Throughout its run from 2011 to 2019, HBO’s Game of Thrones boasted its reputation as a series where any character could meet a grim fate. The shocking execution of Ned Stark, portrayed by Sean Bean, in Season 1 left fans with the belief that no character was truly safe. However, this notion had its exceptions; certain characters, often fan favorites, seemed to possess an invisible shield known as “plot armor.” As showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss ventured beyond George R.R. Martin’s source material, the unpredictability of character deaths began to wane.
Some of these character departures felt gratuitous and served more as shock value than advancing the narrative. The deaths of Shireen Baratheon, portrayed by Kerry Ingram, and fan-favorite Lyanna Mormont, portrayed by Bella Ramsey, left many viewers grieving and questioning their purpose in the storyline. These deaths, with minimal impact on the overall plot, appeared to be sensationalized for the sake of shocking the audience.
However, when determining the most condemnable death in Game of Thrones, the focus should not be solely on children or characters of minimal narrative importance. Instead, the most egregious death occurred when Missandei of the Isle of Naath, a close confidant of Daenerys Targaryen portrayed by Nathalie Emmanuel, met her brutal end at the hands of The Mountain, played by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, in one of the series’ final episodes. Missandei’s tragic death set in motion a series of events leading to the destruction of King’s Landing and an unsatisfying series finale.
What compounds the tragedy of Missandei’s demise is its apparent lack of necessity. Her death felt unnecessary, serving primarily to amplify another character’s suffering. Furthermore, her death meant the loss of one of Game of Thrones’ only two regular characters of color. Missandei often played a supporting role, serving as little more than an accessory to a white savior archetype. Even in death, her character was exploited to further someone else’s narrative, leaving a bitter taste for viewers.
Missandei’s Death in ‘Game of Thrones’ Sees the Character Back in Chains
Missandei’s death in Game of Thrones was not just a brutal scene in terms of bloodshed, but it carried a weight of symbolism and racial implications. Captured off-screen by Euron Greyjoy during the Battle of King’s Landing, Missandei was taken to Cersei, who used her as a pawn to manipulate Daenerys into withdrawing her forces from the capital. This act represented the first in a series of missteps by showrunners Benioff and Weiss in handling Missandei’s character.
For Missandei, a Black character who had endured a journey from slavery to liberation, to be forcibly returned to chains and servitude was not only regressive but deeply humiliating. This humiliation was compounded by the reveal that the only memento she kept in her possession was the collar she had worn as a slave, a stark reminder of her past subjugation.
The chains that figuratively bound Missandei in her death scene were just as significant as the physical ones. As Daenerys refused to yield to threats, Cersei ordered The Mountain to behead Missandei in front of her. This brutal act was designed to push Daenerys to the brink, as she had recently lost Ser Jorah and her dragon Rhaegal. Missandei’s death was primarily used as a tool to amplify Daenerys’ pain and anger, leading her to disregard Tyrion’s counsel and unleash her wrath upon King’s Landing.
In essence, Missandei’s death served to emphasize Daenerys’ emotional turmoil and descent into a vengeful madness, relegating Missandei’s character to a mere plot device for another’s storyline rather than allowing her the depth and agency she deserved.
Missandei’s Last Words Served as a Springboard for ‘Game of Thrones’ Awful Ending
Missandei’s death in Game of Thrones not only marked a brutal moment but also played a significant role in pushing the narrative toward the ultimate destruction of King’s Landing. Her final word, “Dracarys,” shouted angrily at Daenerys before her execution, served as a catalyst for the devastating events that followed.
“Dracarys” is the Valyrian command Daenerys uses to unleash her dragons’ fiery wrath. When Missandei uttered this word, she effectively gave Daenerys the permission, or even encouragement, to burn King’s Landing to the ground.
Missandei’s death, in essence, provided the showrunners with a convenient excuse to justify Daenerys’ ruthless attack on King’s Landing, leading to the show’s climactic and controversial finale. From the fiery demise of Cersei and Jaime to Daenerys’ abrupt transformation into a tyrant and her subsequent execution by Jon Snow, everything traced back to that one word spoken by Missandei. She inadvertently enabled Daenerys to fully embrace her potential as the “Mad Queen,” a characterization Benioff and Weiss had been building up.
However, what makes it more frustrating is that Daenerys didn’t actually need Missandei, alive or dead, to fulfill this narrative arc. The show had already hinted at her descent into madness and cruelty, especially in her actions in Vaes Dothrak and her growing paranoia. Missandei’s death acted as a final nudge, but Daenerys was already on the path to her transformation. Her character arc felt rushed, but it was a direction the show had been heading, regardless of Missandei’s involvement.
Missandei Was Hardly a Footnote in Her Own Death Episode
Missandei’s role in Game of Thrones, particularly in her final moments, was disappointingly minimal. In the episode titled “The Last of Starks,” which leads to her tragic death, the narrative hardly centered around her character. Instead, the episode predominantly dealt with the aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell and political maneuvering among other key characters.
Throughout the episode, Missandei only briefly appeared, primarily in the background. Her role was reduced to supporting Daenerys and offering reassurance in a war room scene. Even her capture by Euron Greyjoy happened off-screen, denying her character the dramatic impact it deserved.
This narrative treatment is especially disheartening considering the promising start to Missandei’s character arc. While her relationship with Grey Worm offered some depth to her character, it ultimately fizzled out with her capture.
In retrospect, Missandei’s character was never allowed to fully develop on her own terms. Her thoughts and feelings were overshadowed by her role as Daenerys’ confidant and advisor. Despite the potential for a compelling storyline, her character was sidelined, and her ultimate fate was unjust.
Missandei’s underrepresentation is particularly concerning given the broader track record of the fantasy genre in handling characters of color. Game of Thrones missed an opportunity to provide her character with the depth and significance she deserved, ultimately doing her a disservice.