro Xhoan Daxos, the wealthy, backstabbing merchant of Qarth; the people of Dorne, including Oberyn, Ellaria, and Doran; Grey Worm; Missandei; and a few others. But the list is tragically short.

In addressing the melanin deficiency in his fantasy world in a reply to a comment on a blog post in 2014, the author George R.R. Martin explained that “Westeros around 300 AC is nowhere near as diverse as 21st century America.” Martin wrote that his upcoming book, “The Winds of Winter,” would feature more nonwhite people as “secondary and tertiary characters, though not without importance,” adding that he thought HBO and the “Game of Thrones” showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, were “doing what they can to promote diversity.”

With only two episodes and maybe two brown characters left, it’s unrealistic to expect “Game of Thrones” to fix its diversity problem, but there’s still hope for the medium and the genre. Hiring more writers of colour and women to help tell stories – both in the fantasy genre and in general – that won’t enrage fans feels like an easy enough solution.

Then again, Weiss and Benioff are still planning that alt-history Confederate series, so maybe they aren’t the duo to fix this.

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