Game of Thrones fans have been waiting to see who will finally take the Iron Throne. With the unexpected twists and turns of each season, we’ve all been guessing and wondering who will be left standing at the end of season eight. Yet, Sunday night’s episode might have provided the most unexpected—and least appreciated—shocker of the entire series.
Fresh from the victory at Winterfell, Queen Daenerys ignores all advice to rest her troops and regroup before taking her army to King’s Landing. With her classic confidence that has turned into arrogance, armed with her remaining two dragons and what’s left of her army, Khaleesi leads her people right into an ambush. As the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys watches in horror as one of her “children” is murdered and her handmaiden and trusted friend, Missandei (played by Nathalie Emmanuel), is captured by Cersei’s forces.
Before the final battle begins, a shackled Missandei is on display for Daenerys, Missandei’s lover Grey Worm, and the rest of her army. Refusing to bend the knee and give up the throne, Cersei commands The Mountain, her knights guard, to kill Missandei. When Cersei offers Missandei the opportunity to have any last words, she only has one: “Dracarys.” In the fictional language, High Valyrian, it literally translates to dragonfire. In her final act, the quiet and reserved Missandei tells both her queen and her lover to burn King’s Landing to the ground.
For Black women who love the show, last Sunday’s episode was especially difficult. As the only Black female character on the show, it seemed that Missandei was the only sister in all of the seven kingdoms. Seeing her back in chains was especially rough and, in light of the series’ trajectory, her death felt unnecessary.
Why do we have to enslave the only Black woman again and behead her?
Many Black women expressed their disappointment across social media. When explaining Black women’s frustration, film critic and Harvard University Hutchins Fellow Kinitra Jallow wrote on Facebook, “It is always a choice to kill a Black woman character. Plots bend over backward to save white women.”
The lack of gender diversity among writers and producers throughout the series has explained the show’s heavy handedness concerning sexual violence and trauma against women. The results are evident when women are not in the room. And had a Black woman been in the writers room, important questions would have been asked.
What purpose does Missandei’s death serve? Is there any way to convey that purpose more effectively? Why do we have to enslave the only Black woman again and behead her?
Missandei deserved better. From the moment she stepped into a racist Winterfell until the very end, she deserved better from a group of writers who put more thought and care into many insignificant supporting characters than they put into our final moments with the queen’s closest friend.
And even though those questions weren’t asked and fans were forced to mourn Missandei’s untimely death, her last action speaks to a bravery that we’d not seen in her. Missandei’s final word, “Dracarys,” completely contrasted everything we knew about her. In the previous episode, as she and Grey Worm dreamed of their future life together, Missandei reminded him that she comes from a people who choose peace—even to their own detriment.
That her final act would be a call to violence was a contradiction. And yet, Missandei was angry. Experiencing freedom, she’d been enslaved again. Seeing the best in her friend and queen, she believed that Daenerys would make a better leader than Cersei and the only way to stop Cersei was to kill her.
In reality and fantasy, Black women are expected to sacrifice themselves in service of everyone else. When it comes to the end of their life, they are expected to reassure the ones they love that they love them and everything will be OK.
When I finally realized that Missandei was going to die, I just knew that the writers would make these reductive moves. It would have been in alignment with Missandei to offer special parting words to her lover Grey Worm, something he’d remember forever. It was expected of her to share a look with her queen that reassured her of their friendship and attempted to relieve her of the guilt she’d undoubtedly feel.
Missandei did none of that.
Instead, she admonished them all to reign a terror on King’s Landing unlike anything they’d ever seen. Missandei didn’t choose peace. She chose rage and anger. Missandei reminded us that it is OK for Black women to be mad—even as they take their last breath.