If you’re anything like me you’re probably still reeling (and perhaps even retching) from last night’s series finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Yet none of it came as any surprise to me, because after seeing episode five of season eight I decided that nothing else matters–to quote Jaime Lannister and Metallica–and I went on reddit to peruse the leaked text spoilers. Unlike many who did so, however, I decided not to boycott the series finale, but rather to give it the benefit of the doubt. I chose to wait and see.
Sweet summer child that I was, I knew nothing. And before you think that I mean the spoilers were wrong, let me just groan: Oh how I wish that that were so.
I’m glad I read the spoilers, but I wish I hadn’t watched the last episode. It was agonizing to see. I think I would’ve preferred getting my eyeballs pushed into my frontal lobe by the Mountain than to watch this utter shitfest of a finale. But I mean, how could I not watch it? Friends and foes, we traversed seven seasons and then waited two whole years for this. Many of us have been fans of this show for eight years or more. And I admit there was still one feeble glimmer of hope left in my heart that the leaked ending was just HBO and/or the show’s creators trolling us.
Early in the season I agreed with many in the fandom that it felt rushed, and that most of the main characters seemed increasingly out of character. I could even agree with most of what those who were moaning and groaning about the “Long” Night were saying, and I knew that I would soon join in the Game of Groans once Daenerys went all Mad Queen as we all guessed long ago–and many of us feared–would happen (so much for subverting our expectations). But I didn’t agree with all of the complaints about that episode.
Don’t hate me, but I liked that the Night King was taken out not by Jon, as expected, but by Arya. I get why many took issue with it, but in my humble opinion it made plenty of narrative sense, despite the alleged build-up to Jon/Aegon being Azor Ahai or some such poppycock. But even if you disagree, I hope you can understand and appreciate my view that nothing on this show has stunk higher than the turning of Daenerys into the villain in literally a few minutes of a single episode. Even Dark Willow got almost an entire season of gradual moral degradation before she went all Thanos. So this was the last straw for me, and I know what some of you will say, but the reason isn’t that Dany is my favourite character. Show Dany hasn’t been my fave for quite some time now. That honour belongs to Arya.
I’ve enjoyed watching young Arya Stark slowly transform into a kick-ass assassin, and having her defeat the Night King with a rogue’s sneak attack using the Valyrian steel dagger her brother Bran the Three-Eyed Raven gave her in season seven–the same weapon a would-be assassin tried to kill him with in season one–seemed to me not only perfectly reasonable but apropos and poetic. I think I only didn’t see it coming because I never would’ve thought the writers would snatch away their great white male hero Jon/Aegon’s epic swordfight, which in my opinion realistically would’ve ended in Jon’s death (even if it also resulted in the Night King’s demise). And of course, with no cleric left alive to cast a raise dead or resurrection spell on the cuddliest Targaryen, that would’ve been it for our dear Lord Know Nothing along with his claim to the Iron Throne. And yes, I have always been behind Daenerys #ForTheThrone. But even so I would’ve said of that conveniently shelved matter of succession: “Not like this.”
There is a difference between subverting our expectations and just tossing them along with an entire character arc out the window. The Big Bad being defeated by his own ignorance of the fact that there was a stealthy, highly trained assassin in his midst, and his underestimation of her resulting in him being tricked with virtually the same move we saw her use on Brienne back in season seven makes good sense to me, and also makes for good storytelling in my opinion. But more importantly, we didn’t get there in just one episode or even just one season. Arya’s badass character arc began early in season one and hasn’t wavered for the entirety of the series. She may have wandered around aimlessly for much of the time, but her character progression was as straight and narrow as her sword, Needle, and pointed like a laser toward her becoming the “no one”–and perhaps the only one–who could defeat the Night King. If you think otherwise, we can of course agree to disagree.
But when it comes to Dany flipping a switch and suddenly morphing into the Mad Queen… to me it’s as if Galadriel gave her speech about how the One Ring would corrupt her and then in the same breath said, “Wait a minute… you know what? Give me that Ring, small fry!” as energy beams shot out of her eyes and Frodo evaporated. Well maybe not that bad, but still. This wasn’t just subverting our expectations. This was the random coin toss so unsubtly referred to by Varys in literally the preceding episode. It was all like “Oh, don’t forget, silly audience. Even the kindest, most just, and consistently heroic Targaryens can suddenly flip their braided white wig and massacre thousands of innocents without cause or provocation because, you know… inbreeding.”
It’s as if the showrunners tossed a coin when they were deciding how to end this series, and it came up stupid. I would’ve been fine with Daenerys razing the Red Keep even after the bells tolled signalling the city’s surrender. After all, her mortal enemies were holed up in there, and she was honour bound to avenge Missandei, whose last word before being beheaded on Cersei’s orders was “Dracarys”. And I would’ve been fine with the scenes depicting innocent people within the bailey of the Red Keep ending up as collateral damage. This would’ve been in keeping with the overall theme of the show in the past, with all of its moral greyness, hard decisions, and necessary ruthlessness. And maddeningly, at first–ostensibly to “subvert our expectations” I suppose–it actually does seem as if Dany is going to do just that.
She really does appear to make a beeline for the Red Keep initially. The shadow of Drogon swooping over King’s Landing, even the ensuing shot of him from the ground as he glides over the fleeing populace seem to be in line with this. One could almost say that this is what was originally intended by the showrunners, but if so they must have changed their minds at some point (tossed a coin?) because in what are probably scenes added later, we see Drogon destroy the bell tower (it seems like he destroys it again a bit later in the sequence, too, which I also found odd, but perhaps there were more than one), thence to systematically begin burning down the entire city. This and subsequent shots can only be explained by Dany having at first darted toward the keep, only for whatever reason to wheel Drogon around (though this is not shown) in order to wreak havoc for a while along the outskirts of King’s Landing instead of just heading straight for the keep, which makes no sense at all to me.
Believe me when I say that I’ve watched these scenes over and over again, and I just don’t buy her sudden inexplicable decision to delay sweet, sweet vengeance in order to willfully burn up fleeing non-combatants, including women and children, for no reason other than to strike fear into the hearts of her would-be subjects. The magnificent destruction of the Red Keep would have been more than enough to accomplish that. So we’re to believe that instead of going straight for Cersei, the one truly responsible for Missandei’s death (and, by proxy, Rhaegal’s as well), the Mother of Dragons “goes mad” and decides to take a little detour in order to reduce the surrounding city to rubble first, leaving ample time for her enemies to escape (the fact that they don’t escape is beside the point; only Bran could’ve foreseen that).
The sole reason that I can think of for the showrunners to have done this was in order to have shining white knight Jon freaking Snow come out all squeaky clean and smelling of roses in the end after having basely shanked his queen. And that’s a load of dragonshite.
Daenerys Stormborn and Emilia Clarke deserved better.