This story contains major spoilers for the series finale of Game of Thrones.
“A boy born broken, raised to see himself not as disabled, just different.”
That’s how a newscaster described Oscar Pistorius in an uplifting segment on the South African runner before he became the first double-leg amputee to compete at the Olympics (and quite before he was convicted of killing his girlfriend). I came across the clip in a YouTube compilation documenting popular media’s obsession with portraying disability as something to be “overcome,” a trope that doesn’t so much help viewers understand people with disabilities as it does turn them into inspirational tchotchkes. There’s even a term that disability activists use for this sort of portrayal: the “supercrip.”
Tyrion Lannister knows the appeal of a supercrip mascot. “Who has a better story than Bran the Broken?” he tells a council of Westerosi lords in the Game of Thrones series finale. “The boy who fell from a high tower and lived. He knew he’d never walk again, so he learned to fly. He crossed beyond the Wall a crippled boy, and became the Three-Eyed Raven.”
Making the pitch for Bran Stark to be made king of Westeros, Tyrion bases his case, primarily, on its public-relations appeal. Stories, Tyrion says, are more capable of uniting people than armies or gold—and Bran’s tale of thriving in paralysis supposedly represents the most compelling biography among the prospective rulers of the realm. Tyrion might be right in this prescription, given how popular Branlike tales are in our own world’s history. All along a show about “cripples, bastards, and broken things,” Thrones ended up leaning into the clichés of disability it once complicated while also, fittingly, acknowledging them as clichés.