All good things must come to an end, even things you once previously thought were good and are not finding problematic. That’s not to say everybody feels that way about Game of Thrones, but the penultimate episode of the series, “The Bells,” seemed to leave audiences divided when it came to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke).
In the episode, and this is your only spoiler warning, Daenerys’ forces successfully defeated Cersei Lannister’s (Lena Headey) forces and King’s Landing surrendered a lot quicker than expected. But then Dany snapped. Looking at the Red Keep while atop her dragon Drogon, she decided in that moment to destroy the city. Yep, that moment. Co-creator D.B. Weiss said her slaughter of countless innocents and destruction of the Red Keep and King’s Landing was a snap decision.
“I don’t think she decided ahead of time that she was going to do what she did. And then she sees the Red Keep, which is to her the home that her family built when they first came over to this country 300 years ago. It’s in that moment, on the walls of King’s Landing, where she’s looking at that symbol of everything that was taken from her when she makes the decision to make this personal,” Weiss said.
The actions, according to many viewers, seemed out of character. But series star Jacob Anderson defended them. “Personally I’m of the mind that was completely earned,” he said on Strahan and Sara. “I think Emilia is amazing. I think it’s all there.”
Cersei died in the destruction in the arms of the man she loved, her brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Jon Snow (Kit Harington) did his best to stop the unnecessary bloodbath and Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) was in the heart of it all, struggling to stay alive as the city fell around her. The trailer for the final episode only revealed Daenerys looking upon her troops and wreckage. What happens next is anybody’s guess. Can the character, once a fan-favorite, be redeemed? What Clarke said about her final moments on the series may offer a hint.
“It f–ked me up,” Clarke told Vanity Fair about the last thing she shot as Daenerys Targaryen. “Knowing that is going to be a lasting flavor in someone’s mouth of what Daenerys is…”
Clarke told E! News she basically had an “existential crisis” when she finished filming, with costar Nathalie Emmanuel noting it was hard to think about life without Game of Thrones. Or was it hard to think about what Game of Thrones did to Daenerys Targaryen?
The character certainly evolved over the years, but to the point of killing innocent citizens and destroying a whole city? That’s the hot question—and one we tried to answer.
CHRIS HARNICK: The first episode of Game of Thrones I ever watched was the season eight premiere. Not wanting to be left out of the phenomenon any longer, I went back and binged the whole series in about three weeks. I’ve soaked up a lot of Game of Thrones. So, seeing the sharp turn in Daenerys in season eight was unsettling. She went through SO much over the previous seven seasons, to then see her crack like this…didn’t feel earned. Even with everything she went through and overcame in the previous seasons.
Yes, she was tested a lot this year. Jorah died protecting her. Missandei died in front of her. The people of the North, specifically Sansa Stark, weren’t ready to call her queen. She learned she was f–king her nephew, but her issue with that was Jon Snow has more of a claim to the Iron Throne. Varys started scheming against her. I get it, she had enough, but the Daenerys the writers presented to use over the last 10ish years was not the Daenerys atop Drogon, lighting the world on fire.
That sudden flick of the switch did not feel earned. I can clearly see what they were going for, but they botched the execution—and that’s not even getting into the show’s problem with writing women.
Can they come back from this? Probably not. The damage is done to the character. I fear her time will end with the swish of a sword (probably Arya’s). And if Jon Snow sits on that Iron Throne it will be a perfectly fumbled ending to a season plagued with issues.
LAUREN PIESTER: I’ve been watching the show since the day the first episode aired, and while I’ve never gone back and rewatched (to the point where I’ve forgotten a lot), I do feel like I’ve been living with these people for eight years. And as entertaining as last week’s episode was and as much as I was waiting for Dany to snap, the way it happened just felt disappointing instead of shocking. She spent eight seasons desperately trying to rule things differently than anyone had before, and the idea that she’d take her anger and turn on the innocent people instead of the actual people who wronged her made it feel at the very least like we’d missed a whole season of episodes, or at the most like a carefully built character had just been totally destroyed over the course of 20 minutes. We spent all that time rooting for her only to learn it was all in vain, all that time? And then on top of that, Cersei, the greatest foe of the series, did nothing and died when a building fell on her, in the arms of her (equally ruined) twin brother, laying to waste all that time we spent betting on which deserving character would ultimately do her in.
Now it just feels like the inevitable conclusion is everybody agreeing that Jon Snow, the sweetest, blandest boy, always should have been in charge, and that’s just such a bummer after we just watched two powerful women destroy each other over that throne. At least my expectations are now so low that maybe I’ll absolutely love the finale, but unless Dany abandoned that dragon (a theory I’ve been working on since we didn’t even see her on its back for most of the last half of the episode), it’s going to be really hard to ever feel the same way about this show again.
How will Daenerys Targaryen’s journey end? Whatever happens, Clarke has said she’s grateful.
“The transformation of Daenerys is the greatest gift I’ve been given as an actor, 100 percent,” Clarke told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 ahead of the final season debut. “Daenerys is so much a part of who I am, and I am so much a part of who she is, so it’s this incredibly frightening thing to walk away from—but at the same time, unbelievably exciting.”
The Game of Thrones series finale airs Sunday, May 19 at 9 p.m. on HBO.