Transcript by Samantha Mcdonald
A Conversation of Thrones (with Kinitra Brooks, Shiloh Carroll, and Ebony Elizabeth Thomas)
[Jaunty, upbeat instrumental music]
Paul Sturtevant: Welcome, everybody, to the very first Public Medievalcast, the podcast of The Public Medievalist. I’m Paul Sturtevant, editor-in-chief of The Public Medievalist. And for those of you who don’t know, The Public Medievalist is an online web magazine. We publish articles about the Middle Ages that are looking to try to find, not just exciting and interesting histories of the Middle Ages—that you can find in a lot of different places. But we are particularly looking at trying to find the ways in which the Middle Ages are relevant and important to people today. How they have intersection with our ideas of ourselves and each other. How the Middle Ages influence people’s perception of the past, and the present, and the future. Essentially, we ask why medieval matters.
[Music ends, Brief pause]
Paul Sturtevant: So, I have been thinking about doing a podcast for a little while now and just recently the opportunity kind of just fell into my lap. What happened was, at the end of Game of Thrones, I was having a conversation on Twitter with Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and I have been asking her to write for The Public Medievalist for a long time, and she said to me, “Well, I don’t have time to write, but maybe we can do an interview.”
I said, “great!” And she said, “Hey, maybe I could invite my friend Kinitra.” And I said, “even better!” And I said, “You know what? If we are having an interview, I should probably ask Shiloh, our managing editor, if she wants to participate, too, because she has a book on Game of Thrones and I know she’s got a lot of thoughts.” And then, all of a sudden, I said “Well, I’ve got a podcast!”
I don’t know what future Public Medievalcasts might look like, I don’t know what format they’re going to take. I have a bunch of ideas, and things that I want to experiment with, but for now that’s what this is: this is an experiment. This is a new medium and I am trying to find a way to bring our ideas about the intersections between the medieval and the modern to a whole new audience. So, thanks for joining us.
If you’ve got some ideas about topics that you’d like to see us cover, or stories that you want us to tell—or more, if you are someone who wants to join the team and help out with this podcast—we’d love the help. So, feel free to get in touch. Go over to thepublicmedievalist.com and contact us there.
We’ve got a heck of a conversation for you today. Three scholars at the absolute top of their game, talking absolutely everything about Game of Thrones. If you’re a fan of the show, and especially if you’re a fan of the books—and particularly if you weren’t that happy with how it ended, or you weren’t that happy about how the way women were portrayed, or people of color were portrayed in that show—I get the feeling that you’re going to like this conversation.
Just a thing to note before we get started, though. Things tend to get a little salty. What I mean by that, is that if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t like listening to copious use of the F-bomb, particularly by multiple advanced degree-holding experts in their field, well this might not be for you. But, if you are the sort of person that enjoys, say, hanging out with people with extremely pointed opinions about the things that you love to watch, and think about, and talk about, then I get the feeling this is going to be right up your alley.
Okay, so, without further ado, why don’t we get started with our conversation. First, I’d like to introduce our panel. First on the panel, we’ve got Dr. Kinitra Brooks, the Audrey and John Leslie Endowed Chair in Literary Studies at the Department of English at Michigan State University. She specializes in the study of black women, genre fiction, and popular culture. She’s also the author of two great books, the first of which being Searching for Sycorax, which is a critical treatment of black women in science-fiction, fantasy, and horror. Her current research also focuses on portrayals of the conjure woman in popular culture.
We’ve also got Shiloh Carroll. Shiloh Carroll is the managing editor of The Public Medievalist. She also has a PhD in English Literature and studies portrayals of the Middle Ages in fantasy literature, particularly in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones. Her book on the subject is actually called Medievalism in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones and she is currently working on updating it in a paperback edition now that the HBO series is over. So, be sure to look out for that. She’s also a novelist: she’s working on her own medievalist fantasy novel and a lot more of her work can be found at shilohcarroll.wordpress.com
And last, but by no means least, we have Ebony Elizabeth Thomas. Dr. Thomas is an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in their Graduate School of Education and her expertise is really on Children’s and Adolescent texts, as well as the teaching of African-American Literature, History, and Culture in K-12 classrooms—as well as the role that race, class, and gender play in those classrooms. Her new book—which is really, really, excellent, you should pick it up—is called The Dark Fantastic: Race and the Imagination from Harry Potter to Hunger Games.
Also, as one final programming note, this podcast couldn’t have been done without the generous support of The Medieval Academy of America. Thank you!
[Instrumental music continues]
Paul Sturtevant: All right! Well, thank you so much for joining me. Today we have Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Kinitra Brooks, and Shiloh Carroll talking to us about the end of Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones has come, it has gone, and I get the feeling that all of us have quite a few feels about it.
Paul Sturtevant: So, I am just going to throw this out to the entire panel, and tell me: it’s been a week, how ya doing?
Shiloh Carroll: (Groans and laughs)
(Panel joins in the laughter)
Shiloh Carroll: Wow! I am still at the point where somebody brings it up and I go UGH!
Paul Sturtevant: Okay, so tell me what UGH! means there, Shiloh.
Shiloh Carroll: (laughs) I am generally disappointed with the whole series, especially after about season four. But then the last season, I felt like, was just a smack in the face to fans of the books, even fans of the show, not to mention all the problems that they’ve had with women and people of color, and… good writing. And—
Shiloh Carroll: It’s just terrible.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: (Laughing) Oh boy, I certainly agree with Shiloh because I knew that David and Dan, were not to be—okay. David and Dan are the show runners, or were the show runners. David Benioff and Dan Weiss. And I knew that something was up by their adaptational choices, as of seasons four and five. So, the decision to give Sansa Stark the storyline that belonged to Jeyne Poole, who in the books was being used as a false Arya to be married to the bastard of the Dreadfort, Ramsay Bolton.
So it’s already a very brutal and graphic storyline, and then to give it to Sansa who, in the books, is somewhere else and has another story arc where she’s learning from Littlefinger how to be deceptive, and to give her an arc that lacks any agency, that triggers survivors of sexual assault and then to defend it by saying that we’re too sensitive. Some people defended the choice by saying, well we didn’t care about the tertiary character given that—or, we just cared because it was Sansa.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: I knew we were not going to get the ending we deserved from those two men. They just seemed not to understand what Martin was trying to do in the books with his female characters.
Kinitra Brooks: For me, I just imagined it ended with the Night King. Like, the magic died when the magic died, and I think we have to discuss their inability and their lack of faith in the magic storyline of how powerful—And the idea that all of the magic is contained within the White Walkers and the Night King. Even their consensus of making a Night King, that’s the only way we can imagine this sort of bad force, or this force of evil? Their lack of ability to fully deal with prophecy, to fully deal with how the magic works in Martin’s world. And, you know, I think we all understand that Martin isn’t perfect, but Martin has made specific points to grow, to change, and to be complex.
