Another quick warning not to continue reading if you don’t want spoilers for Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 5.
*** SPOILERS BELOW ***
The theme of this episode is simply: The Day the Music Died.
In one fell swoop, Game of Thrones has created a masterclass example of how to violate one of the biggest rules in writing. You need to earn your ending.
You don’t violate this contract with the reader or the viewer and expect them to stay within the story that you are telling. Everyone expected lots of people to die this season. Everyone expected certain devious deeds to be done. Everyone expected Cersei not to surrender. There were several breadcrumbs over the last 3 episodes that Daenerys was very upset and feeling very betrayed…but this betrayed?
No, none of the things we saw on the screen would lead anyone to believe that something snapped in her brain, destroying her sanity. There were no signs that she was willing to become a mass murderer after she won the battle. When the bells rung, she won. Game over. The Iron Throne was hers. Then, she basically blew up the city, killing millions of people because …. she won? Wasn’t that the point? Why did she do it? It didn’t need to be done and it doesn’t make sense. She wasn’t insane in that moment.
The simple truth is that the show set Daenerys up to win through fear, which is exactly what she achieved when the bells rang. Everyone on the battlefield and in the city recognized that fear ruled the day after Daenerys single handedly destroyed every dragon arrow and opened the gates for her army to enter at will. Nothing in the series or the season set up Daenerys to become a mass murderer, not even the discussions between Varys and Tyrion. It just wasn’t enough to build Daenerys as a savior and protector of the people who were unable to protect themselves over 7.5 seasons, and then to turn on that history in the span of 2 episodes and murder them all. If they wanted that payoff to feel believable, they needed to build more of a sense of time between episodes 4 and 5 that simultaneously showed a decline of sanity for her to truly become the Mad Queen. There were choices that could have been made to generate similar outcomes without murdering millions of people or even have the exact same thing happen but in a way that was earned.
The rule that got violated here is that writers and filmmakers need to earn their endings. This integral moment was not earned and every person watching this show is going to feel some form of that violation. The impact is akin to seeing 1,000,000 fans dying. Just like every other genre, fantasy has to operate by its own set of internal rules in film and literature. However, HBO’s Game of Thrones has sadly shown that they can’t really be trusted with fantasy because they are more willing to force a set of decisions into a season without building onscreen justification than to follow where the story goes.
The story didn’t go here. This wasn’t where we were being led.
The thing is, HBO could have AVOIDED all of this by cutting 15 minutes of burning the city to a crisp and adding 15 minutes of talking scenes. This would have allowed Deanerys’ character to develop, showing her anger, her instability, her madness, her vengeance, etc. and it would have created the feeling of TIME passing as her helplessness and frustration built. I would have at least liked to see her seethe, cry, or scream that Missandei is dead! Instead, they allowed viewers to trust her based upon the scenes we were given.
IT WAS AN EASY FIX.
That’s what upsets me. They opted for glitzy destruction and mass murder on a scale we have not seen instead of substance because they were blind to their own failings in the creation, production, and presentation process.