Bran The Broken and Ableism

There’s so many things to say about the finale of Game of Thrones’ eight season run. Most of those will be discussed well beyond saturation, and are largely a matter of personal opinion. My problem isn’t who ended up on the throne, or how they got there, but how much ableism the show demonstrated in its presentation of that narrative.

Jaime Lannister pushing Brandon Stark out of a tower window in Season 1 Episode 1.

Jaime Lannister pushing Brandon Stark out of a tower window in Season 1 Episode 1.

1: The Cripping Up

We meet Brandon Stark in the very first episode of Game of Thrones. In that very same episode he’s thrown out of a window, receiving a spinal injury that leaves him paraplegic. Despite that, throughout the entire show he is played by an able-bodied actor (Isaac Hempstead Wright) cripping up. This is a show with an undead army, dragons, direwolves, countless gory deaths, and they can’t cast a disabled person to play a disabled character.

Sure, casting a disabled person as Bran would have been harder for the showrunners. While lots of wheelchair users can stand and walk, including some paraplegic wheelchair users, let’s assume they hired someone who can’t. They’re still left with less of a CGI challenge than dragons. In exchange, they could have got a much more convincing depiction of life after a spinal injury. They might have even got some free sensitivity reading into the bargain. (Hey…uh guys…you do know that lots of wheelchair users can have kids right?)

Is Bran contemplating the Godswood, warging, or just waiting for someone to come back and get him from the snow because he can’t move his own wheelchair? I guess we’ll never know.

Is Bran contemplating the Godswood, warging, or just waiting for someone to come back and get him from the snow because he can’t move his own wheelchair? I guess we’ll never know.

2: That Wheelchair, all those stairs

Somehow throughout this entire eight series, no one managed to come up with a wheelchair that Bran could self-propel. Tyrion gave him a design for a saddle to ride without using his legs in Season 1, Episode 4, and there were plenty of wheelbarrows and toboggans, but in the entire rest of the show no one managed a self propelling wheelchair.

Someone at my GoT viewing party said “Bran’s got the ultimate power move, having people push him around all the time“.

It’s not really true though. I’ve been a wheelchair user since 2015 with varying degrees of independent mobility throughout that time, and there is very little as humiliating, frustrating and infantilising as relying on other people to get around. When you’ve experienced this kind of vulnerability and powerlessness, I genuinely can’t conceive of feeling powerful as a result of lacking independence.

I also have to assume that given there is no evidence at any stage in the show of castles being retrofitted or repaired to provide wheelchair access, Bran is still spending a large portion of time not shown being carried places. Again, it’s infantilising.

Brandon sitting in his wheelchair between Arya and Sansa while the panel of nobles decides who will rule.

Brandon sitting in his wheelchair between Arya and Sansa while the panel of nobles decides who will rule.

3: That Title

We get through all of that ableism (and more), and what’s the reward? It could have been a triumphant moment of disability representation, a counterpoint to the way the show had treated its disabled characters along the way. Instead, “Bran the Broken“. Nothing about stories, or omniscience, or warging. Not even just “Brandon Stark, first of his name, king of all that stuff“ with the rest of the titles to accrue later.

Bran. The. Broken.

Just take some time to think about what that says to all the disabled viewers watching (or reading your ableist jokes about the outcome). It says our disability will always be the most important thing about us. That we must be inspiration porn, without our incredible achievements irrelevant in the face of our inspiring disability. That no matter how fantastic our skills, we will still be best described as broken.

The show has always been ableist under the guise of “gritty historical reality” but that ending really hurt. The fact that most fans responded with jokes like “Good thing he brought his own chair!”, jokes that get levelled at me a lot in my day-to-day life, hurt even more.

I don’t want a remake of the last two seasons. I just want the audience to realise how much these portrayals, and their responses to them, can hurt us disabled people.