Turd Polisher of the Year Award Goes to Emilia Clarke – Also, why none of this makes any sense
Let me first say, that this was an incredible episode of television. It was wildly impressive and entertaining. So many people put in their best work, from the actors, to directors, animators, composer, editors, costume design, set design, on and on and on.
And I really mean that. Every single person that toiled to make this happen did an incredible job.
It’s a shame that they’ll be associated with one of the worst endings in television in history because the writers are the only people in the team that can’t carry their weight.
!! SPOILER ALERT FOR SEASON 8 EPISODE 5: THE BELLS !!
I actually really enjoyed this episode. Viewed in a vacuum, it’s incredibly epic, and I have no love for King’s Landing so I’m all about torching it and everyone within.
However, in context with the rest of this season, none of this has been properly earned and we’re feeling it.
Is this really how GRRM is going to end it?
Yes. Sort of. Probably.
Except with actual character development and build-up for any of this to make sense.
What we’re looking at here are good ideas in theory, being executed without any regard to suspension of disbelief.
A flimsy argument can be made that this is a fantasy TV show, with ice zombies and dragons, so suspension of disbelief shouldn’t even be in the discussion. This certainly seems to be the stance the writers have taken.
On the contrary, the greatest strength in this series is how hard it’s worked to make the fantasy elements believable. It’s all in the pacing, and making sure that the focus remains fixed on internal character conflict.
There’s a lot to pick apart here, but I want to focus on Daenerys for the time being, because her transformation from messiah to batshit crazy killer is the most jarring.
Except it’s not.
Dany has been set up as a bit of a blood-thirsty conqueror from the beginning. She gave zero shits when her brother was murdered, she hung people on crucifixes, and offered her enemies up to the dragons indiscriminately. Jorah told her before, “You’re a conqueror, Khaleesi.”
When we read her chapters in the book, we only ever saw her point of view. We saw the way she justified her actions. Some of the darkness lingered in the corner of our eye, but we dismissed it because we agreed with her on principle: slavery is bad. Brothers selling you are bad.
George R.R. Martin’s intention with A Song of Ice and Fire was to deconstruct fantasy tropes. That’s great. I love a good deconstruction. In addition to other tropes, he wanted to show the rise of a tyrant, have us cheer for her in her early years, and not know how to feel when it ties up with other characters we love in the end.
Or, perhaps, his intent was to show that there is a human behind every tyrant.
A lot of the problems the show is running into is that they 100% white-washed her earlier actions. Everything she did, ended with an inspiring score and an uplifting cutscene. Very little of her darkness has ever been eluded to.
Now that it’s time for her nature to tie up with the other characters, they’re treating it as if a switch had been flipped rather than the culmination of a build up. Our entire explanation for this is in the “Previously on…” segment that cuts in everything anyone’s ever said about Targaryens being crazy as it zooms in on her face. Remove that, and there’s zero context for what they’re doing.
What they could have done for a eureka moment with the viewers was show Daenerys as she always is, but show it from the other side. They did this to a small extent, but relegated Dany to a shadowy crazy woman in the sky rather than show her justification.
It would have made the point more effectively to show her jubilation in her actions, play that same string of empowerment. Play the Dany we all know, before switching down to the ground to see how it actually is for the people on the other side of her justice. How different it is for Daenerys Stormborn to arrive at a city when you care about the characters inside.
The end of the matter is this:
Game of Thrones is about real people making justifiable decisions based on their experiences, and seeing how those decisions create a chain reaction. It doesn’t matter if we agree with their decisions, what matters is that we understand why they made those decisions.
None of this is making sense, because we are teleporting across story beats GRRM laid out for them. The build up and development it takes to get there is the reason it’s taking him so long to finish – and the same reason we’re feeling dissatisfied now. Skipping the hard work of earning these scenes feels like watching a slideshow.
- Jaime may really go back to Cersei, because he’s a deconstruction of the “redemption arc” trope. How fully can any man really redeem himself? This is an interesting idea to explore, but in the show, it’s relegated to the timespan of a nap. Up until he sleeps with Brienne, he follows the traditional redemption arc to a T. Same as Dany, he snaps out of nowhere.
- What Targaryen was ever aware that they were mad? There is nothing wrong with this deconstruction of the messiah trope. The problem is that – only two episodes ago – she was sacrificing most of what she’d built to save a bunch of people she didn’t even know.
- The Starks are honorable to a fault, and they’ll very likely overthrow Dany in the end. But surely, they’ll have better reason than, “The North is suspicious of outsiders and she’s an outsider.”
Those last two points tie together, and therein we find the greatest missing piece here. If this is where they wanted to go, there needed to be development during the war in the north to show Dany beginning to descend, and to give the Starks any reason to distrust her to begin with.
The Thing Is: Good Characters Going Bad is Really Hard to Pull Off
It’s little surprise they’ve done such a messy job with Daenerys, because historically very few writers get this right. Think back on some of the most famous stories of a good character going bad, and how satisfied you were.
- Anakin Skywalker
- Dark Phoenix
- Willow (Buffy)
- Walter White
Anakin, granted, was never much of a character to begin with, but his turn was a bit ham-fisted. Dark Phoenix is famously one of the best X-Men storylines that is constantly botched in film. Willow built up her turn to darkness for nearly three seasons, and Walter White developed his turn the entire show.
Pacing, balance, and development make all the difference. These stories work best in long running serials that allow the time to set everything up correctly – and that’s what is most frustrating thing about this. Game of Thrones exists in that medium. It should have done this well, and we know because we’ve seen them do it before.
Why, for the most important character turn in their history, they decided to cram it into the course of two episodes, I’ll never understand.
Just as I’ll never understand why they’re rushing any of this to begin with. Game of Thrones is a cash cow. HBO wanted more seasons. GRRM wanted more seasons. We want more seasons. There was every reason to extend this, give the white walkers the full season arc that they deserved, give Dany a full season to develop, but David Benioff and D.B. Weiss want to move on to help ruin Star Wars.
Frustrating still, is that there is more they could have done to make this believable within their own constraints if they weren’t so focused on shock value.
As it is, Dany hasn’t earned a Mad Queen story arc. How can we get her to still look like a Mad Queen to everyone else without simply flipping a switch in her brain?
- Don’t unceremoniously kill Rhaegar in the last episode for a cheap shock. Keep him alive for this battle, which would make the total decimation more believable anyway.
- Kill him here. In this battle. You can even do it after the bells have rung. It can even still be Euron.
- This would believably set her into a blind rage to find whoever fired the shot, and take down the Red Keep.
- In doing so, she inadvertently sets off the pots of wild fire beneath the city that results in hundreds of innocent people dying.
Bam. You have what looks like a Mad Queen to everyone else, it suits the character as you’ve developed her, end with the same result, and now we have a proper tragedy.
But this? This mowing down the city for no reason? That was never Dany, whether she was always a bit mad or not. If you really wanted this, maybe try…
There are so many ways this could have been saved, but they want shock and subversion at the expense of their characters.
All that said, again: kudos to the crew involved that poured their heart into this, and to Emilia Clarke for doing everything she can to sell this. Brilliant performance.