Drogon: Destroying Symbols Of The Past Is The Only Way To Move America Forward
When Drogon, the lone remaining dragon in the world of Game of Thrones, melted the Iron Throne that his rider Daenerys Targaryen spent her life seeking and eventually lost her life obtaining, many viewers were miffed. Why, they wondered, would the dragon destroy a metal chair it had never seen before, rather than Jon Snow, the man who killed Daenerys? It seemed a strangely symbolic decision for a dragon to make, even if they throne itself being destroyed would have been a fitting thematic decision in a vacuum. Well, it turns out that the actor who played Drogon pushed for this choice to be in the final episode’s script.
“I thought that it would be very appropriate. This dragon, whose ‘mother’ was just killed after being driven mad in pursuit of the Iron Throne, destroying the physical symbol of the ambition and power that were both great strengths and causes for her downfall, felt right to me. Drogon had been used as a tool of mayhem and destruction; now, he was making a decision of his own to fulfill the lighter side of his mother’s ambition, the ambition to ‘break the wheel,’ as she said, to end oppression.” Tommy Petrovic, the dragon actor who was plucked from obscurity in 2015 to play the fully-grown iteration of Drogon, is sipping a black coffee and picking at a cronut as he explains the reasoning behind his insistence that his character take this controversial action.
Dressed in a bright floral button down shirt, slim fit khakis rolled up above the ankle, and lensless frames, Petrovic cuts a less imposing figure than he does on screen and still maintains the air of the Brooklyn hipster he was in a past life. “I think there’s only so much most individuals can do to make a meaningful change in this world for themselves and other people like them. They can vote, but one vote only goes so far, and that’s not very far at all. I was big into Occupy back at the beginning of the decade, and I think a lot of what we were fighting for back then were the right things, but the leadership and the lack of organization submarined us, and it really disillusioned a lot of people when it came to what collective action can do too.” He chuckles and glances out the window, slightly embarrassed. “I hate to sound like I’m paraphrasing Batman [note: he’s actually paraphrasing Alfred, Batman’s butler], but something like what Drogon did, destroying a symbol of oppression… I think that symbols have power that individuals don’t, and the destruction of symbols can have more power than any other kind of action an individual can take, short of, you know…” He tilts his head and shrugs but perhaps wisely does not finish that particular thought.
Like many millennials, Petrovic has been slowly radicalized ever since the Hope of the Obama campaign turned into the Same Stuff, More Charismatic Guy of the Obama presidency. He sees the Trump presidency, for all its horrific messaging and dehumanization, as an opportunity. “I guess I’m a bit of an accelerationist,” he chuckles bashfully, “but if we can get people to see, hey, this criminal dumbass was able to become president because he had a reality show and convinced people he was really rich and successful, that’s indicative of deeper problems than a resurgence in racism being acceptable online or whatever. The things people value in this country are fucked up.”
America’s prevailing myths, Petrovic argues, are a big part of this: “You grow up and people tell you you can be anything you want to be, you can be president. The American Dream, you can have more than your parents. It’s not true. You can’t just work hard and boom, you’re the president, boom, you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you need things to break right for you, and things probably aren’t going to break right unless you’re from the right family and neighborhood, which help you get into the right schools, which help you meet the right people. We don’t point out and praise the exceptions because it’s a good story, we point out and praise the exceptions to prove that anyone who isn’t the exception doesn’t deserve it — ‘it’ being comfort, stability, dignity.
“I’m not in a position of comfort today, I don’t have this big platform to say these things and have a publication and my status lend them authority, just because I worked hard at my craft. Luckily this show came along and needed a dragon who was roughly my age, and I was able to grow into the role. That’s not in my control. If there’s no Game of Thrones, Tommy Petrovic is maybe an uncredited background dragon in a Harry Potter spinoff, or maybe,” he now points a giant winged arm past my head, “he’s behind that counter serving coffee while you interview some other actor who caught their break in the void Thrones would have left. And if so, I wouldn’t deserve to have a roof over my head and hot meals every night any less than I do now.”
So, what does Drogon’s symbolic gesture have to do with American myths? It’s hard, he says, to imagine a revolution in a nation as content in its historical narrative as America. “Americans are brought up with patriotism, or nationalism depending on your personal definition of the line between them, pumped into their heads. The Pledge of Allegiance, imagine what we’d think if you described North Korean schoolchildren with their hands over their hearts pledging devotion to a flag. Back to back world war champs, I know a couple of my friends who have shirts that say that. So if we’re going to change things, if we’re going to make class consciousness a thing in a country that prides itself on the bullshit notion that we don’t have classes, we need to say goodbye to the symbols of that narrative. The Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore — don’t even get me started — , the White House, fucking Confederate statues,” he counts off these symbols one by one on his newly-manicured claws, “they all serve to reinforce the idea of American exceptionalism that leads to a public feeling justified in intervening militarily in the Middle East, financially in Venezuela, in blaming poor people for their circumstances because they could have been anything if they just worked harder.”
Petrovic sighs and looks down into his nearly-empty coffee cup for a moment. He’s been animated this whole time — it’s funny how animated all the actors from Game of Thrones seem to be when they’re not playing their staid on-camera personas — but now he’s contemplative. These vague revolutionary ideas, he says, are probably unrealistic, even if he believes them necessary. People are too comfortable, or too used to the way things are. Inertia is powerful, perhaps more powerful than the 1% he protested all those years ago when it comes to preventing change that would help the masses. He shakes his head. “Maybe I’m naive or full of myself. I just hoped that when people saw me put a symbol of absolute power to the flame on screen, maybe they’d be inspired to take action of their own, to start to destroy the artifacts of the myths that help keep people in their place. Probably not. But maybe. Hopefully.”