Caution Spoilers Ahead
I love Game of Thrones (GOT). I love the fantasy, the intrigue, the decadence, and complicated world that it portrays. I enjoy its exploration of political systems, taboos, and destiny. I am sustained by its magic, and admire its characters’ perseverance. In short, I literally can’t take my eyes away from the screen when each new episode is aired, and I can’t wait for its return this April.
It has its problems of course, with its typical white messiah complex (Queen Daenerys), and its predominately brown slave population across the Narrow Sea. Its treatment of women can be depressing and misogynistic, while its portrayal of tribalism as a somewhat inferior fantasy culture (think the Dothraki) is disturbing.
Despite this, there are characters and storylines that I really enjoy. The White Walkers are amazing every time they make their presence known. The Many Faced God is terrifying. Arya Stark and Brienne of Tarth are both strong and intriguing female characters that have not been sexualized. Jon Snow is, well, Jon Snow (fangirl sigh). Dragons, and faery folk, and giants are also major ingredients that keep me coming back for more. And then there is Grey Worm…
Grey Worm, swathed in leather, armed with spear and equipped with an intensity that takes my breath away, is one of my favorite GOT characters. Portrayed by the immensely talented Jacob Anderson, aka Raleigh Ritchie, Grey Worm is the Unsullied Commander of Queen Daenerys’ army. Being Unsullied means that he is a ferocious warrior who happens to also be a eunuch.
Grey Worm is quiet, thoughtful, intelligent, and gorgeous to watch on screen. He is very guarded, with a sadness that follows him throughout his storyline. He is also the first young, handsome, black male character that I’ve ever seen on a fantasy show. Sure, there was Elliot Knight in Sinbad (now cancelled), and Sinqua Walls on Once Upon a Time, but a non-comedic black guy on a traditional fantasy show with f@cking dragons? That’s never happened before as far as I can tell.
The great thing about Grey Worm is that he is a brave warrior, and that he loves Missandei, one of Queen Daenerys’ handmaidens. Their love is simple, awkward and sweet, and when they eye each other with such innocence and feeling, my heart always skips a beat. Seeing their love story unfold is exciting simply because relationships between people of color are rarely explored on television; especially when it’s as pure and simple as Grey Worm and Missandei’s.
The lack of stories for young people of color in film and television is glaring, and when it does exists, it often follows a predetermined template that is typically negative. In the case of African Americans, love stories are often rife with drama, pain, poverty and turmoil. Our love is never easy, and almost never epic and awe inspiring. We are often portrayed as caricatures with very specific stereotypes, resulting in love stories that seem contrived, tarnished by negativity, or simply do not last. Interracial relationships involving black people often end in tragedy (Misfits), or simply don’t work out (The Flash, FlashForward, and Twisted).
Of course there are exceptions, when it comes to stories of people of color in love, like Sanaa Lathan in Love and Basketball, and Something New. But for the most part, simmering and fulfilling love stories are absent, or are outliers.
When I realized that a romance was developing between Missandei and Grey Worm, something stirred in me. I was amazed to see two people of color in a fantasy show in a romantic position. I was ecstatic. This is sad, as television shows almost always have some sort of romantic component, though they don’t often include two people of color. This was new to me. Not only was it happening on my favorite television show, but it was happening in a fantasy world with characters that I cared about. I must admit that it helped that Jacob Anderson is f@cking hot and that his kiss with the beautiful and talented Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei) had the fangirl in me swooning, leaving me cheering in my seat.
My happiness, however, quickly faltered, as the show seemingly dropped this romantic story arc, leaving me guessing what happened after their shared kiss. Instead we got meaningless sex scenes from other characters in the show, and the advancement of story lines from characters like the Sand Snakes (boring!).
I felt cheated and teased, and thought back on the love stories that have been tragically dropped from other successful series (i.e., Alisha and Simon in Misfits). I confessed my frustrations to my nerdy, fantasy loving, girlfriends; an eclectic group of ladies from various cultural backgrounds and perspectives. We talked about our disappointment with the lack of screen times for these characters, as well as their general lack of development. One of my friends, who is not as keen on the show as myself, noted that though Grey Worm is an interesting character, I was pining over a sexless black man who was in love with a woman that essentially was the Queen’s maid. She reminded me that even though their love is sweet, and she wouldn’t mind seeing them develop as characters, they still fulfilled well-worn stereotypes.
My friend’s words resonated with me. I recognized that Grey Worm had been emasculated by his castration, which wouldn’t be so bad if he weren’t the only black male character of consequence on the show. I also see that Missandei is essentially a maid, providing Queen Daenerys with an Aunt Jemima of sorts. Both characters are former slaves, another trope that is a common “black” story explored in film and television.
Yet, I believe that the characters’ love for each other, their innocence, is what raises them above these stereotypes. Their future potential and their very existence in fantasy has left me hopeful. This hope was reinforced during the conclusion of Season 5 of the show, where it was revealed that Grey Worm and Missandei would rule Meereen alongside Lord Tyrion Lannister. I hope that this change in storyline, this elevation of character importance by the show’s writers, will allow Grey Worm and Missandei to grow into their potential, to leave negative stereotypes behind, to be given an opportunity to further their relationship and draw from each other’s strength, to navigate a world of dragons and magic, to love each other, to truly be the fantasy characters that I always imagined them to be.
Jahkotta Lewis is a professional archaeologist, an amateur astronomer, and an aspiring writer. When she is not exploring Pacific Island Archaeology, she spends her time hiking through native forest, spelunking within the depths of an active volcano, and watching/reading all things fantasy and science fiction.