Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 follow below.
The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones was one full of major developments, shocking deaths, and huge spectacle. But the aspect of the episode that has everyone fired up concerns Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), one of the protagonists of the series who has now fully broken bad. Indeed, while shades of the “Mad Queen” may have been visible going back to the earlier seasons, the series still played up Dany as a viable ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. But when standing atop the walls of King’s Landing, with Cersei’s (Lena Headey) troops having surrendered, Dany makes the decision to burn the city down anyway—causing the deaths of countless innocent men, women, and children.
While this heel turn may make sense from a thematic point of view (it sets up Jon Snow perfectly as a “noble choice” to complete his reluctant hero’s journey), it came swiftly and somewhat out of nowhere for some—especially in the context of Season 8.
Speaking about the episode in the “making of”, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff shed some light on Dany’s decision-making. Weiss notes that early in the episode, she’s already preparing herself to, uh, do some bad things:
“I think that when she says, ‘Let it be fear,’ she’s resigning herself to the fact that she may have to get things done in a way that isn’t pleasant. And she may have to get things done in a way that is horrible to lots of people.”
And that may include burning children alive. But Benioff noted that Dany’s reactive nature has been somewhat concerning going all the way back to Season 1:
“Even when you look back to Season 1 when Khal Drogo gives the golden crown to Viserys, and her reaction watching her brother’s head melting off. I mean he was a terrible brother so I don’t think anyone out there was crying when Viserys died, but there is something kind of chilling about the way that Dany has responded to the death of her enemies.”
Benioff also notes that there was a scenario in which Dany didn’t burn the city down, seemingly attempting to explain that she wasn’t destined to be cold hearted. She just, uh, reacted poorly to a series of unfortunate events:
“If circumstances had been different, I don’t think this side of Dany would have ever come out. If Cersei hadn’t betrayed her, if Cersei hadn’t executed Missandei, if Jon hadn’t told her the truth, like if all these things would have happened a different way, then I don’t think we’d be seeing this side of Daenerys Targaryen.”
But they did, and we did, and now Dany is set up to be the antagonist of the series going into its final episode. However, Weiss backs up Benioff’s claim that Dany wasn’t necessarily destined to react this way, explaining why he feels she decided to kill everyone:
“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.”
Ladies are just so emotional you know? Seriously though, I do think there’s a scenario in which this heel turn makes more sense, but that would have required a few more episodes of build-up. We obviously haven’t seen the final episode yet, but I do have a feeling we’re going to look back at the final two seasons and realize they may have been more satisfying, and would have made more sense on a character level if each season had been 10 episodes in length. But Benioff and Weiss contended they only had 13 hours of story left to tell, so they made the decision to proceed with a six-episode final season.
Which, I think, was a mistake. Yes, the groundwork had been laid for Dany to turn, but because of the truncated nature of this season it happened very quickly. One minute she’s heroically risking her life to fight off the White Walkers and save Winterfell, and the next minute she’s burning children in the streets of King’s Landing. Even looking at Jaime’s arc, we could maybe see how he might come around to the idea that he deserves to die next to Cersei in King’s Landing, but in the course of a single episode he went from professing his love for Brienne, bedding her, and then changing his mind and riding away. Play that scenario out over three episodes instead of one, and it might make more sense.
We’ll see how everything ends up in next week’s series finale, but for now this is how the showrunners explain Dany’s decision. Do you buy it? How did you feel about Dany’s turn? Sound off in the comments below.
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