“Dracarys! Dracarys! Dracarys!” yell writers David Benioff and DB Weiss at the notion of character development, as Arya Stark rides off on a giant metaphor.
This latest and penultimate episode of Game of Thrones has a lot of things to talk about – Queen Daenerys’ ‘madness’, the death of Cersei, the much awaited Cleganebowl and the white horse.
Attempting to end around 15 character arcs in six episodes, and having run out of source material three seasons ago, writers Benioff and Weiss have struggled with narratives not having the impact they were intended to, being misunderstood, or straight up just badly written.
One such example of a character arc not working out very well presents itself when Daenerys chooses to ignore the bells of surrender, and instead burns all of King’s Landing and its citizens with dragon fire, seemingly without warning. Daenerys has descended to being “The Mad Queen” like her father before her, something she had sworn never to do.
Daenerys’ actions portray a version of her that just snapped and went into “hysterics”, when she could have easily made a beeline for the Red Keep and Cersei.
The fact that George RR Martin (author of the source material, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’) gave the writers the main plot points early on implies Daenerys burning King’s Landing is probably a part of it. And come on, this is Game of Thrones! A character has been set up for seasons to be the embodiment of all that is good, and a saviour of the downtrodden – in true GoT spirit, was it ever going to end well for her? The tragedy lay in the execution (no pun intended, RIP Missandei).
Game of Thrones has been tracking her descent into madness very early on. In fact, calling it “madness” might still be a stretch. Daenerys has been wronged all her life and is justified in her rage (not necessarily her actions) as opposed to the mad king who literally had a voice whispering in his head.
The extent of her empathy and ideas of fairness have been called into question many times over the course of the series, paired diametrically with her many declarations that she would never hurt innocents or take over kingdoms by razing them to the ground.
But this season takes many of the characters’ arcs on sprint, attempting to end all of them as fast as possible but with the main plot intact. Big moments like Daenerys’ madness and Cersei’s death don’t feel ‘earned’ because of this. There’s no room for character development to go beyond just that one essential shot or dialogue.
All in one season (a span of a few days on the show), Daenerys found herself missing a child (Viserion) and far away home, in a cold place. The people of Winterfell suspect and even hate her. Jon Snow’s sisters dislike her and Jon himself later turns out to be a potential threat to her claim to the throne. Immediately after a battle where she has to face an undead Viserion and have Jorah die in her arms, Jon gets all the people’s affections for his heroisms while she sits alone (with her Starbucks), and Jon entirely fails to comfort her. Her second dragon Rhaegal is murdered, her dearest friend Missandei is beheaded right in front of her while she is helpless to watch. The bells of King’s Landing taking too long to ring was the last straw for all the hurt she had borne.
All the people she loves have died, she’s paranoid about the ones around her, and it seems like no one will ever love her enough as a Queen, so she decides she has no choice but to rule by fear.
Would the show have delivered this with the right emotional beats, one would be feeling pain and distress for Daenerys even as she burns down King’s Landing. Given the plot and character arcs tumbling all over each other, it doesn’t feel as emotionally heart-wrenching as it could have been.
What will the finale bring?
Well, Cersei’s death was a complete let down. Not necessarily because she died under rubble, but also given that since she barely appears at all that we expected a big scene when she finally took centre stage. Jaime returning to her and dying with her is a testament to their being together in life and death, but Cersei literally sent an assassin after him and his brother a few days ago. Both his and Cersei’s character arcs might have carried more weight or at least been less of a let down had it been fleshed out better.
Varys’ death was probably the only one that felt timely this episode, and Euron’s not timely enough. The saving grace of this episode might have been the long-awaited Cleganebowl. Along with being theatric and fun, it gave us Qyburn’s satisfying death and Cersei’s “plz excuse me nothing to see here” shimmying.
For a second, writing aside, the production team delivers yet again, and how. Game of Thrones has effectively raised the bar for all future television series aspiring to be world class. Larger than life sets, carefully made props and costumes, more destructive destruction, and ash-filled skies make this season a visually stunning cinematic experience. The stellar theatrics of the latest episode left some people wondering if Rhaegal was killed off so that Drogon could burn King’s Landing in HD.
So will Arya fulfil Mellisandre’s “green eyes” part of the prophecy by taking out Daenerys? Who’s going to sit on the Iron Throne? Are there more Dragons? Why don’t main characters wear helmets? Does anything matter anymore with DnD at the wheel?
With the finale this Monday there’s really only two things we know for sure; That it’s going to be divisive, and that there are going to be memes.
(The author is a brand & visual communications designer, and occasional pop culture writer based in Bengaluru.)