No great leader is ever really a singular entity. To truly go from decent to good, good to great, whether we’re talking about politics, business, sports, or yes, even making TV shows, it’s the team that makes the greatest difference.
Sure, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan, but they wouldn’t be considered one of the greatest playoff teams ever without Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, Luc Longley, or Dennis Rodman.
As we’ve made our way through this shortened eighth season of Game of Thrones, one thing that became glaringly clear was the increased isolation of Daenerys Targaryen. It started with her frosty reception at Winterfell, courtesy of Sansa Stark and the wary Northerners. It got worse when Jon Snow told her his real name and parentage. We were hit over the head with it during the banquet coffee-cup scene.
Last night it all culminated with Dany going Full Targaryen on the innocent citizens of King’s Landing. Now, some fans are crying “character assassination” over the seemingly heel-turn flip of this beloved character from liberator to bloodthirsty conqueror. But while the speed at which she devolves is jarring (rather convenient, and completely in line with the waaaay-too-rushed approach showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have taken to the last two seasons), this is not out of character for her at all.
As Hillary Kelly points out in Vulture‘s recap, “If you’re wondering how long this has been building, go back and rewatch Daenerys burn Mirri Maz Dur in season one, watch her burn Pyat Pree in season two, watch her burn Astapor in season three, watch her crucify the Masters in season four, watch her burn the slave owners of Meereen in season five, Vaes Dothrak in season six, the loot train and the Tarlys in season seven.”
And James Hibbard at Entertainment Weekly revisited some choice past Dany quotes like, “I will crucify the masters. I will set their fleets afire. I will kill every last one of their soldiers and return their cities to the dirt. That’s my plan.” Or, “We will lay waste to armies and burn cities to the ground.”
The difference between those declarations and Dany’s decision to turn King’s Landing into an ashen graveyard is that before, she had trusted, levelheaded advisers to balance her worst impulses. Before Tyrion began racking up strategy Ls or sowing doubt about his loyalty, he was one of them. But really, this disaster may be the result of losing Jorah Mormont and Missandei.
Those two were her heart, urging her to be the light for others to follow, and their deaths have turned her into a rage-filled despot seeking only vengeance and death. And remember the advice she got last season from Lady Olenna, another character seeking the same thing?
The anger flaring across Twitter at this latest episode hits many small points, whether it’s Dany’s murderous turn, the nature of Cersei’s death, or the logistics that would put Euron at the exact beach point to find Jaime Lannister. But the broader disappointment is aimed at Benioff, Weiss, and HBO. At the showrunner’s decision to rush the ending of this epic show, cramming storylines and character endings into ill-fitting narratives and ludicrous timelines. (JON SNOW DIDN’T EVEN PET GHOST!) And at the cable giant’s decision to agree to eight seasons, rather than 10. Somewhere, a Jorah Mormont-like adviser was missing behind the scenes as well.