Remember Viserion? I know Game of Thrones doesn’t do much to characterize big Drogon’s siblings and you can certainly be excused for not remembering which is Viserion and which is Rhaegal. Surely we all remember that dragon blasted out of the sky when the Night King did his Olympics javelin throw training, though? He smashed into the frozen lake right in front of Dany? Some wights found random giant chains lying around to drag him out and let the Night King resurrect him?
I’m pretty sure WE all remember. We’re obsessive nerds who read too much into minor details like one of the two main characters losing a child. Is it unfair to ask Daenerys Targaryen to remember? Or even to care? Judging by the first two episodes of season 8…yeah.
Look, there are always numerous narrative issues within any single episode of Game of Thrones. Many of these can carry their own multi-thousand word rant. Among all those possible rants, though, I think this one wins out as the most baffling and inexcusable flaw of this particular episode. It was a big deal when Viserion died. It provided a significant new threat for those opposing the White Walkers to have to prepare for. More importantly, a bigger deal when he was resurrected. One of the main characters lost what she considered a child.
So why in the world did she not act like it?!
I’m legitimately stunned by the lack of reaction to Dany and Viserion so far. Not just from the show itself (it always overlooks or neglects important character moments), but from fans, reviewers, and even other Game of Thrones haters. Daenerys Targaryen is defined by her dragons. They are her greatest weapon. Her very power derives from them. They are her children. Time and again since those three dragons hatched, Game of Thrones has driven home just how important they are to Dany. Not just from a plot or logistical standpoint, but to the very nature of her identity.
So let’s briefly recap the events here. Mere moments after arriving in Winterfell, Bran Stark tells Dany that the Night King has breached the Wall and has resurrected Viserion. This doesn’t come up in any scene again. Not when they meet in Winterfell’s Great Hall afterwards. Not while riding her dragon with Jon Snow. Never. It literally plays no importance to anything involving Dany or anyone else for the rest of the episode.
Not only does it not come up, but nothing about Dany’s behavior suggests she’s thinking about it at all. Much like how season 7 turned Viserion’s death into nothing more than setup for the Dany/Jon romance, the season 8 opener continues by neglecting Viserion’s fate entirely in favor of more Jonerys. What does Dany do all episode? Hang around Jon. What’s the impetus for the dragon-riding scene? AU Ygritte waterfall sex cosplay. At no point does she mention Viserion or show the slightest care over his resurrection.
This is, quite simply, an unacceptable failure of basic character development and storytelling. Losing Viserion is one of the most traumatic moments of Dany’s young life. It’s possibly THE most traumatic. I know I keep saying this, but they are her children. Dany calls herself the Mother of Dragons and has based her identity and power on their existence. There is no point, from the moment they hatch, where their wellbeing is not central to Dany’s mindset. Remember how chaining them in Meereen weighed heavily on her mind? Remember how central that internal conflict was to everything she did in season 5? While falling prey to many of the same failings plaguing the rest of season 5, no one could doubt what her dragons meant to her.
Or how about season 2, where her story revolves around a plot to take her baby dragons? How about season 3, where she faces a choice to sell a single dragon to buy the army she needs to go home? Or how season 4 made her face the growing danger of her growing children? Noticing a pattern of what Dany’s storylines revolve around?
What do we get when one of those dragons dies and is resurrected to fight against her? A half-second shot of Dany looking shocked before spending the next 50 minutes snogging her new boyfriend.
What makes this truly inexcusable is the existence of the dragon-riding scene. Again, let’s put this into context. Dany has lost Viserion. She has also found out the Night King resurrected the dragon to use against her. What exactly are you expecting when Dany and Jon approach Drogon and Rhaegal? Surely a scene where Dany expresses grief and Jon comforts her, deepening the bond of their fledgling relationship? Nope. Let’s turn it into blasé flirting that also cheapens the first time Jon freaking Snow rides a dragon.
Dany says her dragons aren’t eating normally and seem depressed because they don’t like the North. Or maybe they just lost a brother? Ring any bells, Dany?
