Warning: this article contains spoilers. “Game of Thrones” fans beware.
The final episode of “Game of Thrones” airs this Sunday and it’s shaping up to be a bloodbath. Few have survived the show’s eighth season and last week’s episode, “The Bells,” featured the deaths of thousands more at King’s Landing, including a few mainstays, at the hands of Daenerys Targaryen.
The beginning of season eight saw Daenerys, Jon Snow, Arya and Sansa Stark gearing up to defeat the Night King and his army of White Walkers. It seemed like the Night King was supposed to be the season’s main antagonist until he was obliterated in episode three. Now, with Daenerys’ massacring innocents out of left field, it seems the showrunners have found their villain.
Daenerys going dark is not necessarily a bad twist. She is a more interesting villain than the first of the White Walkers. The Night King is terrifying but lacks motivation beyond a mindless desire to destroy. Ultimately, he is a zombie with a singularly evil purpose. Daenerys is a complex character, who viewers have come to sympathize with over the course of eight seasons. Overall, the twist feels more representative of the series as a whole than a battle between good and evil. The White Walkers are inhuman and, at its core, “Game of Thrones” has always been a show about humanity; how war and power make human beings into monsters.
Daenerys was introduced in season one as a meek, powerless character, controlled by an abusive older brother and treated like property. The power she acquires over the series is the result of a combination of genetic gifts, her patience, level headedness and a determination to use any situation to her advantage. Her humble origins make her a champion of the downtrodden and voiceless, eventually earning her the title “Breaker of Chains.”
The problem with the twist is that as Daenerys gains titles and abilities, she displays a pretty consistent ability to use them deliberately. Her sudden decision to kill scores of civilians in “The Bells,” and raining down dragon fire like a machine gun, felt jarring and completely out of character. Even after watching her struggle to overcome tragedy for an episode or two, the massacre seems like a leap with the writers rushing to push the Mother of Dragons to a breaking point by season’s end.
The writers have defended the episode, stating that Daenerys just decided to “make things personal.” The slaughter in “The Bells” is probably supposed to mirror the sack of King’s Landing, which killed Daenerys’ father, the Mad King. A mention of genetic “madness” in the Targaryen bloodline is the only real precursor to Daenerys’ snap judgment. It has overtones of fate but, if she did inherit some of that trait, why hasn’t it shown up until now? Blaming mental instability seems lazy at best (and sexist at worst).
It was recently revealed that Jon Snow has at least as much claim to the Iron Throne as Daenerys. The (all male, as some critics have pointed out) writing team uses this twist, coupled with Daenerys’ suddenly erratic behavior, to paint Jon as the rightful heir to the throne. With no redemption in sight, it seems very possible that Daenerys will become a monster for Jon to slay before claiming his birthright. The story of a white, male hero mercifully subduing a woman who has given into evil or madness has been told time and time again and I truly hope my expectations are subverted next Sunday.