Daenerys Targaryen is the most tragic hero of all in Game of Thrones.
I was half right and unfortunately half wrong in my original prediction post about Daenerys Targaryen’s storyline in Season 8 of Game of Thrones. The ashes have settled on the divisive final season , and looking back on it now… I have a lot of thoughts.
Why the Story of Daenerys Targaryen is a Tragedy
Season 8’s storyline for Daenerys Targaryen is rooted in growing isolation and loneliness. How she reacts to it is what I was wrong about. I originally theorized that this shift would change her view on what she wanted in life, and she would turn away from the throne. Instead, she clings to it.
I am a Daenerys Targaryen fan. I will always be a Daenerys Targaryen fan. If you hate Dany, especially before the final season, and can never be convinced otherwise, then this isn’t the article for you. If you’re someone who is grappling with this character’s storyline and trying to make sense of such a jarring shift, then this is for you.
Daenerys Targaryen is the epitome of a gray character, and I love her for it.
She doesn’t “lose her mind” simply because she’s a Targaryen. Jon’s also a Targaryen, and his mental state hasn’t been questioned once, which is part of the problem with the rhetoric of the “Mad Targaryen Queen”.
What happens to Daenerys isn’t the same as what happened to her father. She’s been driven to this point by a rapid succession of grief, betrayal, and isolation. Imagine that cliché movie scene where the kid is learning to play baseball and just getting pelted by flying balls again and again. That’s Daenerys in Season 8.
“A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.”
To be clear, I’m in no way saying that burning King’s Landing, and all those innocent people, was a great decision. It was horrible. But that doesn’t make her character any less sympathetic or tragic. It’s not a one-dimensional storyline.
Dany has shown that she does have a gentle heart and she does care about innocents. Every time she uses brutality in the past, it’s against enemies and people who brutally abuse their power. She locks her dragons away because one innocent child is killed.
Now, you have to ask: What happens to make Daenerys Targaryen change so drastically? How does she end up here?
The answer? Westeros – and everything that happens to her since the day she arrives. Comparing her time in Essos to her time in Westeros is the key to understanding why she makes this character shift. Her peak moment of power is the final shot of Season 6, and Season 7 is where the decline begins.
Has she shown that she’s capable of violence in the past?
Yes. And so has Tyrion, Arya, The Hound, Sansa, and Jon.
Before coming to Westeros, Daenerys never purposefully kills an innocent life. She’s on the same level as every other character who uses violence agains their enemies or betrayers. Yet, she’s seemingly villainized for it more than anyone else. Sorry if I don’t feel bad for brutality against slavers.
If Arya suddenly started killing innocent people, would you look back at the Freys and say “well that was foreshadowing… she’s shown violence in the past.” No, because this is Game of Thrones, and every character has chosen violence at some point.
So what are some of the specific factors that led to the fall of Daenerys Targaryen?
Bear in mind that this is all based on making sense of some very convoluted, rushed writing. The entire King’s Landing storyline should’ve spanned at least one full season, but alas… we got two episodes.
Yes, every character on Game of Thrones has lost people they love – House Stark being at the top of the list. But in the span of one season, Daenerys suffers an extraordinary amount of loss.
House Stark suffered over the span of 6-8 full seasons. Dany’s losses happen a lot faster and pile on top of each other very quickly. This is one of the biggest motivators for her shift in character.
And even though I’m calling this a “shift in character”, we don’t actually see her personality change that much. She isn’t cackling with glee as she burns innocent people to death. She’s ruling with fear now, and not kindness. This is a choice she consciously makes because she feels backed into a corner.
“You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.”
Additionally, we have characters who are definitely not “mad” who support her to the very end. Grey Worm and Yara both defend her. Missendei and Olenna both encourage her to burn the city. It’s a terrible decision, but not one that’s born from “madness” as in craziness. It stems from “madness” as in angriness.
The Targaryen Reputation
The people in Essos don’t care that she’s a Targaryen. It’s irrelevant to them. Missendei tells this to Jon Snow. They choose her because they believe in her. She is given a blank book and writes her own narrative. In Essos, there is no pre-conceived notion of her, and she doesn’t have to battle against any of her family’s history. In Westeros, it’s the complete opposite.
This reputation is the beginning of the end for Daenerys Targaryen. She never has a fighting chance. Her allies start thinking she’ll go mad before she even does anything bad. She’s sacrificing everything to fight the threat in the North, and people are still judging her and doubting her.
A lot of our favorite characters up North don’t give her a fair chance based solely on her Targaryen ancestry. And that’s not a dig at Sansa. I understand her perspective as well. The real tragedy here is that Daenerys Targaryen and Sansa Stark could’ve ruled the world together.
The writing has to pit them against each other because if they were to make an alliance, then the second half of Season 8 would be completely different. Jon isn’t the key to the north, Sansa is. Daenerys and Sansa together would have been unstoppable.
Daenerys Targaryen & Her Westerosi Alliances
Her allies in Westeros are not based on friendship and camaraderie. They’re based on a mutual hatred of Cersei.
Daenerys Targaryen and her storyline’s literal isolation within Game of Thrones quickly seeps its way into the actual narrative. Remember all those episodes that Dany isn’t even in because her storyline is so cut off from everything else happening for the first 4-6 seasons? While everyone in Westeros is interacting and weaving in and out of each other’s lives, Dany is on the other side of the world.