I don’t think anyone is asking for perfect women characters, or perfect characters of color. We’re asking for complexity and to do due diligence to their characterizations. And, at this point, I look at the last half of season eight as them shitting the bed…
Kinitra Brooks: …and I feel as if everything is a justification. I look at them like talking after the episode and I looked at that—I tried to start watching The Last Watch, that crap, and I was like this should be titled We Shit the Bed: We Blew the Landing. And because I have an evil streak, and I’m petty, my only role in life is to damage their brand. That D&D’s brand is shit and they don’t deserve a goddamn thing. And, fine, you know I am not a huge Star Wars fan—I watch it, whatever. They’re totally going to fuck that up, I hope y’all know that, Star Wars fans.
And I will literally explode if they give them that Confederacy…
Kinitra Brooks: …because they have no imagination. And they are unable to examine and to build characters of color that are outside of chains. They have no imagination for it. So…we give you something this sensitive, you couldn’t deal with fake shit.
(Panel laughs in agreement)
Kinitra Brooks: What are you going to do with real history?
(Panel continues laughing)
Kinitra Brooks: Okay, that’s all I have to say, I’m sorry.
Paul Sturtevant: No, it’s totally fine…
Kinitra Brooks: I had a lot to say!
Paul Sturtevant: …and I really want to follow-up on what you were saying as looking at the women and the people of color. It was really interesting, you were saying that you wanted to see—That they can’t imagine people of color who are not in chains. Talk to me about what you wanted it to be.
Kinitra Brooks: You know, and here’s the thing, I’m a literary scholar. It’s not necessarily what I wanted it to be, it’s are you being true to the story. I think a lot of people were like, oh you’re mad that they made Daenerys the Mad Queen, you know, they have been foreshadowing this… Yes, you know, those of us who are fans of the show, those of us who have done some of the reading and everything else, we realize that that has been foreshadowed for a long time. But again, you shit the bed in the execution. It’s about how you did it. Even in the books, the Mad King… Her ancestor…
Kinitra Brooks: Aerys Targaryen, right? It took him decades to go crazy.
Panel: That’s right
Kinitra Brooks: It took her two episodes!
Kinitra Brooks: And as much as was foreshadowed, the Mad Queen prophecy and all that stuff which they screwed up, whatever. But they also foreshadowed marriage as a way to solve problems: that’s how we got the Red Wedding. Why—Even incestuous marriage, right. Targaryens married their brothers and sisters all the time. So, what was the issue with having them get married? Now, it could have been a tempestuous marriage, it could have had issues. Hell, he could have even wound up killing her, they could have killed each other.
All of these things—But it’s about what Ebony referred to before, it’s the choices you make. It’s the lack of imagination in the characterizations of these women and/or people of color. You just don’t have the capacity to do it. And it’s sad, really. It’s not even just an angering thing, it’s sad that you can’t imagine us as complex human beings. It’s pathetic, actually.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: That’s it. Yeah, I think, as a fan of House Targaryen, not because they were good or evil. You know, I thought Martin was explicitly trying to do the work of breaking down essentialism in fantasy. So, no one was completely good, no one was completely evil. So, I was fascinated by his histories of House Targaryen and I bought The World of Ice and Fire the day it came out five years ago.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: I have yet to read Fire and Blood, but I have been active in the fandom. And, I’ll just say this, I’m not going to say what my name is because I’m trying to keep my fanfiction away from my other work. For A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m just intrigued by House Targaryen, so one of the problems with their ending is, as Kinitra says, not only did they just completely ignore prophecy—I think in previous interviews they said they really weren’t that interested in the prophecies. What is the Song of Ice and Fire? We don’t have any explanation for any of the grand themes in Martin’s novel, even if Daenerys was going to die, even if House Targaryen was destined to go extinct, we really don’t have any message at the end except vanity. All is vanity.
You feel like Macbeth at the end of his play, that it was “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I keep tweeting and saying in my fandom, so I have fandom aliases: I did not need two super rich, privileged, cisgender, heterosexual white men telling us that the world is shitty. They are the very last people—We don’t need that message from you. We all know it. The people who are angry at them all know that. So, what were they trying to contribute that is new to high fantasy, to event television? What were they trying to do, other than to troll us?
And, so, they are just very rich 4Channers at this point. So, what was the point of it all? It’s not even fun subversion of expectations, it was just “I want to piss everyone off.” And that is a particular—I don’t know. It’s a psychological thing that seems to be growing among certain members of that demographic. I think we don’t need to give them our eyeballs anymore. I don’t think that we need to patronize such entertainment. Not because we want Disney endings, because forget that. It’s because they are insulting not only our intelligence, but our very existence by telling a story like that.
Paul Sturtevant: And I was actually rather taken by just how Disney the ending actually came to be in some ways; where everything was kind of put to right. I think there was one writer, maybe in Slate or somewhere like that, that said all of that was for a very, very minor change in government. Seriously? That’s what we come away from this with?
So, yeah, how would you want the ending of Game of Thrones—If you were to redo it in fanfiction—and I get the feeling you might—if you were to redo it in fanfiction and/or have already done it, what do you want to see? Do you want to see the Iron Throne broken and all of the Seven Kingdoms completely shattered into pieces? Do you want to see the Night King win and kill everyone in Westeros? Or is there something, is there a better path that you really hope Martin is going to take?
Shiloh Carroll: Oh, the ending. I think, based on what I understand of the books, that they probably inverted the ending. That the real important thing is going to be taken care of. The Night King, there’s not a Night King in the books, but taking care of Winter. And that he’s set that up a bit with Stannis, who’s not going to be able to ultimately pull it off with the whole idea of, if you want to rule the Seven Kingdoms you have to act like the protector of the Realm and go protect the Realm. And I think that them leaving out so many characters, so many characters, and then blending Jon and Stannis, and Jon and fake Aegon, and all the blending they were doing kind of threw characterization right out the window to try to hit plot points.
I think once they got past where Martin kind of left them hanging, unfortunately, they didn’t know what to do. They were just like okay, so let’s finish it up, get it done, senioritis, we’ve got other things on deck. Let’s go.
Kinitra Brooks: It was totally like handing in like a shit paper at the end of the term, because you’re just ready to graduate. I’ve had that student so many times, and you work with them all semester, and they’re just like “I want to go.” And it’s just their name… And it was bad.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: I agree with you. I think one of the things that always kind of turned me off from the fandom, which is why I didn’t read the books until this decade, I was in Harry Potter fandom almost 20 years ago and waiting for Rowling to put out the next books and everybody was giving each other book recommendations. My friend, Josh Ronnovich, gave me the recommendation to read A Game of Thrones. He said, “Oh, it’s better than Tolkien.” And I remember not being able to get past the first chapter. I read the prologue, which was interesting. It was like ooh, something’s ominous, so dark fantasy. It was the King-is-coming-at-Winter feel. And I think because the fans are so damn obnoxious about it—It was this whole better than Tolkien thing and I love Tolkien. He was racist, he didn’t know how to write women. He was still the father of modern High Fantasy.
