This post contains spoilers for Game Of Thrones, through Episode 4, Season 8.
Yeah, yeah, the dead army and Night King were villainous and scary, but they're gone now, so let's get back to politics.
Game Of Thrones has been dropping hints, subtle and not, that Daenerys Targaryen could be a less-than-stable ruler. At the conclusion of Sunday's episode, she suffers her most severe setbacks yet and seems to have reached a breaking point.
We never get to fully see Aerys II Targaryen rule, but we've heard plenty about him. Once a good ruler, his mental state deteriorated over time and he would come to see enemies all around him. He became ruthless, so much so that people in the Seven Kingdoms have been wary about another Targaryen on the Iron Throne.
During his reign, Aerys became obsessed with wildfire, and his brutality created an opening for a rebellion. The Lannister forces pledged protection but turned on Aerys and sacked King's Landing. Aerys, who had wildfire placed underneath all of the city, ordered the entire place and its inhabitants be destroyed by the wildfire instead of surrender. Jaime Lannister said Aerys believed he could survive the wildfire and emerge as a dragon to unleash his own fire upon those who opposed him. So, yeah, Jaime, the head of his Kingsguard, decided to kill the king. "Burn them all!" were Aerys' last words, according to Jaime.
The Targaryens have been known to exhibit varying stages of crazy, likely from generations of incest. The family has been marrying brothers and sisters for 300 years "to keep the bloodlines pure," as Cersei has put it (as a defense of her own incestuous relationship). Then, as Cersei acknowledges that may have not produced the best result: "Half the Targaryens went mad, didn't they. What's the saying? 'Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin.'"
We've seen a little of this already. Daenerys' brother, Viserys, had a quick temper and was prone to outbursts. He was quite cruel to his sister and power-hungry; his behavior basically led her husband, Khal Drago, to murder him. But their eldest brother, Rhaegar, sounded like a pretty stand-up guy. The story about him kidnapping Lyanna Stark wasn't true and the two were actually in love. Rhaegar loved life and was a musician who'd play incognito and give the money he earned to the poor.
As for Daenerys, yes, she's had to exhibit some brutality, but she's also keenly aware of her lineage. She started out in a pretty dire state with no allies and people sending assassins to murder her, but was able to win the adoration of masses of people and eventually amass one of the world's largest armies. She's the breaker of chains with plans to break the entire wheel of power, so yeah, that has required some ruthlessness along the way.
Since last season, Daenerys' advisers have been secretly worrying about her mental state - and as Tyrion correctly notes, that's basically part of the job (at this point it seems like anyone who would even want to rule the Seven Kingdoms has to be crazy because it's such a terrible job. Why bother?!).
Still, the show's writers keep wanting us to also be worried that Daenerys may be turning into her father. She had the Tarlys burned up by dragon fire for refusing to the bend the knee, which seemed like a pretty outsized response. In Sunday's episode, Varys and Tyrion have to talk her out of directly attacking King's Landing, where Cersei has fortified herself with a human shield of civilians. (The idea of a Targaryen burning up the city? Too soon.). In Sunday's episode, we see Daenerys genuinely fearful that Jon Snow will reveal his paternity secret, before she switches to anger when ordering him to not say anything about it.
But at this point, Daenerys isn't delusional and clearly sees where things stand. She sent her powerful army to their slaughter in the north to defeat the army of the dead, and now half of them are gone. She doesn't command the same kind of awe and admiration in the north as Jon Snow, and she knows his claim to the Iron Throne is better than hers.
Then Cersei Lannister's forces launch a major attack. With the aid of a super-sized cross-bow, Euron Greyjoy's fleet takes out the dragon Rhaegal. Daenerys is now down to one dragon (Drogon), which is a huge tactical blow, but more importantly, Daenerys considers these dragons as her children, and now Cersei is one of their murderers.
Even worse, Cersei orders the execution of Daenerys' best friend and longtime confidant, Missandei. She shouts out her last words, which were reminiscent of the Mad King's: "Dracarys," meaning "dragonfire" and the command Daenerys uses to order her dragons to unleash their fire.
"What's echoing in Daenerys' head in those final moments would be Missandei's final words," show co-creator David Benioff said in the post-show featurette. "'Dracarys' is clearly meant for Dany. Missandei knows that her life is over and she's saying, you know, light them up."
Now Daenerys is "really back where she was at the very beginning," co-creator D.B. Weiss added. "Emotionally, she's alone in the world and she can't really trust anybody ... Unlike then, she's extremely powerful and unlike then, she's filled with a rage that's aimed at one person specifically."
With just two episodes remaining in the series, we'll find out if that rage will find its target, or exact a lot of collateral damage along the way.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post
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