“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” It’s a heavily quoted line from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent's words also seem to be the mission statement for Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), mother of dragons, breaker of chains, and “Mhysa” white saviour to millions of slaves transformed into the Mad Queen during the series epic’s penultimate episode, “The Bells.” As Dany rained fire and blood upon King’s Landing, it was impossible not to wonder what would happen to her in the upcoming finale.
The two teaser photos of the series ending episode prove Daenerys is living out the exact hellscape she always wanted to avoid. And, the pictures may hint at her ultimately tragic fate.
The most intriguing image shows Dany at the head of her army, surveying the damage done to King’s Landing. It’s similar to the last shot of the finale trailer. Only this time, now that the visual is static and zoomed out, you can really take the full scope of the destruction here. The warm city of King’s Landing is covered in what appears to be snow. Then, you remember it’s ash, created by the fire of Dany’s dragon. You’re looking at miles upon miles of ash heaps where a metropolis stood minutes earlier. Walls are knocked down, buildings still burn, and it’s impossible to even see the Red Keep from its lofty hill. Dany’s host — including whatever Dothraki and Unsullied still somehow remain after two horrific battles — wait at attention above the wreckage.
From her higher ground, Dany is the queen of the ashes. All of a sudden, her season 2 warlock-induced prophecy from the House of the Undying makes sense. She didn’t find the Red Keep covered in snow because of the Night King’s inevitable victory. The vision was a promise of what Dany herself would one day bring to her homeland and the castle she has so desperately coveted.
This is exactly what the dragon queen hoped to avoid just a season ago. During a Team Targaryen small council meeting in season 7’s “Stormborn,” Olenna Tyrell (Dame Diana Rigg), Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), and Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) urge Dany to take the capital through brutal violence. “If we turn the dragons loose, tens of thousands will die in the firestorm,” Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) responds, already telling us a Targaryen siege will result in massive collateral damage in King's Landing. Dany agrees with her hand.
“I am not here to be queen of the ashes,” she announces to her bloodthirsty trio’s dismay. There will be no siege of King’s Landing today. Tyrion physically looks up to his queen in that moment. He’s awestruck.
The Tyrion in the Thrones finale couldn’t be further from that reverential man we saw just 10 episodes ago. In the second photo from the finale, Tyrion also takes in the carnage of Dany’s siege. While the queen’s posture suggests she is proud of her violent takeover, Tyrion is the picture of guilt and grimness. This is the city he saved at the beginning of this story. Now, Tyrion had a hand in its destruction and the woman he vouched for repeatedly is its cause. Varys (Conleth Hill) was right — Dany was bound to go as mad as her wildfire-obsessed father (David Rintoul).
Tyrion’s deeply unhappy turn only adds to the possibility Dany’s hand will be the one to kill her. First of all, this photo evidence of Tyrion walking among King’s Landing’s ashes simply confirms he is still in the capital. The last time we saw the two other contenders for Dany’s murder — Thrones hero Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen (Kit Harington) and top assassin Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) — they were running in the opposite direction of the city. You actually have to be in the same zip code as someone to off them.
Then there’s the far deeper betrayal here. Tyrion was so proud to defend Dany precisely because of her “I’m not here to be Queen of the Ashes” missions statement. Even when Varys suggested the possibility of Dany’s heel turn towards the darkness or Sansa (Sophie Turner) questioned whether Jon should actually take the Iron Throne. Now one of them is dead for their treason and all of Dany's promise was engulfed in Drogon’s firestrorm. Tyrion is a man who killed his own father (Charles Dance) for perceived injustice. Why wouldn’t he unleash the same vengeance on someone else who shattered the perceptions he held so dear?
And all of this drama will likely be for nothing. After Dany’s fiery attack, it’s not likely her beloved Iron Throne was still left standing.
Game of Thrones season 8 airs in the UK on Mondays on Sky Atlantic and Now TV