And, so, I thought that was a pretty tall claim to say that you’re better than Tolkien. And so, the fans were so obnoxious about this being the best fantasy ever. I didn’t turn back to it until my third try at watching the series. It took me three times to latch onto the series because I kept stopping at certain points where the sexual assault got to be too much. The body horror, the body torture. Not even in a good horror way, but the whole Ramsay Bolton and how he tortured Theon to make him reek, and then he’s eating the—And I’m just like, you know what, I don’t have time.
What really got me going with A Song of Ice and Fire were two things. So, in season four we get the introduction of Oberyn Martell. I said, “Ooh, who is this fine Chilean actor? Ooh!”
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: And then to hear that there’s a whole kingdom of people of color who they have kept under a rock all that time. And so, I think that ultimately, for the ending—You know, one of the things—Because David and Dan, it’s beyond their imagination to imagine that the POC kingdom, among the Seven, is the most powerful. The Targaryens only respected Dorne, the brown people in Dorne, because they were the ones who were unbound, unbent, and unbroken. So, you have the Prince of Dorne sitting at that stupid council and Sansa gonna take her little butt—I don’t even call her Sansa, she’s “Showsa,” because that is not my Sansa Stark.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Her brother is already, you know, the King of the Six Kingdoms, I guess. And, I don’t have a problem with Bran being the Fisher King from Arthurian legend. I do have a problem with the white folks up North getting their freedom and the southern people of Dorne not getting their freedom. I had an issue with no Princess Arianne Martell. Look at this young woman who is playing Jasmine in the live-action version of Aladdin. She could’ve very well played, or another brown actress from South Asia, from the Latin American World, that could have been a career making role for her. Arianne Martell is the Princess of Dorne and she’s huge in the books. She is the heir after Oberyn.
So, it’s like—As a matter of fact, Oberyn is not even the heir, actually. It’s Alexander Siddig’s character, his daughter. She’s the heir because women inherit in Dorne. So, Martin, even though he be a cishet man, put all these sort of seeds of potential or liberatory things around women and people of color in the books. Imperfect, but he’s trying to really think through High Fantasy in the 90s. And David and Dan, they couldn’t even adapt her. We know Arianne is important to the End Game. We know that the fake Aegon may marry her. We just know all this stuff from the books I won’t ruin, but they just chose to make Dorne into porn. And so that was my huge problem. I think that End Game in the books is definitely going to be A Song of Ice and Fire, not Fire and Ice obliterating each other. I think that, should Dany die, just like Jon got resurrected, she could get resurrected too. They left so many plot points hanging.
Kinitra Brooks: Can I just say that—Thank you for speaking on that. I haven’t read all of the books, I have been a show fan and I read a lot of the ephemera around the show and those sorts of things. I look at the little cartoon things and all that stuff. My best friend, she’s gone down the rabbit hole. She’s with all the rest of y’all, writing fan fiction and everything else.
Kinitra Brooks: But, I refer to this, and to what Ebony was talking to, as white fanboy hubris. The thing is, you limit—Look at how big this show is. Think of how much bigger it could have been if you had the imagination to imagine Dorne of how it actually is. They are the ones who actually fool the Targaryens time and time again. They fool them at their own game. They fooled the dragons. They couldn’t fully conquer them. So, to have this—But even to have this where you have Grey Worm and Missandei, right, and they are freed. But you can’t imagine enslaved people saying “fuck y’all, we got freedom. We gonna do our own fucking thing right now. Fuck you all.” Right? You know that, “Oh I owe this allegiance to you, I have to see it through to the end.” Now, the Wildlings, they left. They were like, “Yo, bro. We want to live through the night, through the Winter. Deuces. We got our shit. We gone.” Right? And I’m just like, why are the Unsullied there? Why are the Dothrakis still there?
And I know, yeah, you had all these allegiances there, whatever. But also, fuck this. At a certain point in time this becomes white people’s problems and it’s no longer “I have no allegiance to you, I have nothing to do with you.” They have homes. Grey Worm going to the Olive Knot right after Missandei’s death. These people have places to be other than in Westeros dealing with your shit. And he makes the Mad Queen, at the end, the head of all the dark, evil people of color that are just causing all of these problems. You have, at the end, all these—I read it on Twitter, I have no idea where I got this— but I’m totally stealing this, but this is not mine, I was not this smart—of white men failing up. Right? Tyrion fucked up for the last three seasons, but he’s still the head? Right? Bran has seen the future, ain’t clued anybody in on a goddamn thing, right? He gets to be the king! And yeah, okay, Arthurian legend. Whatever, whatever. Fuck that, we’re moving on.
I just don’t get it, but I do. I get it. It’s the hubris, right? But what I also want to say is that they can’t do this again. I think the audience has become too smart. The fantasy audience has become too feminized, too much aware of gender, too much aware of the white supremacy inherent in fantasy. And you know you have #DemThrones and whatever. Black audiences, and stuff, it’s like fool us once, that’s cool. Great. But they can’t do this anymore. If this was to start right now, they would get ripped. And, so, that’s why I say that my ultimate caring about what comes out of this is to ruin the D&D brand.
Kinitra Brooks: I want you—I don’t want your grandchildren to be able to get a damn job in Hollywood. That’s how forceful I am about this.
Paul Sturtevant: You’re going full Dracarys on them.
Kinitra Brooks: Oh, I don’t care! In the very first part… Jason Momoa. My hormones got me into it because Jason Momoa was Khal Drogo and I was like, “I want to be kidnapped by Khal Drogo and be in a tent with Jason Momoa!” But I should’ve known, because even in the first episode, the colored folks were late. Remember? And they were like, “Oh, the Dothraki are always late.” And I’m like, hmm, there’s something wrong here. There’s so many clues. You know, it’s my fault. I ain’t gonna do it no more.
Paul Sturtevant: Yeah, I was always taken aback by Grey Worm’s turn, as well, even more so than Daenerys’ turn, by Grey Worm’s turn to being an unrepentant sort of “war criminal.” The fact that he was the one to start the riot at the very end. When, in point of fact, I think it would’ve been far more interesting and satisfying narrative if Grey Worm was the one to say, “No, Daenerys has gone too far. I have to kill her and then take all my people and say ‘fuck y’all, I’m out.'”
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Yeah, that was one possibility. Also, Paul, I’m thinking about how angry we think, the fandom thinks—And Shiloh, you’re in fandom with me, you’re down the rabbit hole, too.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: The resurrected Jon in David and Dan’s hands was just terrible. We think Jon is going to get resurrected and be pretty angry. You know, like his undead status, it’s supposed to change him. Also…just like Dany is destined to go Mad because of Aerys and all the Targaryens go Mad, which is a show-only thing that just drives me wild because most the Targaryens were not Mad. But, what I was going to say is even with Jon Snow’s characterization, there is so much ink spilled over Dany–I just think Jon Snow as a character, I don’t buy that he’s undead. I don’t buy that he’s grown in eight seasons. So, being stabbed by his brothers and then resurrected, it shouldn’t just have changed him to just get justice against those who killed him, which he did. But it should have also fundamentally change his character. So, with him being undead and he falls in love with a woman he finds out is his aunt. Shit, he’s a zombie. His ethics, I didn’t see where he changed.
