There are a lot of pent up things that I could say about the end of Game of Thrones still, the kind of things that have festered and lingered (unlike the show’s post-series-finale cultural impact). But if I speak about just one thing, just one character who did not deserve her end, I want it to be Missandei from the isle of Naath.
Missandei deserved better.
And I do not say that in the naivety of someone who did not know what kind of show she was watching. “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention,” was the often-quoted refrain in the fandom, spoken by the showrunner’s favorite villain (whose baffling, horrifying expanded role at the expense of other, more compelling female stories waiting to be adapted is a good microcosm of what the writers thought we wanted). Game of Thrones positioned itself as a show of shock deaths where no one was safe, where fan favorites and main characters could be killed at any point…
Except, not really. At a certain point, Game of Thrones needed to become a coherent story with an overarching narrative. Just because the main characters weren’t who we thought they were doesn’t mean that there weren’t any. The story needed living main characters to complete the overarching Song of Ice and Fire. Fans began to recognize this, and these safe main characters from the still-standing pack started to be analyzed and pored over — people like Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, and Arya and Sansa Stark — as fandom at large tried to guess what might happen in the end. And so, the showrunners tried to up the stakes, and killed off other characters with wild abandon and no foreshadowing, to include Missandei, just to keep the element of surprise in this horrible anti-spoiler culture world we’re in now.
Clearly with fan reaction to the final season being what it was, the showrunners gravely misjudged why people liked the twists and shock deaths that came before.
Ned Stark’s death due to incompetent political dealings was broadcast a mile away, and the only reason we the audience thought he was safe was because we thought he was the main character, and main characters in fantasy stories make the wrong call all the time and still win in the end. Game of Thrones was meant to be a show where actions had consequences. The most famous shock deaths were foreshadowed to kingdom come, and when they happened the audience, still reeling, could pinpoint what had gone wrong and why they died with a sort of horrified realization of decisions that happened sometimes whole seasons ago.
The Red Wedding. Tywin Lannister. Oberyn Martell. Jon Snow, the first time. All these events were foreshadowed ahead of time, we just hadn’t noticed yet.
So, then, what about Missandei’s?
One of the show’s only POC — before her death, one of only two named POC characters to survive to the end — Missandei was a slave freed by Daenerys Targaryen in the first of her many dragon-themed city conquerings. Missandei was a translator and a trusted advisor to Daenerys, who not only valued her counsel but also saw her as a dear friend. Though never a main character, previous seasons showcased her relationship with Daenerys and her life outside of her, including a sweet blossoming romance with the general of the queen’s armies, Grey Worm. She was kind, and sweet, and a firm believer in the kind of justice only dragon fire could bring to slavers.
It was disappointing but not surprising to see less and less of her character as the others in Westeros began to shift support to the Mother of Dragons. Instead of seeing Grey Worm and Missandei, we instead got scene after scene of Tyrion and Varys drinking and saying shady things about the queen they supposedly believed in with all their hearts, laying clumsy exposition–then not quite with firm evidence–that Daenerys might be slipping into being more like her forefather, the Mad King. These scenes of dissent would have been better served by including someone who had been with her since the start voicing some doubts over her viciousness, rather than two men who had just arrived, but instead the pair of men drank and Grey Worm and Missandei became less visible advisors.
By the last season when they arrive in Westeros proper, Missandei’s role was reduced to one of reciting Daenerys’s titles at people and defending Daenerys from shady whispers happening right in front of her. She is seen in background shots, shares brief screen time with Grey Worm to physically declare their love, and then almost immediately after that she is kidnapped via an impossible series of actions happening in rapid succession. All told, the scenes leading to and of her death don’t last more than fifteen minutes, if that. It is a sequence that was less Game of Thrones and more bad 80s movie.
Euron Greyjoy, perhaps the luckiest pirate in all of Westeros, shoots down not just a flying, moving target of a supposedly invincible dragon perfectly in a shot a sniper would have been jealous of, using medieval era siege equipment on a moving boat, but also kidnaps the one person that Daenerys Targaryen cares about most by plucking Missandei from the ocean without being seen or caught. Missandei is then promptly beheaded on the gates of King’s Landing while everyone watches, her last words a seeming blessing to Daenerys to burn the whole city (as she eventually does): Dracarys.
There is a lot that has already been said about Missandei’s death, and in particular the writing about the show’s lack of diversity and the problematic writing and treatment of POC characters is spot on, especially considering that Missandei dies in chains. The death itself appears to be manufactured to be heartbreaking, but more importantly something that the fans wouldn’t see coming. Her death sparked an immediate backlash, one which continued throughout the final episodes of the season. Her death, rather than being about her, was framed as being about Grey Worm and Daenerys, the focus entirely on the pair of them and the brutal violence they enact upon King’s Landing in the very next episode.
In the last season, Missandei was treated less like a character and more like a prop, and that is heartbreaking and inexcusable. She was a fascinating character and, like the other Game of Thrones women, was whittled down to almost nothing by the end of the series. Missandei is fridged so that Daenerys and Grey Worm can go conquer King’s Landing — which, frustratingly, was the thing they were always going to do anyway. Her death served no purpose other than the showrunners wanted to shock the fans, to surprise them in a way that no one on Reddit could have guessed, and give Daenerys and Grey Worm an “excuse” to murder civilians. There was no other reason to kill her in the story.
By throwing away character motivations and consequences for deaths, Missandei’s death stood out from other Game of Thrones deaths for being particularly brutal and nonsensical in the grander scheme of the story. “Haha, shocked you” doesn’t a good story make. It’s alienating, it most often affects marginalized characters, and it doesn’t make anyone want to watch your show again and again to pick up breadcrumbs when you don’t provide any.
Those who rely on shock deaths are often shocked when they kill off their own story too. Missandei’s death was one of the first nails in the coffin of Game of Thrones’s legacy, and I like to think that was her revenge. Dracarys.