If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, or even just a casual watcher, chances are you’ve noticed that the people in power — or those with heroic narratives — tend to all look a certain way (hello, Lannisters, Daenerys, the Starks). Clearly, there are few people of color on the show. When they do pop up, they tend to portray slaves or servants, like Missandei or Grey Worm.
Now, casting director Nina Gold has an answer for concerned fans — though it might not make them feel much better.
“Even though these are fantasy worlds, there are tribes, families, and dynasties. Once you’ve put one mark on the catalyst for the Targaryens or the Starks, you really owe it to the, oh I can’t think of the word, but the authenticity of trying to make them a family somehow. In the books, the Targaryens are these white, white people with silver hair and violet eyes. The Starks are kind of rough, like Northern English people. The Lannisters are golden, aren’t they? We really believed we were doing it like the books, basically,” she recently said to Vanity Fair.
“I guess I don’t know what to really say about it, because it’s not like there’s no diversity in the casting in Game of Thrones. We’ve turned Grey Worm and Missandei into really deep characters,” she also said. “I really do believe in diversity in casting, and always have done. I don’t feel I have to defend it, really.”
It seems that the team is specific with what sort of diversity they want and that they have "ideas" of how fictional kingdoms will resemble real-life places. Gold, who admitted she’s a staunch fan of the beloved Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell), said that the team “basically wanted [Dorne] to have this sort of Latin element to it.” Three years ago, Pascal told Reddit he had an instinct that the character would sound like his father — his family is Chilean. (You can see part of his audition tape in a reel, here.)
The man himself, George R. R. Martin, has skirted the diversity issue multiple times, often citing similar reasons. In a comment on his blog in 2014 responding to concerns about a dearth of Asians, he said “Well, Westeros is the fantasy analogue of the British Isles in its world, so it is a long, long way of Asia analogue. There weren’t a lot of Asians in Yorkish England, either.” He added, “that is not to suggest that such places don’t exist, however” — they’d be detailed in The World of Ice and Fire. He had a similar response that summer when a fan expressed concern over the absence of black characters who weren’t “servants, guards, or charlatans”: “Westeros around 300 AC is nowhere near as diverse as 21st century America, of course,” he wrote, “but with that being said, I do have some 'characters of color' who will have somewhat larger roles in Winds of Winter. Admittedly, these are secondary and tertiary characters, though not without importance.”
In other words: apparently, in a fantasy world things can’t be altered from the reality on which they are based. And though the showrunners appear to stick to these casting choices out of respect for the source material, they appear to have no trouble throwing in storylines about rape.