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The Mailbag Of Thrones answers what the hell just happened and if things will get better in the series finale

Photo: HBO

We learned a lot from Game Of Thrones’ “The Bells,” like how a master of whispers needs to remember the importance of whispering, not even a golden hand can get you past security, and kissing your aunt can help prevent genocide. But the episode raised plenty of questions, too, and in this Mailbag Of Thrones we’re answering yours about why Daenerys suddenly lost her mind, who’s to blame for the disappointing final season, and if the series’ last episode will fix everything. And in the likely event the finale leaves a bunch of threads hanging and questions unanswered, despair not: We’ll be back for a final round of Mailbag Of Thrones next week—so send us an email at mailbagofthrones@avclub.com after the final credits roll.


Jenna K asks: Why did they do that to Dany?

Great, we’re starting off with an easy one…

On a macro scale it makes sense a major character we believed to be ostensibly good failed us in the end. The pursuit of power corrupting people—even those with unselfish reasons for seeking it like Stannis—has been a major theme of the series throughout. Having someone as important as Daenerys also succumb to its dangers is not only meaningful, it’s perfectly Game Of Thrones. All the heroes living up to our expectations, or getting great death scenes and happy endings, would have felt hollow and disappointing.

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On a micro scale it was a total failure. Some have argued the show set up her descent into madness for years, but it’s just not true. She was repeatedly given that opportunity and she always stepped back from the edge of insanity. Daenerys was not above torching her enemies, including slave masters and those who betrayed her, but not the innocent and oppressed. That was her whole thing. The show didn’t present this outcome as a real possibility until the middle of season seven when she executed the Tarly boys, and even that was defensible. She gave them a chance to bend the knee and they wouldn’t, so she killed them, and to the rest she granted pardons, the same as Aegon the Conqueror. Why was that so outrageous? Tywin Lannister buried his enemies alive (which is what the “Rains of Castemere” is about) and had them butchered at a wedding. No one ever looked at him and said, “Oh, this guy is going mad!”

Image: HBO

Daenerys had what she wanted. Westeros was hers, and she had proven she was an unstoppable force if the Sansas of the world wanted to oppose her. That’s when she decided it was time to do war crimes and betray her guiding principle? I don’t think it made any sense, but at minimum it wasn’t earned. The little work the show put into the possibility it might happen was rushed and underwhelming.

Of course, I haven’t really answered the question yet: Why did they do that to Dany? Because they’re obsessed with big, shocking moments, and this certainly qualified as one. They cared more about that than whether it made sense for her character. Daenerys, and viewers, deserved a lot better.

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Julie asks: Will they bookend the series with Jon Snow taking Dany’s life with his own hands, à la Ned Stark beheading the deserter? 

I think she’ll die, but even if Jon does it I don’t think we’ll see a formal beheading. She has too many loyal soldiers surrounding her. Any assassination attempt will have to be quick or involve deception. Arya’s the best bet to kill her for that reason. Maybe she’ll find Cersei or Jaime’s face in the rubble and be brought to face Queen Daenerys where she can strike. I’d enjoy that.

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Lewis asks: Will the finale make up for a hodgepodge story this season?

If you found the Night King’s death anti-climactic and Daenerys’s heel turn ludicrous, probably not. Those are two major, legacy altering problems that took place in a six-episode season. What could the finale do to change that? There’s no one who could end up on the Iron Throne that would be as satisfying as the end of the show has been disappointing.

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Erik asks: So… the horse was Bran, right?

That was my immediate reaction in the moment, as it seemed totally implausible a horse both survived the destruction of a city without help and then found Arya. Bran warging into one to give his sister a way to escape would be a great way for him to have been useful this season.

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After thinking about it more, though, I doubt it. The show is much more straightforward now. We’ll likely have to appreciate that scene for how visually stunning it was and for the obvious symbolism of death it represented for both Arya and the city.

Photo: Helen Sloan (HBO)
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Clark asks: Does anything/anyone that bears a strong connection to Essos make one final appearance to bring something to the table this week? I’m sure word of the greatest city in Westeros being completely pulverized along with one of their own greatest mercenary companies must have some effect on life across the Narrow Sea.

Even with the supersonic travel speed of the show now it seems unlikely. The threat of Daenerys has to be dealt with swiftly before she realizes her allies have turned on her, so no one in Essos—not Daario, Quaithe, the red priests, or anyone else—will get there in time. The only places I expect to see in the finale are King’s Landing, Winterfell, and the Wall (because Jon will go there to live), and the only people who still matter on the show are already there.

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Image: HBO

Laurence asks: With this season feeling like it’s being made up on the fly and thrown together at the last second, do you think that Martin actually had an endgame in sight, or did he panic and just throw some shit against the wall so they could end the show?

I think this is 100 percent on showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Martin gave them the broad strokes of the story years ago, but they’ve been painting their own version of his picture since season two. They’ve had some major successes post-book material. The season six finale might be the best episode in show history, and this season’s “A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms” was outstanding. Both take place well past the novels.

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Maybe Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire will end poorly too, and his bad ideas are why the show is suffering now. But Game Of Thrones is an adaptation. The people making it are responsible for what they take from the source material and how they present it. Plus, the showrunners wanted abbreviated final seasons, not HBO and not Martin. Things are rushed because they are rushing them.


Fabi asks: Is it possible, if, for whatever reason, the top contenders don’t take the Iron Throne, that Gendry could become king and marries Sansa, uniting both houses as King Robert wanted?

Definitely. Jon might not want the crown even if he lives, and Tyrion might not be offered it even if he survives. After them, which viable candidates are even left beyond the three Stark children? Sansa or Arya marrying Gendry and then becoming king and queen of Westeros would make as much sense as any other outcome, just like Robert Baratheon wanted in the series premiere.

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Image: HBO

Zack asks: At this point, how can HBO get me excited about a prequel? After “The Long Night,” White Walkers don’t seem interesting or scary. Maybe this prequel is where we finally get Azor Ahai? Tell me there’s hope of this spin-off being better than season eight.

I usually end these mailbags with a joke, but let’s end on a positive note after a contentious season. Not every fan is upset with the show, but even for those of us who are, there’s plenty of hope for the prequel.

The biggest advantage to not having Bran go back in time to the first White Walker attack is we still don’t know anything about it. If done right, the prequel should have a lot of fun showing us his origins, and the founding of the Realm. That should make Game Of Thrones more satisfying too, as it adds whole new dimensions to the Night King’s story.

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And while I’m obviously bummed out by what has happened to the show the last two seasons (to put it mildly), for six years it combined rich, rewarding storytelling with unparalleled production values. There was nothing more fun to watch and discuss on television than Game Of Thrones. Hopefully HBO can return to those roots with the prequel.

But if you’re still pessimistic, just remember the words of the most hopeful people in Westeros: “What is dead may never die, but rises again harder and stronger.”

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Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh doesn't understand how the stock market works, but he can tell you all about Valyrian steel, Hogwarts, and the problems with time travel in Back To The Future.