Warning: This article will spoil “Game of Thrones.”
“I have been sold like a broodmare. I’ve been chained and betrayed, raped and defiled. Do you know what kept me standing through all those years in exile?Faith. Not in any gods, not in myths and legends, in myself. In Daenerys Targaryen.” — Daenerys Targaryen
Isolated, forlorn, brutalized, and left with no other option, in season 8 of “Game of Thrones,” Daenerys Targaryen broke bad. Her faith in herself is what allowed her to survive and even thrive through eight seasons on “Game of Thrones” when everyone she loved in the world died. But in the final season of the show, that is what faith in herself and her right to the Iron Throne is exactly what led her to burn an entire city down and commit a mass genocide of King’s Landing.
Through eight seasons and eight years, we have seen Daenerys as the liberator of slaves, mother of dragons, and commander of the strongest armies in the world. For the most part, she used her power for good, with her people calling her their savior, Mhysa. Daenerys was a character that viewers absolutely loved, not only because she is a three-dimensional and well-developed female character, but because of her resilience in the face of her loved ones’ tragedies, and her seemingly steadfast moral compass
“Throughout the show, there have been these glorious moments of Daenerys taking on a very strong role in a battle or in a decision to be made,” actress Emilia Clarke said. “There were these wonderful moments when she takes control, and it’s really liberating and beautiful. She frees people, she kills the baddies, and it feels good.”
But in the final season, we finally saw the inevitable heel turn of our beloved hero that rung nothing short of painful. Even Clarke saw the turn of Daenerys as inevitable: she was just too good: “everyone else gets a more human — for want of a better word — storyline…Daenerys has quite consistently had this road to salvation, and she’s been sitting atop a very safe mountain.” Emilia Clarke would equate Daenerys and her character development to “Lawrence of Arabia,” in which Lawrence, a purported savior, is corrupted by power and disintegrates at the very end.
Biblical characters in the Old Testament, which is the most similar piece text for the nature of “Game of Thrones,” in my opinion, similarly had their turning point moments of transgression, like David’s adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, or Solomon’s 700 wives. Even the greatest heroes of God’s plan were profoundly flawed people. But none of those transgressions harmed others on the scale of Dany’s burning down of King’s Landing.
But as Lawrence wasn’t a villain, but merely a tragic hero so is Daenerys and her categorization in “Game of Thrones.” It seemed at the end of season 7 that she finally found her place and settled down when she got involved with Jon Snow and banded with him to fight the White Walkers. Finally, she found happiness and love where it fell apart so many times before.
And then that turned out too good to be true: Jon’s actual name is Aegon Targaryen, the son of her older brother, and this entire time, she’s been involved with her nephew. Even worse, Jon has a stronger claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys herself has. Clarke perhaps puts the thought process of Daenerys best:
“Even when she finally gets to relax for the first time, she’s thinking, My God, I can have it all. I can have my love. I can have my career. I can have the prospect of a family. I can have it all… But no! I fucking can’t.”
Within her power, what Daenerys has truly cherished this entire time, in “Game of Thrones,” is love, the love of her people and her close confidants. And in season 8, that love collapses in tragic fashion. Jorah dies fighting the White Walkers. Missandei is beheaded. Two of her closest and longest lasting companions are gone within a week. She loses two of her dragons, akin to a mother losing two of her sons. And the last piece of love she has, Jon Snow, rests almost entirely on his respecting of her wishes to keep his true identity as Aegon Targaryen secret.
And then he fails her when he reveals that to his sisters, and, in Clarke’s words, “That disappointment is the final thing that breaks her as a human being, because, my God, all she’s known is pain, sacrifice, and abuse. All she’s known is people turning on her, people betraying her, and she’s completely alone.” That is what Daenerys thought about on top of the dragon, hearing the surrender bells of King’s Landing ringing, and her darkness and cruelty are revealed in the midst of being completely abandoned by everyone she ever cared about.
Daenerys broke bad because, in her mind and even in some of ours, she had no other choice. No, that does not excuse the innocent lives she took in King’s Landing, but notice how much her emotions and desires were neglected by the rest of the show’s main characters, even her closest advisors, over the course of the last season. Even her advisor, Tyrion Lannister, pleaded with her on the basis of the lives of the people of the city, of her legacy, of what was right, and Tyrion’s advice was not wrong. But what Tyrion and the rest of the characters who argued with Daenerys forgot about was the fact that she just saw her best friend, Missandei, beheaded on the walls of King’s Landing before her eyes. There was an effort to persuade, but there was little to no effort to understand her.
I don’t know about you, but I did not hate Daenerys watching the penultimate episode of “Game of Thrones,” but rather heartbroken and pretty disappointed. Daenerys Targaryen is misunderstood, and probably will be until the dust and gut reactions from the end of the series settle: she is not a villain. She is a tragic hero.