In the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones it seems that many of us were disappointed, and even angry because of “What Dany Did”, but maybe more appropriately because of“What the Show Made Dany Do”. The argument I’ve encountered is that “what Dany did” doesn’t make story sense, and that there was little psychological insight into Dany’s reasoning, or state of mind. That’s not really true. It’s true that the show didn’t sit about and info-dump Dany’s innermost thoughts and feelings. The show as a whole usually does well at conveying emotional or psychological information visually. If I may delve into film analysis for a moment – I’m going to break down the scene between Tyrion and Dany when Tyrion comes to the map-table room to rat out Varys:
Tyrion walks into the chamber. The shot is framed in long and Dany is tucked up against a pillar – almost blending into it. As though she has become a part of the scenery. This shot establishes the psychic gulf between the two that endures for the length of the scene.
Tyrion approaches Dany. As they converse the gulf begins to take shape. Dany is framed from over Tyrion’s shoulder (figure 2). Tyrion in the right foreground creates a shadow that seems to mirror Dany’s figure. As though she has been split apart. This is not mirrored in the reverse shots of Tyrion (figure 3).
The scene cuts to a wide shot of the two standing across from each other with a large space in between (figure 4).
The scene then cuts to a shot-reverse-shot sequence wherein each actor’s face is framed in close up on opposite sides of the screen (figures 5 & 6) which creates even more empty dynamic space between them and solidifies their irrevocable differences.
Dany turns away from Tyrion and the scene cuts to a shot just outside the window that frames Dany in close-up. She looks old and haggard (figure 7).
In this scene Dany has just found out that Varys has been writing letters and pushing Jon’s claim. Because of how this information was leaked she (understandably) believes that everyone has betrayed her utterly. Varys advising the realm of Jon’s claim is basically a reckoning for her. This scene symbolizes an enormous break between Dany and her supporters, and it does so quite well visually. I think it’s also really important to note Dany’s appearance. When has this woman ever looked anything but spectacular and put together? This character never has a hair out of place and here she looks destroyed. It’s a pretty strong visual cue that she’s not up to making super good choices right now. She establishes even more distance from those around her in subsequent scenes. Particularly when she addresses Grayworm and Tyrion from the throne of Dragonstone.
It’s not that Daenerys “became the mad queen” or has some sort of latent Targaryn mental illness – she has actually lost everything. She’s a shell. Her entire life has been spent seeking the Iron Throne and in that scene with Tyrion she is acknowledging that she is not the chosen one. That is what breaks her. Much of Daenerys’ arc concerns mercy over cruelty, and honor over all. Themes that are mirrored in Jon’s arc as well – that valiant oath keeper of ours. Time and again even as Dany is succeeding she is making very cruel choices. She uses the blood of Mirri Maz Duur to trigger her dragon magic in the season one finale. She orders the crucifixion of 163 slave masters on the road to Meereen. Only death can pay for life – Dany is told this early on and acts it out. She does not choose mercy for those she can righteously justify as evil or undeserving of mercy. In The Bells even before the battle begins Dany does not choose mercy or honor. She is ready willing and able to burn King’s Landing to ash. At that the exact point when it happens – King’s Landing is no longer a prize to be won but a sickening reminder of her dead spirit. It’s even sadder when you realize that was all she ever was. She really ever only chose herself. The burning of King’s Landing and the ultimate desecration of her values is representative of that.
I think the sickening truth of it all is part of why people were so pissed off at this episode. Like I said – Dany’s arc is one of the best and we’ve watched it unfold so delicately. You see this beautiful warrior woman; strong in the face of adversity, magical, and able to command three dragons. This is a fantastic image – she is a modern day Boudica. The series wants you to buy Dany’s hype just as much she does. How can it be then that our savior, our warrior queen, our mother burned innocent people? It was never real – her very arc contradicts her stated goal. She wanted to be a righteous queen, to break-the-wheel but her tactics were never in line with what would actually be required by a successful monarch of Westeros. Daenerys was a false savior and that seems disappointing but it’s also more real.