I also didn’t see where the narrative commented on him being just as much Stark as Targaryen. So, he rides the dragon a couple of times and it’s like, whatever. He’s still a Stark, yes he is, but he is both Ice and Fire. He’s supposed to be Stark and Targaryen. And so, that’s just one of many places where I think the narrative failed in the end. Because Jon displayed very little character growth, not only from season to season, but when his existential status changed. That’s a problem.
Shiloh Carroll: And they’ve set up—They left out Lady Stoneheart, which was a terrible, terrible mistake. But they set up that even with R’hllor resurrection, you’re not the same person. With Beric, it’s there and then they just kinda went, “Okay, he’s not dead anymore. Let’s move on.” Instead of doing something with it.
Kinitra Brooks: They can’t handle magic. And that’s the theme. …I think because it’s a complex idea, that they can’t really—I really think at this point, that they are simpletons. I really, truthfully, do. That they can’t handle anything above a certain grade level in characterization. And I think the absolute worst that you could ever think about anyone about these people. And so, but I also want to say that as the current Vice President of the “I Hate Jon Snow” fanclub, I just have not seen enough hatred of him. Because he is just… He has this false morality that simply gets people killed. And they have to put him up as this idol of what someone is supposed to be and—They were like, “Oh, Jon Snow should be king. He should be the leader.” And I’m like, the last time he left, he got stabbed in the heart by a kid! And rightfully so, he should’ve been stabbed in the heart by the kid!
So, I just don’t understand. It’s this need for cishet, white male dominance that doesn’t even serve your own story. You undercut the synth of your own story because of your prejudices and investments in white supremacy and patriarchy. So, that’s the thing. It’s not just the lack of imagination—You take away from yourself, you take away from the awesomeness and the gifts that Martin tried to give, by investing so much in this one idea of who can be in charge.
Paul Sturtevant: Well, he was the most electable one, right?
(Panel groans and laughs)
Shiloh Carroll: I was about to say, unless you take the sense of it to be that Bronn quote: “maybe it is all cocks in the end.”
(Panel continues laughing)
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Yeah, and speaking about the end and it all being cocks, why didn’t the narrative let Davos and Gendry, our low-born characters, you know, working-class Detroit revolutionary, Detroit worker—Me, I love those characters. I love Davos and I love Gendry because, in the books, Davos has schemed his way—He’s become friends with Stannis Baratheon, and he becomes—He elevates his class. And then Gendry is like, “I just hate it. Fuck all these high-borns. I can’t stand any of them.” And then they’re just standing right there in the council when Sam proposes democracy and neither of those fools said anything.
And I’m just like, how did you twist the characterization? And, if you’re going to bring back, well Davos is a viewpoint character, but Gendry is a minor character, what the hell did you bring him back for if he wasn’t going to bring up, yeah—You know, “I came from nothing, I can’t read.” Maybe you should draw up council with high-borns and low-borns. But they couldn’t even do anything with class. Not only are they crappy when it comes to race, and gender, and sexuality. We haven’t even gotten through their explanation of Dorne’s sexual liberation as just cishet, white male gaze fantasy. They can’t even think about how the class structure is going to change.
Let me tell you, I agree with all the fangirls, deep in the fandom, on my ships and on everything. Somebody’s going to conquer the Seven Kingdoms or the Six Kingdoms within like 10 years. I mean, in the way they left it—I hope that Kinvara—They bring Dany back to Westeros. Drogo took his mama over to Asshai or somewhere in Essos …they found that one remaining Red Priestess and she resurrected—And I hope Dany comes–
Kinitra Brooks: That black one that was there! Remember the black one that was there for like two seconds? Remember her?
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: And then—She come back and she take over everything. What kind of political structure? So, you messed up the magical ending, but then—you also—The political ending makes no sense. I don’t mind Bran being the Fisher King, but Tyrion as Hand? The people sitting around that table putting people who don’t know what the hell they are doing in charge of all the Kingdoms. What the hell is the North going to do for an heir? Because you didn’t give Sansa any way to procreate because she is a strong independent woman who don’t need no man. I’m like, what is your ending? It’s a big “f*** you” to the fans, that’s what it is.
Kinitra Brooks: And Arya, you made her an assassin, not to kill Cersei? …Okay, I do go down the YouTube rabbit hole, so I watch, you know, all of the like Alt Shift X and Talking Thrones, all that stuff. And you could see, towards the end, even they were like this don’t make no goddamn sense. And this man was like, “I made this money and invented this show off of Game of Thrones, but I’m still like—” He’s like, “Oh, they’re sitting around planning attacking Cersei—“ And there’s like an arrow on Arya. We have like a special teams force, ourselves, who can wear other people—We can just send her in to kill everyone. That’s why it ended at the death of the Night King for me. Nothing else, I’m foreclosing on the rest of it.
(Panel laughs and agrees)
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: That was the end of the show, wow! How amazing it ended! Season 8, episode 3. That’s hilarious.
(Panel continues laughing)
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Yeah, they really didn’t pay off Arya’s plot at all. Now she’s going to be, what, Dora the Explorer or a colonizer?
Kinitra Brooks: You know she’s going to be some imperialist somewhere and go and discover people who done been there for millennia. Like, “Ooh, I’m discovering you!” Like, really.
Paul Sturtevant: Yeah, I really don’t want to imagine Christopher Columbus as someone who is even more murderous. That’s not a good idea.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Oh, man, I tell you. That show, that show.
Paul Sturtevant: So, here’s the question. I mean, we’ve spent all this time, rightly, criticizing how it ended. Why do we care? Why do we care?
Shiloh Carroll: It’s so influential.
Kinitra Brooks: Incredibly so.
Shiloh Carroll: It got everybody’s attention.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Yep, I agree.
Kinitra Brooks: And set the bar for, you know—How many other people are getting shows. And that’s why I said they can’t do anything like this again. …I’m not going to watch the spin-offs, because I’m like, fuck y’all. Why? Why am I going to invest this time? I’m waiting for—We have the The Ballad of Black Tom coming out. We have The Broken Earth series. I’m so glad we have the stuff that Nnedi is doing. She’s got Who Fears Death. She’s also doing Wild Seed. …This has reiterated of whose entertainment I will consume now. I can’t handle this. Pop culture is so influential and so powerful. And what I don’t like is that people say, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter.” Or, “Oh, it doesn’t really—” You know, people are naming their child “Khaleesi.” Right? This is so powerful. It has such a lasting impact. And that’s why I, again, I know I’m repeating myself, but the lack of imagination and the limitations that they placed on themselves—That’s why that is such an important point of contention for so many fangirls, queer folks, people of color, black folks, etc.
