Game of Thrones’s Nathalie Emmanuel wants TV shows to learn from backlash over Missandei’s fate

Game of Thrones star Nathalie Emmanuel has finally addressed the controversy over her character Missandei’s heartbreaking death in the HBO show’s eighth and final season. As most fans will recall, she was killed off in the fourth episode after being captured by Cersei Lannister. It was especially brutal because Missandei was a former slave who was put in chains and then beheaded by the Mountain as her friend Daenerys Targaryen watched. The scene sparked backlash, and not just because Missandei was a fan-favorite character. Her demise was also a reminder of GoT‘s problematic treatment of race.

Now, in a new interview with Entertainment Tonight, the actress revealed she can understand why fans were so upset over her death, particularly because she was just one of two characters of color (the other being Greyworm) with a major role on the show.

“When you have the token characters—I don’t think they tokenize us in the usual sense—but when you have one or two characters, people who are used to being othered or of a minority background, [viewers] will look for the closest thing to them, and I think so many people are so rooting and invested in those two characters," she explained. "And then specifically women and women of color [identified with] Missandei, so I expected the reaction to that."

Following her exit, Emmanuel shared an emotional goodbye message on her Instagram account, thanking her fans for their love and support, and adding that it was a pleasure to play this character for so many years. However, she had no idea that Missandei’s death was going to be one of the most talked-about moments of the season.

Emmanuel admitted to ET that while she “wasn’t quite prepared for the size of the reaction,” she’s glad her character’s death sparked a conversation about representation because it’s something every show can learn from moving forward.

"If you try to cast as inclusively as possible when the only one goes or is no longer in the show, there’s not so much of a heartbreak because you feel represented throughout, as opposed to by just one person," she said.

Despite being killed off the show, Emmanuel is grateful to have been given the opportunity to play Missandei for six seasons. She also thinks it was “important that [her character] left with power,” adding that Missandei’s strength and ferocity in her final moments were really important to her.

Now that Game of Thrones is over, you can watch Emmanuel in Mindy Kaling’s new Four Weddings and a Funeral series on Hulu, which debuts July 31st.

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