Game of Thrones managed to ruin its most interesting character by making her do something that was completely against her nature.
This article contains spoilers for season 8 of Game of Thrones.
Sometimes drawing a line in the pop culture sand works in your favor, and other times it explodes in your face like dragon fire.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about why I honestly believed that Daenerys Targaryen was the ruler Westeros needed when Thrones takes its final bow on May 19. It seemed to me that she genuinely wanted to break the wheel and help usher in a better world for all.
Sure, she was a bit entitled, impetuous and too quick to burn her enemies alive, but it was all theoretically in service of a larger altruistic goal. As Dany herself once said, she didn’t spend a lifetime amassing power and influence in Essos just to become queen of the ashes in Westeros. The idea was always to usurp Cersei with as little bloodshed in King’s Landing as possible.
For eight seasons, this was how the show presented Dany and her ambitions. That’s why it was so disappointing when Thrones decided to throw away a series worth of character work in one barbaric act of violence during Sunday’s penultimate episode. It managed to irreparably destroy Dany’s reputation and the notion that this show ever cared about her at all in one fell swoop.
To recap, “The Bells” depicted Dany’s army going up against Cersei’s forces defending King’s Landing. It looked like we were going to get an epic battle, but instead Dany and Drogon proceeded to destroy the entire Iron Fleet, the Golden Company and a solid portion of the Lannister army while barely losing a single Dothraki, Unsullied or Northern soldier.
After two seasons of fans complaining about Dany’s poor military skills, she proved that she could take King’s Landing with minimal casualties, especially to the civilians trapped in Westeros’ capitol. She got the Lannister army to drop their swords, and the bells chimed to declare Dany the winner of this conflict.
And that’s when, out of nowhere, a switch seemed to flip in Dany. In less than a scene, she apparently decided that she’d rather be feared than loved and instructed Drogon to set King’s Landing on fire, innocent townsfolk and all. The rest of the episode was devoted to watching folks do their best to survive her completely unnecessary onslaught.
It was a brutal moment for a character some had been worried had the potential to go full “Mad Queen,” not unlike her father the Mad King. It was what Varys tried to warn both Tyrion and Jon about before Dany executed him for conspiring against her. It was the culmination of everyone’s worst fears regarding the inbred madness of the Targaryen family line.
Here’s the thing: None of that tracks with the Dany we spent eight seasons getting to know. We certainly have gotten hints at her ability to be ruthless both to her friends and enemies. But nothing she has ever said or done led us to believe she was capable of that level of pure, peasant-burning evil.
Remember, this is the same woman who felt so bad after one of her dragons killed the daughter of a peasant in Mereen that she chained up two of her dragons.
It’s also the same woman who liberated almost an entire continent from slavery. Her whole identity revolved around protecting the weak. That admittedly often involved setting some people on fire, but it was only those who were propagating the cruel system she was trying to change or who directly threatened her, like the Dothraki leadership who were about to violently rape her.
Most recently, as Dany conveyed to Sansa, she put the one objective she had been working her entire life toward on hold to help Jon Snow defend the North against the white walkers. She may have been shaken up after learning about Jon’s parentage, but she still gave up half her army for a cause championed by someone else. That’s not something a Mad Queen would do.
For what it’s worth, Dany was by far the most effective fighter during the Battle of Winterfell. With Drogon, she easily killed the most wights of any combatant, and she continued fighting valiantly by Ser Jorah’s side when she was knocked off Drogon. Once again, no one willing to put herself in that kind of danger for somebody else’s war would commit the atrocities Dany unleashed upon King’s Landing.
So, what is a show working toward a pre-determined end game that hasn’t been justified in the slightest to do? If you’re David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, you ret-con the crap out of her arc in a few poorly written episodes right before your series finale.
The show attempted to rationalize Dany snapping by killing one of her most trusted advisers, two of her dragons and her best friend in rapid succession. Just to pile it on, Thrones had Jon reject Dany’s advances just to really rub in how alone she felt.
The most egregious example of Thrones fast-tracking Dany’s descent into madness occurred in the “previously on Thrones” segment that aired before “The Bells.” During it, a montage of people talking about the possibility of her going crazy played over her close-up after she had just watched Missandei get beheaded. Re-defining Dany’s character outside the confines of an episode is next-level lazy writing.
All of the above was heavy-handed storytelling that both exemplified the pacing issues Thrones hasn’t been able to fix since the start of season 7 and failed to effectively set up her eventual heel turn.
It’s clear now that George R. R. Martin always intended to make Dany the villain of his story. And had Benioff and Weiss accepted HBO’s offer to produce more episodes in seasons 7 and 8, the show probably could’ve taken the necessary time to craft a more organic arc that would lead to her heartlessly decimating King’s Landing.
But as it stands, the show’s handling of Dany just looks like character assassination at its worst. They took a character who I truly thought was the best person to govern this unruly world and sent her down a path of no return with little to no proper motivation for her awful deeds. The woman incinerating the residents of King’s Landing was not the Daenerys Targaryen Thrones gave us for most of the show’s run.
Shame on the creators and writers of Game of Thrones for ruining their most interesting character.