Kinitra Brooks: You’re screwing yourself and we can see it because we’ve been screwed by this for so long. We know how powerful it is.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: And, you know what—I agree with Kinitra because I’m starting to see in the fandom the limits of transformative works. So, the big three franchises of Young Adult fantasy and science-fiction, which was Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. I didn’t like any of the epilogues that they tacked on to the series. But, I’ve gotten so used to fixing endings through transformative fandom. Either I’ll write a Fix-it Fic or I’ll read and consume others, but what I’m finding is that this week, or for the past month, the consternation in Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire fandom has been so deep. It has been the anger, the dismay, the upset. People are writing Fix-it Fics, but I think, as Kinitra mentions, I think we’re reaching a turning point where transformative fandom, where people read and write the self into existence in problematic narratives—We’re reaching a point of no return.
People are really angry. They’re saying, “Fix-it Fic is not enough.” And they want the source material to be more responsible. Now, that’s not restricting the storytellers’ agency to tell whatever story they wish. The problem is that the story must make sense in the end. For instance, I famously—I shouldn’t say “famously,” but kind of famously within fandom world, that’s how I got a Fan War page—I really did not like Ron and Hermione being together because Ron reminded me of my high school boyfriend, right? But, here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t disagree with the narrative because I saw it happening in the fourth book. And, so I just wrote fan—This is something different that just happened. I didn’t expect that Daenerys Targaryen was going to be a hero, was going to be the she-ro, or that she and Jon were going to ride off into the sunset with their little dragon riding babies. I did not expect that, but what I did expect was a narrative with pay-off.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: And, so, even though I disliked some aspects of the ending of, say, Harry Potter, I think that Rowling completed that story and tied all her ends. And there was adequate pay-off. Even if I didn’t like the ending, I didn’t quibble with it because it made sense. With this, I am dismayed that Martin hasn’t come out to disavow the ending. Maybe he is contractually obligated not to do so, but until he does so, I’m to the point where I’m not going to read the Winds of Winter until someone else reads it and tells me what’s in that book. I will be thoroughly spoiled before I read it. That’s how incensed I was by the fact that my intelligence was, you know—Well, what I keep saying is like, don’t tell me that shit is sugar.
That’s why I keep tweeting, I’ve been saying it in fandom, so what you’re saying is that—It was foreshadowed that Dany was going to be Mad and, so, right now—Okay, Dany stan here, some people in my side of the fandom were saying character development is not the same thing as foreshadowing. And like both Shiloh and Kinitra have said, they have jettisoned all character development to rush to their ending rather than give the show to Bryan Cogman and say, “You know what guys? Peace out.” Bryan Cogman, who wrote—His last episode was the best of the season eight, the best episode was A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, 8-02, where it was a character—All-character episode.
Give Bryan Cogman the final three seasons of this series. Give him seasons eight, nine, and ten. Let him wrap it up. Or better yet, why not have him and a woman showrunner?
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: So, you add a woman and then you have someone who is a fan of the books and you do it. But it’s just hubris, as Kinitra said, it’s extreme hubris. You must—And it’s subjugation, as well. It’s narrative and imaginative subjugation, where no one else could do this except for you and you wanted to just slam the door on your way out. And people will remember. I think they’re trying to beat the audience into submission, but people are going to remember this and hold it against both them and HBO. Martin has to come out and say something. He has to.
Kinitra Brooks:He did say that—He said like, “Oh, it’s kinda different.” I saw him as like double-speaking. I think he was with EW and he was like, “Oh, well, I’m kinda doing something a little different there of how I’m going to reach it.” I think he—He probably put that past his lawyer like, “How much can I say? Y’all messed up my goddamn story!”
(Panel laughs and agrees)
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: All this paperwork–! Because he gets paid, he still gets paid from the show. So, it’s like he wants to not mess up his coins, but this is about his legacy. Now, he has said—He didn’t do what his fans did. So, his fans in the early A Song of Ice and Fire fandom, said “Better than Tolkien!” So, he didn’t do that, but he has been very clear that he is trying to do this grand critique of Tolkien. And, brother, that’s a huge claim! And if you don’t stick your landing—…He reminds me of Icarus, it’s a grand ambition to want to tangle with Tolkien. He writes women better than Tolkien did, but if you don’t stick your landing I can’t say that you wrote women better. If you take Dany down the Mad Queen route after having Mad Queen Cersei, so you’re already telling us a Mad Queen story.
You must have something else going on in that Daenerys story that—And, I don’t know what he’s going to do. Maybe he can do it.
Kinitra Brooks: Is Cersei killed by a damn rock? Really? A rock?!
(Panel energetically agrees)
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: With Jaime—Did you see—Is his name Nikolaj, Nikolai?
Shiloh Carroll: Nikolai
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Nikolai. He was one—Nikolai was so angry. Did you see–
(Everyone talks at once)
Kinitra Brooks: So, The Last Watch sucked, but what was worth it was seeing the table reads of season eight and the only one who didn’t have a poker face was Kit Harrington. Emilia Clarke’s face was reading and was like, “Motherfucker, y’all done fucked me over.” You could see—And then they interviewed her, and they were like, “What do you think?” And she was like, “Oh, it’s a doozy!” Right?
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Yeah, I saw that!
Kinitra Brooks: You could tell that she was like, “Y’all are trying to torpedo me.” …It’s in the first twenty minutes because the rest of it is crap. But the first twenty minutes. They do the first table read and just watch Emilia Clarke’s—And even like the people seeing Varys. And Varys like, “This ain’t going the way that–” And, you know, because actors know. And they’re like, “Oh, shit, what have—” Even Tyrion, the dude who played Tyrion, he’s like, “Umm, they’re the best ever!” And I was like, yo there’s so much shade in that statement that’s there. And as for Ebony, for your point, I just want to say—I think to reiterate some of the things that we’ve been saying, the power of social media. Fans can speak back in ways that they never could before. And, you know, even people are making fun of that petition and that a million people signed it. And someone was like, “Oh, that’s only 10% of the people who watched it.”
But that’s the 10% that guides everybody else. Those are the first adapters. Those are the people that let shows know that something is hot. Right? And you have to beholding to people who are being that vocal. There’s a reason why influencers exist. There’s a reason why all those Talking Thrones and Alt Shift, all these people are making all this money. You know, they had the dude who does Emergency Awesome. They had him on the set!
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Oh, really! Charlie went on the set?
Kinitra Brooks: Oh, yeah! He got to do some stuff with them and go to the premiere. Like, he got to do some secret stuff, and whatever, and like that. These people are influencers and they are powerful. And you pissed them off.
Kinitra Brooks: There are now consequences, there are serious consequences for your actions. And be aware of them! You can do what you want, that’s what I tell people. You can do whatever you want, but you gotta handle the consequences of what you choose to do. And they don’t like that. And they’re not going to like that, but they’re gonna get it.
Paul Sturtevant: I want to go back to a point that Ebony was making, actually, about that this is an attempt to try to one-up Tolkien. That this an attempt to try to do something that is better than the sort of Legendary Father of Fantasy. But, the question I have is: why do we keep, as a society, why do we keep going back to the well that Tolkien dug? Why do we keep doing high fantasy in this way? Why?
