Hold the Door: Companion Prosthetics in Game of Thrones

Critical Writing
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Abstract (in English): 

Despite its many flaws, the blockbuster television series Game of Thrones could be seen as attempting to resist what David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder have identified as narrative prosthesis, in which disabled characters are oversimplified and utilized primarily as a kind of catalyst for normate characters in their foregrounded narrative arcs.

Characters in the series can arguably be seen as more complex at times, while also evoking other stereotypes of disability, from Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage, who is referred to as a “dwarf” and has congenitally restricted growth, to Bran Stark, who is paralyzed after being thrown out of a window, and Hodor, who only ever utters the word that has become his name.

The use of various forms of prostheses is common in the series as well, from Bran’s horse saddle, modified and made for him by Tyrion, to his developing ability to “warg” into animal and human others, which allows him to control and move around in their bodies, while perceiving the world through their eyes and ears. It is significant, though, that the only human character he “wargs” into is one who appears to have a cognitive disability, the character of Hodor.

The purpose of this paper is to think through various kinds of prosthesis suggested by the series, particularly when animality and disability are thus juxtaposed with each other, when animals are constructed as objects merely to be utilized by humans, and disabled humans are arguably seen as closer to animals. I engage with posthumanist theory, biopolitics, and human-animal studies to reiterate challenges to the idea that animals cannot have agency or subjectivity, as well as disability studies in relation to various ways of theorizing prosthetics.

These fields come together through the concept of companion prosthetics, which I have theorized with Jan Grue, as a way of taking into account the animacies, in Mel Chen’s sense, of various animal, human, and technological prostheses. Drawing upon Donna Haraway’s work on companion species, I emphasize the difference between prosthetic relations which are merely instrumentalist (denying the animacies of the prosthesis itself) and those in which an animated actor responds to the animacies of a prosthetic other, whether it be mechanical, animal, or human. Game of Thrones can ultimately help us to see the ways that companion prosthetics suggest better ways of acknowledging and responding to the inevitable dependence we all have on prosthetics of various kinds, even if we do not think of ourselves as disabled.


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Cecilie Klingenberg