From its earliest episodes, HBO’s Game of Thrones has been about death. It has reveled in it, dangling the mortality of its characters like the Sword of Damocles.
Who is dispatched and in what ways has dominated discussion for years, and that has only intensified in the eighth and final season. With four episodes down and two to go, the dead pool on who will remain grows. But no matter how many people die I still manage to be shocked and affected when certain characters meet their demise.
The latest death in Game of Thrones has left me feeling raw. Mind you, this is a show that has run through the gamut of torture, rape, mutilation and infanticide, so it’s hard to believe that they haven’t hit bottom. But it’s the context of this latest death that has me and many other viewers crying foul.
Missandei was an enslaved interpreter who was freed by Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, and the lover of Torgo Nudho, a.k.a. Grey Worm, commander of the Unsullied army. In the fictional world of Game of Thrones, Missandei and Grey Worm were the closest thing to a Black couple as we ever got. They were our Sincere and Tionne. Lyric and Jason. Tre and Brandi. Naïve hearts making plans for their future in a harsh world that didn’t guarantee one. They were an oasis of love in a cruel and unforgiving kingdom that broke spirits, promises and bonds with regularity.
As “winter came” and the undead White Walkers were dispatched, the lovers dreamt of a life in warm climate away from the remaining White Walkers, rollers and riders that were very much alive and just as dangerous.
Being a Black Game of Thrones watcher is a folly fraught with peril. Like any other TV viewer you want to lose yourself in this fantasy world filled with intrigue, espionage, humor and strategy. But you never stop being who you are, even in a world with dragons, witches and revenant knights. (Not to mention the show’s creators dreaming of a world where the Confederacy won the Civil War.)
So, when you see the unwavering fealty that a character like Missandei held for a woman like Daenerys, who has a singular focus on sitting on the Iron Throne, you can’t help but be cautious and concerned. You yell at the TV for her to watch her back because you know firsthand what it’s like for that loyalty to be used against you. You see how in real life Black women are used in politics and media to prop up white women and men in the pursuit of power. And in this episode, you watch as the immovable force of the Dragon Queen runs head first into the immovable object that is the incestuous, vengeful Cersei Lannister, who is as chilling a villain as you’ll see on TV today.
You watch as she sails her tired armies and wounded dragons into the jaws of her enemies despite the warnings of her handlers. Her lust for the throne has blinded her to reason and clings to the scales of her dragon in pursuit of her prize. But hubris is a fool’s armor and Daenerys is ambushed by Euron Greyjoy, losing not only one of her dragons, but her faithful handmaid, Missandei, as well.
As soon as we know that Missandei is captured we know that the worst is coming. The chances of her getting out alive are as slim as our man Tormund’s chances are with Brienne, but if we didn’t hold onto hope, we’d be a very dull audience. So as the time approached for the Battle of the Blonds, we see Missandei once again in chains dangling on the edge of a wall like an ebony pawn set between two white queens. Chess doesn’t work like that, but we see it that way because we know that the game is rigged against her.
Sure, she is loyal to one side, but that side is only loyal to itself in the end. And as they send their emissaries to bargain for her life, each daring the other to flinch, it feels like Gamora in Vormir all over again. A sacrifice is going to be made for a tenuous shot at victory. Cersei whispers in her ear that if she has any final words, this would be the time. With her dying breath Missandei yells, “Dracarys,” the Valyrian command Daenerys uses with her dragon to set her enemies on fire. In her final moments Missandei’s thought is not of herself, her lover or her people, but of her queen avenging her death.
At this moment I was prepared for her to fling herself off the wall to her death like Chief Kairouane and his people in Grenada, giving the middle finger to colonizers who would enslave them. It would have been an honorable death. But instead, her head is lopped off like Ned Stark in season one and her body crumples to the floor as Grey Worm and Daenerys watch in horror.
In the comic book world this would be called “fridging,” where a woman is killed to imbue a male hero with vengeful purpose. Granted, she was fearless and defiant in her final moments. She didn’t give Cersei the satisfaction of a single tear. But the optics cut me quick. Missandei would not get the soldier’s burial that other characters received at the top of the episode. Her headless corpse is probably still laying there as I type this.
A Black woman’s murder will never be easy to watch, even in a fantasy world that regularly brings people back from the dead. And I guess I should be thankful that I have not become desensitized to the visual. But it still saddens me that Missandei, First of her Name and Last of Her Kind, did not have her loyalty rewarded.
Photo Credit: HBO