Spoilers ahoy for Game of Thrones fans. Sadly, with the finale arriving Sunday, you are pretty much out of time to jump in and watch all 72 episodes before the show concludes, but there’s something here for the non-GoT community too. Also, like the caveats provided by the AV Club, this is post from a viewer of GoT, but not a reader of A Song of Ice and Fire.

How are you feeling, dear reader, after last Sunday’s penultimate episode of Game of Thrones? Shocked? Betrayed? Frustrated? Angry? Numb? If the internets are any indication, you’re feeling some mix of all of these emotions as the show’s fast movement toward a conclusion takes a turn for the dark side.

The thinkpieces are aflurry because fan favorite Daenerys Targaryen broke bad. After eight seasons of fighting, Daenerys, her dragon, and her armies of Mongol horsemen, eunuch centurions, and Viking wildmen finally captured the capital city of Westeros. All the show’s traditional bad guys are surrendering. Nobody is left to keep Dany from the throne “stolen” from her father. But in a dark twist, Daenerys ignored the bells of surrender, and with a pained look of disgust, she turned her dragon’s fire upon the civilians of King’s Landing, going on a rampage that took up most of the episode’s 78 minute run time. The latter half of the episode focuses on the carnage of that that rampage, and we the viewers get the civilian perspective of the war for the Iron Throne. And boy, what a rampage it was.

To say that viewers are torn is an understatement. The episode was given the worst rating on Rotten Tomatoes for any episode of the show, mostly for Dany’s seemingly sudden turn from heroic liberator to genocidal dragonlord. Someone has already penned 800 1,200 words on Wikipedia about “Daenerys’s Arc,” a summary of the negative reception of the episode complete with full footnotes linking to the requisite thinkpieces. The showrunners of GoT, David Benehoff and D.B. Weiss (affectionately referred to as D&D) have been in hot water all week, answering questions from reviewers and fans alike about how they dared to take a beloved character and give her a dramatic heel turn.

I completely understand how and why a TV finale can ruin a show. The ending of How I Met Your Mother was so awful and contrived that it ruined nine seasons of couch canoodling with my misses.[1] I abound in empathy. But then it comes to Dany taking a turn for the worst, I’m in the minority opinion that it isn’t a sign of weak writing or an unearned plot choice. Her decision to go full revenge was clearly telegraphed throughout the series. I’ll let the super fans settle that argument, but regardless of debatable minutiae from previous episodes, the Mother of Dragons has little problem roasting those who stand in her way, even when they surrender. For many fans, their hopes for a happy ending were roasted as well.

Three quick theological thoughts on the Dany drama:

First, as I think of it, much of the disappointment regarding everyone’s favorite Khaleesi has to do with a level of projection. From early on, Daenerys is portrayed as a freedom fighter, a strong women who overcame a terrible brother and a less than optimal first marriage to wield dragons, free slaves, liberate women, and fight for the oppressed. She famously tells Tyrion Lannister she doesn’t want to stop the wheel from spinning, a metaphor for each royal family wresting control of the Iron Throne from the other at the expense of the poor. She wants to break the wheel to keep it from ever turning again. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s the most powerful character in the show leading an ethnically diverse army to overthrow an oppressive patriarchal institution. That’s a political story that many viewers surely enjoyed and participated in with vicarious pleasure. Proof: more than 560 parents named their child Khaleesi last year.

And yet Dany’s character is still responsible for some of the show’s most creative violence. Her opponents are locked away in a vault, tarred and suffocated by molten gold, and crucified. Looking back through the previous seasons, Dany’s instinct has always been to kill the offender and free the slave, and she’s been cautioned about the bloodlust of her “mad king” father since season three. But by season eight, there are no slaves to free in King’s Landing. Everyone is an offender. Dany’s actress Emilia Clarke shared in a behind the scenes featurette that anyone who has lost a stare down with a piece of chocolate cake should understand the decision that Daenerys made.

Another HBO show is famous for reviving the Shakespeare quote, “these violent delights have violent ends.” Or, as Jesus Christ himself shared, “[she] who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” That second quote hasn’t come true yet, but to may fans of Dany’s woke mission to break the wheel, there’s understandable and real grief, not to mention a subtle accusatory tone about the use of violence for even the most noble of ends.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9J8ZgxVuU8

Second, it’s fascinating and telling that the showrunners, figuratively speaking, are bearing the brunt of Dany’s sins. What I mean is this: when the story didn’t go the way we wanted it to, we blamed the creator. We cry that the plot point wasn’t “earned.” Or to put it more bluntly, the real sin wasn’t so much the firebombing of King’s Landing as the writers’ decision to set back the cause of feminism–as if Dany is less a character in her own right than a stand-in for her demographic. (Notably, this Vox article predicted this plot twist and fallout back in April).

The reaction says something about tribalism, about how humans are inclined to justify the ones we love and vilify the ones we hate. See also the numerous articles published this week about those parents justifying their decision to name their daughters Khaleesi. See also the reviews bemoaning the fact that another under-talented straight white man is looking like the show’s final hero (if there will indeed be a hero in the final episode, which remains to be seen given the fact that this is, after all, Game of Thrones). These are the sins of the creators, not the sins of the character.

I also think the response illustrates that all anger is really anger at God. Why would we be angry at the character when we could instead be mad at the author? If God exists and is all powerful, doesn’t He deserve culpability in some way for the world as it is? Perhaps these authors will resolve their conflict (and absolve themselves) in the last hour left in the series. It’s too late to call in the theologians now!

Last thought: I think Dany’s dark turn also says something about the pessimistic anthropology of George Martin and the world of houses and families he built. Much of the disappointment in this second to last episode is about children reliving the sins of their dead fathers. It’s not just Daenerys taking on the mantle of “mad queen” as her father was the “mad king.” Jamie Lannister is captured trying to sneak into a besieged King’s Landing to reconnect with his incest love sister queen Cersei (at the expense of Brienne of Tarth, who thankfully can date Tormund now, but I digress). Cersei has gone to the Lannister family playbook and tries to buy her way out of her problems by bringing in the ultimately ineffective Golden Company. Tyrion frees his captured brother Jamie so he can escape the battle with their sister. Arya, the young Stark girl trained as an assassin, is convinced to return to her family’s more noble way and give up on her kill list, while her mentor faces his older brother in the #Cleganebowl. As one reviewer put it:

The world is bad, it’s going to stay bad, and we can’t break free of our pasts. Your baggage defines you and even if you try to improve, you’re always an inch away from backsliding into becoming the very thing you feared and hated. Life is nasty, brutish, short, and most of all, explicitly, extremely sad because of what we do to each other. The wheel is much bigger than any one person or even any 300-year dynasty, and not even dragon fire can break it. This is just another war in a history full of them.

Editors note: yes, this is correct. Continuing on…

That seems to be the finality that Game of Thrones has chosen. It’s an end that, in a way, has always been written into the show’s DNA–but it also seemed as though the whole point of the show was for its characters to overcome it. After having meant so much to so many people, it seems a shame that the “bittersweet” ending Game of Thrones‘ creators have chosen leans so hard into bitter, and so little into sweet.

This is, perhaps, the cardinal sin of a show that’s wrapping up in 2019–it suggests that we are, in the end, bound. We are bound to our families of origin, and the sins of the father are the sins of the child. To quote Journey, “the wheel in the sky keeps on turning.” Wretched man that I am. Who will deliver us from this body of sin? I guess we’ll find out Sunday.

[1] Introducing the mother after nine seasons, only to have her die so that Ted end up with Robin, who is conveniently divorced from Barney, just because that was the original concept from season one? Gah! It still hurts five years later!