“Why Everyone’s So Mad about Daenerys Targaryen” by Todd VanDerWerff for Vox is exactly the article I’ve been needing to get through this past week. It’s about more than “character development” or “bad writing” to me and to so many others, particularly female fans.
“Suffice to say, making Game of Thrones a story about how a woman who has long wanted power going a little crazy the closer she gets to it has rubbed many people the wrong way.“
It goes on to say…
“And many people have related to Dany deeply, seeing in her an avatar of feminine power they hadn’t seen elsewhere in pop culture when the show debuted in 2011.”
There’s also a note about writing and the eighth season as a whole that I think hits the nail on the head.
If you spend an entire series setting up a certain character as a would-be liberator or a would-be tyrant — and many viewers would argue that Game of Thrones spent way too little time on the latter half of that dichotomy with regard to Dany — it’s still going to be jarring when that character makes her final choice and viewers aren’t permitted into her head as she makes it.
You can respect that choice. You can even love it. But to many people, it’s going to feel like a betrayal, because we want, on some gut level, to understand it. It is this sense of betrayal that unites essentially every controversy that has bubbled up in the show’s final season, every complaint about how the series is no longer good or is making a hash of its reputation.
Much of Game of Thrones season eight seems designed, ultimately, to deny us the kinds of closure we might want. That’s an artistically valid choice, and one that could be immensely powerful in the right hands. But its potential impact relies on viewers’ belief that the choice to forgo closure is a deliberate one on the part of the artist, and not one made accidentally via clumsiness.
If you are disappointed in the Daenerys turn, it’s likely because you feel that Game of Thrones has somehow violated one of the core promises it made at its start. The moment when she burns an entire city reveals that the show no longer cares about rich psychological realism, or it would have invited viewers in to better understand her thinking.
It reveals that the show doesn’t quite trust women in power (the sequence with Dany’s dragon ride even explicitly links Dany and antiheroine Cersei, both via editing and costuming). And it reveals that the two people that Game of Thrones positioned as potentially good rulers who could break the wheel have either gone mad with power (Dany) or are just sort of sweet and dumb (Jon).
You don’t even need to believe that Game of Thrones has betrayed all three of those themes to be angry. For instance, I tend to side with Slate’s Willa Paskin in thinking the Dany turn is not anti-feminist, but I do sort of think the scene violates the show’s former attempts at psychological realism. Game of Thrones has simply gotten so big that its spectacle overwhelms everything else.
This show used to be about the moments between the spectacle, the moments that made us understand why a character would do what they did, even as their ultimate action proved shocking. We understood why Ned Stark lost his head. We understood why Catelyn Stark and Robb Stark died. But do we understand why Daenerys does what she does? On a visceral, gut level?
I would argue we don’t.