WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the finale of Steven Universe Future, which aired Friday on Cartoon Network
2019 saw the end of Marvel’s Infinity Saga, The Skywalker Saga and HBO’s Game of Thrones, while 2020 has seen the end of another beloved franchise. Steven Universe Future premiered it’s finale last week, and it successfully managed to do with Steven what Game of Thrones wanted to do with Daenerys.
Steven Universe Future ends with Steven transforming into a monster that can overpower the Crystal Gems and the Diamonds. His transformation is caused by seven seasons worth of trauma, but the gems, diamonds and his human loved ones are able to bring Steven back through compassion and love.
Similarly, Game of Thrones ends with Daenerys becoming a metaphorical monster who kills thousands of innocent people and turns into a dictator. Her transformation is caused by trauma that stems back to her ancestors, but instead of receiving compassion from her allies, she is backstabbed by the man she loves.
There are a few key differences between these transformations, the first being how trauma is handled. In Steven Universe Future, the season is dedicated to Steven’s mental decay, revisiting his trauma from the past while addressing his current inability to communicate with loved ones and his desire to help everyone but himself. Even before this season, the original series Steven Universe addressed how Steven is suffering from trauma, best seen in episode 107, “Mindful Education.”
Game of Thrones, on the other hand, is not known for handling trauma well, exhibited in how Sansa is grateful for the abuse she’s endured and how Daenerys’s trauma is used as a catalyst for the show’s next “big bad.” Unlike Steven Universe, though, which revisits Steven’s trauma so audiences make the connection between his mental turmoil and his transformation, Game of Thrones rushes this process and assumes audiences will buy that Daenerys has also been mentally unstable and a threat.
A second difference is that both of these characters have genetic ties to “monstrous” people. Steven is related to the Diamonds, colonist oppressors, as well as Rose Quartz, a gem who lied to her allies and never answered for the consequences of her actions. Daenerys is a descendant of the Mad King, a man who killed thousands of innocent people and planned to kill more in a similar fashion to his daughter’s attack on King’s Landing.
While both have these relationships, Steven Universe focuses on how Steven is not his mother nor is he like the Diamonds, as explored in season five of the original series. His transformation is not about becoming like them. It’s about how the weight of his trauma has become too much. Throughout Game of Thrones, however, there’s been the implication that madness and violence are inherent traits of Targaryens. Daenerys tries to avoid this fate, proclaiming in season five, “I am not my father.” Despite her drive to be better, Daenerys ultimately finishes what her father started, razing King’s Landing and losing herself in the process.
The third difference comes down to their motives before and after their transformations. Steven and Daenerys are descendants of oppressive royals and desire to break the cycle of abuse. Where Steven succeeds by the final season, Daenerys has not. As a result, Steven transforms because he must face his trauma, but Daenerys uses her transformation as a means to “win,” creating the illusion that it’s for the greater good. Along with these differences, both transformations end on contrasting notes. Steven survives his transformation, has a support network and gets a chance to better himself. Daenerys dies alone and as a villain.
Game of Thrones ends on a tragic note for Daenerys. Her trauma turned her into what she hated most, which was apparently inevitable given her family. Her good heart and desire to end oppression meant nothing in the end, and she was abandoned despite the fact that she needed help, while Steven Universe Future does the opposite. Steven’s transformation is organic because the show dedicates the time to properly representing his trauma, never commodifying it for a final boss battle. The show lives up to its reputation by accurately discussing the pain those with trauma endure and showing that it’s okay to be vulnerable, that people don’t have to go through this alone and that there’s always hope.
Steven's fate in Steven Universe Future bears some similarities to Daenerys's in Game of Thrones, but his is better handled.