As Game of Thrones speeds towards its conclusion, we were treated to “The Last of the Starks,” a space between the two big battles where interpersonal conflicts could re-emerge, and characters could reestablish their goals. In the space of this episode, you almost had one of the best scenes in the series where Tyrion and Varys discuss what’s to be done about the information regarding Jon’s true parentage. At Dragonstone, the two old friends discuss where their loyalties lie. For Tyrion, he has cast his lot with Daenerys. He knows that she can be dangerous and scary, but he believes that with the proper guidance from her advisors, she will be a good ruler. Varys believes that Jon Snow is now the better option since he’s rallied factions in the past, has a stronger claim to the throne, and since he’s a man, is more likely to win over the male lords throughout the seven kingdoms.
The conversation between Tyrion and Varys is about pragmatism and idealism, but it’s blurred between the two. In one way, both characters are being pragmatists. Tyrion knows that Jon doesn’t want the throne while Varys lays out a strong case for why Jon is the better candidate. And yet they’re also being idealistic about whom will rule, with Tyrion choosing loyalty despite Daenerys’ flaws and Varys continuing to seek out a better dance partner. The conflict is so rich because neither man is completely wrong nor completely right on the basis of their arguments. It’s only when you take Daenerys into account that Tyrion’s loyalty looks foolish.
Because Daenerys was separated from the rest of the main characters for most of Game of Thrones, she was basically off on her own show. That show consisted of Daenerys going someplace, the people there underestimating her, and her raining hellfire down upon them. While her eye was on the Iron Throne, she had a mission to end slavery even if the finer points of ruling were always a bit elusive. And yet she was still a character we could root for because she was using her power to help the weak and kill bad guys. There’s a reason that Varys and Tyrion crossed The Narrow Sea to serve her. She wasn’t the least bad option; they genuinely thought she was good.
In the last couple of seasons, the writing has turned to make Daenerys far more volatile for…reasons. The writers have really leaned into Daenerys lacking strong alliances and relying heavily on her claim to the Iron Throne, which sucks because it basically ignores what Daenerys has done. Instead, her actions are now based on Targaryen lineage and that Dany is the Mad Queen like her father was the Mad King, which, cool, I guess. But madness isn’t really the character’s defining characteristic. Her defining characteristic is, “I have dragons, and if people try to mess with me, I kill them with my dragons.” She’s a reactive character, but that doesn’t make her insane.
But the Daenerys we have doesn’t seem to have learned a single thing over the course of this journey, which makes her a poorly written character. Cersei may still be the cruel, unforgiving person she was at the beginning of the show, but we’ve seen that she now knows how to strategize. She’s made some serious missteps along the way, but she’s now playing the game at a high level. Meanwhile, Daenerys has counselors she ignores, subjects she doesn’t care about, and a complete lack of strategy. The battle between Cersei and Daenerys is being set up as cruelty versus incompetence, so who cares who wins?
Which brings us back to the conversation between Tyrion and Varys. Someone should be able to make a strong case for Daenerys, but they can’t because the show has weakened her character for the last several seasons. Tyrion’s best argument is, “Her advisors can guide her,” despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Back when Tyrion and Daenerys first met, they had a great conversation where he calmly laid out the obstacles to her rule. But at no point in “The Last of the Starks” does he pointedly tell her, “If you kill thousands of people at King’s Landing in pursuit of the throne, they will never accept you no matter the strength of your claim.”
The conversation between Tyrion and Varys at Dragonstone is a shadow of the show’s best attributes. While the battles were all well and good, the conversations are where Game of Thrones shined, and this split between Tyron and Varys should have been magnificent. Unfortunately, Game of Thrones isn’t doing the necessary character work to back up the argument. Instead, they’ve weakened Daenerys considerably so that her flaws take precedence, which means no sensible character (especially one as supposedly smart as Tyrion) would ever advocate on her behalf. In a better show, there would be strong arguments to be made for Cersei, Daenerys, and Jon. As it stands, Cersei and Daenerys will probably die and Jon Snow will fall ass backwards into the Iron Throne.