Why not use this scene to touch on Viserion’s death? They could have used Dany’s grief as the foundation of her conversation with Jon and subsequent dragon ride. Now that they have this moment of calm before the storm, what did it mean to her? How does it affect both her and her 2 remaining dragons? They could have used this moment to deepen her bond with Jon and also give real motivation to Jon’s attempted ride.
After all, there’s an undead dragon coming. Real Dark Souls stuff, very frightening and in need of preparation. Dany can ride Drogon, hey Jon, you rode on Drogon before why not see if Rhaegal lets you on? When they land, Dany can confide in Jon about how she’s trying not to despair. How did they miss this opportunity? How did they do NOTHING with it?
The loss of Viserion should have also played into her response to the North’s distrust of Dany. She spends so much of the episode doing nothing about it and just following Jon around. How much better would it have been if Dany’s hesitance tied back to losing one of her dragons? Since they represent her power, losing one means a loss of power that would make her hesitant to establish herself the way she needed to. Instead, it’s clear no such thing played on Dany’s mind at all.
Unfortunately it’s part of the larger pattern with Game of Thrones. Why did they ignore Dany’s grief over Viserion? For one, because they cared more about establishing a nonsense catfight between Dany and Sansa. Secondly, they wanted the Dany/Jon scenes to be about Jon. Game of Thrones is notorious for being incapable of balancing differing motivations and mindsets in a scene. Since they wanted a scene where Jon rides a dragon, that was all that mattered and Dany’s possible mindset in the moment took a backseat. Their romance serves more to characterize Jon, so the feelings that should be in play when they ride the dragons don’t exist, since they don’t want Dany’s feelings to compete with Jon’s.
Full disclosure; I started writing this before the second episode aired this past Sunday. While it would have left me in a bind if suddenly Dany had some fantastic, intensely emotional scene centered on Viserion, I had faith Thrones would prove me right yet again. It did and then some.
Not only did they not mention Viserion yet again, they had a war council about the upcoming battle that didn’t mention what happened. Absolutely nothing at all. Dany yet again cannot spare a word about her dead dragon. I don’t understand. Game of Thrones has spent two episodes with all these characters together in Winterfell preparing for battle. It’s stunning that not one of these scenes revolved around Viserion. One of the most traumatic moments of Dany’s life goes completely ignored.
Not only do they ignore it, but they again miss a perfect opportunity to both let Dany grieve while also creating fantastic material in a scene. When she and Sansa have their conversation, Dany says she is helping defend Winterfell for love. Um, what? Remember when she saw the White Walker army in season 7? Remember when you LOST A DRAGON to it? Wasn’t seeing said army and losing your dragon the main inspiration for wanting to take your forces north?
Of course then we would have a Dany/Sansa scene that wasn’t entirely about Jon and apparently we can’t have that. Let’s also cut short the Jon/Dany crypt scene before they can truly discuss Jon telling her about his parentage, which might lead back to the dragon ride, which might eventually lead to Viserion.
What’s the endgame here? At this point I assume they just want some shocking moment when Dany sees Viserion in battle for the first time, despite knowing about it for days beforehand. Unfortunately that’s the best case scenario. It’s also entirely possible they either haven’t thought to have Dany react properly, or just don’t care to emphasize one of the main characters for whatever reason.
The Viserion problem is, of course, a symptom of the larger issue plaguing Game of Thrones for multiple seasons now and in both of the episodes so far for season 8. They have done stunningly little, if anything at all, with the various histories and conflicts present with all these characters reuniting in Winterfell. None of the truly juicy potential material is making it to screen, while we instead watch everyone recap what happened last time they were together while actually dealing with none of it.
So here we are, heading into battle without even the slightest lip service to one of the most defining moments of Dany’s character arc. The moment is gone. Dany’s character arc yet again suffers a huge disservice, the latest in a long line of them. We spent two episodes watching her shuffle mindlessly around Winterfell and do nothing instead. I’m genuinely surprised. With how important the dragons are to the CGI budget, I assumed they cared enough to let Dany grieve over one of them. Or at least acknowledge its absence.
Add it to the list of sins, alongside so many other moment and plot lines Game of Thrones conveniently forgets or doesn’t care to consider. Apparently there is no bottom to my continuing disappointment in this show.