Shiloh Carroll: I’m, again, going to say influence. Tolkien was enormous. That’s where a lot of people—It’s the first major fantasy they read and they just kinda kept doing it. And then all of the people coming after him, like Goodkind etc., just kinda kept doing that, but less skillfully. Which is, I think, part of when Martin’s like responding to Tolkien, a lot of it is also—He’s like the Tolkien imitators who have Disney-fied the Middle Ages. Like, he really respects Tolkien, but then he looks at like Goodkind and goes, “Eh, let’s fix this. This isn’t at all what we were trying to do with the Middle Ages fantasy, so let’s fix it.” And that’s what he went into A Song of Ice and Fire with, partially I think that was a major influence, but not like the entirety of his thematic-backing, it was he was trying to do.
Paul Sturtevant: So, tell me a little more about Goodkind and why, and how, he went sideways in terms of medieval-esque fantasy.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: …What Tolkien’s later imitators, and I might have read Goodkind a lot time ago, like in high school, but I was more of a Nnedi fan. I think that the imitators who might have “Disneyfied” fantasy, they went to Tolkien’s well, but kind of bedazzled it a bit. They weren’t as, I don’t want to use the word “obsessed,” because maybe that’s an ableist word. Tolkien spent five decades, at least, building his—I mean, he began building Middle Earth in the trenches, when he was in the trenches of World War I, and then he never stopped until he died. He really was obsessed with building this alternate world in ways that I think I did see Martin doing, but that I didn’t see other fantasy authors having the patience to do. Where you’re spending decades thinking about every single alterity, world-building aspect. You’re building languages from the bottom-up, you’re thinking about the different eras of that world and how change happened. Not just social change, geologic change. You’re thinking about—
I think that one of the reasons why the imitators’ world seemed thin is that you really could tell, and this is something I have to say about YA fantasy and I’m going to say, and people are going to be like, “Oh my gosh,” because I’m trying to also write some YA fantasy, black YA fantasy. I do not think that worlds that are thin stick as well as worlds that are thick and more well considered. And the reason why we love Martin and we’re so angry right now is because, yeah—The World of Ice and Fire, other than the linguistic stuff that Tolkien did, is just as well realized. So, Martin has spent the past 20-30 years, almost 30 years, really building out, not just the world we see or just the era that we’re getting in A Song of Ice and Fire, but this world feels rich. There’s religion, there’s thousands—tens of thousands of years of backstory—there’s mysteries that even the most magical characters have no idea of: the deep ones.
We can tell that he is building from Lovecraft and from other influences beyond Tolkien. And so, it’s really—I don’t want to denigrate Martin’s achievement. If I meet him, I’m just gonna—I’m probably gonna fangirl out, even if he does ruin my fave, because the world is just so rich. Now, is it still problematic that all of the people in the Summer Islands still run around naked and they get enslaved easy? Nah, that ain’t cool. I’m gonna talk to him about that, too, once I finish fangirling. But, I really do think that he made an attempt to build us an entire world and that’s why we love it. It’s a world that we can escape into and play in. There’s scope for the imagination.
Kinitra Brooks: Can I say also, I’m not a Tolkien person. I couldn’t get into it, I couldn’t get into the overwhelming whiteness of it, particularly at a certain age. I got into fantasy sort of through the backdoor and I haven’t really started to get into fantasy until later in my career where we get like a N.K. Jemisin. Like, N.K. turned me into fantasy because I was just like, I don’t really care about these people. I can’t enter this world. I can’t do this, I don’t have the—I’m not willing to expand myself enough to do this because I don’t want to work this hard to be able to identify with these characters. And I refused to because now there are options. And I found myself in horror, that’s why I’m a horror scholar. I found myself in science-fiction. What really was the entrance for me has been being able to get into it like in the television series, like Game of Thrones.
Even the movie like Conan the Barbarian—
(Panel starts talking all at once)
Kinitra Brooks: I just—I’ve had to, as a fan, draw boundaries of where I’m willing to give my eyes, to give my money, to give my time and energy to. And I think more and more people—People are saying, “Oh, you’re playing identity politics and those sorts of things.” Yes, because other folks have been playing it a lot longer than we have. Right? And to do the work, the identification with it, I don’t have the wherewithal anymore. More and more of us have options. I continually want to put this in something that is solution-based and not just shake our fists at it. We have things coming out, we have our own series. We women, and queer folks, and POC, and black folk. We’re doing our own work and now we’re getting the money to visualize it. So, you really can go screw yourself.
Kinitra Brooks: We get funding now. I’m sorry, I’m just like angry black—They’re gonna be like, “Oh, that girl’s such an angry black woman.” Whatever, I’m pissed off. …Really? Once they killed Missandei, I was like, fuck you all. You all could die. Everybody. Even my girl Arya. Even my girl Sansa. Everybody up in this piece can die. And it’s really a choice to kill a black woman character, particularly when she’s the only black woman character in your show. So, when they did that, and when they put her character in chains, and when they beheaded her–
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Beheaded her in chains.
Kinitra Brooks: Beheaded her in chains. I was like, excuse my French, these motherfuckers can never get their hands on another black woman character ever again. And that was when war was declared.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Yeah, I was the same way. Also, they put in gratuitous things that aren’t in the novel. For instance, I’m wondering if the Northerners—The racial politics of Westeros mirror our own, but in the books, I don’t know that the Northerners would be like some Southern, white supremacist, KKK member. So, the way they chose to adapt that—The Westerosi in the books have seen and they are aware of people of color. There’s actually a king from the Southern Isles in the court, King Robert Baratheon’s court, and there’s actually—The prostitutes who they have in the books—Now, I get why they didn’t do this, but you know, they’re black. So, it’s not like it’s—I can’t remember. They have strange names, I can’t pronounce them. But there were two black women who were at this brothel in the books. And so, along with Dorne, I get why ten years ago they chose not to make the first black women we see on the show prostitutes, that would have been—
Kinitra Brooks: But slaves are okay!
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Yeah, exactly. So, in Martin’s world, you have prostitutes, you have enslaved people. Dornish, I think are more brown than maybe people of African descent. But even Valyrians, which is what the Targaryens are, they’re seen as, in position, as different racially than white people. What I do think Martin is doing there is, Tolkien’s Eldar, his elves, are different than actual humans. So, the Valyrians, they’re human, but they’re different racially. They’re pale white people, but their like Albino. So, you see where Martin was struggling and straining against the conditioning that he probably grew up with as a 70-year-old white guy from New Jersey. But he was really trying to, in so far as, as much as he could, deconstruct some of the racial, gender, and class politics that are just taken for granted in Tolkien. But David and Dan read those books and all he wanted to do was adapt the Red Wedding. And he gave them the books because they guessed that Lyanna Stark was Jon Snow’s mother and Rhaegar Targaryen was his father.
