Our eulogy to women we lost in Game of Thrones’ final season


The game of thrones claimed lives right until the end. Culturess pays tribute to the women who died in the home stretch of HBO’s epic fantasy series.

We knew the final season of Game of Thrones would be a bloodbath. During the nearly two-year gap between seasons 7 and 8, the Internet teemed with predictions and theories about the fates of various characters. Fans formed fantasy leagues and made bets like spectators at the fighting pits in Meereen. This time, for real, no one was safe.

That includes women. As illustrated by Culturess’ pre-season 8 eulogy (not to mention the horde of think pieces that greeted certain plot points over the years), Game of Thrones never felt the need to protect its female characters.

They endured – and inflicted – as much suffering, pain, and loss as the men, if not more, sometimes in ways that bordered on misogynistic and other times, in ways that simply felt honest. Westeros, after all, is a land ruled by wolves and lions, and the only code animals follow is that of nature: eat or be eaten.

Many women on this series managed to survive and even thrive using whatever means were available to them. It wasn’t always enough, though. Here, we remember the women who met their fates in the last six episodes of the show.

Game of Thrones – “The Long Night”. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey)

First appearance: “The Broken Man”

Last appearance: “The Long Night”

The pint-sized leader of House Mormont was only supposed to appear in one scene. Looking for troops in their bid to retake Winterfell from the Boltons, Jon and Sansa visit Bear Island, only to find themselves soundly rebuffed by an 11-year-old. It’s Davos who sways Lyanna, emphasizing the importance of unifying the North as the White Walker threat grows.

Actress Bella Ramsey impressed showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss so much in that one scene that they expanded her role. It wound up including seven episodes (plus “The Last of the Starks,” where she appears as a corpse). While Lyanna’s tenacity and candor won her the respect of her fellow Northerners and the adoration of fans, there’s an underlying sadness to her. She was a child forced by devastating circumstances to take responsibility for the future of her home.

Her death reflects both facets of her character. On one hand, it’s undeniably thrilling to see a girl face a giant without so much as flinching, and the fact that she manages to be victorious even in defeat by fatally wounding the giant offers some small consolation. Yet, the sight her body being trampled by passersby as the battle goes on emphasizes what a waste of life war is. And the shot of her eyes opening as the Night King resurrects her is pure horror.

Memorable line: “House Mormont remembers. The North remembers. We know no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark.”

Carice van Houten as Melisandre. Photo Credit: HBO

Melisandre (Carice van Houten)

First appearance: “The North Remembers”

Last appearance: “The Long Night”

From the moment she was introduced as a voice in the night summoning the Lord of Light, the Red Priestess captured our attention. Her methods may have been suspect (a mere three episodes later, she birthed a literal shadow in order to assassinate her king’s brother), yet her madness had a certain allure.

Unlike most of the rulers of Westeros, including the man she served, Melisandre believed in something greater than herself – a grand scheme that dwarfed the schemes of men even as it gave them meaning. She turned a war of politics into a war of faith.

Also, her theme music was awesome.

Ironically, it wasn’t until her conviction faltered that its authenticity became clear. What started as a powerful yet one-dimentional portrayal of fanaticism evolved into a nuanced examination of the value and cost of belief. Melisandre’s arc reached its fitting conclusion with the destruction of the otherworldly threat that had haunted Game of Thrones since the beginning.

Having passed one final test and confronted the terrors of night, she was at last free to leave the mortal world.

Memorable line: “There’s only one hell, Princess [Shireen]: the one we’re in now.”

Nathalie Emmanue as Missandei. Photo Credit: Macall B. Polay/Courtesy of HBO

Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel)

First appearance: “Valar Dohaeris”

Last appearance: “The Last of the Starks”

Seven seasons after Ned Stark’s execution, you’d think that Game of Thrones viewers would be inured to death. Yet, when Missandei’s fate was sealed with the swing of the Mountain’s sword, it sent shock waves through my system, despite the moment’s inevitability and the character’s relatively marginal status. The wide shot of King’s Landing after the former slave’s defiant shout of “Dracarys” is seared in my mind as deep as the birds at the end of “Baelor.”

