WARNING: This article is full of spoilers from season 8 episode 5
The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, called “The Bells", has aired and it has left a lot of Daenerys Targaryen fans with a bad taste in their mouths. They’ve invested in Emilia Clarke’s character for the last seven season, some have named their children in her honour or even got tattoos of Khaleesi, but now her somewhat swift switch into the Mad Queen role has left a lot of us with whiplash.
One minute she’s the breaker of chains and ally to the North in Jon Snow’s battle against the Night King, the next, she’s dropping it like it’s hot across King’s Landing to decimate the city and its inhabitants, soldiers and civilians alike.
To her credit, Dany was proving how loyal she is to her friends. After all, Missandei’s last word was “Dracarys” and the Mother of Dragons did burn the city to the ground in order to destroy the former slave’s murderers. However, her victory feels hollow because they had rung the bell and conceded but she torched the city anyway when we’ve always felt that she would prove the Targaryen naysayers wrong and rid the Seven Kingdoms of tyrants - not become one.
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Remember back in season 7 episode 2, “Stormborn”? Dany meets with Lady Olenna, Ellaria Sand and Yara Greyjoy and explains that she would not attack King’s Landing. “I am not here to be Queen of the ashes,” Daenerys says. “I will not attack King's Landing. We will not attack King's Landing.”
Now after leading her armies against the Night King and losing a serious amount of Dothraki and Unsullied in the process, as well as sacrificing two of her dragons to the fight and her best friend in the world, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have her doing exactly that.
What’s worse? They have Dany’s tyrannical genocide of King’s Landing juxtaposed with scenes of Jaime and Cersei Lannister reuniting in a heartfelt and humanising way. The same Cersei who has played the merciless tyrant queen pretty much since the beginning of the show. But sure, let’s make Dany look like the worst of the two.
Don’t get me wrong, Dany is not some whiter than white heroine. She loved the idea of being the white saviour to the slaves of Meereen after she freed them and has fought fire with literal fire to win fights and take down her enemies and traitors when a less flammable approach might have inspired more loyalty. But she is living in a world ruled by men, where the playing field has never been balanced in her favour so good on her for playing her dragon cards to show her strength.
Frustratingly, in the last few episodes it has been the men she trusts that have proven to be her downfall. Jon Snow has done little to bolster support for Dany after the Battle of Winterfell other than to say, “she’s my Queen,” while others have been singing his praises for leading them to victory. That’s all good, Jon, but maybe you could have added the facts that she’s also been super heroic, risking her life in battle and sacrificing a lot to defend the North.
And, technically, it was really Sansa and Arya who secured the victories at the Battles of the Bastards and Winterfell, which he doesn’t seem to mind taking the credit for. Then there’s his betrayal of Dany’s trust by telling Sansa and Arya about his birthright. Just as she predicted the secret got out leading to her closest advisors, Varys and Tyrion, to conspire against her and mainly because of her gender. Once an alternative heir was confirmed suddenly all that mattered to her Hand and the Master of Whispers was that he had a penis. “Cocks are important, I’m afraid,” Varys tells Tyrion.
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When you’ve got sexist advisors like that who needs enemies?
So it is really no wonder that Dany became paranoid and snapped but they didn’t have to make her look so petulant and bratty in the process. She has lost or had to leave behind the only people who have ever truly loved her - Khal Drogo, Daario, Jorah, Missandei, Viserion and Rhaegal - and has been undermined by those she trusts because apparently as a woman she’s too empowered and emotionally unstable to be a good ruler. If she was a man it wouldn’t matter and the writers have perpetuated this notion to the disservice of her character.
Every bit of goodwill Dany has earned over the last seven seasons has vanished in a flash thanks to the collateral damage of trying to tie up various narrative threads in a much shorter than normal season. It’s rushed and the writers don’t have the full texts to build characters from like they used to, and the final season has suffered for it.
For book fans, Martin will probably offer up more detailed storytelling and nuanced perspectives that will likely be more respectful of Daenerys’ narrative journey. After all, Dany’s transition from feminist hero to Mad Queen should have her standing side-by-side in literary history with the likes of Othello and Macbeth, tragic Shakespearean heroes who suffered a similar descent into villainy despite their good hearts and courage within.
Sadly, the way the writers of Game of Thrones have delivered the Mother of Dragon’s story arc one can only hope that her inevitable death will be treated with at least the bare minimum of deference.
For she is Daenerys Stormborn, of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons and she deserves better than a room of male writers.