For better or for worse, your boy Jaime Lannister is going through some drastic characterization this season so far. Last week, the recently heroic Jaime made everyone hate him once again by raping sister/lover/ice-queen Cersei right next to their incest-is-best son Joffrey's dead body. People who've read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice book series have been outraged, since that scene plays out much more consensually on the page, but in the "Breaker of Chains" episode it's clearly, undeniably a horrific sexual violation. Certainly having anticipated that reaction and hoping to give their viewers' moral workouts, Game of Thrones co-creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff quickly brought Jaime back to the good side in last night's "Oathkeeper." He bonded with the imprisoned Tyrion, rejected Cersei's request that he find and kill Sansa Stark, and even sent the ever-loyal Brienne out to find and protect Sansa, armed with that fancy new sword he received at the beginning of this season.
Sure, Jaime can be a monstrous rapist, but he's also noble whenever he wants to be, and that strange duality gives the character real depth and makes it difficult to pin one's feeling down about him. And in that respect, he's not much different from most of the show's other leads, namely the equally complicated Tywin and the wonderfully developed Tyrion.
There was a time when Daenerys Targaryen could be described in the same manner. However, the opening minutes of "Oathkeeper" exacerbated a mounting problem with her character: the one-time badass Mother of Dragons is suffering from "The Walking Dead protagonists heading towards Terminus" syndrome. She's spinning her figurative wheels while the show's larger narrative builds to the point where she'll finally be able to share the same breathing room as any of the Lannisters or Starks.
Remember this GIF?
That's from "And Now His Watch is Ended," the season three highpoint that ended with Daenerys' dragons torching Astapor tyrant Kraznys and Khaleesi taking over control of Astapor's Unsullied army of former slaves. The scene was almost as much fun to watch as this:
That, of course, comes from the season two closer "Valar Morghulis," when Daenerys took out Pyat Pree with the help of her trusty dragons.
Scenes like those have made Daenerys one of Game of Thrones' fan favorites, and it's easy to see why. Sure, she's stunningly beautiful, and, you know, she owns actual fire-breathing dragons. But she's grown up immensely since the show's first few episodes, when she was forced into an arranged marriage with Khal Drogo and slowly accepted her destiny to be a supreme boss chick. Watching her evolve from a fragile, insecure neophyte into a confident, city-dominating leader has been one of the show's greatest pleasures.
Enough's enough, though. Now that Daenerys has the power, she's less a "breaker of chains" and more of a broken record. Her brief appearances in this year's Game of Thrones episodes have basically gone as follows: Daenerys finds a new group of slaves and motivates them to strive for more; they positively respond and assassinate their masters. Then, Daenerys faces the camera, looks off into the distance, and waits for someone online to GIF the visual into another "Look at Daenerys Being a Badass" Tumblr option.
As directed by the singularly excellent Michelle MacLaren (she directed some of the best Breaking Bad episodes), Daenerys' graphic seizing of Meereen last night had its form-over-content highs—specifically, that overhead shot of a doomed master getting trapped in the alley and pounced upon from three directions.
But nothing about those moments felt exciting in the way that Dany's similarly triumphant actions in "And Now His Watch is Ended" and "Valar Morghulis" did. They felt obvious and familiar. Not to mention, frustrating, as they emphasized just how redundant of a character she's become.
Which, fortunately, can be fixed, and the remedy is right here:
In the season's first episode, Dany's dragons were shown in all of their teenage-years glory, looking big enough to completely tear shit up, and she seemed uncertain about that. The Mother of Dragons looked like the Mother of Multiple Problem Children. It's an intriguing character arc that needs to be explored more and with haste. Those dragons provide a potent emotional conflict. Without them, like in last night's dragon-free "Oathkeeper," Daenerys is just an unstoppable conqueror of cities and freer of slaves.
On a show cherished for its deeply flawed characters and constant "no one is safe" threat, she's had it too easy lately. Her successes are breeding something worse than contempt: indifference.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)