I admit that I’m a screen fanatic, a binge-watcher before it was a thing, because I have a deep and life-consuming addiction to Story. All stories, really, in any format from comics to literary doorstops. I love reading, but movies and television allow me to mainline story in a way nothing else can.
This means that I have a lot of favorite episodes, and I struggled with which one is the very, very best. In the end, I chose the final episode of the first season of Game of Thrones, and mainly for the grace note of the very last scene of the season.
The one with dragons.
This episode is filled with grief and shock after shock. It was through these last two or three episodes that Game of Thrones revealed itself to be Not Like Other Fantasy Stories. There are a lot of reversals and shocking events that we don’t expect, and often they are very dark and difficult.
As a writer who has mainly focused on the journey of women, I was snared early by the story of Danearys Stormborn, one of the last surviving members of a lost royal family. At first, hers is a yawningly unoriginal tale of a beautiful virgin traded for the lusts of men—the physical lust of her husband and the power lust of her brother.
But like all great romantic heroines, Danearys proves herself to be made of far stronger stuff than the men around her, and rises through the season to take on the mantle of her legacy. She makes peace with and falls in love with her husband, who teaches her to act as a queen and hold her head high. She learns to take power, and makes mistakes, corrects them—then makes a great and terrible error of judgment, which leads to disaster for her. It seems like the right choice—she chooses compassion and spares the life of an old woman. This particular method of making decisions, going for compassion, freeing slaves, being a merciful leader, is both her highest virtue and biggest flaw and the consequences continue throughout the series. She errs, often, and as she does here, it costs her the life of her beloved Khal Drogo and the life of her son.
Danaerys does not wail or fall to pieces. She doesn’t gnash her teeth or rethink every choice she’s made. Instead, she takes the responsibility of killing her braindead love, and builds a pyre to burn his body. She enters the fire with her precious dragon eggs, and it is a wildly emotional orchestration. All is lost.
And—here is the grace note—in the morning, she has survived the fire. Her hair is burnt off, and her clothes are charred. On her arms and shoulders are three baby dragons, making little dragon noises. The phoenix imagery is a bit heavy-handed, but it also just works. I have watched those scenes over and over, and they never fail to make my heart catch. I became her biggest fan in that moment, and will absolutely weep big dragon tears if something happens to her before the end of the show.