Fans of Game of Thrones may well remember Cersei Lannister’s infamous words in episode seven of season one: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.” And as the show has progressed, Cersei’s ominous claim has proved rather prophetic, since many key figures in the series have all gone on to meet their – often extremely gruesome – ends.
Then, during the fourth episode of the show’s eighth and final season, fans were stunned when beloved character Missandei meets her fate at the hands of Cersei herself. But before the former slave finally perishes, she has one more thing to say – and her last word appears to have left a certain number of viewers scratching their heads.
Yet while some didn’t understand Missandei’s final exclamation, others felt as though the show’s writers had left them a little hint as to what was to come. So, perhaps only those behind the scenes knew the truth – until David Benioff stepped in, anyway. Yes, the series creator has now told Game of Thrones fans across the planet just what Missandei meant to say with her last word.
And Game of Thrones certainly picked up its fair share of aficionados over its eight-year, 73-episode run. The ratings of the show’s final season certainly suggest as much, as the last ever episode, “The Iron Throne,” roped in over 19 million viewers in the U.S. and Canada alone – no mean feat for a series broadcast on premium cable.
To break that highly impressive figure down, 13.6 million people caught “The Iron Throne” live on its first showing, while the remaining millions either tuned in for an encore presentation or watched the episode on HBO’s streaming platforms. In any case, the Game of Thrones finale garnered more viewers than the end of another popular show, The Big Bang Theory – which was witnessed by 18 million people.
And according to the BBC’s Ken Tucker, Game of Thrones’s popularity can be chalked up to one thing in particular. In 2014 Tucker wrote that the show “represents a return of old-fashioned escapism. GoT invites you to join a world where you can solve your problems with a sword and saddle.”
Regardless of fans’ reasons for watching, though, it’s clear that Game of Thrones lovers have had plenty of opinions about the show’s final season. This crucial set of episodes concluded the fantastical tale and saw several main characters either achieving their destinies or meeting their demises.
And Missandei – played by Nathalie Emmanuel – is one key Game of Thrones player whose story arc has a shocking ending. She first appeared in season three as an enslaved interpreter who negotiates a trade of men between her master, Kraznys mo Nakloz, and Daenerys Targaryen.
During the trading process, however, Daenerys arranges for Missandei to be included as part of the deal. And from there, Missandei quickly ascends the ranks from slave and interpreter to become a trusted advisor to Daenerys. All the while, Daenerys builds an army and plans her coup of the Iron Throne.
Then, in season eight, Missandei, Daenerys and her army arrive at Winterfell, where they must prepare for a battle against the dead. And, instantly, the Northern locals look at Missandei with trepidation – they can tell she’s from far away. But the former slave and her lover, Grey Worm, dream of where they’ll go once the war ends; Missandei, for her part, hopes to return to Naath and its beaches.
Before that, though, Missandei, Grey Worm and the rest of the living at Winterfell have to survive the battle against the dead. Unable to contribute to the war effort, Missandei and several others therefore hide out in the castle’s crypt for the duration of the fight. And during that time, Daenerys’ advisor cuts into a conversation between Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister.
Initially, Tyrion wonders aloud if waiting in the crypt will prove to be a mistake. He says, “If we were up there, we might see something everyone else is missing. Something that makes a difference.” But Sansa disagrees, telling him that he’d die in the fight before adding, “There’s nothing you can do.”
Sansa continues, “Witty remarks won’t make a difference. That’s why we’re down here; none of us can do anything. It’s the truth. It’s the most heroic thing we can do now: look the truth in the face.” At that point, Tyrion wonders if he and the oldest Stark daughter should have remained married, as they once were in an attempt by his family to humiliate them both.
But while Sansa admits that Tyrion was “the best of” her husbands, she also explains that the pair’s relationship would never have worked out. And when Tyrion asks her why, she brings Daenerys into the conversation, saying, “The Dragon Queen. Your divided loyalties would become a problem.”
Faithful to Daenerys, Missandei jumps into the discussion at this point. Before walking to the other side of the crypt in anger, she interjects, “Yes. Without the Dragon Queen, there’d be no problem at all. We’d all be dead already.” And, of course, the night has more in store than just a minor disagreement.
As the battle above rages on, the Night King, who leads the army of the dead, uses his power to resurrect those who have already perished to join his effort. They include the soldiers who lost their lives while fighting for Winterfell as well as the bodies interred within the castle’s crypt.
So the dead within the walls of the crypt begin to awaken, breaking through their tombs and attacking the living who have taken refuge there. Tyrion therefore implores everyone to run. And, fortunately, Missandei is among those who manage to escape the tomb and survive the battle against the dead.
However, with the conclusion of the battle, Daenerys feels strongly that she should spring to attack King’s Landing and achieve her ultimate goal: taking the Iron Throne for herself. Yet her advisors warn her against such an act, especially given that half of her army has just died in the Battle of Winterfell.
And Daenerys agrees to avoid a fight at King’s Landing; instead, her forces will create a barricade around the city and wait patiently for the residents to turn on their sitting queen. But while at that point Sansa suggests a break for the soldiers who just fought the army of the dead, Daenerys won’t hear of it.
Then, when Daenerys and her team of fighters and dragons begin their trek to King’s Landing, they’re intercepted by Cersei’s lover and commander of her fleet, Euron Greyjoy. His fighters use crossbow-like scorpions to take down one of Daenerys’ final two dragons.
And with only one dragon left, Daenerys feels afraid to risk an offensive. She therefore takes a step back from the battle, and Euron’s fleet destroys hers. Those soldiers who have survived the fight, however, wash ashore and rejoin their queen. But still one face appears to be missing from the fray: Missandei’s.