Missandei’s death was distressing in part because the character felt like a missed opportunity. As the only prominent woman of color on the show, she was given the impossible, unfair task of representing an entire population, and it was frustrating (and, perhaps, telling) that her role never quite transcended that of a sidekick. Despite her subordinate position, she never questioned her loyalty to Daenerys or challenged the Targaryen conqueror’s ruthless tactics.

Nonetheless, she made an impression. Her tender romance with Grey Worm culminated in the show’s most surprising and beautifully crafted sex scene, and however superficial, her dedication to Daenerys was moving in a world where alliances shift with the flip of a coin (ahem, Varys). If nothing else, Missandei was someone to whom viewers could relate. Most people aren’t destined to rule kingdoms; most people are destined to serve the people who rule kingdoms.

In death, though, Missandei isn’t most people: the charred, ash-covered ruins of King’s Landing are her legacy.

Memorable line: “Without the Dragon Queen, there’d be no problem at all. We’d all be dead already.”

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)

First appearance: “Winter Is Coming”

Last appearance: “The Bells”

Cunning and foolish, heartless and sentimental, Cersei quickly established herself as one of the most complicated and fascinating characters on Game of Thrones. In the wrong hands, she could have easily been reduced to a sexist caricature, her powder-keg combination of ambition, vanity, and obsession presented as a cautionary tale about women who possess and crave power. But thanks in large part to Headey’s fiery performance, the show preserved her humanity, even as her actions became increasingly monstrous.

Far from disappointing, then, it was a relief when “The Bells” denied audiences the catharsis of seeing her killed by Daenerys or Arya. Cersei’s punishment turned out to be less dramatic yet perhaps more ignoble: to watch as her family’s legacy went up in smoke before being crushed by her own stronghold.

Reunited with Jaime, her twin brother and soul mate, she expressed not anger or bitterness, as might have been expected from the woman who blew up a building to get revenge for a slight, but despair.

The lion died not with a roar but with a whimper.

Memorable line: “Power is power.”

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)

First appearance: “Winter Is Coming”

Last appearance: “The Iron Throne”

A person of noble birth is told that they are destined to sit on the throne. Even as their conscience warns them to exercise restraint, the prophecy instills them with all-consuming ambition, and with some encouragement, they quickly commit to obtaining what they were promised, no matter the cost. They gain power through blood and spill more blood to keep it, eliminating all enemies or potential enemies. Their reign proves short-lived, ended by a revolt, and order is restored to the kingdom.

This is the story of Macbeth, the titular character of William Shakespeare’s classic play. It could also describe the story of Daenerys Targaryen. For several seasons, Game of Thrones framed the Mother of Dragons as a hero, like Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings – an exile who would claim her rightful place as queen and rule with benevolence. But for just as long, the show told us what it was: a tragedy, not Tolkien but Shakespeare. As one character famously said, if you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.

On paper, “The Iron Throne” is a happy ending. Like in Macbeth, order is restored, at least for the time being, in the wake of the tyrant’s downfall. It’s the downfall that lingers, though. Part of it is the scene itself, which is the episode’s highlight, staged with minimal fanfare yet heavy with loss and futility. Part of it is the feeling that Daenerys was, to use the Bard’s words, worth more sorrow and that Tyrion’s solution is too small compared to her vision. Her death casts a pall over the rest of the proceedings.

But if Game of Thrones won’t spend enough sorrow for its tragic hero, we will. Embodied with empathy and intensity by Clarke (who deserves an Emmy for her work this season), Daenerys Targaryen is a character for the ages. The television world feels already emptier without her in it.

Memorable line: “Yes, all men must die. But we are not men.”

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Game of Thrones is available to stream on HBO Now and HBOGo.