Game of Thrones introduced Missandei as the interpreter of the Good Masters, owners of the Unsullied sellsword army. After she was freed, she served as friend and adviser to Daenerys Targaryen, helped liberate the slaves of Meereen, crossed the Narrow Sea to Westeros, and survived the Battle of Winterfell against the Night King.
But for all her time on the show, it’s incredible how little we learned about Missandei as a person. The final season, and one of her biggest moments yet, only reminds viewers of that fact.
[Ed. note: This post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8 episode 4, “The Last of the Starks.”]
When Missandei dies, beheaded by the Mountain on Cersei’s orders, it’s in the hopes of provoking Daenerys into rash, violent action. It’s sad to see Missandei go, especially after she’s made it this far. But in killing her off, the show is treating her as it always has: as a useful mirror for the characters around her.
We know that she’s smart and caring, and that she’s given Dany useful counsel. She believes in Dany’s mission of freeing slaves, but is often the voice of reason when it comes to escalating violence. We know that she loved Grey Worm and that he loved her. Over the years, we’ve encountered Missandei in the abstract.
But the only thing we really knew about Missandei is that she came from the Isle of Naath and dreamed to one day return to the beaches there. And we just learned that two episodes ago.
Missandei may be missing a certain something that others in Dany’s orbit contain because she’s mostly a creation of the show. In George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books, Missandei is around 10 years old. She occasionally advises Dany and helps her understand the culture of Essos, but she’s more like Dany’s daughter than anything else.
Game of Thrones creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff expanded Missandei’s character, giving Dany someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of. But she also became a proxy for the people Dany freed. She served a very specific purpose, but unlike most of the characters on Game of Thrones, it never felt like the purpose grew out of her personality — rather, it was her circumstances that gave her meaning.
The show taught us how to think of Missandei in terms of the people around her. We understand that Grey Worm loves her, but he also loves his Unsullied brothers. We understand that Dany loves her, but she also loves Jon and wants — a little too desperately — to sit on the Iron Throne. When Missandei dies her tragic and unnecessary death, all we’re left with are the people who will grieve for her.
Complicating her legacy even more is her final word. Before giving the order to execute her, Cersei asks Missandei if she has any last words. Missandei replies with “dracarys” — the High Valyrian word for dragon fire, and Dany’s command to make her dragons burn whatever is in front of them.
On its face, it’s a brave and defiant final statement, but it has a complicated history, of which Missandei is aware. In her more questionable moments as a ruler, Dany has almost always spoken that word, choosing to set fire to a problem rather than solve it. As Daenerys gets closer to the Iron Throne and the people around her worry that she’s a risky proposition, Missandei drives her further toward an extreme.
If Dany listens to Missandei’s dying word and chooses to burn King’s Landing to the ground, it’ll put her on the outs with all of her allies. Even in her final moments, Missandei was more of a tool to push Dany in a direction than she was her own individual character.