Game of Thrones: The Twist You Needed, HBO, But Never Earned
Daenerys Targaryen, She Of Lots of Names.
Of all the characters in A Song of Ice And Fire, she is the standard fantasy protagonist. A lost princess with undiscovered powers, who takes back her kingdom.
Of course, George RR Martin breaks down fantasy cliches, so Daenerys wanders around a desert and shouts “Where are my dragons?” for all of Book/Season 2, gets an army by burning an asshole slaver to death in Book/Season 3 (dracarys!) and then settles down to try and rule Orientalist cliché Mereen, a place halfway around the world from Westeros, in Book 5/Seasons I-can’t-keep-track-that-went-on-forever. She finally gets to Westeros and finds that for them, she’s a minority candidate with a weird name.
Spoilers for Game of Thrones, episode the most recent!
You’ve been warned.
You really have, have, have…
Finally Daenerys, after finally getting across the ocean to take back Westeros, after finally killing a ton of fire-ant scrambling zombies, goes full scorched-earth on King’s Landing, murdering close to a million people by dragonfire and the collective wrath of Dothrak, Unsullied and Northmen.
I love this twist.
It’s everything that makes A Song of Ice And Fire great.
But the show never earned it, and that means everyone hates it.
We occasionally saw hints of That Old Targaryen Nuttery (TOTN hereafter) in Daenerys, but not in any consistent way. From the beginning of the show and the books, she’s been a consistently good strategist, learning from her mistakes. She’s utterly ruthless with those who betray her — those dragons were made possibly by Mirri Maaz Duur, after all — and she made the rather wise tactical decision to execute the Tarlys.
She became a canonical pyro at the burning of Vaes Dothrak, but even then, it was good strategy. Kill other khals to become khal; it is known.
Compare that to Tyrion, who was an excellent strategist at the Blackwater but could never win the loyalty of the people. Or Jon Snow, who, despite what Varys thinks, got himself killed by the Night’s Watch, blundered around in the Battle of the Bastards till Littlefinger saved him, and then blundered around in the Battle of Winterfell till Arya saved mankind’s bacon.
The showrunners, David Benioff and Dan Weiss, wants us to believe that Dany is cracking, showing TOTN.
She’s heartbroken by the loss of Viserion, Rhaegal and Missandei. She knows that Missandei’s last wish was to Burn The Motherf*ckers.
And she shows it by… telling Jon Snow off in private? Then getting mad he won’t go for pity sex?
She can go mad. The hints are there in her ruthlessness. Martin writes Aristotelian tragedy, not fantasy heroism. I have no doubt that, somewhere in Martin’s scribbled notes, there is a very large “Dany gets TOTN and burns down King’s Landing.”
Benioff & Weiss, two of the most successful writers in the world, forgot the first rule of fiction: show, don’t tell.
Hey, how about instead of 10 loooong minutes of Varys & Tyrion’s conversations last week, trying to convince us that Jon “literally knows nothing” Snow is a better ruler, we had a scene that established TOTN?
Dany catches a ship full of Euron’s pirates and slowly burns them alive, one by one, even the 10-year-old boys.
Dany gets some lip from a random khal and just lets Drogon eat the dude.
Dany actually throws Jon Snow in chains for disobeying her.
I’ve been mentally rewriting this season a lot, but can you blame me? All the Martin machination is there, and none of it is delivered with the extreme care, buildup and detail that came with the Red Wedding. Martin is known for having very loose outlines, with some real shit twists originally planned, the abandoned five-year-gap, and tossing out hundreds of pages. Benioff and Weiss were at their best when Martin was in the writer’s room, approving scripts, delving deeper into characters who didn’t get time in the books, and they were the ones pushing for a tighter, leaner, more effective structure.
Here’s some great writing advice I got once: “if you’re going to subvert a trope, you gotta grab it and twist HARD.”
If you’re gonna make a lost princess into a murderous tyrant, Benioff & Weiss, you need to drag us into the fire with her, one slow, scorching step at a time.