In the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen, First of Her Name, the Unburnt, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons (Emilia Clarke) took the Iron Throne (or at least what's left of it) by burning King's Landing and all of its inhabitants to the ground.
For most of the hour-plus episode, viewers watched as Dany and her sole surviving dragon burned Cersei's (Lena Headey) army and the innocent people of the capital to crispy bits. The craziest part is that she didn't have to. Euron Greyjoy's (Pilou Asbaek) Iron Fleet was destroyed early on and Daenerys took out Cersei's front line in a matter of moments. After seeing how easy it was for her to break down the gates of King's Landing, thus letting Jon (Kit Harington) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) lead Dany's army into the capital, Cersei's soldiers and the people of the city surrendered. They rang the bell to signal their new allegiance, but Dany decided to attack the city anyways, flying serpentine over the streets of King's Landing and burning everyone in her path, even though just flying to Red Keep and executing Cersei would have been the easier (and more merciful) option.
Many have said that Dany's sudden willingness to commit genocide was foreshadowed along her journey to the Iron Throne; she is a Targaryen and the daughter of the Mad King after all. While it is true that the signs have been there that Dany wouldn't be the benevolent leader that she believed herself to be, the decision to massacre an entire city of innocent people is not only out of character for Daenerys, but the antithesis of what she has come to represent over the past eight seasons.
This is not to say that Dany doesn't crave power or react violently toward those who disagree with her. We've seen these darker tendencies beginning in Season 2, when she had her dragons murder the warlocks of the House of the Undying and locked Xaro (Nonso Anozie) in his vault. Remember when she burned the Dothraki counsel to ashes? That wasn't exactly an indication of a level-headed leader. But Daenerys became her most petty when she barbecued the Tarlys for refusing to bend the knee. That act advertised that Dany was never going to respond well to anyone who questioned her rule, but it still didn't indicate that she'd one day decide to massacre legions of innocent civilians.
It was clear after Cersei beheaded Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) in the fourth episode of Season 8 that Dany would stop at nothing to get revenge for her closest confidant, who had been by Dany's side since Astapor in Season 3. It was well within Dany's established character to seek an extremely violent punishment for that personal loss, but nothing before this point has alluded to the idea that Dany would be willing to take out her vengeance on innocent people, including women and children, who had already bent the knee.
Daenerys' history of violence and unbending focus on power actually makes her a lot like Cersei, the "tyrant" she was determined to overthrow. These women's similarities could have been more eloquently highlighted in a true showdown between the two queens in an episode that examined how these two people who initially set out to be protectors (Cersei, of her children; Dany, of Westeros civilians) were driven to violent ends in their quest for control. It could have been an impactful look at how power corrupts and humanity's ceaseless cycle of violence, but instead it was all boiled down to Dany's wholly unnecessary, disappointingly one-note firestorm.
The Mother of Dragons' sudden switch to being a merciless murderer felt unearned and rushed, particularly with only one episode left in the entire series. Every violent outburst and intense response that Dany has had over the course of the show can be coupled with three more examples of how she successfully adapted to different cultures and made strategic moves to gain the trust of the previous people whom she conquered. Yet all that was forgotten when she arrived in Westeros without the series ever providing a real explanation for Dany's impatience to secure the Iron Throne, especially when she was well-versed in why the Seven Kingdoms would have mixed feelings about an unknown ruler (not to mention a Targaryen one).
Fans of the show know better than to expect a happy ending for even the most beloved characters; that's not how Game of Thrones works. And the idea that Daenerys' feeling of entitlement to the throne and thirst for power would eventually lead to transforming into a "mad queen" and ironically becoming another rotation in the wheel of power she sought to break is a great story, one befitting the greatness this show used to possess. However, that is not the story that Game of Thrones chose to tell in its final season -- at least not in any way that felt narratively coherent.
The compacted final season didn't leave enough room to depict the deterioration of Daenerys' mental state in any kind of realistic fashion. There were no hints that Dany was becoming unstable until the fourth episode, and even then, the series seemed more interested in how the men in her life discussed her mental state rather than putting in the work to explore it from Daenerys' perspective. To accept Daenerys' decision to commit genocide as a trauma-induced mental snap with no other buildup or explanation other than the fact that she's a Targaryen is insulting to Daenerys and to all of the fans who have spent eight seasons following this character.
But the fact that the show is using Daenerys' destruction of King's Landing to validate Varys (Conleth Hill) is the most unforgivable twist of the knife. The Master of Whispers has been one of Dany's key supporters from the very beginning, but recently revealed his "c--ks matter" political views as a reason to turn against his Queen. Varys telling Tyrion that Daenerys can't rule because she's too unstable and that she's too strong to be with Jon Snow is rooted in sexism, yet this is the message the show asked viewers to believe is true. And while Missandei's death was her breaking point, the cracks in Daenerys' mental state began with the fear that Jon will take the Iron Throne, despite the fact he has no interest in ruling. Insecure has never been a word to describe Daenerys, but this was the thing that started to drive her off the edge? It makes no logical sense and goes against everything we've learned of Dany over the past eight seasons.
If Sunday's episode taught us anything, it's that the legacy of the biggest show in the world is not going to be an eloquent statement on the corrupting nature of power, but rather complicit support of patriarchal bullsh--.
The Game of Thrones series finale airs Sunday, May 19 at 9/8c on HBO.