(Spoilers for the show, and possibly now the book ending).
Well, they had me fooled. For all these years, I was rooting for Dany as the progressive, chain-breaker who would free Westeros of its *many* horrible male rulers and one possible tyrant ‘Mad Queen’. Last night baffled me in the worst possible way at first: this wasn’t foreshadowed, this was not supposed to happen, this is another one of the show’s twists borne out of a need to create a spectacle and to shock viewers into facing the unexpected. Or so I thought at first.
The more I delve into the deep reaches of Reddit and Youtube for discussions about the ending, the more I realize two things: a) that my reading of the books has been superficial and the hints were there all along, and that b) the showrunners of GOT, unfortunately, suffered from knowing the big beats of the plot that GRRM has laid out but being unable to execute with finesse the detailed and elaborate context that has been needed all this time to bring it to life.
I’ll take a step back here and talk about the books first. Over the past few weeks of watching the final season, my interest in the A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) world has been re-ignited on a level it never reached when I first read the books. The context in which I read ASOIAF is interesting here: I was already a few seasons deep into the show and for the first time in all the reading I had ever done, the cinematic adaptation appeared more appealing than I could ever imagine the books being. When I ultimately succumbed to the books, it was only because I had come across spoilers (specifically from the Red Wedding) months before it aired, and I could no longer bear my curiosity, which forced me to discover the plot from online forums rather than the true source material. So I was a show loyalist before I ever even laid my eyes on the books, and when I turned to them, I started from A Storm of Swords. All this to say that I was not at all following the subtle hints of the book or the arcs of characters with as much depth then as I should have. I have come to appreciate GRMM’s storytelling more from the outside, through the show and from others’ re-readings of the original plot, than from my own reading of it. And while I intend to correct that mistake over time by diving into the plot myself, I think the point I want to come to right now is that I never saw it coming. I never saw Daenerys Targareyn turning ‘mad’ or ‘evil’ (again, I am not sure which it really is on the show, and that itself begs a whole other discussion). To be fair, many arduous book readers did not see this turn either, while some who follow the show, did. I think that that can be attributed to the incomplete book series at the moment. It would seem as though the hints, in hindsight, are there in the books. But the buildup has not been enough to warrant an unequivocal acceptance of Dany’s descent into the best-disguised villain of ASOIAF…yet.
But the more I toy with this idea in my head, the more it appeals to me: Dany as the complex underdog who rose to the heights of power, dictated by her inheritance and her obsessive desire for the throne, thwarted by those she hopes to help with her good intentions, until she ultimately gives up completely on trying to be good, and in the worst way possible. There is something poetic about it…or there can be, if it were done right.
And that is where the show has messed up. The show-runners have probably known, at least for a few years, if not from the very beginning, that the Dany arc was headed this way. But in building up Dany as a savior, they ended up creating a symbol of pop culture that has gone so far that people have been naming their babies Khaleesi. The show almost wrote itself into a corner by waiting for the longest possible time to start deepening the flavors of cruelty and/or madness that Dany should have started displaying seasons ago. Yes, Dany has killed and burned people since she gained her dragons and started to become powerful, but all of it could be justified through either modern (freeing of slaves) or medieval (necessary sacrifices for war) values. Until last night. And so this sudden turn comes out of nowhere and appears to mean nothing.
All that I see as GOT wraps itself up is nihilism. So the White Walker threat was empty and inconsequential, the savior is actually a villain who scorched a city down to the ground, and her forces plunder and kill where they should have liberated. I do believe that one of the ways in which storytelling really and truly hits us is through an inner logic and coherency that makes sense to us cognitively and emotionally. Yes, on many levels we seek the kinds of closure and completion from our stories that we cannot find in real life because reality is often messy and chaotic, but at the end of the day, our fictitious worlds must have some resemblance to our real world if we are to truly experience the fictional world to the greatest extent possible. They must also have hope. This is where I believe the show has failed us this season.
I am still trying to come to terms with the ending of the show and this would take a while, I think. I am deeply interested in the psychology of Dany and how and why she gets where she does, because what the show has provided us is probably also GRMM roadmap to the end of ASOIAF. The routes of getting there will be different and I am sure a lot of other things will change along the way but Dany seems destined for a siege of epic proportions upon King’s Landing and I am really curious to see how GRMM gets us there. I am also curious to see how the Night King versus Dany as villains play out: are they mirroring each other in destroying the world of the living, as the ice and fire of the title, and does that make Jon the ultimate balancer between these two sides of the coin, having been borne out of both, ice and fire, and being the one to ultimately put an end to both threats? Or is one out of Dany and the Night King destined to be a greater villain than the other?
Fingers crossed for the next book to be out soon!
PS: I am also interested in writing about the women characters on Thrones. With Dany’s descent, it seems that most of the major female leads on the show have come to be hated in one form or the other (the exceptions often being those who display more masculine traits). I want to talk about how much these perceptions are grounded in sexism and how much in feminism, as well as about why these perceptions are or are not, in general good for women-centric or gender-fluid storytelling. Hopefully soon 🙂
PPS: Regardless, I loved, loved Emilia Clarke’s acting last night 🙂 Will you just look at that expression?