Some more overly-long thoughts on the show. First, I thought it was a ******* triumph as far as the show goes. Visually spectacular, superb acting, and some wonderful dialog (hey, nice to see you again!). As usual, the places of stupidity (oh, so Scorpions aren’t unstoppable dragon-killing machines) just don’t bother me at this point.
As to Dany’s heel-turn as the Mad Queen, I disagree with many people that her turn was too abrupt, or that it did not make sense within her arc of development.
1. People seem to assume that if she was going to be the Mad Queen, her “madness” had to be the same as that of the Mad King. I.e., insanity and insatiable cruelty. But Dany’s madness is of a different sort; it is anger, indignation, vengeance, isolation, (justified) paranoia, and desperation built on top of a (justified) messiah complex and a years-long single-minded focus on (re)claiming the Iron Throne.
2. Just as importantly, all of those things have been either carefully foreshadowed or outright demonstrated over the preceding episodes/seasons. Say what you will about late-stage GoT writing, this was something long in the works. This character literally views herself, and only herself, as a savior. And why wouldn’t she? She, and she alone, gave birth to the first dragons in over a century, and did so by sitting in a ******* blaze until everything but her had burned to the ground. She, and she alone, was held aloft by the freed slaves her exalted her as Mhysa. She, and she alone, brought the entire Dothraki horde to heel. And without her (even with the terrible tactics), the Night King prevails.
3. Despite being a "messiah," she has burned many, many people. Even when it seemed on the surface to be just, it was not always. She burned all of the Dothraki leadership. She burned the Tarlys, and seemingly without any remorse. And she has conquered, and abandoned, so many people. She stopped asking people if they wanted to join her crusade, and started demanding that they do. And when presented the fact that what she had built her persona on – her right to reclaim the iron throne – was in fact invalid (as Jon had the superior claim), she did not offer to support his candidacy. She was the messiah, no one else, and it was no longer because she was the “rightful” heir to the throne (as if that ever really mattered in GoT or anywhere).
4. Moreover, she has lived a life of isolation, distrust, fear, and abuse. She managed to drag herself up from that, to literally be reborn by fire, but it is still there. Thus, when her support network – literally her only true friends in her life – began to die, she found herself yet again alone. She didn’t trust Tyrion, not fully, the way she did with Jorah. She no longer had Missandei as a confidante. And when Jon spurned her, as Drogo never would, and when she knew that the nation she saved didn’t trust her and that she had traitors within her inner circle looking to replace her, she realized all she had left was Drogon, Grey Worm, and whatever command she could muster through sheer force of will.
5. To that end, she made it as clear as possible to Jon what would happen. “Let it be fear.” How could it have been anything else? The Seven Kingdoms would never accept her rule like the Unsullied or slaves did. Not for her grace, nor her heroism, nor her (empty) words of breaking the wheel. No matter what Illryio said to Viserys, no one drank secret toasts to her health or cried out for their true queen. And they never would. No, she would only gain recognition of her right to rule the way the she did with the Dothraki: not by birthright or mercy, but by sheer, devastating conquest by fire. She had to make an example to all the Lords and Ladies of the Seven Kingdoms that they had **** well not support Jon, or Sansa, or any other usurper to her crown. In order to complete her self-created myth of wheel breaking, she had to break every **** spoke.
6. And when she finally lost it – atop the walls of King’s Landing, with the bells of surrender sounding – she really had no choice. Accept surrender and allow the schemers to keep scheming? Allow Cersei to lie in wait, or Qyburn to set a trap, or Sansa to rally the North? Or burn it to the ground: to reclaim what was never rightfully hers, to avenge the loss of everyone she has held dear, and to punish those who caused her isolation and fear in the first place? Given where the show had come from, it was the only logical choice she could make.
Other assorted musings:
1. As I mentioned before, I liked Jaime and Cersei’s conclusion (Euron fight excepted). I might be the only one, given twitter rage, but I thought it fit. The idea of these redemptive character arcs is exactly the kind of trope GoT has long subverted, at all levels. Very few people are all bad or good, almost all are a complex mix of both, and no one exemplified that as well as Jaime. He’s done horrible things, he’s done noble things. But in life, almost no one gets full redemption. At the end of the day, Jaime couldn’t run from who he was, which was a man desperately in love with his awful twin sister – one that just happened to be carrying his child. So he returned to her, and repeated what he’d told her before. Nothing else matters.
2. Hi Qyburn! Bye Qyburn! I have never really cared much about whether Clegane bowl happened, but *******, it was ******* awesome. The setting of the crumbling Keep, the fire and chaos in the background, and one of the most-redeemed characters battling one of the most monstrous - brutally, without hope or honor. Just eye gouging, eye stabbing, and a beautiful fall into the surrounding madness.
3. The Battle of King’s Landing – like the Battle of Winterfell, the Battle of the ********, and those before them – had its own unique aesthetic, its own way of showing the madness of war, its own message to convey. Here were victorious troops – Northerners, Dothraki, and Unsullied alike – exacting brutal petty vengeance on the wrong people. The commoners. The ones who just want to eat and be with their families and don’t care who rules. It was terrifying and shocking – the first truly urban warfare shown on GoT – with buildings and fight-or-flight mobs all convening to crush anything in their paths. Arya running through the streets – faced covered in ash and blood, trying and failing to help anyone she could – will likely be one of the most lasting, viscerally impactful memories of the show to me. Jon looking stunned and, once again, worthless in the most important moments was more heartbreaking this time than any before.
4. Speaking of Jon, in a show that repeatedly squashes real redemptions, he really needs one. Like, he doesn’t want any of it, but everyone wants it for him, and they always put him in position to succeed heroically. But he continually fails. He needs saving, or he impacts nothing, every time. So clearly in the foreshadowing world, him taking down Dany as some sort of sad, final redemption makes sense.
5. Ramin Djawadi is (still) a god. The way he cycled through and mashed up all the various themes from the show – particularly the Light of the Seven with Rains of Castamere in multiple places – was just incredible.
6. Arya and the Pale Horse might be a bit on the nose, but also, who the **** cares. After watching the GoT equivalent of a nuclear bomb attack, it was so fitting. Now she is become Death, the destroyer of worlds. Arya helped, however reluctantly, give rise to Dany. Now she will have to help end her too.
7. Neereek, quit trying to advance spoil ****, man.