Game of Thrones' deeply divisive finale aired a year ago today. Revisiting one of its most powerful scenes
Widely panned though it was, the eighth season of Game of Thrones was not without its moments of beauty — and neither was that divisive finale, which aired a year ago today.
A year ago today, Game of Thrones bowed out with its final episode — the sixth of its eighth season. George RR Martin had always promised a bittersweet ending to his Ice and Fire saga, but to many vocal fans, the conclusion of GoT's nine-year television journey — under the aegis of HBO, DB Weiss and David Benioff — felt entirely bitter.
Widely panned though it was, the eighth season was not without its moments of beauty — and neither was that divisive finale.
One of its two high points comes when Jon Snow, having walked through the debris of King's Landing, reaches the gutted Red Keep where a victorious Daenerys is meant to address her troops (the other is the montage of Sansa, Arya and Jon at the end, stepping towards their individual destinies). It is a grim setting — ash flakes floating down like snow, blanketing everything in a greyish white dust; the horror on Jon's face; the screaming Dothraki on their restless steeds; the Unsullied in impeccable formation.
Jon mounts the steps of the Red Keep just as Drogon flies to it; Daenerys disembarks and as Drogon takes off again, for a brief moment, his wings fan out behind her back such that she is the dragon. Daenerys then proceeds to announce to her army her intention of "liberating" the whole world. No man, woman or child will ever be enslaved again, she promises.
The scene is an inversion of episode 8 from Game of Thrones' first season, when Dany walks through the aftermath of Khal Drogo's raid on the Lhazareen, or Lamb People. Jon in King's Landing is Dany walking through the Lhazareen settlement. Like Jon at King's Landing, it is Dany here who is horrified, aghast at the rape and pillage and slaughter and destruction that is being performed as the first step of their campaign for Westeros. When Jorah and Rakharo advise her that this wholesale violence on innocents is the collateral damage that comes along with a conqueror's ambitions, she pays no heed, and attempts to save as many of the captive women as she can. (Later, at King's Landing too, Jon prevents a rape that echos Dany's rescue of Mirri Maz Duur.)
To her conscience, nothing justifies the suffering of innocents — perhaps because until lately, she too has led a mostly oppressed life, subject to Viserys' whims and those of their many creditors. She refuses to accept at the time that the Lamb People are "lesser" and that their pain therefore does not matter. Drogo accedes to Dany's demand that the Lhazareen women be placed in her care.
In the Song of Ice and Fire books, a recurring motif in Daenerys' narrative is the idea of moving forward, of avoiding regret, of never looking back on the sacrifices that have had to be made to get to where she is going, of never second-guessing the decisions she has had to make. "If I look back, I am lost," she thinks — a refrain that becomes particularly haunting the further she progresses towards her goal. Her sacrificed child and dead husband, the carnage at Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen, the compromise in opening the slave pits and in chaining her dragons (the point at which the books presently stop, with Daenerys discovered by the khalasar, after fleeing the Sons of the Harpy on Drogon) — "If I look back, I am lost," Daenerys tells herself.
One imagines TV Daenerys telling herself the same thing as she burns the khals at Vaes Dothrak; Randyll and Dickon Tarly after the Battle at the Goldroad; and in the penultimate Game of Thrones episode, all of King's Landing's hapless residents — the innocents Cersei tried to use against her.
The Daenerys we see at King's Landing has come so very far from the khaleesi who wants to save the Lhazareen. She has ceased to look back — not even when Jon himself implores her to stop the slaughter, to rethink her approach and be merciful, using many of the arguments she herself might have once used.
"If I look back, I am lost," Dany thinks. The tragedy is that by the time she captures the Iron Throne, Daenerys is already lost.
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