“The Bells” Demonstrates Exactly What Happens When You Let Only White Men Run a Show
By Kaitlin Konecke
“The Bells” Demonstrates exactly what happens
When You Let Only White Men Run a Show
To paraphrase Angelica Schuyler in the Hamilton Mixtape: Congratulations, (Game of Thrones showrunners) Benioff and Weiss, you’ve redefined your legacy. Because what we witnessed in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, entitled “The Bells,” was a character assassination so brutal that it altered the integrity of the show, and disappointed an audience of millions. For Thrones’ fans to have followed a storyline of a heroine for almost a decade, only to have that heroine become a villain seemingly at the turn of a hat, is a betrayal to the audience and to the character. Instead of pure excitement for the final episode of an epic and groundbreaking series, audiences are angry, tired, and just don’t care anymore.
Because in “The Bells,” Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, the Unburnt; freer of the Unsullied and the slaves of Mereen; destroyer of the Khals of the Dothraki; a heroine, a savior, the hope of the future; our merciful queen who had chained up her dragons after they killed one child….murders thousands and thousands of innocent men, women, and children. Because...why exactly?
The showrunners claim that the plan was always that Daenerys Targaryen would become the Mad Queen, and they’ve been sowing the seeds of this since season one. If that were true, they did a very poor job of it. I’ve read the articles that point out all the hints that this would happen--Daenerys’ non-reaction to her brother being killed (he abused her for her entire life), her numerous proclamations that she would take back what was hers with fire and blood (those are the Targaryen words), she killed the Khals (they all had plans to rape her), the fact that her father went mad so it was in her blood (she never wanted to be like him). Those hints are weak at best, and I’ve just shown in parentheses how those same arguments can be used as proof that Dany would never harm innocent people.
No, the suggestions that Daenerys would become the Mad Queen didn’t begin until season 8, which gave the writers four episodes to try and make that character arc make sense. And they failed. They failed in a way that they would not have had they any female writers. In “The Bells,” the all-male writing team diminished Daenerys Targaryen to a one-dimensional character with a dissatisfying and baffling narrative pivot, and left an audience betrayed and reeling, demonstrating exactly why it is important to have female writers.
There should always be female writers on staff, but especially when writing female characters. Female writers add a perspective that male writers simply don’t have. If there were women involved in writing Daenerys’ final character arc, perhaps her “descent into madness” would have made more sense (albeit most likely still rushed, trying to make someone genocide-level insane in five episodes).
Angry vs. Mad
Daenerys completely losing it is seemingly tied to a catfight with Sansa and the fact that her nephew doesn’t want to sleep with her. (Yes, there is also Jon’s parentage being her threat to the crown, but she was still willing to ignore that and be with Jon if he would just promise not to tell anyone. But Jon Snow knows nothing, girl, and he blabbed the first chance he got.) And while there are plenty of reasons for Daenerys to be angry, there’s no excuse for her to be Mad.
Daenerys and Sansa immediately took a dislike to each other when Dany arrived at Winterfell. While many criticized the show for pitting two women against each other, Sansa is deeply distrustful of queens. She has seen some shit, been kidnapped and betrayed and raped, and had her siblings and parents murdered by her enemies. She’s at Winterfell preparing for winter, making sure food is being rationed and that the people of the north will be taken care of. She doesn’t have time for a game of thrones, and anyway, the last time she saw Jon, he was King in the North. And now he comes back having bent the knee to a woman Sansa doesn’t know and therefore cannot trust. Daenerys doesn’t like Sansa because of this hesitation; she feels that Sansa, as Lady of Winterfell, is undermining her power and decision-making as queen. So she’s threatened. But not crazy.
Daenerys sacrificed everything to fight the war against the dead and destroy the Night King and his army. She lost her beloved Ser Jorah in the process. Then she had to sit there and listen to Jon be celebrated because he climbed on a dragon. Something Daenerys basically invented, since her’s are the only dragons that have existed for thousands of years. All of those things she’s done: Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, and so on and so forth, meant nothing to anyone at Winterfell. She literally cannot get burned by fire, but Jon rode a dragon and he’s the greatest person to ever live? Good god.
Daenerys didn’t want to listen to it any longer, so she got up and left the table where Jon was being lauded for her accomplishments. She realized that though she is the queen of Westeros, she doesn’t feel that she belongs. And even though she had truly every reason to be upset, Varys becomes suspicious of her state of mind. But she’s hurt, not unhinged.
Then Dany learns the truth of Jon’s parentage and that he has a better claim to the throne than her. (Though she doesn’t seem to care at all that they’re related.) Now everything that she has worked for and sacrificed for, all of the people she has freed and the army she has built, the one thing, the only thing that she wants is close to being taken away from her. She sees how the people love Jon and dislike her. But if Jon can just tell no one, if he truly doesn’t want the throne and can just keep his mouth shut, then it can be okay. Daenerys begs him, cries, pleads that he tell no one. Utterly vulnerable, she tells him exactly what will happen were Sansa to find out: the truth would take on a life of its own, and they would be powerless to stop it. And Jon, who knows nothing, decides to tell his sisters anyway. And exactly what Dany said would happen, happened. So she’s angry. But not insane.
Daenerys sticks to the plan to go to King’s Landing and offer Cersei a chance to surrender. Upon arrival, one of her dragons is slaughtered by douche-bro of the Iron Islands, Euron Greyjoy. She has already lost one dragon, and now another of her children is dead, right before her eyes. She’s devastated. But not a lunatic.
In the chaos that ensues post-dragon death, her good friend and advisor, Missandei, is kidnapped and taken to Cersei, who promptly beheads her in front of Daenerys. Dany is shocked, grief-stricken, and livid. But she’s not on the brink of madness!
I can hear the bells
And then we arrive at season 8 episode 5, “The Bells,” where we are to believe that Dany is one side-eye away from becoming the Mad Queen. Sure, she executes Varys but what other choice did she have? He was committing treason by conspiring against his queen. Of course she kills the soldiers outside the city walls: this is war and armies are fair game. But she watches the Lannister army lay down their swords. She hears the people of King’s Landing surrendering, begging for someone to ring the bells and signal defeat. Cersei is still alive in the Red Keep, but no one plans to be her human shield. The bells ring, and ring, and ring. The might of the dragon is too great, too terrifying, too strong. Daenerys has won. It’s over.
And then, staring out at the Red Keep, with fiery anger in her eyes, she makes a decision, and rains down dragon fire and lays waste to everything in sight. Nothing that we have learned about Daenerys in 8 seasons would make her decision to kill everyone, even after they have surrendered, fit her narrative. She has undergone a lot of trauma since arriving in Westeros, but not enough to undo everything Daenerys has been. Revenge for these traumas doesn’t only have to equal Mad Queen. That’s weak writing.
There are so many nuances that would have to go into a believable portrayal of an otherwise good and merciful character becoming a crazed murder machine controlled by madness. It certainly can’t be accomplished in 5 episodes. Perhaps if there were women in the writer’s room, shaping Daenerys from the beginning, we wouldn’t have to try and believe that tension between two women, sexual rejection from a man, and, oh yeah, quickly mentioning that Targaryens have a tendency to go mad, is enough to make a strong character into a vengeful harpy.
It’s a shame. When Tyrion comes to Dany at the start of the episode, she guesses that someone has betrayed her. Girl, if only you knew.