Beyond The Wall

How That Shocking 'Game of Thrones' Death Sets Up a Dark Ending for Daenerys

game of thrones
HBO
This post contains spoilers up through Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4. Visit Beyond the Wall, our official Game of Thrones hub page for recaps, theories, spoilers, explainers, and the best episodes of all time.

Following the massive and bloody Battle of Winterfell, it would make sense for the next episode of Game of Thrones to be lighter on action and heavier on expositional chess-piece moving. For a good portion of its hour-plus runtime, that's what "The Last of the Starks" primarily was, but the urgency demanded by Season 8's shortened length means that even the transitional episodes are packed with important revelations and powerful surprises. And Missandei's brutal beheading at the hands of The Mountain was easily the most shocking twist of the night.

Having defeated the Night King, you'd think Daenerys might have wanted to take a little time to recuperate, lick her wounds, and enjoy having bested the biggest existential threat to her kingdom. Her armies deserved a victory lap -- or at least a long nap -- but instead they settled for a night of drinking. Despite Sansa's reasonable requests for patience, Daenerys wanted to continue her campaign to King's Landing, where Queen Cersei, her horny pirate boyfriend, and the Golden Company awaited their arrival. 

Things did not go smoothly: Armed with some powerful ground-to-air spears, Euron Greyjoy made short work of a dragon and destroyed a few ships. Those mighty arrows sent men scrambling into the sea, including Tyrion, and they mostly made it safely to shore. Of course, there was one notable exception: Missandei wasn't on the beach with Grey Worm and was instead captured by Cersei. How exactly did she end up getting taken in? That's one of a few details David Benioff and D.B. Weiss's script yada-yada'ed in an efficient, though perhaps frustrating, fashion. 

Mostly, her capture was a way to set up the episode's final confrontation outside of King's Landing. With Dany, Tyrion, and Grey Worm looking on, Missandei was publicly executed in a manner that should remind viewers of Ned Stark's death way back in Season 1. Despite Tyrion's best efforts to plead with his sister, literally begging with her at one point by saying "it doesn't mean your baby has to die," Cersei was unmoved.

She did give Missandei a chance to say some last words. She chose one word -- "dracarys," the High Valyrian command Daenerys uses to order dragonfire -- essentially an invitation for Dany to drown King's Landing in a lake of fire next episode. It's exactly the type of dread-soaked, stomach-churning moment of terror the show has become known for over the last eight seasons, and it gave us a bracing final image: Daenerys looking very, very mad. 

game of thrones
HBO

Though she was never considered a major character, Missandei was an essential part of the show's enormous supporting cast. Introduced in Season 3, she played a distinct role in Daenerys' rise to power, helping the Queen solidify her "break the wheel" philosophy and discover the type of leader she wanted to be. After first impressing the Mother of Dragons with her interpreting skills and her vast knowledge of languages, Missandei became a trusted confidante. On a series filled with schemers and cynics, she a wise, quiet, and kind-hearted soul. That made her cruel execution all the more painful. 

Her relationship with Grey Worm has also been one of the more tender romances on a series filled with fucked-up, unhealthy couples. The respect and care that the two showed for each other was often a welcome respite from some of the more insidious dynamics explored in other storylines. That same warmth also made them often feel like they had targets on their backs: Many fans were surprised they both survived the Battle of Winterfell after a particularly hopeful exchange about starting a new life together before the battle. It turns out fans were right to be nervous.

game of thrones
HBO

With Missandei and Jorah dead, it's easy to see how Daenerys could become even further adrift and lose her moral bearings, particularly when facing off against an enemy as cruel as Cersei. Missandei often served as Dany's conscience at various points in the series, drawing her back from some of her more tyrannical and violent impulses. Now the guardrails are off. She'll want revenge, and her scorn could take a truly terrifying form.

Even before Missandei's death, Daenerys' temperament was a key part of this episode: Varys and Tyrion discussed it at length, with both acknowledging that her anger could be a liability. (Varys seemed to back Jon Snow, while Tyrion favored marrying them off in the hopes that "[Jon] could temper her worst impulses.") The theory that Daenerys could become a "Mad Queen" like her father before her has often been floated online as one of the potential endings for the series, particularly as a way to further intensify her brewing conflict with Jon Snow. Either way, that final shot all but guarantees we'll see some serious fireworks next week. 

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.