Tyrion, Jon, and Theon become her allies, but they have loyalties and love for other characters as well – and many of those relationships overshadow their connection with Daenerys.
Tyrion betrays her for Jaime. Jon’s greatest motivation to finally betray Daenerys is protecting his sisters. And we see this imbalance most blatantly when Daenerys and Sansa reunite with Theon. Sansa and Theon embrace in tears, and the camera pans to Dany’s shocked reaction.
Betrayal, Isolation, and Rejection
The scene at the feast is one of the most important scenes of the season… and not because of the Starbucks cup. You can see how isolated and alone Daenerys feels. No matter what she does to try and win these people over, they won’t fully accept her.
If you tell someone they’re a villain enough times, they might just turn into that.
Daenerys has spent her entire existence preparing for the throne, but the moment Jon Snow finds out he’s secretly a Targaryen, people start jumping ship. I would be infuriated too. And before you make a million excuses for why people support Jon over Dany (excluding his family), Varys and Tyrion literally have a conversation about why a male leader would be better.
Jon Snow: Love vs Duty
“Duty is the death of love.”
And yet, she still loves Jon Snow. She could have let him die during the Battle of Winterfell, but she saves him. Even after she knows he’s a threat, she only begs him to keep it a secret. Her fear is that it will tear them apart, and she doesn’t want to lose him. And she’s right.
The Varys of it All
Varys’ betrayal is the icing on the cake. He’s as shady as they come, switching support from one ruler to the next throughout the entire series. As much as people want declare that “Varys was right”… his betrayal is part of why her character changes. It’s like throwing a glass on the floor, watching it shatter, and saying “I knew it would break”.
Additionally… let’s go back to before Dany rains fire down on King’s Landing. She’s mourning the loss of her dragon and Missendei, and what is Varys doing? Trying to poison her.
Prior to the attack on King’s Landing, Varys is very vocal that this is the “wrong” decision, yet he isn’t offering an alternative. Instead, he’s obsessed with Daenerys’ state of mind and planning to support Jon Snow on a throne he doesn’t even know how to win.
He wants to switch sides based on nothing. There seems to be no other option for Dany but to attack King’s Landing, and somehow that makes her insane. So he wants to switch sides… but how exactly does he think Jon Snow’s gonna win? His priorities are highly misaligned.
Even in her most impulsive state, Daenerys is nowhere near as consistently heartless and cold as Cersei, who strategically uses the citizens of King’s Landing as a human shield. The funny part is, Cersei seems to be the only person that believes Daenerys is Too Good to attack the city and harm innocent people. Her plan literally relies on it, and you can see the shock on her face when it backfires.
The biggest dooming flaw is in the dream itself. Think of Westeros and the Iron Throne as Daisy Buchanan and Daenerys as Jay Gatsby. I touched on this a little bit in my original post about Dany.
She had this dream and vision that Westeros was her long lost home and she would be accepted and loved.
Daenerys has built up this dream of the Iron Throne in her mind, and it isn’t at all what she thought it would be. She loses sight of who she is to achieve it, and that desperation is her ultimate downfall.
Family & Destiny
The Iron Throne isn’t just a throne to her. It’s the only link to her family. It’s her “home”. She grew up with this ingrained idea that the Iron Throne is her only purpose in life.
She believes that the only way to rule in Westeros is with fear, because no one will accept her otherwise, and in that desperation, she becomes what she seeks to destroy.
“She’s a girl who walked into a fire with three stones and walked out with three dragons. How could she not believe in destiny?”
Why Does She Burn the Entire City?
This relies on some heavy interpretation from very vague, flawed writing… but here we go. Emilia Clarke acts out the moment remarkably. Daenerys definitely doesn’t plan to burn the city to the ground. She makes the decision atop Drogon, as the bells ring.
But no, it’s not the bells that “trigger” her. It’s the Red Keep.
Her whole family is dead, and the Red Keep is a symbolic reminder of all that could’ve been and all that her family lost. Now add the losses of two dragons, Jorah, and Missendei… she’s lost just about everyone she considers family. Jon is the only person she has left, and she can feel herself losing him. And as Aemon Targaryen once said, “there’s nothing more terrible than a Targaryen alone in the world.”
She feels completely alone. And that’s when she makes the decision to rule with fear and make an example of King’s Landing.
Daenerys Targaryen & Her Legacy
Although Daenerys turns into a tragic villain, it’s not completely black and white. Yara speaks up for her. Jon Snow questions if they did the right thing. And Tyrion answers “ask me in ten years”.
Daenerys Targaryen is no Joffrey or Ramsay. Her demise is a tragedy.
Yet, her efforts aren’t for nothing. Although she does it in the most destructive way, Cersei is defeated. And Dany’s vision of “breaking the wheel” to create a better world comes to fruition. Tyrion points this out to Greyworm when they’re deciding who should be King.
Daenerys may not have been the one to rule this better world, but she’s an integral reason it happens. Not only because they’d all have died from the white walkers without her, but also because she carries her dream to the very end. If she had stayed in Essos, she would be alive and ruling as a beloved Queen. But Westeros wouldn’t be better off.
Was she driven by grief and vengeance? Yes. Was she driven by madness and insanity? Definitely not.
Long live the Queen,