Can you feel it now?
The gif above is from Mad Men and I’ve thought of it almost daily since that well-timed episode aired just over four years ago. The scene pops into my head whenever the most powerful people in the our country display their hatred, greed, and criminality — and that is pretty much a daily occurrence — and I think, “I want to burn this place down.” That’s when I remember Mad Men‘s Joan said the same thing, and I’m a little comforted to have immediate company, even if she’s fictional.
But in the past few days, scenes from last Sunday’s penultimate episode of Game of Thrones have supplanted Mad Men in my mind. That’s because of the lawmakers — mostly white men — who are preparing to challenge Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court by signing off on state abortion bans. Now I want to see FIRE.
I bet more women will agree with my recent blog post positioning Daenerys as an angry queen — not a mad queen — than there were immediately after last week’s episode.
I started writing that post right after the episode, finished it in the wee hours on Wednesday morning, and didn’t get to post it until Friday. I kept an eye on the news the whole time, but didn’t incorporate that into my post. Everyone was doing it for me.
Dear white male politicians who dismiss me, who doubt me:
My rage is real
My rage is wildfire
My rage is toxic
My rage is dragonglass
Stand down or stand back.
My rage will win.
— Abigail Collazo (@LeftStandingUp) May 18, 2019
Of course, from a storytelling point of view, I was as dismayed as other viewers last week when the self-proclaimed Breaker of Chains and her last dragon razed the city of King’s Landing after it surrendered. The brutality did seem abrupt — insane, even — despite the fact that the character’s capacity for violence and vengeance had been on display for years.
That’s because Daenerys’s worst traits previously were balanced by acts of mercy and cooperation. There were people who loved her. With love gone and the threat of betrayal everywhere, there’s one way left for her to rule. She declared, “Let it be fear.” But this story arc was so truncated. As Kelly Lawlor said in USA Today:
“The problem with Dany going full Mad Queen isn’t that she used to be a hero or that the show never foreshadowed it. There have been seeds, all the way back to Season 1 when she burned Mirri Maz Duur alive as vengeance for Khal Drogo’s death. She has long been vain, ruthless and completely convinced of her own brilliance.
But the show spent far more time making Dany a hero, if a rather boring one. Making her Mad Queen Dany now is rushed, unearned and emotionless.”
Who can avoid a “WTF” reaction when a painfully slow-moving, character-driven show turns into a frantically plotted “tie up all the loose ends” free-for-all? For perspective, six of Season 3’s 10 episodes featured Theon’s gruesome torture by uber-villain Ramsay Bolton. Now entire armies flit from north to south like hummingbirds between flowers.
This didn’t have to happen, because HBO was willing to give its hit $how more episodes, during which the plot might have been better resolved, but show runners David Benioff and Dan Weiss declined. They will be working on the next Star Wars movie. Any disappointment in tonight’s finale is on them.
Anyway, I read a lot of history books, so when I sat down to write about last week’s “Bells” episode, I thought, “Fuck the two white boys who ruined this for us,” and got into some reality-based pragmatism. Tyrion, step aside. I am the Queen’s Hand now. And, in a world like the one in Game of Thrones — which is basically various eras of English history plus magic — Daenerys should have taken it up to 11 long ago. If the destruction of King’s Landing was what she could do with one dragon, imagine the terror she could have created with her original three! The entire continent would have bent the knee long ago.
But what about the innocent civilians — the concern of Tryion and Varys, Daenerys’s allegedly “clever” advisors? Um, I don’t know? What about them? They’re a modern concept. Real mercenary armies of centuries ago expected payment in the form of the spoils of war. A leader who didn’t offer troops ample opportunity to rape and pillage the countryside had problems keeping up morale.
Thus, it turns out that the female character best suited for real-life, historical success — for a portion of the show — was the proudly villainous Cersei. Remember, she wiped out all local threats to her authority when she used wildfire to blow up the Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing — her own city! her own people! — in season 6. If you’ve forgotten that scene, it’s here and it’s spectacular. Don’t miss the signature sip of wine.
As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, so Cersei’s enemy Lady Olenna Tyrell tried to point Daenerys towards the path to leadership success in season 7, episode 2. After Daenerys declared that she would oust Cersei from the Iron Throne and bring peace to the continent of Westeros, Lady Olenna replied:
“Peace? Do you think that’s what we had under your father or his father or his? Peace never lasts my dear. Will you take a bit of advice from an old woman? He’s a clever man, your hand, I’ve known a great many clever men. I’ve outlived them all, you know why? I’ve ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No, you’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
But Daenerys didn’t go full dragon. She didn’t go real-life Elizabeth I. Elizabeth I was full dragon! Dany doesn’t level up until very late in the game …
… too late for the show runners to make any sense of it. Of course, if she’d done it differently, it wouldn’t have been the story written by George R.R. Martin, whose A Song of Ice and Fire books series was the basis for the television show. Come to think of it, I’d like to read or watch that different story — the one where a woman steps into power without hesitation. In fact, I hope to read and watch it on the news, very soon. Nancy Pelosi spoke the truth:
This Tuesday, May 21, is a national day of action to #StopTheBans. I hope to see you there, full of rage.
And if you’re watching the Game of Thrones finale tonight and feel displeased, let that be a little more fuel for your fire.