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How GAME OF THRONES Turned Bran into Disability Inspiration Porn
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After 73 episodes and eight seasons, Game of Thrones revealed that Bran Stark, the Three-Eyed-Raven, would be the one to rule the Seven Kingdoms (now six after Sansa declared that the North was an independent state… nepotism much?). It was an unexpected decision as Bran has, arguably, not done very much since he returned to Winterfell. But we’re less concerned with whether or not Bran was a good choice than we are with the disappointing way that Game of Thrones treated him as disabled character.

On one hand, Bran’s presence on a massive prestige show like Game of Thrones was vaguely radical (despite him being played by an able-bodied actor). But the journey itself often played into ableist tropes, with things like Bran and his family stating that he’d be better off dead than living without the use of his legs, and gratuitous use of the slur “cripple” (which was of course explained away by the semi-historical setting).

Bran’s story took an interesting turn when he took on the mantle of the Three-Eyed-Raven, which seemed to give him a life outside of his disability and the confinement that it signified. The ability to warg into animals and people offered up a sort of freedom to Bran, whilst subverting the ideas of disability as the defining feature of a disabled person. Bran’s supernatural abilities made him one of the most powerful people in Westeros; it was an interesting and unusual route to take, but the good work it did was widely undone by Tyrion’s speech about why Bran should take the Iron Throne.

The real issue with the finale and the choices made around Bran are all highlighted in Tyrion’s speech, where he essentially crafted an “inspirational” story centered on his disability and how he had overcome it. In accessibility circles, we call this “inspiration porn,” which is when a disabled person’s story is used to make able-bodied people feel better about themselves. These stories are inspired by the idea of disability rather than the realities of it. A key example is when Tyrion states Bran “found out he couldn’t run so he learned how to fly.” That sort of language is constantly used to establish disabled people as some kind of magical beings who overcome trauma to inspire others rather than through a need to survive.

Of course, the most obvious mistake here is the moniker “Bran the Broken.” It promotes a dangerous and ableist idea that disabled people are broken versions of “normal” or “whole” people. It’s even more distressing that the title comes from Tyrion, another ostensibly disabled character who has never been defined by his differences but is quick to define Bran by his. Not only is it ableist and dangerous but it’s also narratively unsound, as surely Bran the Seer, Bran the Three-Eyed Raven, or even Bran the Wise would have made far more sense.

It’s a shame that Bran couldn’t have been chosen to rule the Seven Kingdoms because he’s earned it; in the end just became another symbol to inspire the realm, based on nothing more than his disability and his supernatural ability to overcome it.

Images: HBO