Editor’s note: This is part of a series of essays revisiting our favorite scenes in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Read the previous installments here.
Of course she speaks Valyrian, asshat.
Game of Thrones doesn’t have too many unilaterally good or bad characters—certainly not Daenerys Targaryen—but one example would definitely be Kraznys mo Nakloz, the slimeball who “owns” the Unsullied. Watching Missandei’s pained expressions as she tries to translate the guy’s misogynistic fuckery—delivered in Valyrian and subtitled—into inoffensive transactional Common has already been a gloriously subtle commentary, but in the scene where the Mother of Dragons trades adolescent Drogon for “the whip,” I think it’s safe to say that while viewers would mostly be skeptical that anything would compel Daenerys to give up one of her scaly airborne offspring, no one is completely clear on what’s about to happen. Jorah and Selmy are cringing at her loss of judgment. Missandei doesn’t know what to think. Kraznys doesn’t think at all. Assholes like him never do.
Daenerys strides into the Plaza of Pride, Missandei by her side, still translating. Without a word, she takes Drogon out of his covered cage. Kraznys is, of course, spellbound as she hands the flapping dragon to him on a chain. She seems curiously calm about it, especially considering the absolute hysteria that ensued when the dragons were stolen back in Qarth. Hmmm. Kraznys takes the chain, greed in his eyes, and hands her his whip. “Is it done?” she asks calmly. Distractedly, he confirms through Missandei that the Unsullied are now hers. She takes the whip and stands at the front of her new army. He gazes up at his new dragon.
In what is probably one of my favorite single moments of the entire series, Daenerys holds up the whip and screams “Unsullied!” in Valyrian. Kraznys is too distracted to even notice, but Missandei’s head whips around instantly, and the look on her face as she realizes what’s been happening is utterly priceless: Shock. Confusion. And possibly pleasure. I’m not sure if she gets what’s about to happen, but she certainly just got confirmation that Dany has understood every vile word the guy has said. March. Halt. Kraznys, still looking at the dragon, tells Missandei, “Tell the bitch her beast won’t come.” Staring daggers at him, she responds in Valyrian: “A dragon is not a slave.”
Kraznys is so stupid he’s stuck on outrage that she speaks his language and has understood all his insults all along. He doesn’t yet understand what’s about to happen. But Jorah and Baristan and Missandei are catching on fast, and the looks on their faces are epic. Daenerys commands her new army to kill the slavemasters, and before anyone can do anything, they’ve done it. By now we know what’s coming next. But Kraznys doesn’t.
And the dragon barbeques the slavemaster. For a relatively juvenile dragon, he’s already got some serious BTUs, and we get one of those meme-worthy shots of Dany wreathed in a background of searing flames. Then she marches her army out of Astapor, throwing the whip into the dirt on the way out. It’s not as though she’ll need it.
This sequence is a killer combination of fight choreography and character movement. The pacing is exquisite. We not only see Dany execute someone for crimes against humanity for the first time. We also see her outwit the guy first, cannily using his own lust and avarice and stupidity against him. We get confirmation of something we probably already knew—Dany is not someone to trifle with, and she’s tougher and smarter and more driven than most anyone. We see her steely resolve and imperiousness and a glimpse of the somewhat unsettling bloodlust it’ll turn into by Season Seven. We had no more idea than did Kraznys that she understood what he was saying the whole time, so we learn something about her ability to think several moves ahead and let adversaries have the rope to hang themselves with. Plus, Nathalie Emmanuel gives us so much of Missandei’s personality in just a few words and glances. And Iain Glen has that perfect pain/pride/beatitude thing going on without a single line of dialogue. This is a huge plot point in Daenerys’ story arc, too. Kraznys said it: The bitch has her army.
Amy Glynn is a poet, essayist and fiction writer who really likes that you can multi-task by reviewing television and glasses of Cabernet simultaneously. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.