Anybody who read A Game of Thrones and read Ned’s fever dream knows that that probably was the case. Everybody knew that R + L = J, after you read A Game of Thrones, so I almost wish he had been a little more discerning in choosing who to adapt his show.
Kinitra Brooks: My best friend doesn’t think they actually read all of the books. She’s like, “these motherfuckers are poor as” …Because listen I can say I didn’t read the books, but I didn’t make a show off of it. Right? Or millions of dollars. Right? Or was in charge of it. She doesn’t think that they’ve read all of the books.
Shiloh Carroll: I would totally agree with that, honestly. They’ve made so many mistakes in just off-the-cuff talking, where I’ve been like no, no. There was one where they asked which non-POV character did you enjoy adapting most and they were like, “Sam.” And everybody was like, “Um, Sam is a POV character.” And they were like, “He is?!”
Kinitra Brooks: See! We should put that out. Y’all fallen for these dudes, they haven’t even read the books. Have y’all watched Star Wars? I don’t think so.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Uh-oh. Oh, poor Star Wars fandom.
Kinitra Brooks: Do they know what happened in the confederacy? I don’t think so.
Kinitra Brooks: Show me your notes! You know how in math, you gotta show your work? Show your work!
Paul Sturtevant: So, one thing I wanted to ask about is I know that Shiloh and Ebony, both of you, in addition to scholars, are writers, yourselves. And so, you’re trying to write new fictions, new fantasies that are doing this better. So, Shiloh, why don’t you tell me a little bit about the book that you’re working on.
Shiloh Carroll: Oh, goodness. Mine is, the elevator pitch is, the Viking invasion of England with dragons. And LGBTQ representation and racial diversity.
(Panel is enthralled)
Kinitra Brooks: Are they sexy vikings?
Shiloh Carroll: They can be! There are no horned helms here.
Shiloh Carroll: But, yeah, I kind of went into it going, this medieval fantasy doesn’t have to have this much patriarchy. It doesn’t have to be this white, so let’s try to do something else. I’m not going to swear that I’m doing the absolute best with the racial stuff because I am a white woman, but I am doing the best that I can. And if anybody comes at me, and that’s wrong, then I’ll take it and I’ll try to do better the next time.
Paul Sturtevant: And that’s all you can do, really.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Well, I wanted to see myself in fantasy and now everybody knows that, since I wrote The Dark Fantastic. And they read all about how I long to see myself in fantasy, so I decided I was going to make a 17-year-old hurricane refugee from the Mississippi-Delta into a shape-shifter and he has no explanation for why he’s starting to change shape, especially during really emotional moments. And then he finds out that—Okay, this is very Black Panther-esque, but we just gonna roll with it, that he is the heir to a magical dynasty. But his father, he doesn’t know that his father is still living, is sort of the big bad in the series. He’s the antagonist. And so, what I’m trying to do is not only interrupt traditional Western fantasy, but originally I was doing a Pan-Africanist fantasy based on the stuff I read in my folks’ home when I was growing up, but because I listened to post-Black Panther critiques, I’ve actually de-Pan-Africanized the thing and it really is a Black American fantasy where–
So, what I’m having the kids do, book-by-book, is sort of trace backward through black U.S. fantasy. And I’m trying to use our spirituals, and our magic, and our superstition to actually build high fantasy. So I’m trying to worldbuild off our stuff. So, the first book is very Detroit. It’s very post-Great Migration. And, like I said, I have a boy and a girl protagonist and so, the boy is—Spent time in New Orleans, was born in Mississippi, spent time in New Orleans which is where Kinitra is from and I’m going to have her as one of my sensitivity readers so that I don’t mess up.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: All black folks, we ain’t all alike. The girl was born and raised in Detroit, and she dreams about bringing Motown back, but then she also has these abilities. So both of the kids are conflicted, like the boy just wants to be left alone and he has this legacy. And the girl wants to be this amazing singer, but she’s not fully human, and she has this other destiny. So, I’m really having a good time writing. I’m almost done and my agent is Brooks Sherman, so hopefully I’ll be submitting in the fall, manuscripts.
Kinitra Brooks: What does he
shape-shift into? A Loogaroo?
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Oh, no, no! But he should, he should!
Kinitra Brooks: I was like, is it a Loogaroo?
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Well, I’m thinking about, when they’re young they have one alter shape. Of course, because I was being stereotypical as fuck during the first few iterations of this, it’s a lion. But, I’m thinking that mature shape-shifters should be something like Marvel’s Mystique, you should be able to alter your shape into whatever the hell you want. But then, he doesn’t find—I’m giving away my book! He doesn’t find that out until a few more stages down. …I think I was more influenced not by Black Panther, but werewolf, so it really did have horror. I told Brooks this, I said, I really do think I was almost more influenced more by horror than by high fantasy, even though high fantasy is my favorite genre, because of not seeing the blackness there. So, there’s horror of shape-shifting and not knowing what to do with your body. It mirrors, not just blackness, and realizing that you’re this black boy turning into a man, walking through the world.
So, thematically, there’s that. But also just adolescence. Your body is changing, it’s doing shit that you don’t understand. You have desires and you know, so I wanted to play around with all that. It might be hot mess or it might be a hit! We’ll see.
Paul Sturtevant: We’ll find out, you never know. Kinitra, help me out, what is a Loogaroo.
Kinitra Brooks: A Loogaroo is a werewolf, it is like a Creole-Cajun tradition. Yeah, it’s basically like a Louisiana werewolf. And it’s just French.
Paul Sturtevant: I had no idea! That’s great!
Kinitra Brooks: With her saying that he’s from the Delta and that sort of thing, there are some writers—Have you been reading some of the romance? And the urban fantasy stuff?
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: I was years ago
Kinitra Brooks: There is some—I can’t think of her name right now. Lynn Emery, she writes these series and she’s a conjure woman! And one of the books dealt with the Loogaroo. …So, you’re dealing with ancestors, the dead, and all of these things. And it makes sense because so much of Southern Gothic history is based in blackness. You have the influence of the indigenous folks, of the African folks, of the European folks. Especially once you get to New Orleans, Southern Louisiana, you have a lot of the Caribbean influence and those sorts of things. So you have these sort of mixing of so many cultures, it makes sense that it’s a high fantasy area. You just have so much potential of so many things and peoples coming and mixing together, both willingly and unwillingly.
What I will say is, I am not writing a novel, but I am working on graphic novels and adapting some of the high fantasy—I’m working with some folks of adapting some of their short stories and books, I can’t say names yet, into graphic novels. So again, where we have folks who are usually marginalized, seeing themselves visually in another genre. And in ways that in which you might not get full funding for a book—for a film or a series, but you can realize some of these things visually where people can see themselves. I think it’s such a powerful thing.
