'Game of Thrones' rocks the fandom with a highly controversial death

Macall B. Polay/HBODaenerys Targaryen’s group of loyalists is shrinking.
  • Warning: Major spoilers ahead for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” season eight, episode four, “The Last of the Starks.”
  • Sunday’s episode ended with the shocking execution of one of Daenerys Targaryen’s loyal friends and followers.
  • The choice highlights issues brought up in the past about the show’s story choices for nonwhite characters and women.
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HBO’s “Game of Thrones” crept closer towards its series finale with Sunday’s episode, “The Last of the Starks,” on which Daenerys Targaryen’s standing as a queen took several serious blows. First one of her remaining dragons, Rhaegal, was shot down and killed. That attack led to the capture and execution of Missandei, one of the few people left alive who was wholly supportive of Daenerys.

The death of one of the show’s few named, nonwhite, characters is a choice many will find baffling.

Missandei of Naath imprisoned Game of Thrones season 8 episode 4Helen Sloan/HBONathalie Emmanuel as Missandei of Naath on ‘Game of Thrones.’

Missandei and Grey Worm are two Team Daenerys characters pulled from George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series who have been given a much deeper story for the show’s version of events. They, along with the Dothraki forces and the people of Dorne, made up the core section of “Game of Thrones” characters played by people of colour.

The show has faced criticism in the past for not including more people of colour who weren’t narratively connected to slavery, and for having Daenerys (a white woman) take on the trope of a white saviour as she gained power in Essos.

Nearly all of the people of colour on the show were also given the backstory of coming from the same place, the Summer Isles, save for Missandei of Naath.

Missandei’s death came at a critical juncture for Daenerys’ fight for the Iron Throne. After losing half her forces and loyal protector Jorah Mormont at the Battle of Winterfell, Daenerys set her sights on King’s Landing.

Grey Worm and Missandei travelled south with her to help in the fight against Cersei Lannister, but the fleet was attacked. When Daenerys, Tyrion, Grey Worm, and Varys arrived to King’s Landing to try and negotiate Cersei’s surrender, they were greeted with the sight of Missandei in chains.

Missandei execution Game of Thrones season 8 episode 4 HBOHBOMissandei on the ramparts of King’s Landing.

When both Cersei and Daenerys refused to back down, Cersei gave the order and the Mountain beheaded Missandei.

Daenerys freed Missandei from slavery. Seeing her beheaded while her hands were bound in chains once again made this scene even more difficult to watch.

Missandei’s death seems designed to send Daenerys into a spiral

Both Daenerys and Grey Worm were visibly enraged and devastated by Missandei’s death. There’s a trope in storytelling known as “fridging,” which is when a woman is killed as a way to motivate another character (usually a man) into action channeled through their rage and grief.

Daenerys game of thrones season 8 episode 4HBODaenerys lost two of her closest friends and advisers back-to-back.

Missandei’s death was staged as the cliffhanger of episode four before we head into the show’s last-ever battle. This makes it seems as though showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have chosen to use Cersei’s execution of Missandei as the final straw for Daenerys.

But Grey Worm, the sole remaining named nonwhite character on the show and the man who loved Missandei above all else, also seems primed for destruction. “Game of Thrones” seems to be threading the needle of having Missandei’s death motivate both Dany and Grey Worm’s actions on the coming episode.

“I think what’s probably going [on] in Dany’s head in those final moments would be Missandei’s final words,” Benioff said in HBO’s “Inside the Episode” segment. “‘Dracarys’ is clearly meant for Dany. Missandei knows that her life is over, and she’s saying, you know, ‘Light them up.'”

The Mountain and Missandei death Game of Thrones season 8 episode 4 HBOHBONathalie Emmanuel as Missandei of Naath on ‘Game of Thrones.’

Nathalie Emmanuel, who plays Missandei, told Entertainment Weekly her death scene was one of her favourites on the whole series, and also that it “seems likely to push Daenerys to a scary level.”

“I thought it was a fantastic scene,” Emmanuel told EW. “I’ve said in so many interviews that I don’t mind if I die I’m just happy to be here and be a part of the show. But I just wanted it to be really cool and a moment that people remember and I feel like they really give me that moment.”

The loss of both Missandei and Jorah Mormont seem to play into the tragic arc we believe “Game of Thrones” is giving Daenerys. Not only is her relationship with Jon Snow, the man she loves, on extremely shaky ground, but now Daenerys is losing her dearest friends and advisers and is more isolated than ever.

Will she succumb to the Targaryen instincts which once led to her father’s death? With only two episodes to go, there’s still much ground to cover when it comes to Daenerys’ narrative arc and the resolution to the titular “Game of Thrones.” In the meantime, we will hope Grey Worm survives the coming battle of King’s Landing.

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