Why I Stan For Bran the Disabled King in #GameOfThrones

Why I Stan For Bran the Disabled King in #GameOfThrones May 21, 2019

This is probably one of those awkward dad moments when I misuse a term like “stan” that the kids are using on Twitter. And it’s even more corny because it rhymes. But writing about Game of Thrones seems to require a less than fully serious title. There’s been a lot of backlash against this season of Game of Thrones. The plot was pretty clunky and awkward. But the one redeeming quality of the finale was the way that a disabled man randomly ended up king in a hyper-patriarchal world in which he’s basically a non-person (and it’s on you if this is a spoiler because series finales are meant to be watched live).

So let me take a moment to acknowledge all the bad plot elements in the finale. There’s no way Tyrion Lannister or Jon Snow should have survived at all. How in the world would the fierce warriors of the Dothraki and Unsullied wait politely for several weeks for a council of local nobles to show up and decide what to do about a traitor and a man who killed their queen? Also Jon’s stabbing of Daenaerys was the most sterile, underwhelming murder I’ve ever seen on television. There are so many more complaints that could be registered. It seemed like when you have a 15 page paper due at midnight and the last two pages are gibberish because you had to type them in the final 30 minutes.

But after all that, they made a king out of Bran the disabled man who (supposedly) can’t produce an heir (even though my paraplegic grandfather produced half of his ten children after he got paralyzed by polio). And I should also pause here to give props to the most meme-able line of the whole season, when Sansa Stark says to Edmure Tully (and every overly confident mediocre 70+ year old white male presidential candidate) “Uncle please sit.”

I was irritated that Twitter started mocking Bran, saying that he “didn’t do anything” to be king, like the guy who “writes his name on the group project when he didn’t do any work.” Ah because he’s in a wheelchair and he doesn’t have battlefield blood and ashes all over his face to prove he’s sufficiently a man. Got it. The ableism was on full display among the Twitter woketocracy.

But rather than just bashing that, let’s talk about the theological implications of Bran. Because he’s the one character who almost perfectly embodies grace (at least in season 8 and the earlier episodes I’ve seen): “You’re a good man Theon.” “You were exactly where you were supposed to be.” “You made mistakes but now you’re going to fix them.” Etc. It’s interesting because even Christians hate grace when they’re watching Game of Thrones. I saw a lot of whining that Cersei’s death wasn’t more spectacular. Granted, I didn’t watch every episode of every season. I came late to the game so I binged the most important ones to get enough context. But after I saw Cersei stumbling naked through the streets of King’s Landing covered in shit and blood, I couldn’t hate her. Bran was probably the only character other than Jamie who didn’t hate Cersei.

And I recall Jamie’s incredulous conversation with Bran earlier this season, dumbfounded that he wasn’t ratted out in Winterfell for the horrible thing he did that caused Bran’s paralysis. Bran just said that he wouldn’t have become who he needed to be if that had never happened. Wow. I need to tread lightly because disability can be romanticized. I will never know what it was like to be my paralyzed grandfather and spend most of my life in a wheelchair. I do know that my grandfather’s triumph as a medical researcher and famous textbook author happened after he was disabled and that witness had a huge impact on my life. The respect that he commanded from his children even though he was completely physically dependent on them gave me a different way to imagine God’s nature.

The closest I come to disability is my neurodiversity, my mental illness, and my ulcerative colitis which have each been debilitating to varying degrees in my journey. What I needed to discover in order for the crosses I’ve carried in my body to give my life meaning and purpose is Henri Nouwen’s concept of a “wounded healer.” As I was reading his book Life of the Beloved with half a dozen sixty year old lesbians in 2002, God said to me, “Your brokenness is your chosenness.” When my wounds became my vocation, it was at least one of my many salvations.

Bran is a wounded healer. He’s the only kind of man who could rule a people who have just suffered horrific genocide. He has an incredible gentleness and wisdom that I have often experienced in the presence of disabled people (which is not to say that disabled people aren’t allowed to be angry ever or that they’re always wise, etc). I just think that the world would be better if people who are in touch with their physical dependence on others were empowered to lead us.

One of the most important passages in the Bible which captures the gospel as I understand it is 1 Corinthians 1:27-29: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” When Christianity is at its best, who it empowers to lead looks like this prophecy.

Toxic Christianity happens when the alpha males are in charge and its theological priorities are shaped by the need for alpha males to justify themselves. When we look at the gospel story, we see alpha males whose religious authority was threatened by an outsider healer named Jesus whom they had put to death. This divine human embodied abject helplessness on the cross as his fullest revelation of divinity (“my power is made perfect in weakness,” 2 Cor 12:9). He was vindicated in the authority his weakness by the triumph of his resurrection. And then of course a different set of alpha males came along and made sure that they sufficiently bracketed the weakness of the cross under their atonement theories so that they could continue to stay in charge.

But I don’t serve the alpha males who have co-opted Jesus’ story to build their mighty praise stadiums. I serve the God who chooses helplessness and crucifixion as his form of power. And in the midst of a popular TV series that was problematic in so many different ways, the type of authority wielded by the God I serve was well represented by a king in a wheelchair. Plus Bran is a mystic and I’m down with the mystics.

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