And we also have so many folks who will read a graphic novel while not necessarily read a 500-page novel. And that’s who I want to make sure—Because I am not just interested in contemporary folks and what they like, but I’m very much into influencing who’s going to be the N.K. Jemisin, they’re own version, 20-25 years from now. And that’s about getting kids to see themselves in fantasy, and to see themselves manifested in the many different ways in which they manifest—whether that be as queer, as trans. Whether that be as black, as indigenous, as fem, as masculine. I want to make sure that we are laying those seeds with those folks now so they don’t have to do a podcast on something as horrific as what happened in Game of Thrones.
Kinitra Brooks: See, I think about generations. I want you miserable for generations. When I go after you, I don’t just want you to be miserable, I want generations of your family to, as well. That’s why I’m so into the Game of Thrones thing because I’m into the House, this is my family. I’m very New Orleans, we’re very much into loyalty to our family, so I was like I get this. I will take out everybody up in here if this means my family staying. Yo, I got—I totally got that understanding. And House Tyrell, rest in peace, that was my house. I loved it, I loved the women. I loved Lady Olenna, I was there for Lady Olenna. I loved that she killed—I loved that she poisoned herself. …I think, certain moments, D&D were very good at manifesting. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone else had written those scenes, though, because it showed actual talent. Shade. So, when she was like, “Tell Cersei it was me.” And I reimagine it—Never play this podcast for my mama—But I reimagine it, Lady Olenna telling Jaime, “Tell that bitch it was me. I did it. I killed all her kids. I was responsible for every single thing that was wrong in her life.”
And, that’s it. Scene, I die. Like, I want to be that petty and evil one day.
Kinitra Brooks: Like, I could see—You know because you killed my whole family, you blow them up. Even the crappy one, because her grandson wasn’t worth much of shit, was he? But he was still hers, and she loved him. So, when you blow all of them up, you’re going to have to deal with it. I’m going to see your ending.
Paul Sturtevant: Remind me never to piss you off, okay.
Paul Sturtevant: So, I guess we should probably wrap up, but one last question I want to ask. We’ve been throwing a heck of a lot of shade at Game of Thrones, totally fair, but we’ve also been talking a bit about some of the other fantasies that are out now that are doing a better job, that are being more representative of black people, of people of color, of women, of queer people, and all of that sort of stuff. So I want to go around the proverbial table and I want you to me, what’s the one thing that our listeners should go to Amazon and order right now? What’s the one thing that you should be having on your bedside table right now. Shiloh, why don’t you get started with you.
Shiloh Carroll: Anything by N.K. Jemisin. All of it, just go get all of it.
Paul Sturtevant: Alright, tell me why! Why?
Shiloh Carroll: Her world-building and structure is so amazing. I read the first one in The Broken Earth Trilogy and when I hit the point where you realize how all of these narrators are connected, I was like, holy fuck yes! This is amazing! And I need to go back and reread it, knowing that now because it’s got all of those layers that you don’t necessarily pick up until that a-ha moment. She’s an amazing writer.
Paul Sturtevant: Okay, so one vote for anything by N.K. Jemisin. Over to you Ebony, what’s your pick that the readers should pick up right now?
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Anything by Nnedi Okorafor. I think that she is just incredible. She writes for both youth and young adults. One of my favorite books by her is Akata Witch because what she does is—She’s thinking through some of the same issues that I’m thinking through, as a Black American, as a Nigerian-American. So, Akata Witch is really about hybridity and thinking about identity, although using speculative narration to do so. So, “Akata” is a word we’ve been kind of banding about in diaspora conversation because, you know, sometimes they’re saying that Nigerians will call Black Americans “Akata,” which I don’t know if it’s Yoruba or Igbo—It’s Yoruba for stray cat, or somebody who is far from home. But one of the things I’ve learned from my Nigerian-American friends is that they get called that, too, because they’re caught between two worlds.
Their parents were born and raised in Nigeria, but if they were born and raised here, it’s a very different thing. So, I see her very much as a mentor and a guide for the kind of work that I want to write for young people. But just on this side of the Atlantic and thinking about the Black U.S., and black Caribbean and our unique situation here. She’ just wonderful and everything that she writes is glorious. And I can’t wait to see her adapted for small and big screen.
Kinitra Brooks: I would reiterate both of them. N.K. Jemisin and The Broken Earth, and my students love it. …One of my football players who didn’t read, guessed that! He was like, “What if, so and so, and so and so!” And I was like, “Oh my gosh!” That book, that’s a 500-page book, and it’s always intimidating to my students, but they dig in and they get into it. It’s an awesome book. And even some of her early work, The Inheritance Trilogy, you can see her building. And, oh my gosh, I love The Red Dirt Witch as a short story by her. It’s amazing. Same thing with Nnedi Okorafor. I think the Biniti series is excellent. Very, very teachable. And Lagoon, which imagines an alien invasion that happens in Lagos, Nigeria. So, for once, something doesn’t begin in America or in Western Europe. It’s really, really interesting and very well done. I would also put forward Victor Lavelle. His The Ballad of Black Tom is so good, so teachable. It’s being adapted. And everyone that we’ve mentioned, their work is being adapted into television and/or film. I would also recommend P. Djeli Clark.
Kinitra Brooks: He wrote this short novella called The Black God’s Drum, I’m going to teach it this coming semester. It is badass and it’s set in New Orleans, I’m a little biased. I just love what’s going on there. And I would also put out Tomi Adeyemi. I’m very excited about where her work is going and about the world-building that she’s doing. And what I do also love, we’re now giving writers of color, women of color, the space to become great. Right? …N.K. Jemisin, her Inheritance Trilogy was solid, it was good. But she’s winning all of these awards because she has had the opportunity to grow and stretch and do all her things. And where she brought out The Broken Earth series that just blew everyone’s heads off. And I think we have to give folks the time to become the writers they’re meant to be. And we have to have that patience.
And I see that even with George R.R. Martin in where, what I admire about him, is he’s like, “Yeah, I’m learning and growing and trying to do better and develop these things.” Each book, and the depth of characterization is subsequently better than the last. And that’s for me. Like, Shiloh, I don’t expect your book to be absolutely perfect, but you’re trying and growing, and showing all of these things, stretching and making these efforts. And, for me, it’s about the effort and the work that you’re putting into it, and are you having the opportunity and taking the advantage of the ability to grow. And that’s what I think is just so disheartening about what happened with D&D. Ebony spoke about it, the characterization of Jon Snow. They don’t grow. You don’t grow. And I don’t understand someone being within the realm of the literary, within the realm of fantasy, within the realm of even the basic concept of the journey and learning nothing along the way.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: That’s deep.
Paul Sturtevant: Yeah, I think if there’s no better place to stop, we seem to have found it. I want to take a moment to thank our entire panel: Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Kinitra Brooks, and Shiloh Carroll. Thanks so much for participating.
Kinitra Brooks: Thank you for having us!
Shiloh Carroll: Thanks for having us!
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Thank you so much! This was great!
Kinitra Brooks: It was awesome!
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas: Cathartic!
Kinitra Brooks: Like an exorcism, maybe I won’t be so angry about it anymore!
Paul Sturtevant: I don’t know about that, I think that’s a deep, deep well.
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