During the battle, you see, Euron’s men take Missandei captive and bring her to King’s Landing. And again, Daenerys pitches her original gameplan of destroying the city and showing no pity for its residents. Yet, once more, her advisors try talking her out of it – they say that she shouldn’t be plotting a mass murder of the population over whom she aspires to rule.
Instead, Daenerys and her army march to the wall of King’s Landing, where Cersei stands alongside Missandei and her executioner, The Mountain. And Daenerys’ hand, Tyrion, tries to assuage the tension between the two and pleads that his pregnant sister surrender before it’s too late. He says to Cersei, “Your reign is over, but that doesn’t mean your life has to end.”
After Tyrion’s speech, Cersei seems to consider his words seriously. And for a second, it seems that she may give in to Daenerys instead of fighting a final battle against her. But then Cersei turns to Missandei, places her hand on her arm and remarks, “If you have any last words, now is the time.”
And Missandei spends nearly half a minute deciding what she will say. She peers out over the wall of King’s Landing, locking eyes both with her lover, Grey Worm, and with her queen, Daenerys. Then she reveals what her final message will be. She says “Dracarys,” using the High Valyrian language spoken in Essos – the continent upon which Missandei was once a slave.
So, with Missandei’s last word spoken, Cersei turns to her executioner – thus signaling to him that it’s time for their hostage to die. The Mountain then unsheathes his sword as he steps forward. And with a single swing of his weapon, he beheads Missandei, and both her head and body fall from their perch atop the wall of King’s Landing.
Practically as soon as Missandei had perished, however, Game of Thrones fans wondered what her final, echoing statement may mean. One Reddit user theorized in a May 2019 post, for example, that “she was about to say ‘goodbye’ to Grey Worm in 19 different languages.” Another wrote, “I hope that it has something to do with the dragons ‘not failing’ in the next episode.”
And on Twitter, a fan shared a more developed theory about the use of “Dracarys.” They wrote in May 2019, “So I replayed the intro of episode four [because] they always leave hidden messages, and look what we have! Three dragons and a larger dragon! Also, the comet is flying over the same way [as] when the first dragons were born!”
This, the Twitter user theorized, could mean that “Dracarys” indicated more dragons were on the way. They concluded, “Could Drogon have laid eggs in season five?” And support for this hypothesis could come from George R.R. Martin. The author previously revealed, you see, that a dragon can change their biological sex, suggesting, perhaps, that Daenerys’ male dragon could potentially lay eggs of his own.
Elsewhere, another Redditor wondered if “Dracarys” could be to do with Jon Snow, the King of the North who enlisted Daenerys’ help to fight the dead. In his quest to do so, he fell in love with the Dragon Queen, although he later found out that his biological father, Rhaegar Targaryen, was Daenerys’ brother.
And Jon has a claim to the Iron Throne just like Daenerys. Some fans thought, then, that “Dracarys” may indicate how Daenerys would remove a competing power: by enlisting her dragon to burn him. Even so, as Jon also has Targaryen blood in his veins, the dragon may refuse to perform the murder.
Finally, one fan looked back at another previous episode of Game of Thrones – the same one in which Daenerys gains possession of both the Unsullied army and Missandei. There, after some negotiation, Daenerys offers slave master Kraznys mo Nakloz one dragon in exchange for the people whom he holds.
However, once Daenerys receives the slave master’s whip – and therefore the army’s allegiance – the dragon refuses to cooperate with his new owner. In response, she says, “A dragon is not a slave.” Then she shouts “Dracarys,” at which point her dragon Drogon lights the slave master on fire and returns to Daenerys.
The Reddit user who noticed the similarities between these two events wrote, “Missandei could be trying to communicate that Daenerys could make a similar deal in order to ‘secure peace between King’s Landing and the North.’ And then double-cross Cersei by having the dragon kill her and her army. Like a really terrifying Trojan Horse.”
At the very least, this Redditor and other fan theorists did appear to understand the meaning of the word that seemed to signify so much. Translating from the fantastical High Valyrian language Missandei spoke, “Dracarys” had a very relevant meaning to Daenerys. It also potentially foreshadowed what could lie ahead for the surviving characters. Why? Well, simply put, “Dracarys” means “dragonfire.”
Ultimately, however, David Benioff, the creator of Game of Thrones, made his way into the conversation in HBO’s Inside the Episode. And there he revealed what Missandei really meant – as well as what her declaration could mean for the series. To begin with, he said, “People have underestimated Dany’s strength many times before.”
“And no one’s ever done really well underestimating her strengths,” Benioff continued, alluding to many moments throughout the series, including the one with the slave master. So, hearing the word “Dracarys” probably left the word “echoing in Dany’s head in these final moments that would be Missandei’s final words. ‘Dracarys’ is clearly meant for Dany.”
And according to Benioff, Missandei meant it in the most destructive of ways. He added, “Missandei knows that her life is over, and she’s saying, ‘Light them up.’” For much of the series, Daenerys tried to avoid using her dragons in a power grab as the fire and fury could harm civilians. It seemed, though, that Missandei’s final piece of advice for her queen was to go for it.
So, in the next episode, Daenerys still has the deaths of her dragon and Missandei fresh in her mind. And her army take on the soldiers of King’s Landing, who quickly find themselves out-battled by the Dragon Queen’s troops – with the result being that the local forces surrender.
But even as the surrender bells ring out, clearly indicating that Cersei and her troops have given up, Daenerys does just what Missandei wanted her to do. Yes, she lets her dragon burn King’s Landing to the ground – a gruesome act that sets the stage for the final episode of Game of Thrones.