With one episode remaining in this crazy epic fantasy tale, we’ve finally gotten a lot of answers this week. The question is, are they the right answers? You know, I can imagine that Daenerys is wondering the same thing. Because whether us fans like the result of Dany’s conquest or not, and rest assured that many fans do not, this is what years of conquest, longing and obsession have won her. Not just the ruins of a kingdom, mind you, but betrayal by her closest remaining advisors and friends. “It wasn’t supposed to happen this way” is the cry of both Daenerys and so many social media posts from fans this week.
Arguably, it may have always been destined to happen this way. The seeds of Dany’s violent tendencies have certainly been planted since the first season. It’s hard to argue against that. The problem is that what was also planted and watered far more heavily was the story of a woman treated as nothing more than a body by her brother, married off like a prize, but who ascended to something greater than she was told to be. She freed slaves, ruled with just intentions, and sacrificed her own mission to save humanity from the march of the dead. From a cursory glance, one would easily point to that being her arc. For her flip to madness to occur in only about two episodes looks pretty forced and unearned when compared to the many years prior.
“The greater the risk, the greater the reward.” – Varys
In a distant echo of Cersei’s original proclamation to Ned Stark that “when you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die,” Varys reinforces to us that the highest reward in the land may come at the greatest cost. What we didn’t really see until these last two episodes, is that Dany’s quest for honor and birthright would end much the same way Ned Stark’s did – with death and horror. That sounds right for Game of Thrones, honestly. But due to the many shortcuts taken in HBO’s depiction of it, we lost nearly all the impact of that truth. Instead, an assumed hero turns abruptly to the ultimate villain. It feels like we need a full season to explore that, but alas, we have little over an hour left for it.
When an entire episode is consumed (quite literally, I guess) by fire and destruction, it’s admittedly kind of hard to pull out the themes. Yet, I do find myself asking a lot of questions about the capabilities of our own natures. If we believe in the total depravity of mankind, then Dany’s turn to her darkest tendencies should really be no surprise at all (scriptwriting choices not withstanding). I think a small part of the reason fans don’t like seeing Dany lay waste to innocents is because it reminds us that even the best of us are capable of the worst. It’s the same reason we don’t like seeing celebrities fall from grace, or people in our own communities make life altering mistakes. It’s sad, yes, but also a sobering reminder.
What this story has proven time and again is that man-made honor is far more likely to give you ashes than glory. Scripture also shows us this truth time and again. The gospel tells us not to worry, that it’s not up to us to get it right, because we simply cannot. That’s been one of my favorite parts of Game of Thrones, seeing the intentions of man proven to be fruitless. It reminds me that Christ did all for me, and it is no longer I but He who lives in me. Daenerys’ choices only reinforce this reality, and in our finale we will see if Jon’s actions continue the cycle, or provide a new reality that sets the land on a course to the freedom Dany often talked of providing.
So, if you’re feeling disappointed with where things are, you’re not alone. If you’re feeling satisfied, you also are not alone. Either way, just be glad you didn’t name your kid Khaleesi (unless you did, then, well… sorry). But that’s the thing, isn’t it? If all our hearts have roots of evil, then even the most righteous among us are still full of sin. Which is exactly the point of George R.R. Martin’s story. It’s just unfortunate that writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss seemingly needed a few more cups of Starbucks to pull it off more effectively on screen.