WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!
The Bells is currently the worst reviewed episode in Thrones history. That doesn’t really mean anything – people were expressing disagreement with the direction the showrunners had taken rather than the quality of the episode itself (which was VERY high – there’s a reason I gave it a 5 in my review yesterday). Most people’s criticism seems to stem from Daenerys’ character arc. I deliberately skipped over this yesterday, because I didn’t want half my review to be spent on one point. So instead, here’s my breakdown of why the show was always building towards Daenerys turning to the dark side and becoming her father’s daughter – and why criticism of that choice is utter bollocks.
Daenerys going off the rails was always on the cards when you look at what she’s been through during the show. She was raped by Khal Drogo in the very first episode. She later fell in love with Drogo, but had to mercy kill him after he was reduced to a vegetative state by the witch Mirri Maz Daur. One of her own handmaidens betrayed her in Qarth, she saw dozens of slave-children be crucified as a warning to her on the road to Meereen and she later discovered that Jorah, her closest adviser, had been a traitor for a large part of their time together. She failed to manage Meereen, sparking an insurgency. She lost control of her dragons, forcing her to lock two of them up. Then things got worse – she’s lost so many advisers, dragons and allies since S5. Barristan Selmy, Hizdahr, the Sand Snakes, the Greyjoy Fleet, Olenna, Viserion, Jorah, Rhaegal and Missandei have all been destroyed or killed in her service. That’s enough to send anyone round the bend. All the betrayals and setbacks have resulted in Daenerys’ sense of deep paranoia, while her failures in Meereen and Westeros have clearly created some huge insecurities. She’s lost trust in Tyrion due to all the mistakes he’s made and Sam’s family, Sansa and the Northerners have all made it clear that they won’t accept Daenerys rule. Jon’s rejection after his discovery of their blood ties must have been the last straw.
Even after all that, some people are still arguing her actions in the Bells are out of character (rather like the reaction to Stannis sacrificing Shireen). But in both cases, the show has been building to them for a long time. Daenerys sat and watched her brother get horrifically executed by Khal Drogo without a hint of emotion. She effectively had two of her enemies in Qarth entombed alive. She crucified dozens of slave-masters in Meereen regardless of whether or not they were responsible for the atrocities that had angered her. She has burned many, many soldiers alive (and let’s face it, most of those soldiers’ would have only been following bad orders). She burnt Sam’s father and brother alive rather than spare them, imprison them or execute them cleanly. She has barely ever showed mercy, and has always executed her enemies (justified or otherwise) in horrible ways. She’s always had an arrogant belief in her right to rule and has rarely tolerated criticism or conflicting advice. When you look at her history, transforming from an arrogant warlord (anyone who would willingly lead brutes like Dothraki is a warlord) to a butchering despot isn’t a huge jump.
Compare this to Jon Snow. He’s always merciful. He isn’t arrogant, and doesn’t have the ego to belief in anything as arrogant as destiny. When he has killed, it has always been in kill or be killed scenarios, and when he has executed people, he always gave them quick deaths. Anyone who thought Daenerys was a hero after Season 7 was kidding themselves. The Lannister soldiers she burnt alive so callously were probably better people than the Dothraki she’s so happy to have at her back (remember that Dothraki are basically Thrones’ version of the Huns or the Mongols – two of the most blood-soaked civilizations in history).
Ultimately, there are reasons for getting annoyed with Season 8 of Thrones. But Daenerys’ character arc is not one of them. It may be slightly rushed, but this was always the point she was heading towards. As for anyone claiming it’s sexist… have you looked at Sansa or Arya – they are two of the strongest female characters I can think of on a TV show. Fans and characters alike have commented how good a leader Sansa has become. Jon and Tyrion aren’t more controlled/moral/better leaders than Dany because they are men – its because that’s who their characters have always been. Daenerys has always had a psychotic potential buried inside her – and after all her recent setbacks and losses, is it any wonder its finally come to the fore?
On a lesser note, Grey Worm’s role in The Bells is even easier to understand. Missandei was literally all he had. With her gone, his loyalty to Daenerys and a desire for vengeance is all he has left. So I don’t think anyone can doubt his motivations were well written. If Daenerys hadn’t gone berserk, I think he would have held back and reluctantly let the surrendering Lannisters live.
I could do another one of these about Jaime, but if you seriously thought he would chose Brienne over Cersei, you don’t understand his character properly, so I won’t waste time trying to convince anyone otherwise.
Hopefully the last episode of Thrones will generate a bit less controversy, but somehow I doubt that’s likely. Let’s hope it finishes on a high (and that Jon and Arya make it to the finishing line alive).